Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Terry Fox Run Kuala Lumpur 2013

Terry Fox Run KL is held every year for charity cause for cancer research. The beneficiary this year will be the Cancer Research Initiatives Foundation (CARIF). CARIF is the first independent, non-profit cancer research organization in Malaysia.

Terry Fox Run KL 2013, which is a non-competitive family event, will be held on the 1st of December 2013. The. Funds will be raised principally by selling Terry Fox Run T-shirts and from cash donations. Each T-shirt is RM30.

The T-shirt design this year:

Sizes available:

Chest circumference in inches
2 (child)
4 (child)
3XS (child)
Please order by email to organizer@terryfoxrunkl.org
Thank you all for your support!

Standard Chartered Kuala Lumpur Marathon 2013

I dedicate this run to those who are affected by stroke. I was part of the team that did the fund raising campaign "Yes to Life after Stroke" for NASAM by running the SCKLM 2013. BIG THANKS to all supporters.

I didn't train well but managed to finish the full marathon barefooted in 3:36, my best result in SCKLM. Well organised event. Special thanks to all volunteers, photographers, supporters & special support station/crew at km36 by BwM, LYN & FMV. You guys were great!
I liked this photo from Running Malaysia. I was congratulating Chow Seng at the finish line. I passed him at 40km mark and encouraged him. He sprinted the last few km to finish just 2 seconds in front of me.

My results for SCKLM since 2009:

2009:4:40:08 (maiden Full Marathon)
2010 3:53:29
2011 3:49:31
2012 3:44:45
2013 3:36:20

River Jungle Marathon 2013.

The medal for RJM 2013 combined with the medal from Island Ocean Marathon 2013.
RJM is the 1st FM that I ran barefooted in 2011. So it was a special feeling for me to run this again this morning. I had a good & happy run, practically almost smiling all the way from 27km onwards (except when I stepped on sharp pebbles, ouch!).

The hill at ~11km mark was long (~4km each way) and winding but I liked it and ran it in one breath (exaggeration). Missed Raja Bukit, Daniel Tan when counquering "The curse of the serpent" hill. So I imagined him being my virtual partner on the dreaded hill to make it through. In 2011, he was hot on my heels and eventually passed me at foot of the hill.

The organiser provided durians & many other local fruits at ~23km. I didn't stop to eat because last night I already ate many durians to carbon-load.

Coconut water was sweet & refreshing. Yeah!

Happy to see so many friends on the way. Thanks to all that who called me out and cheered me. Sorry if I didn't recognise you in the dark. Thanks to all who acknowledged my friendly waves and "jia you".

Really good to see many barefoot/minimalist runners and friends. Proud of you guys!

I finished the last few hundred metres together with my dear Penang friends Andrew Loh, Shannon and Kho hand in hand, in 3:51. Met up with Scott at the finish line, who finished first this time. I knew him in 2011, when he ran it for the first time and finished third. Sorry I couldn't stay long to catch up with all friends.
Running towards the last km. (Photo by Aron Soo).

Saw Scott about 800m from finish. He had finished 20 minutes earlier. My Penang friends were30m in front of me then. (Photo by Aron Soo)
SPECIAL Thanks to James Wong, The Marathon Shop and all the volunteers who worked tirelessly organising the event and operating the aid stations, safety cars and taking photos this morning. You guys were awesome!

The reward for my run was a homemade lemon cheese cake by dear wife and then a decision to register for Comrades Marathon 2014.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Comrades Marathon 2013 Race Report - The Ultimate Human Race

Comrades Marathon 2013 bronze medal

It finally sunk in. I have completed the Comrades Marathon 2013 in 10:47:20 to qualify for a bronze medal.

According to the announcer when I reached the finish line, this was the toughest condition for Comrades Marathon in 20 years. 32 degrees Celsius and strong dry head wind after a few hours into the race.

Profile Map of the "Up-run" route.

This year, Comrades Marathon is an "Up-run" from sea-level Durban to Pietermaritzburg about 640m altitude through many steep and long climbs on "Big Fives" hills and many other hills with no name. Total elevation gain is more than 2000m with elevation loss about 1360m. The official distance this year is 86.863km according to the final information given to the runners.

Coming into this race, I had tried my best to train. I am a low-mileage runner due to work and family commitment. My mileage for the past 5 months leading up to race was just short of 1000km. I spent my January nursing a metatarsal injury that prevented me to train and took a week off in March due to sprained left toe.

I wanted to join this run to gain new experience, move out of my comfort zone and take new challenges. I am not trying to prove anything or achieve any record or put numbers under my belt.

There were seven Malaysians registered for this run. This was the largest Malaysian contingent for Comrades Marathon according to the Malaysia ambassador Frank Chong, who was one of the members.

After months of training, we all made our way separately to Durban due to different travel schedule.

Malaysian runners in Comrades Marathon 2013. (from left: Roy, Wong, Francis, KK Yum, Frank, me, Chee Kong)

Fast forward to the race day. It was a cool morning around 16-18 degrees Celsius. We arrived at the starting line in front of the City Hall at 4:45am. We took some photos and chatted before start. By the time we tried to go into our respective starting pen, the entrance was jammed with many runners stuck outside. This was due to runners from the pen behind had moved ahead and into the pens in front. Chee Kong & I had to climb over the 8-foot fencing to get into the starting pen. A nervous moment there.

Photo taken with Goodwill before the race. We first met him two days earlier in Runner's World pasta party (Photo by Chee Kong)

The race started on time. I paced with Chee Kong from start. Both of us were trying to aim for a sub-9 hours finish.

I knew it was a long shot for me, but I thought I might as well give it a try. I had hoped that the weather would help a bit. It would be an extra bonus if I could do it. If I couldn't, I would be happy with a bronze or Vic Clapham medal.

From the start after we moved away from the city, we were gradually going uphill gently.

I was running quite well early on and trying to stay behind Chee Kong. Unfortunately I lost him when we took separate pit-stops to do our business behind the bushes.

After about 8km I saw my time was about 44mins. This was exactly as I had planned. Then the runners were exiting the highway and going to the trunk road into local neighbourhood.

This was where I started to see more and more supporters along the roads. They had set up tents, barbecues by the roadside and some brought own chairs and foods to watch and support. All of them were cheering for the runners. It was a great atmosphere, I was like the whole nation was supporting and cheering the runners. I read earlier, this race would be on national TV live, all 12-hours on it. A lot of South Africans would be glued to their TV to watch the race.

The climb was still on-going. Each time I made it to the top, there was another climb within the horizon. These hills were without names.

The climb to Cowie Hill was not too tough. I saw a familiar runner besides me, she was Celene. I said hi to her and asked her how she was doing. She said ok and slowly she surged ahead of me.

The next check point was at 70km-to-go mark after Cowies. I checked my time, and it read 1 hr 43mins, still on target for sub-9 finish.

We reached Pinetown (still climbing) and there were many supporters singing and cheering for us. But as we exited Pinetown and started the climb on Fields Hill, suddenly there was a dead silence. There were no supporters on the road there and the runners were not chatting and joking anymore. This was where it hit me: this would be long long day!

I walked most of Fields Hill, only ran when it was a bit gentle. I got some reprieve after Fields Hill but as the 60km-to-go mark approached, the crazy climbs continued.

It continued on and on and on until Hillcrest. Good support here from the locals. Some were calling me "Chinese", "Chinaman", "Bruce Lee", "Japanese", until one point in the race, I responded "I am Malaysian!" Others called me by my name which was printed on the bib. Very encouraging words from the crowd, such as "You're doing great!", "Keep going!"

A bit of downhill after Hillcrest, where I started to feel some strains on my quadriceps muscles. I slowed my pace and took my second gel somewhere after 55km-to-go mark.
This is where (before Botha's Hill) I saw my wife, Chee Kong's wife and Cham. (Photo by Cham)

At the other side of Hillcrest, I saw my wife, Chee Kong's wife and Cham on the left road shoulder. I was so happy to see them there. They had planned to cheer us there. I didn't get anything extra to refuel my waist pouch as I thought I was still ok. Anyway, there were ample food along the route such as salted potatoes, oranges, chocolate, and bananas. If I were adventurous, Frank told me I could even ask the local supporters for a piece of their braai (barbecue steak).

The climb on Botha's Hill, the third registered hill, was brutal, I walked most of the way. It was steeper than I thought. Then some volunteers were handling out roses to the runners. I knew then I was approaching Arthur's seat and Drummond which was the half-way point.

I picked up a rose and dropped it off at Arthur's seat with hopes of good luck for the second half of the race.

But it didn't really got better as I approached the Drummond half-way check point with split time 4:28:54. My quadriceps and hamstrings were tightening more and more. Suddenly the downhill run at Drummond had become jogging pace.

I drank more Energade from then on. They were provided in plastic sachet of about 150ml. The packages were something like ice popsicle in Malaysia, except it was not ice but electrolyte/sport drink. Water also came with similar packing and were aplenty in all the water stations. There were about 48 water/aid stations in total.

I drank a lot of water and Energade in this race and ate bit-size food at some stops. The weather was getting hotter as the sun got up higher. At every water station, I also poured some water on my head and body to cool down.

From Drummond to Umlass Road (~44 to 68km) was the most torturing section for me. After the climb or shall I say, walk to top of Inchanga, my legs were at the verge of out of control. The cramps were hitting me badly at the quadriceps and hamstring and even part of the calf muscles. At this stage of the race, I knew any hope of a sub-9 finish was gone. I just wished I could finish with sub-10 or sub-11. I was also hoping Chee Kong, Francis and the rest of the gang were doing ok. I was hoping at least Chee Kong and Francis were still on track for a Bill Rowan medal.

Slowly the sub-9 pacers went past me and I couldn't follow. The run on flat roads and downhill became increasingly difficult. Finally I decided to stop and seek help at around 35km-to-go mark. Got some cooling gels and some rubs by the physio and my legs were better. "Gosh, I should have stop earlier to get this" I was telling myself.

Passing a handicapped school I gave the students high fives and thank you for their support. They were supporting the runners all these years.

Somewhere near Cato Ridge, I began to see some other poor children along the route who were cheering us. Some were opening up their palms to ask for something from the runners. I could only offer some of them the sport drink sachets or the energy gummies I got from the previous water station.

One of the many good things about this race was that other runners would come up beside you and ask how were you and wished you well. As I was one of the few East Asian-looking runners and running with a blue bib (rookie, or first-timer), I got a lot of encouragement from some experienced runners. These runners called me by my name (on the bib). I said. "Thanks!" to them and wished them well for their run too.

The run to highest point of the route (830m) was a painful experience. I had to walk and jog from Harrison Flats (not really flat at all!) to Umlass Road. There were so many hills at this section. So many runners from lower seedings passed me and I simply couldn't keep up. My walking pace was also slower than most of the runners. Suddenly I felt so humbled by the hills and the race itself. Some other runners (mainly green number runners) were in their fifties and sixties as they have age category number stitched on their vests (This is actually an IAAF rule to qualify for age category prizes). They were climbing the hills effortlessly, I tell you.

I had never suffered so bad cramps and walked so much in a race before. I started to wonder what had I done or hadn't do to deserve this pain. Why did I bother to sign up for this Comrades Marathon? Maybe Sundown Marathon on the same weekend was a better choice! Or just taking it easy at home could be more relaxing!

I knew the reason I was in this race. The purpose kept me going and I focused on the finishing despite the pain. It was a battle between the mind and body from then on.

Once I reached the highest point, it was slightly easier running downhills but I had to control the pace so that the cramps would not get worse. I stopped at aid stations where they have physio. I asked for some "relief" by ice rub-down or cooling gels. At one water station without physio, one volunteer literally pulled me aside and gave me some rub-down on my quadriceps with ice cubes. He could sense that I was in trouble after seeing me walking slowly. He told me "You will be on your way soon. Come, let me do this first!"

I was really touched. The volunteers were superb and so supportive. Even the local residents helped out at the water stations. I felt like the whole nation was behind me, behind the runners.

One local runner called out to me. His name was Goodwill. I met him two days earlier in a pre-race pasta party organised by Runner's World and took photo with him just before the race. He told me I was doing ok and should be able to finish it within 12 hours even if I walked all the way back. He said Polly Shortts was not far and once I reached the top, it would be only 8km to go.

I met Celene again somewhere near Camperdown or after highest point. She was having major cramps and were walking. I told her to keep walking or moving and focus on the finishing and ignore the pain. Also I asked her to get some ice rub-downs in the next aid station. She did and was doing better after that. She surged ahead of me after that.

The head wind was blowing strongly at the Umlass Road section. It wasn't easy running against the wind when you have to climb the hills. The sub-10 pacer also passed me near the Umlass road. Once again, I could only watch.
Struggling on the hills with 15km to go. (Photo by Ria Bornman)

The race condition was getting worse. The sun was shining brightly and the temperature rising. The weather forecast was sunny with 32 degrees max, on that day in the winter! I began to see many runners also in trouble. Some were limping and stopping to stretch. Some just lying down on the road and waiting for medical attention (already attended by some other runners or supporters). One runner was puking on side of the road. Many runners were bailing out and were on the rescue vehicles. I have never seen such scene before. This was really unusual. I became more cautious.

Then a runner with rhinoceros costume also went past me. I guessed the rhino costume (I saw the same in the expo) that he was wearing was close to 10kg as it looked quite big and heavy. There were some runners running along side him. They were raising awareness about the illegal rhinoceros poaching in Africa. Hats off to the rhinoceros runner!

Finally, I reached Ashburton. Here there were two big climbs awaits the runners. The shorter Little Polly and the steeper and longer Polly Shortts. I had no choice but to walk all the way and hoped that I had enough energy to surge through the last 8km.

After reaching the top of Polly Shortts, I swallowed my last gel and began to run with the pain on both quadriceps. Hopefully I could reach the finish in sub-11 timing. Nothing would stop me, I told myself. I was battling the pain, the fatigue, the heat and the wind.

The road led me to the city of Pietermaritzburg. There were two more small climbs and I tackled that with all I had. The scene of me finishing the race was etched in my mind. The supporters were more and more and the cheers were getting louder and louder. The crowd was saying "5km to go!" (I passed Celene somewhere just before 5km-to-go mark), "3km to go!", and finally "One more km!"

The last km was painfully long. I swear it was the longest last km. I knew I was getting nearer as I could see fences around where I ran. A turn to the left led to a small tar road leading to side of a stadium but it wasn't! It was another 500m or so to reach the Oval stadium further down the road. Here I met Goodwill again, he said "You've made it!" After a left turn to the small road with Toyota banners on both sides I knew this was it. A right turn to grass surface, and I was on the final 200m home stretch. A slightly left bend after under a bridge then I could see the timing display on top of the finishing arch. It was the finishing arch of Comrades Marathon 2013. I looked up to see the race time was 10 hours 47 minutes. I was within the sub-11 hour timing.
At the finishing straight (photo by Cham)

Approaching the finish line.(photo by Cham)

It was an unbelievable feeling as I crossed the finish line. A brutally painful run for me and I was so happy to finish it, timing was secondary. I have to say, there were couple of moments when I thought I wouldn't. But I kept my focus and I did it! I ran the Comrades in the toughest condition in 20 years.

As I was passing through the finishing area, the officials congratulated me. And a volunteer probably in her eighties, put a bronze medal around my neck. It was then that the feeling began to sink in. I thanked her and gave her peck on the cheeks.

Then I met my wife, Chee Kong and wife, Francis, Roy and Cham at the finish line. Chee Kong and Francis got a bronze as well. I thought they could manage a Bill Rowan medal, but it was not to be. Celene came back with a bronze too. Roy pulled out just before Botha's Hill due to discomfort that he felt. I felt sorry for Roy. I knew he had trained very hard for this and came so far. I was lost of words to console him but to ask him if he was ok.

Frank, KK Yum and Wong later made it within the 12-hour cut-off. Wong had only seconds to spare when he crossed the finish line. Wong, Frank and Chee Kong earned their back-to-back medal by completing this race.

At the finishing area after the race.

It was such a humbling experience for me running the Comrades in the toughest condition. I felt so small in the hills of the Big Five and all other countless hills with no names along the 87km course. This Comrades Marathon has stripped me layer by layer, until to the point that I felt so "naked" and bare. The hills were so inviting, appeared so innocent and pure, waiting for me to conquer. But, it was the hills (and something more) that was in command all along. And I came to a point of without any ego, without any expectation and almost, almost without a purpose. Only left with mental nakedness, I reflected on myself and saw a part that I probably has not been seeing, what I was really made of. It was a small miracle, it was The Ultimate Human Race. At the finish line, I thought I would say "Never again!", but then I told myself "Perhaps next year, I will see you again, my Comrades!"

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Island Ocean Marathon 2013 - Volkswagen The Marathon Series First Leg

  At the finishing line. Thank you also to a fellow barefoot runner/supporter who paced me for the last 800m or so. Andrew was covered by me in this photo. (Photo credit: MeiLan)

For the first time, I had tears in my eyes as I was crossing the finish line. The pain on my soles was great, but when suddenly I thought of lives lost in unfortunate events, I knew the pain on my soles was nothing.

I was overwhelmed with emotion. A tough full marathon and thinking about what happened for the past few days. And I was happy to see my family waiting for me at the finish line.

Andrew finished slightly earlier and was there a few metres before the finish line to wait for me. I hugged him as I saw him and said thanks for being there.

My family was behind the finish line. I hugged my children as they approached me after I crossed the line. I gave my wife a kiss.

The day started when I woke up at 3:15am to have something to eat before the race. Did some "water-loading" too. Kissed my wife and kids who were sound asleep before I went down at 4am to the race start line. They were all tired from the island-hopping trip the day before.

There were already so many runners gathered and chatting away. The whole hotel lobby were full of runners. The hotel staff must be wondering why this group of people, not sleeping at this hour on a Sunday morning but instead putting their bodies to extreme physical demand of running a full marathon. Only the runners would know the answers.

The event was Island Ocean Marathon 2013. It's the first leg of the Volkswagen Marathon Series inaugurated this year.

The run: a non-competitive full marathon with no official cut-off time to complete. The course was around the southern tip of the beautiful island of Langkawi in Malaysia.

Andrew called me from behind as I was heading to the starting line. We chatted for a while and I went to the front of the line. I also met Rich a fellow barefoot runner and called out his name.

  Photo credit: Vivien Tay.

Before the race, the race director James did a safety briefing to all the runners. Then a minute of silence was observed for the victims of the bombing in Boston marathon. James asked all runners to dedicate this run for Boston. I had put a black tape around the shoulder area of my vest earlier to remember the lives lost and the affected families and friends.

 Photo credit: Vivien Tay.

The race started on time with the sound of the horn. From Resort World Langkawi Hotel, about 1000 runners were heading to Pantai Cenang. At about 3.5km mark, the runners were directed to the run on the beach for 1km.

It was still very dark at the beach. I couldn't see where I was stepping on. I had to believe my instinct. One wrong step, and I could get hurt. There could be sharp seashells, broken bottles at worst case.

The sound of the wave and the breeze made the run at the beach so refreshing. I looked up to the sky. There was it, the most starry sky I have ever seen in years. It was just... beautiful.

Exiting the beach we were back on the main road again. We were running near the airport around the perimeter of the runway. It was still dark without streetlight but luckily got two safety cars stopped at the roadside and were shinning their headlights to the roads for the runners.

At this stretch of the route, the sky was really beautiful. I just stopped for a second and looked up. The shining stars reminded me how small I was amongst everything in the universe.

I met Kelvin Ng who was helping out the water station at km 8. I thanked the volunteers and Kelvin told me he would see me again in km 39. (Little did I knew then what 'surprise' I would get)

The road surface was not good from then on (in fact it was rough also all the way from start). I had to rely on the white lines wherever possible. The asphalt surface was simply too rough. It was ok to walk on it, but the issue was and always has been, to run it with pace.

I was pacing with a runner from 5km to 10km point. Then I had to let him go because I was slowing down.

There was a U-turn at about 12km mark. After the U-turn, I could see many runners running towards the U-turn.

Photo credit: Chandru

At about 14km mark, I saw 2 buffaloes came running towards me. One was running diagonally across the road very close to the back of two runners. I shouted "Careful!" to the runners and luckily the animals didn't hurt anyone.

Then I turned left heading towards the airport. I ran alone from here until the roundabout where we went straight heading to Kuah town after the airport.

A lady runner overtook me soon after. Then a male runner also passed me and said hi. I thought he was Dr Francis  Yeng who ran Boston last week. But I was not sure as he was wearing a cap.

I picked up the pace a little later and managed to catch up the lady runner later after a hard climb. She was pacing with another lady runner. I didn't recognise them as Malaysian elite runners (I thought they must be from other countries).

I overtook them and then also another lady runner later. As I turned right to km 26, I was feeling pretty ok.

I didn't check my watch much for this race. The only time I 'peeked' was at about 20km when the timer showed about 1:55. Next time I would check my time again was at the finishing line.

The route was increasingly hilly and winding from 20km onwards. The roads from 26km onwards was consistently rough and I slowed my pace down and chose to follow a lady runner instead.

Then when I reached water station at km 29. A surprise was presented to the runners, a chilled refreshing coconut drink. Now, please tell me where you can find a full marathon event that serve the runners coconut?

I continued on but at slower pace. I wasn’t aiming for any timing anyway but just to run with my own feel and see how far I could push under the warm condition. Some more I had just recovered from flu and fever two days earlier. I didn't want to risk any injury.

Just before km 30, I felt tired and I thought I had hit the wall. At the next water station, I took isotonic drinks and it helped me instantly. The tire feeling was gone and I continued on. The view from 30+km was scenic with the sea on the left.

Then a sharp pain suddenly popped up under my left big toe. I stopped and sat on the road to check. There was a splint. I took about half a minute to remove it using my finger nails.

I reached water station at km 32 and saw Sonny Ng. He was manning the water station. He asked the volunteers to cheer for me too. I said thanks to them. In this event, I made a point to say thanks to the volunteers at all aid/water stations.

Just before the km 38 water station, I saw Tey Eng Tiong and Vivien Tay. They were taking photos for the runners. I was really happy and grateful to see them supporting the runners.

                                             Photo credit: Eng Tiong

At km 39, I saw a group of supporters including Kelvin Ng, cheering for the runners. One supported offered me a cup of Coke. Kelvin gave me a hug for support and I said thanks.

As I continued past 40 km mark, Andrew caught up with me. He was running comfortably and I just couldn’t match his pace. I just tried to follow as close as possible. The last climb to the hotel was tough, but I managed to conquer it. The reward was another surprise at the entrance of the hotel: ice-cream. It was very tempting but I politely declined it. I didn’t think I could run with that or stop to eat when I knew my family was waiting for me at the finish line a few hundred metres ahead. Nevertheless, it was a very nice thought from James and the organising team. I was certain then it would make many runners happy and surprised.

I finished the run in 4 hours 4 minutes. It was the first time since my maiden marathon (4 years ago) that I completed in more than 4 hours. I was quite satisfied as this was the most challenging marathon route on barefoot that I have completed so far. I got a small blood blister on my right toe but no other injury, and I recovered quite fast without any muscle soreness.

My soles after the run.

It was a very well organised event. The crew and volunteers were very helpful and supportive. The view was scenic, the route was hilly but the runners were all in great spirit. I knew that, since more than half a year ago, James and the organising team put in a lot of effort to make sure all aspects (e.g. transport, hotel, race venue, aid stations etc.) of the run experience were good. Thank you also to the photographers. Thank you to the sponsors too. Without them, the event would not be the way it was.

 Medal design
 Finish line just by the sea with great view.

 Mohan and a group or runners pacing Cheryl Tham, running for her maiden FM, to the finish line.
With Andrew at the finish line. (Photo credit: Gan)
This was a special run event for me. An event that captured the heart and souls of the runners. An event that all runners were united and showed our support for a cause. An event that runners shared calming wave sounds, sandy beach, beautiful sea view, scorching sun, hilly route, torturing last 12km, great support from the volunteers, coconut drink, ice-cream, champion-like finishing, great friendship and lots of love. That’s The Island Ocean Marathon 2013.