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Running from sundown to sunrise, an 84KM adventure at the Sundown Marathon 2009 by Frank Chong

When I mentioned Sundown Marathon is the toughest marathon I ever did among all of my 6 marathons, I really meant it. The race route and the conditions to run during sleeping hours is the main hurdle that runners will have to get through to conquer it. And my quest to earn the title of "Ultra-Marathoner" will begin here. After 2 loops of the regular 42.195KM race route, 3 cramps, 4 toilet stops, 10 pedestrian bridges and countless rest stops running throughout the night, read on here to find out if I manage it.

29 May 2009. Departure for Lion City.
The day started early for me as I awoke at 4am to prepare myself for departure. Though the First Coach bus that I'll be taking will only leave at 7.30am from the Bangsar stop, I had to hitch an early ride from dad as he makes himself to work. And so arriving at the venue an hour early, I met up with Victor instantly and had a light snack at the nearby mamak.

The journey to Novena Square was a long one this time which took us close to 7 hours thanks to an Indian passenger who was detained for close to 40 minutes at the Singapore immigration for bringing raw mutton. Though the bus drivers seems pretty humoured by his actions, most passengers weren't. Anyhow, having arrived safely, I took a MRT train to town to collect our race packs.

Arriving at Athlete's Circle, I bump into Alex, Peter and few Malaysian runners while I collected 8 race packs, 7 of them for my friends.  Collection went really well and it was done in just minutes.

Left for Changi Village Hotel and check ourselves into Room 367. Really nice hotel and the best part is that it is just a 5 minutes walk from the race venue. Unpacked our stuffs and soon we realised it was getting a little late. Left the hotel forsome sight seeing around Singapore and just when I was at Orchard Road, I received a hilarious SMS from Jamie. He got confused of the race date and though I was already running the race. Though anyhow, I really appreciate that SMS. Thanks Jamie! Dinner was a heavy one for me, loading up with 2 servings of pasta. Filling up, off we return to the hotel to call it a day as a big race awaits the next day.

30 May 2009. Race day.
Woke up early at 9am as I was expecting both Chin Chin and Lynn's visit to collect their race packs. Victor was already out of the hotel to meet up with friends. Sharp on the clock at 10.45am, both the girls came knocking on the door.

Back to sleep after they left and woke up at 1.30pm for my final preparation and also an early dinner. Didn't really have a comfortable sleep but I guess it should be enough. I left for some of my own adventure around the area after Victor returned to the room for his turn to rest. Checked out the hotel's beautiful swimming pool and the well equipped gym before leaving for a nearby food court for a simple dinner. As like the previous year, I had chicken rice again, but this year's choice was a tasteless and tough to bite one. Haha... Then it's off to the race venue where final preparation was still undergoing. Knowing I won't have time and probably energy left after the race, I took some shots around it before returning to the hotel to get ready.

Foo my Seremban friend who will be running his first marathon dropped by to collect his race pack as both myself and Victor got ready. Shortly later, Alex who is running on behalf a fund raising campaign called the Dream Village dropped by to store his luggage. And when everything is done, I send out a "suicide note" SMS to my friends and their replies was just as hilarious as the one I send out. Hehe... A quick visit to the gym to weight myself and it showed I've gained 0.5KG from my carbo loading the past week. I'm weight at 49.9KG for the race.

A photo taken and off we went to the race venue 30 minutes before the start to check in our ultra needs bag at the tent. 15 minutes before the race, we had enough time catching up with friends like Mohan, Shine, Tay Poh Chye, Terence and Michelle where we all started together.


The writer (3rd from right) with the other ultra-marathoners before the start.

Race the night. The first loop.
At 7pm sharp, the ultra-marathon event was flagged off where some 601 runners went off running into the night. Wished my friends and off I went together with Shine. Immediately, I put my tag line into use and kept telling myself "Frank Boleh". Just after crossing the start gantry, I saw Ben on the side snapping photos and I called out to him before proceeding. Unlike the marathon category, the start was along the beach road which led into the Changi Beach Park. Nice shady place but the first signs of the humid weather soon came into place. At just 2KM or so, I was already drench in my own sweat and Shine was no where to be seen. Therefore, lonely run for me ahead into the first stretch called the Strings Of Lights. Nice comfortable run for me as I paid attention to my posture. Soon, I arrived at the Changi Coast along the Changi Airport runway. Felt the roar of a few huge planes taking off here and then the first refreshment station appeared. As it's going to be a long journey ahead, I intend to take small sips of water at every station even though I had my bottle of water with me. First sign of trouble came around the 8KM mark when the right shoe lace came loose despite double tying it with a retention buckle. Completed my first 10KM in 01:06:01 and into East Coast Park I ran where I took my first energy gel as planned.

The next 10KM was really a "torture" to the stomach. Weekenders spending their time at the beach was enjoying their barbeque session and the smell of the chicken wings was really too much! Nothing happen though as no one offered me any so off I went running. Haha... At about the 18KM mark, I spotted and called out to Victor, Suhaimi and Tay Poh Chye at the opposite side exiting the park soon. They were running fast, in fact too fast I think. Making my u-turn at the 19KM mark and soon hitting the exit at the 21KM mark at 02:11:23, I took my second gel energy gel. Out of the park, I was first greeted by the first pedestrian bridge, the slope type. I ran while going up, but walk on the way down as I didn't want to stress my knees too much.

Into the second stretch called the Heartland Twist, disaster struck me at around the 24KM mark. As my shoe lace came off again, I sat down on a nearby bench only to be hit by a very bad cramp on my left calf. And if that wasn't enough, it lead to another on my right adductor. 2 cramps at a time, it was so darn painful. Worst still, in the dark with no one around me. Imagine someone suffering a stroke and you'll know how I look like that time. Had a long rest coupled with massages and light stretching, off I went again limping with 60KM to go. I know cramps will come, but I did not expect it to arrive so early. And not forgetting that somehow for some reasons, the top part of my left ankle was irritated by my socks. But one thing for sure, I'm not quitting!

From here, I was slowing down due to the pain but I kept running. At the second pedestrian bridge, I finally met Tey ET where he closed in from behind. Had a short chat and he introduced me to another Malaysian friend, IronMan Hoo before I proceeded on passed Eunos MRT station and finally into the Bedok Reservoir area, the third stretch called Waterfront Trail. As the name implies, it's a 3KM run on a sandy surface which did help cushion the feet's landing and unlike the previous year, it was bright this time. And the scenery around the reservoir was beautiful enough to keep me away from the pain on my left calf. And just before exiting the area, I took my first toilet stop at about the 29KM mark.

I completed 30KM in 03:26:58 and with this time, it can be seen how much I'm struggling now. Took my third gel here, a energy gel with caffeine to help me prevent sleepiness. Into the Tampiness housing estate and crossing the fifth pedestrian bridge at around the 34KM mark near the Pasir Ris MRT station, it was into the fourth and final stretch called Homerun which took me into the Pasir Ris housing estate this time before exiting to the long stretch of Loyang Avenue. As I ran pass a bus stop, a family with a young kid probably just 5 years of age was cheering on. That kid really made my day as he was just so amazing with his cheers. Small little climbs greeted the runners next and I was really happy when I saw the 40KM distance marker. My time was 04:53:29 now and the marathon event was going to start soon. I initially wanted to complete my first loop before the marathon starts but I guess it's better not to now as the time is too close. The final 2KM was a slow one as there was a major 300M climb up towards Netheravon Road and I didn't want to trip on any humps now along the way like how I did last year.

Into the race venue again, marshalls shouting "Ultra-runner coming in" were making way for me as I ran into it. Supporters whom I didn't know at all were clapping and cheering and I felt I belong to the royalty. Thanks people! I completed my first loop in a time of :5:11:41 and off I went to the ultra needs tent for refueling and change of my top. Off came my white top and on came a black one, thus transforming me into a "running ninja" like how Ben and Chui Miew described. Bong, IronMan Hoo and Tay Poh Chye who arrived earlier was already there and we managed to exchange our first loop's adventure before they left. And soon, Tey ET and Chui Miew arrived too and we managed a photo together as I left my camera in my bag, and that's the only shot I have during the run. Haha... Refueled myself with raisins, a slice of bread, a energy gel, multi-vitamins and sips of water, and off I went again after 00:24:53 worth of rest time.

The real race begins. The second loop.
The moment I made my first step after exiting the ultra needs tent marks the furthest distance I ran. And it was hard. Probably the rest was a little too long and it's hard to restart my "engine". It's a repeat of the same route I did earlier but I kept myself away from thinking too much about it. I walked a good 2KM before finally "reigniting" myself though only at first gear. And it's this second loop that most will suffer and I intend to help those in need in anyway I can unless they gave me a signal that they are OK. Bump into another ultra-marathon runner shortly after the restart and we managed a short chat together to keep ourselves company. As he was leaning to the front too much, I advised him to stay straight but the damage was already done and he soon stopped with backache. He asked me to go ahead as he rested. Just before exiting the Changi Beach Park, a lady runner zoomed past me but was soon seen along the start of the Changi Coast road. She asked me for a sip of water which I was carrying which I gladly offered her as she was complaining that her heart was beating fast due to the coffee she took earlier. I jog along with her and I found out that she has done 2 ultra-marathons. One tough lady.


With Tey and Ameba

Shortly in front just before the first water station of the route, I bumped into Suhaimi who was struggling with sleepiness. I told the lady runner to go ahead as I accompany my Malaysian friend here, chatting with him to keep him awake and reminding him that he didn't come so far to sleep! Fast walk together before arriving at a small shelter where he took a short nap there.

Continuing alone into the night, I was greeted by a light breeze which help cool things down. I helped myself to it with deep breathing throughout the remaining distance as air is energy and I needed it to fuel my muscles which are screaming for help. I found my second gear as I arrived at the 10KM (52KM) mark and managed to start running. Chui Miew caught up and we ran together for a while before I forced a third gear out of me as I needed the toilet again. I even ran past Tey ET who left earlier. My pace here shows that when you need to go, you really need to run! And I was really happy when a public toilet showed up shortly in front. Signs of relieve indeed.

Off came my shoe lace again and what happen earlier repeated again. As I sat down, my right quads cramp up. Though it wasn't as bad compared to the earlier ones, it was still painful. Rested about 5 minutes and took another energy gel here as I did not want to suffer another cramp and head on, back to first gear though. Darn! As I made my u-turn, I saw Tey ET at the opposite side and shouted to him "Jia You" which means "Add Oil" in Mandarin. He replied the same to me. But soon, I needed the toilet again. Was really happy to see one but was upset that the person-in-charge didn't allow my entry as I did not have 20 cents with me! And I was really disgusted by the way he replied me. Anyway, I'm not going to talk about him, but I guess you readers can imagine what type of a person he is. Was lucky though that a free public toilet was at the East Coast Park's exit at the 21KM (63KM) mark. And my time here was 08:53:00.

Into the Heartland Twist stretch again and climbing the pedestrian bridges, my legs were already in another world. I still managed to jog a little, but I had to stop for stretches along the way as my left calf was still hurting badly from the earlier cramp. It was stiff. Exiting a park connector and into the Eunos MRT station, a marshall cheered "Jia You" and I replied that I have no "oil" left in me. She then replied in Mandarin to add water then. And I did just that at the next available refreshment station downing with it an energy gel. At the 25KM mark, I met an 18 year old young lad who is running his second ultra-marathon, both Sundown Marathons. We managed a fast walk together for a good 2KM before we made our own way and it really help as I managed to run the entire Bedok Resorvoir area which started again the Waterfront Trail. And just before exiting it, I stopped by at the public toilet to relieve myself as this will probably be the last toilet along the route.

10:15:02 is the time when I got to the 30KM (72KM) mark. There are no words that can describe my legs at this stage. I can hardly jog though the supporters at the refreshment station here was really supportive, cheering us on. A female marshall who saw the blue colour on my bib which indicate ultra-marathon runner offered me 4 cups of water and words of encouragements. I only had 2 cups though before I limp off catching up with Farid who past me very much earlier at the 17KM mark at the first loop. He told me he can no longer run due to the pain on his left leg, but one thing for sure is that he still can walk pretty fast.

After the fifth and final pedestrian bridge at about the 34KM (76KM) mark, I took my longest rest here which lasted a good 15 minutes or so. Took my final energy gel with caffeine as I performed light stretches while massaging my poor legs on a bench. Though it was hard to regain walking and even running again, it all proof to be worth it as I found higher gears as I walk and jog into the final stretch, Homerun. It was then at the final 6KM where I found my race gear and I went for it running at my regular marathon pace bearing all the pain my entire body is taking on. I told myself "This is it!". Though plenty of runners whether marathon or ultra-marathon runners were taking up the space along the pavements, I did not want to slow down so I opt to run on the grass at times when they did not give way.

I slowed a little just after the 40KM (82KM) mark as it was the attack of the 300M hill before engaging my new found gear at the top. I choose to run on the road when I can as the pavement was just a little narrow and not forgetting the humps there. With 1KM to go, I can hear the music blasting from the race venue. I am nearing it! Kept running and as I arrived at Changi Village, I slowed down to adjust myself as I wanted to enjoy the final moments of this ultra-marathon.

As I made my way into the venue, I was a little confused with the finishing area where the small little bridge we took last year was blocked. This time, we had to run a big u-turn which led to an increment of 300M or so towards the finish line. However, I did not care much about it as this is the final stretch. Marshalls were making the way for me and supporters were cheering from the side. And as I approached the finish line, I actually shed a single tear of joy while I started looking around for Lynn but I didn't see her. As I look for her, I completely missed the finish line as I ran passed it without even realising it. And so came to an end to this grueling 84KM ultra-marathon as I clocked 12:08:16. Yes, running from sundown to sunrise, I completed it and finally earned the title of "Ultra-Marathoner".

Post race.
Weight myself and the scale showed that I lost 0.9KG which I think should be more as I consumed lots of water. Made my way to the rest area and collected my finisher's medal and t-shirt before a painful walk back to the hotel. Though just across the road, it felt so far!
Back in the hotel room with Victor, we exchanged our stories while forcing our painful and tired bodies to move around packing our stuff. I even cramped up while climbing out of the bath tub. I'm sure Victor heard the loud "bang" on the toilet door that time. And after cleaning ourselves up, Victor took a short nap while I just sat on the chair thinking back of the amazing journey I just had. I thought back of the moments I had during my preparation leading up to the end of the race. Running a marathon isn't an easy task. Running an ultra-marathon will certainly take everything out of one. And to do the 84KM distance over 2 of the same loops, it will drive many nuts. However, it can be done as I myself has now done it and actually enjoyed it too. When the going gets tough, think of the positive things. My tag line and the thoughts of my friends were the ones that pulled me through. The pain and everything I endured, was it all worth it? I won't say it is because there is no words that can be use to describe it. To all who ran and completed both the marathon and ultra-marathon, congratulations on a job well done. To those who did not finish it, don't despair as there is always tomorrow. Look forward.

At 12pm, we checked out from the hotel and proceeded to Novena Square to catch our bus at 2.30pm.  While waiting for departure time, Tey ET caught both of us snoozing at the office. Luckily he didn’t snap our photos though. Boarding our bus back, we were soon reunited with our friends Bong, Farid, IronMan Hoo and Tay Poh Chye. We limped together and it will be a hilarious scene if captured on video. Nevertheless, well done to them as we parted ways some 6 hours later as we all arrived safely back in Bangsar. Home again.


The precious hard earned medal.


THANK YOU.
I would like to express my deep felt gratitude to these amazing people (not in any particular order) for my success in the Sundown Marathon 2009. Without them, I may not be able to pull it through it. And here's sharing my that single tear of joy to everyone!

- Lynn, for being such an awesome training mate, motivator and believing in me since the very beginning. Not forgetting the tag line that helped pulled me through.
- Luc, my "mentor" for all the training, advices and patience given.
- Alex, Bong, Farid, IronMan Hoo, Suhaimi, Tay Poh Chye, Tey ET, Victor and Chui Miew for their company before, during and after the run. You guys were great!
- Choi, Jamie, Lawrence, Loke and Geraldine who makes up the Platinum Runners for their support and words of encouragement.
- Keat Seong, Raymond Hee, Raymond Ng, Tony, Chin Chin, Pui San, Shih Ming and the rest of the THG gang for their believe in me.
- Terence, for organising the Putrajaya night run.
- Ben, Shine, Mohan and Seow Ping, for the advices given from those coming out from ultra-marathoners are just priceless.
- Yin Fook and Yee Tze, for their support and also Chinese dumplings. There were delicious!
- Judith Fox-Alder, for the support given and for sharing the inspiring stories of Terry Fox.
- The organisers, first aiders, marshalls, supporters of the Sundown Marathon 2009, for you all did a fantastic job!
- Runners I met along the race route who has kept me company. Thanks.
- To those whom have played a part in my success but not listed here (too many of you), you know who you are and you all have my greatest deep felt gratitude. THANKS!

Now one question remains. Will you see me at the same place and same time on 29 May 2010?

 

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