Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Comrades House

The Comrades House in Pietermaritzburg at Dusk
Every Comrades runner must pay homage to Comrades House in Pietermaritzburg. This is where you will find a comprehensive history, race statistics, memorabilia of The Comrades Marathon.

Every international runner who signs up for the Comrades gets to go on a a free route tour and the tour ends in Comrades House. The tour leaves at 8 am from the Comrades expo. You only need to indicate which day you are going. The white wrist band which is your ticket is found in the collection pack. The Comrades House also allows bib collection( for the local runners I think), sells merchandise etc. If you can't find your favorite items at the expo. Chances are, you may get it at The Comrades House like I did.

I was lucky because I get to go on a private tour by car and we ended our tour at the Comrades House.

The wall of previous Comrades' winners but where is the trophy?

The room where the model of the entire 89km of the Comrades Route is displayed 
The starting at Durban with the Indian Ocean in the fore ground 

The view of Pietermaritzburg . The 2 red lines indicates the up and the down run.

Bruce Fordyce, The highest number of winner of the Comrades. 9 times. A former world record holder of 50 and 100km. He lived in Seremban as a child 1959-1962. He is now my Facebook friend.

Alan Robb a previous winner ran his 40th Comrades in 2013. He was at the Pasta Party

The wall of greats

Vic Clampham bust is found at the entrance. He is the founder of the Comrades Marathon in 1921.
I left my name in the visitor's book

The back yard of the Comrades House

It's a working office cum museum Mons to Fris

The emblem on the gate

The sign
The photos of the winners
Comrades Poster 1987

Comrades Poster 1986

Comrades Poster 1988
I can't think of another marathon which such long history apart from Boston. So, come and join us next year and be part of the Comrades' history

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Comrades Route Tour

We were lucky to have a private tour. Chee Kong drove his car and Frank drove a SUV for the 9 of us. We entered at Botha's Hill and went to Drummond . That is the half way point of the race. There's a wall of honour here where for R300 or RM100, they can put your name on a plaque on the wall. Some runners even put the ashes behind their plaque so that they can watch the race forever.

The Wall of Honour at Drummond, halfway  point of Comrades Marathon

We located the wrong Arthur's seat because of the misleading signboard's location. It was much further down. You will see it first before the signboard on a UP run. I found out on race day unlike Francis who ran past it. He realized when the volunteers asked him why he is still holding on to the stalk of rose.

The most memorable photo weren't taken by me. It was taken by Cham. Frank liked it and posted it and I too think this is quite special.

From left : Wong FS, me, Frank, Roy, CP Tan, Francis and Chee Kong.
There were Malaysians who ran this race before like Ng Seow Kong, Hoo Ching Tai and Hoo Ching Cheong. Frank, Wong and Chee Kong ran it last year. I think we have made quite a impact on Malaysians to sign up next year.

I like this photo because we were the magnificent 7 who ran it in 2013. I am sure it will be bigger next year...but i will always remember this group because I was one of them...

Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Comrades Expo

There is a time difference of 6 hours between KL and South Africa. I got up automatically at 3am ( it's already 9 am) in KL. It was still dark and I tried to sleep again.

At 6am, I saw the sunrise from my window and how beautiful the Durban beachfront was. It was dark when I arrived last night.

There were people running alone the promenade and it was really spectacular. The winds and waves were strong enough for surfing. In fact , that's people usually do when they come to Durban.

Our meeting time at breakfast was supposed to be at 8am. I got down at 7am and saw many runners. I am an expert in identifying runners by now.

The first to come down was CP Tan and his wife. We sat together and soon I excused myself to go up and get changed because we were going to the expo later.

When I come down again, I saw the whole group. First I saw Wong in the lobby and he helped me to snap a photo with the famous Russian twins. Then we went into to the breakfast lounge and Francis, Frank, Roy and Cham was already there. The next table is Chee Kong and Mei Ee with baby Xi Ning. Xi Ning was born a week before the 2 Oceans Marathon in March.

Then a voice called out to me and said ..Mr Fashionable.

I looked behind and here she was, this a petite lady with long locks of hair wearing a pink dress with geometrical designs like a Pucci. She is Celene from Hong Kong. We interacted on Facebook but this is my 1st time meeting her.

She loved the statement ring that I was wearing. So it was words of Renee Zellweger in the movie Jerry Macguire (1996)'ve got me at hello. She was warm and lively. Sometimes in life, you met a person and within the first 5 seconds, you'd know that you both clicked. This was one of those moments.

We continued to interact the next few days up to the last day when we sat together for breakfast before I flew to Cape Town. In fact, Francis, Celene and I had breakfast together everyday. It is a pity that she didn't joined us for the Pasta Party. She must join us next year.

I will never forget our 1st meeting. We looked out for each other the next few days like brother and sister.

Chee Kong was so nice to send the 3 of us who arrive late last night to the expo. He and the gang from Joburg has already collect their bibs yesterday.

The Comrades expo is huge but there is preferential treatment for foreign runners. We have a special booth for collection. There is free coffee and tea plus biscuits there. We can go on a free bus tour of the Comrades Route at 8am either Friday or Saturday. There's a special tag for our baggage or tog bags as they called it South Africa. We can get our bags at the International Tent, a guarded area that serves a buffet after the run.

The expo is huge but not as huge as Tokyo. The security is not as tight as the American ones i.e. we don't go through metal detectors. But it is certainly bigger than Gold Coast Expo.

One thing I really like about the Comrades Expo is the amount of seats available. There's sofas at the Bonitas area and Nedbank chill lounge as you entered. There's a big food court serving almost everything including chinese , middle eastern, popcorns and even beers. The wifi is really fast in the Durban Convention Centre too. Just ask for the password from the information counters.

The Foreign Runners' Booth. A German lady with a bigger camera took this photo for  me.

There's is also a official merchandise area sponsored by Reebok. There's also a green number merchandise area. Beware, we are not allowed in there. Green Numbers means the runner has run the Comrades for 10 times and gets to keep his number permanently . There's also other privileges such a separate bib collection, separate corral and special merchandise at discounted prices. There is the Comrades' loyalty program I supposed.

Frank, Roy , Cham , Chee Kong , Mei Ee and baby came soon after . We walked for a while and off we go to a private Comrades route tour.

I saw the Comrades route for the first time and we took a very meaningful photo together .. I will share it in the next installment..

Wednesday, June 19, 2013


There are 1.2 millions Asians in South Africa and 98% of them are Indians. And 90% of them live in Durban. There 1st person I spoke to in Durban was a Indian. The girl at the airport toll plaza too was a Indian. The driver was a Indian. The assistant to the van driver was also a Indian. The movies shown at Suncoast was Bollywood.

The King Shaka Airport of Durban is a brand new airport. My old guide says the Durban airport is located 14km south of Durban but this one is 26km north of Durban. The only flight thats operates out of Africa is Emirates. Therefore, most arrives are locals or neighboring country. There are no touts in Durban airport. It's very peaceful in fact.

There's a shuttle van that leaves every hour half past the hour. It will take you direct to your hotel for R70 (RM23). If you were to take a taxi , it will cost R500.
The Durban Airport Shuttle Ticket

I touched down at 715pm and was at the van pick up at 7:30pm. The Indian uncle told me that the van just left and it was full. I was the first to be in the van and thought that I might need to wait an hour for the next departure. However, the a South African man came followed a group of 7 Filipinos. I can tell that all these Filipinos are running the Comrades.

So, the uncle put all of us in a smaller van and departed at 745 pm. Plus, I got to sit in front and saw the highways of Durban . Thats how I know the girl at the Toll Plaza is a Indian. She asked the uncle to buy Buffalo Wings on his way back to the airport.

The 1st stop was at Umblanga where the South African got down at The Gateway hotel. It's really nice suburban area with a big mall. The next stop was my stop , Bellaire at North Beach. I got to the hotel at 815pm.

Bellaire claims to be a 4 star hotel but the most I would give is 3. But for a large room with big fridge, microwave, flat screen TV plus all rooms are sea facing..a night of less than RM200, it's really worth it. I would recommend this hotel to all Malaysians. I had my first shower after more 24 hours. eeks..
The studio unit of Bellaire , Durban

After a quick bite downstairs at the Jiran Coffee House, I was already asleep by 9:30pm. My dear friends came back after their night out in a Thai restaurant called my room or sms me.

The next day, I met all of them at breakfast. One in particular left a very deep impression on me..

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Flying to South Africa

There are no non stop flights to South Africa anymore from Malaysia. Malaysia Airlines cancelled the Johannesburg and Cape Town flights some time ago.

The next best choice would be Singapore Airlines but you need to fly an hour to Changi and transit there.

The best deals are the middle eastern airlines. It's cheap to fly these airlines to Europe, America or Africa these days. The 3 best airlines operating from KL are Emirates, Etihad and Qatar. However, one needs to transit either in Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Doha. For the wide leg room, generous recline and state of the art entertainment system, it's hard to beat these airlines.

Frank, Francis and Wong flew Emirates. The advantage is Emirates has more than one departure a day, so you can choose the choice of day or night flights. Emirates operates non stop flights to Johannesburg, Cape Town and Durban (the Comrades city) from Dubai. However, the transit in Dubai is at least 5 hours.

Roy, Cham and I flew Qatar. We had a good deal in Jan 2013. Roy and Cham paid less than RM3000 for a return flight to Joburg. I paid RM3200 because I flew home from Cape Town via Joburg. This airlines attracts its customers by offering very short transit.  1 hour 15min going and 1 hour coming back. However, the airport is in construction and the aircraft is parked at remote bays. The airport resembles our KL bus station Puduraya.

I met a Malaysian crew in Qatar Airways on the way to Joburg. She aspires to be a marathoner and has done shorter distances. She spotted my Standard Chartered KL Marathon finisher T the moment I stepped into the aircraft. We had great rapport and now she's my facebook friend.

I arrived at Johannesburg airport at 2:30pm.  There were officers at the gate checking our boarding passes as we stepped out of the plane. So don't lose your boarding pass.

I sat at the end of the aircraft and was the last to disembark. That's why it was 4 pm by the time I cleared immigration and collected my baggage. There was a big Pakistani group of handphone dealers on my flight.

There are many unofficial taxi drivers and porters wanting to carry our baggage for a fee at Joburg airport. So, hang on to those luggages!

In fact, there's a another short cut at the arrivals. Once you see the glass doors , DO NOT EXIT. Turn left and you will the check in counters for the South African domestic flights. If you are flying SA, you can check-in here. Look on your left, you will see a set of escalators going up. Take those escalators and there's a smaller exit door. There are no one waiting at this door.

I am glad that I booked the 6pm Kulula flight to Durban. So there was no pressure of rushing. The budget airlines in South Africa is Kulula and Mango. I flew to Durban for about RM200.

The Kulula and Mango check in at the end of a long stretch at the OR Tambo Airport in Joburg.

There's a Standard Bank behind the check in counters. It's very safe to withdraw money there. I got my first rands, the exchange was very good RM312 for R1000.

The boarding gates are crowded but fast. You can bring in your bottle water here. The first I noticed are the shoe shine boys when I entered. Yes, one can still get the shoe shined manually here.

There are Wimpy (a local fast food), Bean and Mugg (coffee joint) and a pub at the domestic gates. If you don't have a Infinite credit card that entitles you for the airport lounges worldwide, the next best choice is to the Standard Bank promotion counters. You just have to give them your email and they will give you a password for the wifi and a free coffee too.

Kulula Airline is fun, the aircraft is painted in livery that shows where the captain and co pilot is seated among other things. The crew are really fun. The safety demonstration is hilarious. They say something like we squeezed all of you coming in one door. In case of emergency, you can leave in any of the 8 doors. or in case of water landing; for those who can swim please exit to the left, those who can't ...thank you for flying Kulula.

I noticed that the beer sold on board is less than RM5, the same price as a Coke. The choice is obvious.

My first introduction to a South African national treasure.. Castle Beer.

They also encourage the passengers to take home their in flight magazine.
Swipe Me If You Like Me
The flight is to Durban is only an hour and it ended earlier than I wanted it to. The baggages came out quickly. The cabs or shuttle bus is on the right exit next to the bank. Just look out for the signage Public Transportation.

I found my airport shuttle with a nice Indian uncle driver...

Stay tuned....

The Comrades Marathon 2013 : The Training.

I just completed my toughest and most memorable race to date...The Comrades Marathon. They called it the ultimate human race. It's the world largest ultra marathon with 18000 entrants. Thats bigger than the Hong Kong or Singapore full marathon category.

The distance is 87km for a 'Up' run and 89km for the 'Down' Run. It's the Up run this year with the worst conditions of the past 14 years according to one of the runners. Temperatures as high as 30 Celcius and cross wind up to 20km/hr. Some of the distance markers were blown down.

I signed up after I saw Frank Chong's finishing photo at The 2012 Comrades Marathon in June 2012. I just completed my 1st ultra distance of 50km in Ireland. It was so fulfilling.

I planned to 'up' my game slowly after I signed up for Comrades 2013 in September 2012.

I signed up the 50miler (78km) of the Craze Ultra in Singapore in September 2012.

Chee Kong brought back the book..'Make Sure of Your Comrades Medal' by Don Oliver when he was back in Malaysia in Nov 2012. He works in Johannesburg.

I read the book and signed the commitment card on the 15th Nov 2012. There was a training program in the book and I started my Comrades training officially in Jan 2013. That was my only reference to train for the Comrades.

My mileage for Jan and Feb 2013 was 225km and 221km. I ran the Yangon Marathon and Hong Kong Marathon in these 2 months.

I increased my mileage to 362km and 332km in March and April. I ran my Twilight Ultra Challenge of 70km in March and the Island Ocean Marathon in Langkawi in April.

I need to do another ultra distance on the 1st week of May. I was so disappointed that the Borneo Marathon was cancelled. However, the Borneo Running Club organized a training run thats exactly the marathon route. I ran to and fro to the Kota Kinabalu airport and I ran to the start at the Likas stadium. Then I did the marathon distance. It was about 58km that night.

After that, I tapered. My longest distance was 20km for the next 3 weeks. My total mileage from Jan to May was 1360km.

Then on the 29th May I flew to South Africa..

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

New York Marathon 2011 ( Saturday before The Race )

Sat 5 Nov was the day before The Day. the NYRR organized a 5 km in the Central Park called the NYRR Dash to the Finish Line. It is at 830am and temperature was 3 Celsius. I didn't signed up for that race. My Singaporean friends went to collect the bib and I brought my group to the Top Of The Rock.

This is the observation deck on the 66 floor of the GE tower at The Rockefeller Plaza at midtown Manhattan. From there we can take nice shots of The Empire State building, central park, New Jersey, Queens, Brooklyn and even Staten island. Anyway,One can't snap empire state when one is in then empire state! And we took the walking tour that goes in and out of the 14 buildings of the Rockefeller Center plus the famous skating rink too. Yup, it's already a skating rink by Nov. Or else it's just a foot court. Sadly, they haven't installed the giant christmas tree yet.
Empire State Building from Rockefeller Center

Then we walked to Times Sq and I got us tickets to watch the matinee for Spiderman Turn Off The Dark musical at Broadway. At least I get to sit down for the next 3 hours. I was enchanted by the grand Foxwoods Theatre. Loved the new and most high tech Broadway musical with the technology from the Beijing Games opening. Humans are held by 4 tight ropes so that they can fly around the theatre, seriously . In actual fact there 9 spidermen in the show because they appeared from all corners of the theatre. Of course, only one is seen at any given time.
Spiderman on Broadway

After the show, I felt a need to have a herbal drink..where else but Chinatown! So we took the train no 1 to Canal St and found a Taiwanese honey lemon bubble tea. The closest to herbal drink. Eventually, Esther did got me herbal drink and she brought it back to me at night.

My New Yorker friend Will organized a pre marathon carbo loading dinner at the 85th st upper west which is very close to where I stayed. We met at the Standard Chartered KL Marathon this year. I was pacing the 5:30 group and he followed us. Met his wife, Karen plus 10 others marathon maniacs. Will has been most helpful in my preparation to NYC , from describing the NYC marathon route to teaching me to use the Baltimore DC Parkway. I sat next to a Thai who worked for ING in Seattle.
Dean's Pizzeria & Restaurant 85th St

Dean's Pizzeria & Restaurant 85th St

After dinner, i went back to the room and saw Aileen, Wen Wen and Oscar busy preparing for our big day tomorrow. As usual, it's almost like preparing for war! Set my alarm to 3 am. I tried to sleep at 11pm with butterflies in my stomach ...