Sunday, March 28, 2010

ONH #4: Mission Merry-Go-Round

It was a special mission of sorts for the NightHawks and TFB Runners. We were to be part of the NTU 218km Run-Round-Singapore (RRS) race, running along and supporting 9 core runners to celebrate the institution's 55th anniversary. It was also a trial night run for most of us preparing for Sundown in May, to be conditioned for the rituals of night running, as well as running along with pacers and mobile escorts on the busy roads of Singapore.

While preparing ourselves to turn up at CheckPoint 26 (Yishun Stadium), our live tracking of the Core Runners showed that they were gaining 1-2hrs and were way ahead of schedule. By 3pm, we made a decision to activate the troops early, and posted on our various communications sources. It was a 'silent mobilization' of sorts, which put our dissemination systems into testing...haha. In the end, 80% of the forces did get the message, while the rest were sufficiently agile to react to the situation on the ground.

On our vehicle to CP26, we could see that the front Core Runner, Adrian Mok leaving CP26 with 4, he was very fast still, after doing something like 75km by then. As we reached the CP, LNH's entourage was just about coming in, and we were able to cheer them on and take some pics. By 6pm, about half of the FatBirds were gathered. Yuen Cheng's smallish group strode strongly pass CP26 at 6.20pm, and he broke into a smile with our loud cheers...showing the thumbs up! Melvin's group came along, and we gave a rousing round of cheers and applause. I ran up and encouraged Melvin, and he told me they were making the 2nd service stop at Bishan St. 11. As more TFB runners were still coming, we could not follow Melvin's group.

When Teck Hou and KK Chin's groups came, we joined in the fray, and kickstarted our mission for the night. More than 50 FatBirds were running alongside these 2 groups, very excited about the happenings, and what was in store for many of us newbies to such long-distance relays. Many were in awe of the Core Runners, who looked so fresh after doing 80km, and were going to complete the full 218km within 36hrs....and Teck Hou told us he would maintain 6:30min/km pace.

After 8km of running though rush-hour traffic and crossing lots of traffic junctions, we arrived at Bishan St. 11 to a large crowd of Core Runners and their respective groups. Lots of catching up with the various friends and running community, as the core Runners were checked by the Doctors and medical personnel for weight and health status, taking dips in the cold bath to relieve these tight and tired muscles, and getting refuel as well as a good rub-down. We took many pics here, and cheered the rest of the FatBirds coming in, as well as the relay runners who have started from Yishun later.

At Bishan CP, with Melvin, Teck Hou and KKChin's supporters

In the midst of all the excitement, we missed Melvin when he took off for his next CP. The group that was assigned to run along with him were unable to move ahead, so we all gathered to wait for TH and KK. After an hour of rest, we cheered TH and KK as they came on like some 'prized boxers' as they started on their 3rd marathon. By then there was more than 60-70 runners gathered. We ran as a contingent, to loud cheers from the RRS Relay Runners who were waiting to be flagged off from Bishan. It was a nice feeling, and real fun to be running in a relay race as a large group, clapping and encouraging everyone.

As planned, we broke off into 3 groups, with the front group of about 30 keeping up with TH. The mid-pack was about 500m behind, while the sweeping group was 1km behind with KK. With the relay runners being activated by then, and our teams all getting into the scheduled timings, we were able to soak in the RRS atmosphere along the busy stretches of Bishan and Serangoon. When we reached Kovan MRT, we had done 14km. The 21km NightHawk trainees had completed their target, and bade farewell while we continued on along 'Durian' street. Bright lights from the durian stalls along Upper Serangoon Road welcomed us. While TH took a short break, we had a few seeds of durian, courtesy from the friendly stall

Kayano came from across the street to join us, and so did a few other RRS relay runners. Francis were tracking our movements, and some of the pics I had posted up on fb using iPhone. With the group back to about 40, it was still loads of fun as we ran together with TH and the support vehicle and mobile escort. We had one lane to ourselves and were able to cross all the traffic junctions smoothly. Our spirits were high, and it kept the Core Runner moving at 7min/km pace. Each time we passed a relay station with runners waiting for flag-off, we would go into our clap routine and chants of 'GO, NTU, GO!'. It never failed to bring enthusiatic applause and cheers all round. The video-cams and cameras were clicking away as we ran through each of the stations.

The distance melted away as we passed Buangkok, then Sengkang, and towards Ponggol. Things were quieter along those stretches. Each time the marshals (with their red light sticks) saw our group, they would break into smiles, and waved us on while stopping the traffic. It must have been nice to see a large group pass their locations in the quiet of the night. TH did not take any walk breaks at all, short of a few quick drinks and pee breaks. He was still able to maintain a consistent 7min/km pace, in spite of some swelling in his eyes...this guy really has the grit and persistence of a super endurance runner.

As DO informed us that Ponggol MRT was just 2km, many of us who would have done 25km by then, broke into smiles as that would be our final CP for the 42km NightHawks. Whispers of where we were going for supper ensued, while others discussed about their plans for the next major TFB CP at Bedok. Soon we could see bright lights in the horizon as we arrived into Ponngol station to loud cheers and applause. We had a group picture with TH and his support crew, before cheering him on for his onward journey. Some of the FatBird Runners like Li Lian, Johnny, Kok San, Steven, etc joined Francis to continue with TH. By Sunday morning, 7 of the core runners were still on the road, pressing on.

Escort Runners & Pacers with the jubilant Core Runner, Teck Hou

We received news that the 21km NightHawks completed their mission at Kovan and were safely back home, while the mid-pack and sweeper 42km NH were about 4km from Ponggol MRT. We followed our plan to disperse the front group, while the rest of the groups would similarly disperse once they reach Kovan MRT, Ponggol MRT and finally Bedok. By midnight, most of the FatBird Runners made their way to Ponggol MRT to complete their Mission Merry-Go-Round. It was a night of fun, excitement, and quite an experience for many of our FatBird Runners....running round the island, along the busy streets of Singapore in the night, is not something that many runners get to do.

The Ponggol Run-Round-Singapore (RRS) Runners

As we retire to the comfort of our Nests, satisfied that we have put in a night of running for a good cause, we continued our cheering and encouraging the Core Runners (online) and those who are out there on the roads with them.

By 9am Sunday, there were only 6 runners left on the quest. The Core Runners upped the pace, led by Yuen Cheng and Chua. YC set a blistering pace to finally complete the 218km on Sunday, 1600hrs, exactly 31hrs after they were flagged off, an incredible 5hrs below the set target completion time....amazing how he has improved from the 168km 5 years ago. Melvin from SAFRA MF finished strongly in 33 hours, followed by Chua. An impressive feat by Melvin, and the whole of SAFRA and NTU are so proud of them.

In one of the most dramatic and inspiring finish in local long-distance races, Core Runner Teck Hou gave chase in the final few km, and sprinted to the finish together with Lim Nghee Huat, to become the 5th and final finisher. They completed the 218km in 34hrs, with 2hrs to spare till the cutoff. TH whom we had the privilege to pace for some distance last evening, held his cards close to his heart, adopted a steady pace, and finally unleashing the full power in the final stretch. A craftsman-in-the-making for endurance races.

LNH, at age 57, was undoubtedly the most experienced and senior veteran in the field, and he proved that age was no barrier when he trounced his own record time and distance set in 2005.

Although not completing the full 218km, KK Chin, Adrian, Adeline, Jun Wei went on to complete more than 100km, an outstanding achievement in endurance and mental strength. We salute all of them for their courage and peserverance to pursue what is unthinkable for many of us.

We are simply in awe of these super endurance athletes, and extremely proud of them.
FatBird Runners and NightHawks have been most honoured to be a part of this commemorative and charity event, and especially inspired by the NTU Core Runners for attempting such an unfathomable feat...218km! Run Round Singapore (RRS) ROCKS!

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