We ran, we jogged, we walked and finally limped, but we made our personal bests! – John Neilson
Eight hours and forty-five minutes in the chair; waving the invisible Team Costa flag for my husband and my friends who were tackling the Twilight Ultra for the first time. That’s with the exception of the culprit who had done it once before and somehow managed to rope all of us into registering for a race that was well beyond any previously completed distances.
Let’s wind back the clock to pre-Xmas. A particularly pleasant day spent around the BBQ pit with condo neighbours and friends. As the BBQ wraps up and we’re chilling at home a new message pops up in our FB newsfeed by one of our more elusive members of Team Costa with the following words:
“Sports fans – It took shockingly little alcohol today to agree on the next challenge. This one will be the stuff of legends and take care of a bucket list item by taking us farther than ever before!
Drum roll… on Saturday, 28. March at 7pm, we will start running then walking then crawling a 10k loop in our beloved East Coast Park (a.k.a. massive home field advantage). We will keep going until we either say “no mas” or until a puny 16 hour time limit is up at 11am on Sunday morning. Some of us will turn ultra, all of us will break personal distance records, and everyone will be a CHAMPION! The camaraderie is truly fantastic, the race is well supported, and we need to make sure we have a good turnout!”
Who could say no to such an invitation, some said yes immediately, some were signed up by proxy and some just didn’t want to miss out on this madness. Promptly registered, the Team Costa contingency included: David, Stan, John, Michelle, Sven, Veronika, Chris and myself.
Christmas, New Year, Chinese New Year and other races came and went and somehow the training for this incredible event just in our backyard was sorely underestimated and under-executed. Business trips, holidays, injuries and other races had a way of infiltrating our less than stellar training schedules. No matter, this is Team Costa and regardless of circumstances we always rise to the challenge, well except for me on this occasion. With an ankle injury sustained at the Urbanathlon race, I was knocked out of participating in the Ultra and became the through-the-night support and designated photographer. I now know what DNS stands for. I’ll carry that badge of honour.
A week prior to the race, we gathered around to discuss the race route, how to tackle the 10km loops, what gear to have, food to pack, and essentially pump up the enthusiasm and mental preparation for what was ahead.
Come race day we all met early enough to set up at a shelter near the race tents, collect our bibs and absorb the upbeat atmosphere. One of my highlights was the proximity to our home. A mere 10 minutes walk, which was closer to 30min when we stumbled home at 5am.
Prepped and ready to roll, the race organisers respectfully observed 91 seconds of silence as tribute to the late founding father of modern Singapore, Mr Lee Kuan Yew. Shortly afterwards the race started and 230 participants began their long journey into the night.
What’s the objective you might ask? Firstly, ultra challenges are recognised as races where the participant must complete a distance greater than a marathon (42km/26miles) either within a set timeframe or a specified distance. This particular race had a set timeframe of 16 hours, from 7pm to 11am the next day, with two 5km loops. With the event tent as the central point one loop headed east and the other west. Refreshment stations were set-up at the halfway point of each loop along with checkpoint officials marking the bibs indicating completed loops.
Having completed 80km at the 2013 Ultra, Sven was the only ultramarathoner amongst the Costa team and hence it was no surprise when he separated from the rest of the group early on to run his own race. The rest of the team, with a target of 50km, held together for 20km at which point different fitness levels were highlighted and they started breaking up into teams of two.
Four hours and 25km later fatigue, knee problems, aches and pains slowly seeped into the team. The fresh look was not so fresh anymore. There was a strain behind the smile as it was clearly trying to mask the physical discomforts. For John and Veronika, 25km was their new personal best. Neither of the two ever ran more than 14km, giving them their first half-marathon experience.
Time passed by and bit by bit the loops were being conquered. By 1.30am, I was left on my own. All other supporters have left to catch some sleep. The team has broken up and running at their own pace, except for John and Veronika who stayed together till the end.
Whilst each 5km loop brought them closer to their target, by now it was getting very tough. As John put it, “I didn’t realize just how much new pain you can acquire in the last 5 km”. It was no longer about physical endurance, it was mental. I wondered, how much longer could they endure the aches, pain and fatigue to reach their goal. It was evident they needed to dig deep and find just a little more and add just one more loop. Unless you were Sven, who by 2am had completed 55km (15km ahead). He was like a dragonfly, flitting in to the tent for sustenance and then out for another loop.
Whilst they may have looked a little worse for wear, their “never give up” spirit propelled them forwards and onwards with the final target in mind. For David, Chris and Stan the next 20km wasn’t exactly a breeze but their fitness was evident as they pushed on to double their personal bests. Neither of them, including Michelle, have done anything more than a half-marathon in recent times.
John and Veronika have slowed down substantially. John’s knees were causing him a lot pain and the last 5km (reaching 35km) took just over an hour to complete. They were both reduced to shuffling and most likely would want nothing more than to stop but after some rest, food and lots of anti-inflammatory they took off at 2.19am for the next loop. Twenty minutes later Chris came through 45km and was ready to barrel through the last loop, followed by Stan another 10 minutes later. David has dropped behind by half hour since Chris has come and gone but still sported an incredible smile pretty happy with himself.
As the hour passed, I felt the fatigue crawling inside of me, knowing I wouldn’t last much longer spectating. I figured that John and Veronika would come through by 3.20am but as the minutes dragged by, I realised this was the end of the road for them. It took 90 minutes for them to return to the tent and by this point Chris caught up with them as well. Watching John hobbling towards me with his sore knee and I knew he was done for but then so was I. Sleep was beckoning fiercely.
At 3.44am John and Veronika completed 40km. An excellent effort given that I considered both of them as part-time runners. They have both tripled their previous personal bests. Somehow I don’t think they’ll view 5km or 10km races with trepidation anymore. Chris, Stan and David knocked up their first 50km. When I asked Chris if he would do it again, he indicated that he could be persuaded.
With creaking joints and stiff muscles we all waited for Michelle to come through her 45th km to give her a final salute and word of encouragement before we set off for home. We really thought she was done for given how much she has slowed down but there was “no quitting” signals in her eyes. She would have crawled on her hands and knees if she had to and whilst she probably wasn’t far from it, thankfully she finished her race standing tall (or maybe a little hunched from exhaustion).
It’s 4.46am and these guys have endured 8hrs44min. Some packed away 50km and some 40km. We left Michelle to complete her last loop and somewhere in the distance was Sven still going strong. Blisters abounded and weary bodies were searching for sleep. The next day their muscles sang to a different tune. But they’ve endured. They’ve pushed beyond their personal limitations and found a new them.
Our poolside talks would never be the same again.
So what happened to Michelle and Sven?
Amidst tears and exhaustion, Michelle, ambled through her last loop that took her 90 minutes to complete. Tackling the underpass stairs to get home was quite the challenge. Whereas Sven, saw the sunrise and with two hours to spare he stopped at 100km, crashing through his last record by 20km. For him it was a “little dream come true”.
What was their experience?
In their own words:
Before the race I thought I’d pace myself and do a combination of slow jogging and walking and get to my target 50km distance. When we all started together it felt really good, like a team sport. I really enjoyed running with a variety of Team Costa members.
At about the 15km mark I started to have a ache in my left knee, by 20km I had to drop back to walking or risk injury. By the 30km mark a lot of other aches started to hit me including blisters on both feet. From 30-40km I was just glad I had Veronica to walk with me as my body was definitely telling me to stop.
I learned that I can choose to keep going when my body says stop. I learned that I need to pace myself earlier and if I were to do it again, I would start even slower to last longer and delay the knee problem which stopped me at the end.
There was a wide variety of emotions this race tapped into starting well before race day. Nervousness, apprehension, excitement. As we were all there as a team before it started it felt so humbling and wonderful to be part of such a group of amazing people from all over the globe. It was amazing we all stuck together for the first 20km. We may break off in small groups, but all regrouped at water stations and the main tent. Without the camaraderie and support of one another I don’t think I would’ve lasted so long.
What I loved about this was it really felt like a team sport in the beginning and then it transitioned to an individual sport. Thru the pics you can see the evolution. It was a very emotional run for me as it’s something I never thought I would accomplish in my life. I couldn’t stop the tears of happiness, accomplishment and relief when they handed me the medal. I had to dig deep to find my motivation and driver. The last 5km I finished my book and turned on my music. This made a big change for me as I just lost myself in the music. I always knew I loved music and having this relief felt wonderful.
Running a 50km Ultra Marathon was not part of the plan a year ago, but thanks to this inspiring and crazy group of fun people, I can now say: “We did it!”
Thanks to “Mr. 100k” Sven for showing us that it could be done. All of us broke personal best records running 100k, 50km and 40km. The last 15km were incredibly hard, after the adrenaline is gone and you’re digging into any remaining energy reserves. That’s when you just grind it out. Amazing experience.
Thanks Team Costa for the support and awesome team spirit!!! I was in a really bad place between kilometers 80-95. Then I got this energy burst, passed a guy I had been going back and forth with and went from being behind him to 26 minutes ahead.
For better or for worse, I made up my mind to stop at 100k when I was in horrible pain earlier in the race but I didn’t really register that I had almost two hours left until after I told the organizer I’m done. It also started to get very hot after sunrise. It’s hard to think straight after so much torture and pain.