Life mirrors the runs or is it the other way, when you become a runner. What exactly is a runner ? I checked on the internet and the simplest definition is a person who runs for sports or pleasure. I didn’t know if I qualify but I just like to run, especially testing myself initially in races. Then in some ways as with many things in life, it became costly. So I have to be more selective (about races) and run mainly for ‘pleasure’ at my own time and pace/place. Then it changed to another P, Purpose. I wrote about that a year or so ago. It kept me going even when I was down. (I started writing this thinking I would review a run event but it turned into something beyond… hence the title.)
Near the end of last year I decided to participate in the 86 km category of the 50 hours non-stop run organized by Tampines West Community Sports Club (CSC). Into its fifth year, the venue for the Run is Bedok Reservoir Park with start / end point at the floating platform near Sheng Siong Supermarket.
This Run is to challenge participant to push their limits in achieving the running distance of 5 laps (21.5km), 10 laps (43km), 15 laps (64.5km) and the maximum 20 laps (86km) at their own pace and time within the 50 hours duration. This is a non-competitive event and times are not recorded. Participants can choose any time to start, stop and continue within the 50 hours. I chose 86 km and I planned to finish in one ‘go’.
I chose to run this to raise funds for the Singapore Cancer Society. It was my second ‘big’ official campaign to run for funds for the society. There had been a few persons in my life – my good friends and my mother-in-law who passed away due to cancer. I was quite ‘angry with cancer’ when my mum-in-law was taken away too in 2012 after losing a friend earlier on. Cancer doesn’t just affect the patients but the circle of people around them. While my wife had not shown much external emotion at the loss I know she missed her mum a lot when she passed away after a short discovery and treatment period.
I was aware that I was a very ordinary runner who started a bit late in running and would be past 56 years old when I attempted the 86 km ultra. The furthest I had done was 50 km non-stop.
And I had not kept in touch much with my usual social circle since leaving my career back a few years ago. And the current group had no interest in running except for one. Coincidentally the previous campaign I had done was completing 500 km (exceeded that distance finally) in 86 days, hence I decided to set the target of raising $8686 with this ultra 86 km mission.
I decided to run every day to train for this ultra so I started that on 29th Dec last year. (And walked everyday too with my average total number of steps I took per week usually exceeding 100,000.) Initially it was still fine. As the weeks grew into months it became a challenge… When it rained… When life’s schedule became complicated… But I persevered and on days when I couldn’t do much, I just made sure that I did run 1 mile (at least 1.6 km) besides doing my walks. Most times the runs were about 3-4 km. Longest was a half marathon. I didn’t attempt more, as I didn’t want to get injured and aggravate my back injuries.
Slightly more than a month to go before the event, bad news came. A dear friend, a female classmate of mine, also ex-colleague of mine and one of the strong supporters of my previous campaign had passed away. Struck down by a relapse of cancer just late last year. She had kept her illness private and so it came as a shock to most of us. My last interaction was a couple of months before. I decided to dedicate the campaign in her memory too. At her wake, I met ex-colleagues and former course mates who then brought me into the cohort’s whatsapp group.
Then, about 2 weeks before the mission, one of my younger brothers was hospitalized, initially in ICU due to a sudden heart attack. I went in and out of hospital to help him out. He had an emergency bypass and then another bypass within a few days. I was feeling a bit of pain on my back of my right hip. I ignored and carried on life and squeezing running into the tighter schedule. Till about a few days before the actual date when things settled down for my brother and I went to the polyclinic to check on my pain. Was asked by the female doc to come back the following day as the x-ray section had closed for the day and she gave me some painkillers. Next day it was a male doc who then examined me physically. He discovered a mass on the right abdomen. I had noticed the swelling but didn’t think too much of it as my pain was behind, not on the front. It was about a finger length firm mass which can be felt physically on the right abdomen.
He asked me a few question relating to cancer history. Nope, I didn’t know of any cancer history in my family. It sounded ominous. He asked about the level of pain. It was quite intense on the back, the hip. He decided to refer me to the emergency department in a hospital of my choice. I took the referral letter and asked him if it was alright to run in another few days’ time. He said better not, what if the mass were to ‘burst’ in the worst scenario. I left the clinic, thinking hard. I had to complete my ‘mission’. I also wanted to run for my friend who had just left.
I shortened the distance I planned to run that day, and the day after and then decided to take a break just to be ‘safe’. It was just two days more to the ultra start. I decided to start the ultra in the evening, a few minutes before 6 pm, though I went down to the site for a recce in the morning. I took half a dozen packets of the running gel, thinking that there would be some energy drinks, banana and water provided. I also took a couple of salt tablets since I rarely tried them in my short training. But had read that salt tablets would be good for long endurance runs. And of course, I said my usual morning and night prayers for a good day. And that day was Good Friday too.
I went at my slow jogging pace. And just went round and round Bedok Reservoir. I had dreaded the sandy terrain. I was wearing my black UA Hovr Sonic shoes. After just two or 3 loops, they didn’t look black anymore. Met a good friend whom I got to know from one of the races I did in the past. Jogged along with him for a lap or so (and had him as a familiar face round the loops through the night and morning). Chatted and during that conversation I did share about the recent events. And as I talked with him, my mind did go to what the doc said about ‘bursting’. But it was that few seconds and in that conversation. I pretty much shut out the thoughts after that and went on, jogging with small steps and occasionally into brisk walks.
The night was long. Start and finish of each loop, we would just hand over our run cards for the stamps – 2 stamps per loop. I took water and the energy drinks after each loop. There was no bananas. But milk packets were provided after attaining some checkpoint mileage – see the circled ones. Though the milk did make a few of us go to the nearby toilet somehow. After 64 km, my Garmin watch got tired too and slept off (no battery). The next 22 km was taking a long time. I had targeted 15 hours originally but finished within 17 hours. Disappointed but happy with completing without stopping.
In the early morning it drizzled a few drops and then for a short stretch towards the end – my last loop or so. It was a baptism of sorts with water from heaven. I had slowed down to walking then. (That was also where my thoughts went back and forth between past events and I tried instead to focus on my physiological state.)
I had felt the feet swelling after 6 hours or so, reaching the marathon distance and the pain on the toes as they seemed to push against the tip of the shoes, and felt blisters coming after another loop. I just told myself it would be over with another marathon distance to complete ! For the last 5 loops, it became easier for me to ignore my feet.
I had to stop and emptied out the sand particles that went in now and then, about 3 times in the journey. I had slowed to a walk, brisk initially and then slowing down. With a couple of loops to go, I also had to change my 2XU tights into my spare running shorts. I found that the amount of chafing at the groin was just getting difficult for me to even move. I told myself I was near the finish. Then it rained. The shoes got wet and the socks seemed to shrink further constricting the feet. Extremely uncomfortable with the water and sand particles. Just two loops – 8.6 km to go. Which actually took me almost 2 hours by then.
Finally completed just before 11 am. After I collected the medals and finisher tee, I went to look for a chair to rest my legs at the tent. After 15 minutes, I changed my shoes and started walking to the car park, feeling hungry but satisfied I accomplished the mission! Thank God!
I drove back home and took my well-deserved lunch cum breakfast. It was just duck rice with extra duck meat from the KouFu, so about $6. I didn’t think about the mass on my right flank till I was reminded several times in the weeks after by the pain and my good friends. (Photo Credit is due to Tampines West CSC photographers.)
I have to sort out my mum’s appointments for her eye issue the days after before attending to my own ‘mass’. She turned out to have cataract. The wait went on to weeks for the follow-up because I was getting my mum ready for her eye surgery as she lives alone and waiting for the appointments to be scheduled. And the week after the ultra, I went on to do the half marathon race which I had already signed up.
A few good things came out of this long drawn-out wait :
1) my younger brother recovered slowly and stopped smoking after decades of the habit (and my nagging him for years) on the doctor’s advice. As the doctor said, it was touch and go that afternoon when he was brought in by his colleagues semi-conscious.
2) my mother’s cataract eye surgery was successful though she had a short period of infection with extra follow-up.
3) I went to the polyclinic early July, to get another referral since I couldn’t very well go to the emergency with a referral backdated so many months ago. The second doc did the same examination and wrote the referral after confirming the mass was still there. A week passed by before the specialist could see me. The specialist would only confirm diagnosis after I went for a CT Scan. Another week later. Due to some administrative issue at the hospital end, the scan was postponed. After I called up, they managed to place the appointment back. The CT Scan took place in the morning with 4 hours of ‘starving’.
The miracle ? See the specialist in the afternoon for the results. No mass detected and organs, all body parts visible in the scan, all looked ok. They could see the lumbar (backbone) fracture but nothing else. I asked what could have caused the initial swelling and the pain. Don’t know. Only a MRI would be able to tell more which was more costly and more wait. Maybe it was something to do with the nerves when I asked further. I was given a referral to the Orthopaedic for follow-up on the fracture though.
Well, as folks who followed my blog, I had done a few more races, a half marathon about a week after the ultra and even the Sundown Marathon in between the final diagnosis. I would attribute it to my faith that I went on despite the initial diagnosis. I had believed then it was not time for me to go yet. After a number of good friends had advised me to seek the doc’s opinion, I had thought it prudent I should at least just get an expert opinion.
Whatever it was, it had been a good miracle that I went through another slightly testing phase. I had just completed the Runninghour 10 km and then the Singtel-SCS Race Against Cancer 15 km over this weekend. I had started running every day again in June. Hopefully, the remaining days before this coming weekend (I had extended the campaign to include the recent Singtel-SCS Race since it was for SCS too instead of opening another campaign), I would be closer to the fund’s target.
Whatever it is, the fight against cancer must go on. The statistics on cancer seemed not to abate even with the advances made in past years. I can only do what I could with the little I have at this point. Hope kind and generous souls would contribute to the cause. Till the next round, run happy, run safe.
(Post Event Note: I closed the loop two weeks after the event with my dear friend’s sister who then sent me these words (parts of the whole message): “Everything is good. It’s awesome that you ran 86 km to raise funds for cancer society in memory of my sis. I’m sure wherever she is now, she’s probably feeling pretty smug that a good friend of hers actually RAN 86 km (that’s more than doubled the regular marathon !) in her memory and for a great cause! …” After reading, I felt good and more settled and know that my friend is probably in a better place now and I had said goodbye to her the way I know.)