TWO HOURS of snatched sleep in 72 hours would make the best of us out of sorts.
For Abimanyu Shunmugam, it was about breaking down personal barriers and pushing on, step after gruelling step along the trails of Hong Kong. The ultramarathon runner had a purpose — to complete the demanding 298km Hong Kong Four Trails Ultra Challenge (HK4TUC) in under 60 hours.
Between the weather and losing his way, the former Commando didn’t manage to make the elite time that would have given him the Finisher medal.
But he did complete the race in 72 hours; the first Singaporean to do so in its seven years, as one of the 5 Survivors of this non-stop race.
Of the 28 who started the race, only 7 completed it under 72 hours. The others dropped out at various stages.
And Abi did it for bragging rights.
Abi, as he is often called, started running in Dunearn School. It was a way to stay focused and steer clear of the bad elements that were in his neighbourhood. Winning medals boosted his morale and he joined a local athletics team to continue training at a competitive level.
He enlisted in the army at 21 and signed on, working his way through various units before joining the Commando Special Operations Force. He had to learn how to swim to clear the selection process.
A self-starter with high levels of motivation, Abi took up running ultramarathons in 2012.
“When you set your mind to achieve something, the only stopping factor is yourself. So, don’t make excuses,” states Abi.
“I took up ultramarathons seriously at the age of 39, in the process, I dropped from 74kg to 62kg.”
For the HK4TUC race, which took place this January, Abi started preparations in July 2017.
“I would eat a high-fat diet with no carbohydrates. When you’re running at a slow pace the fat keeps you going,” he explained.
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The race — run day and night — pitched the runners against the clock, the weather and terrain that stretched for just shy of 300km.
“I grabbed some sleep wherever it was convenient — on the ferry, in a car, squatted along the trail until the chill woke me up. We had to carry everything with us, so I had 15 of my one-inch energy balls — made from oats, dates, almond, Himalayan salt, cinnamon — for each leg of the race.”
The thought of giving it up did arise when Abi developed a blister. But a “magic cream” from one of his ex-Commando buddies provided almost immediate relief.
“It saved my ass, literally,” Abi recalled with a smile.
Abi would break down the run into shorter targets. Shorter for him, long for most — 50km for some legs — as he focused on the markers. Since the race didn’t go to plan, Abi is planning a return.
“I will go back and try to do it below 60 hours,” Abi insisted.
Next year he intends to take part in the 315km Berghaus Dragon’s Back Race in Wales.
Never a dull moment when you’re living life on the run.