Monday, December 31, 2007
The year started off with a return in January from a successful climb in 3rd Peak of Mt Siguaniang in Sichuan, China. That was followed within 2 weeks by my first 30km race at the GE Pacesetter in KL, where I broke the 3h barrier. Continuing the momentum 2 months later, I clocked my PB at the HK Stanchart Marathon, which was also my first overseas marathon. April then saw my first attempt at leisure rock-climbing on natural limestone walls in Krabi. Shortly after, I ran my first 10km race at the Mizuno Wave Mt Faber run.
May was a very busy month, starring an Oakley Duathlon where my Titanium road bike made its debut at a race. A week later, our Safra running club held a successful Mt Faber Challenge. I ran 5 loops and got 5th position - my first ultra distance!
Running then took a backseat as I ramped up stairs and Bt Timah hill training in preparation of my Mustagh Ata climb in June/ July. Although I did not summit, I was thrilled at my first exposure to a high altitude of 7,000m.
I returned home to an intensive training schedule courtesy of our trainers at Safra club in preparation of the annual Army Half Marathon in August. I managed to clock my first sub-2h in Singapore for that distance. September was the month for the Ladies Triathlon - my very first olympic distance triathlon event - but it was unfortunately aborted due to heavy rain on race day. I then travelled to the USA for work in October and had a fabulous opportunity to participate in the Berkeley Golden Hills Trail Marathon - my first marathon distance on trail terrain. It was a priceless experience. Still on a high from the race, I went to Lumut in Perak, Malaysia with a number of Safra runners for a Powerman Duathlon. That was my first time travelling overseas with a bicycle, and using cleats and aerobars on a ride. December saw many of us running the annual Singapore Stanchart Marathon. For many of my friends, it was their inaugural marathon or their personal bests, kudos to the club's training plan. I ended the year on a high note with a completion of 70km at the MR25 Ultramarathon held at Macritchie Reservoir. It was definitely a wonderful closure to the year.
2007 would indeed be a hard year to beat.
Here's a toast to more great adventures ahead in 2008. :)
Sunday, December 30, 2007
I went to the run without expectations nor preparations. I would play by ear and run based on how I felt. Participants who ran 5 loops (50km) would get a finisher tee and a certificate. At the minimum, I should do 3 loops to justify my waking up early in the morning for the event. The night before, I had prepared some chocolates, powerbars, powergels, extra Endurance drink, muscle rub, plasters and so forth and packed them neatly into a plastic box. I also chilled a cooler tub of ice water for the event. Both were labelled with my name.
I started off the run with Eddie, Alber, Melvin and Chin KK. The guys soon ran ahead, while I stuck to my easy relaxed pace. It felt great to do a no-time pressure run, I had not felt so relaxed for some time. I met Michael (Ong) in the trail and we ran together for some distance. The first lap was over in about 1:16h, but my shoes were giving me problems. I chose to wear my North Face Endurus GTX trail shoes today and had taped potential hotspots on both feet. Nonetheless, new abrasion areas surfaced and I stopped to add more tape. After getting a drink, I set off on the 2nd lap. Again, Eddie and Alber ran ahead and I happily kept my trot-along pace. At the end of the lap, I had to adjust my shoes again. There were abrasions at the back of my left ankle. Only after the 3rd lap did I manage to get my shoes fixed comfortably. It was almost 5h and I had only ran 30km. Gosh! I was clocking about 1.5h per loop. Incredibly slow. The extra time was spent refueling at the main carpark station. Somewhere along the trail, a monitor lizard laid in my path before lumbering off lazily, a monkey threatened to snatch my water bottle, and children almost knocked into me. I really needed the extra spice to an already challenging run...
I ate some kit kat bars, remixed my Endurance drink and pushed through the 4th and 5th loops. Wee Hou (Principal) was running around my pace. He seemed to be going strong, and was all prepared with a water bag that he started using on the 4th lap. After the 5th lap, I stopped for some food. I was beginning to feel hungry. In the last 8h, I had only 3 kit kats, 2 Gu Gels and 2 bottles of Endurance drink. There were chicken pies at the refuel table, complete with longans, mini-tangerines and bananas. I was still feeling strong and my legs were ok. I did a quick mental calculation and figured that there was enough time to do 2 more loops if nothing went wrong. Not wanting to pin my hopes too high, I gamely mixed a new iced bottle of Nuun drink and set off on Loop 6. The cold Nuun lemon-lime flavour was a rehydrating (sodium) drink and tasted very refreshing. I met another runner in the trails who was also on his 6th set. We cheered each other on and agreed that we could try for the 7th lap later. As time was tight, I mentally rehearsed the food and drink I would need to grab before starting the last loop.
A number of familiar faces - Chin, Benny, Henry and some others - were at the finishing point when I came back from the 6th loop. I got Alber's help to top up my Nuun drink while I took a Powergel enroute to the washroom. I had about 1:50h for the last set, which should suffice if I maintained the 1:30h timing. Fingers-crossed, I ran off, feeling energized by the Powergel. I think the Gu Gels I took gave a nice base of carbos without energy swings, whereas Powergels provided the "high" and kick to turbo charge but energy would dip after the effects wore off.
The guy I met in the trail had already gone ahead. In the midst of the Northern Trail section, the sky rumbled and starting drizzling. I prayed that the rain would hold off until I completed the run. I felt the onset of cramps in the quads and deliberately slowed my steps and not dash downslopes. There were only a few participants in the trail by now, each silently willing his legs to take the next step forward. I forced myself to run through the Lornie Road stretch and spotted Wee Hou a distance ahead of me. Soon the end was in sight and all the runners made an extra effort for a strong finish. Within 5min of completing the run, the skies opened up and poured heavily. High from the run, I headed home for a much needed rest and decent food.
Now as I am washed and comfortably seated at home, I could feel all the sores and aches in my legs amplified. I felt perpetually hungry, but was happy that the run had burnt off all the xmas feastings. The MR route seemed simpler than the USA trail marathon I did - where the slopes were much steeper and terrain more varied - but I was slower today perhaps from the hot weather. On my 7th round, I motivated myself by comparing the run to a climb and visualizing that it was only a short distance to 'basecamp' aka end point. I had a cramp-free run, but as I looked ahead to the Sundown 84km next year, it would not be as comfortable. The trails offered a nice cushion and variation in strides, whereas the tarmac road was a repetitive motion on the same muscles.
7 laps. 70km. 11:48h. It was a personal record for me! I had never clocked such a distance, nor expected to do so today. It was definitely a wonderful closure to the running year 2007, already a year of many firsts. The run today was the icing on the cake. :)
Thursday, December 27, 2007
A fun bunch. We had a dinner gathering just last night on Boxing Day, together with Eddie. It was a jolly fun affair. We often erupted into cramp-inducing laughter in between mouthfuls of food.
Surprisingly I did a relatively good timing for the 10km today. Perhaps it was my new Pearl Izumi shoes or the Phiten necklace, but my legs did not feel as heavy despite the Xmas spinning.
Tuesday, December 25, 2007
Laziness prevailed, unfortunately. I settled for the guaranteed session of a spin session at the gym. It was a holiday special 1.5h Interval Challenge class by Kee Leong. I had no idea what Interval Challenge was, except that 1.5h seemed a decent workout time. It was raining when I arrived, but the class was full nonetheless. As it turned out, Interval spins were not as fast and furious as RPM (= adrenalin pumping excitement), but focused a lot on hill climbs and building strength (= very very heavy resistance and low cadence). Since I seldom attend Interval spins, I had no way of predicting what was next. I suppose that implied a higher caloric burn? We had 20mins of pure climbs, each songtrack building upon the previous to up the resistance. By the last climb track, our legs were slowed to a crawl. If one should lose the pedalling momentum, one's legs would be 'stuck' in position and unable to 'step down'. That was how heavy the resistance was, so much so that one really had to suck in the abs tightly and crank out power to move the pedals.
The rain stopped by the end of the class. I decided to go for a short 10km run to Marina South Pier and back. Pity the gym was closing soon and there was only time for an 1h run. Deja vu. I had ran the same route 2 days ago. There were less millipedes though. The sun was out and I had no sunshades. Only my trusty water bottle and a packet of Hammergel. I was trying the Tropical flavour, which tasted slightly sour/ fruity, but was less sticky than Powergel.
After the workout, I caught up with Dom and Cedric at the new North Face shop. Quite a decently laid out store, except that I already had too much gear and had nothing else to buy. Cedric's girlfriend from Kaz had just arrived in Singapore yesterday. It was nice to see Cedric in a happy mood, a great xmas and new year present for him. :) Dom had a book on Extreme Running and we pored over pages of extreme races held in various continents - desert, polar, altitude, heat, cold... you name it, they have it. I was extremely fascinated by the Polar marathons in the Antartic and North Pole. Participants ran in snow shoes! These are devices that look like skateboards but with metal 'teeth' underneath so as to have traction on snow. I used them on my Mustagh climb, and clambered about clumsily. Running with them would require a totally different running gait, style and leg power.
My xmas workout felt like a mini duathlon. A meaningful 2.5h pushing the quads and hamstrings, on the 25th day of the month. A compromise between the angel and devil. Merry xmas!
Monday, December 24, 2007
My parents had another xmas party to attend in the evening. I think their social calendar is much more exciting than mine. Mum's away meant a sad setting of dining on leftover turkey and ham in a quiet house. All around my street, neighbours were having gatherings and parties.
This is the first time in many years that I am spending xmas and new year in Singapore, without snow and altitude. And it is not starting out well. How I long for a climb. :(
Sunday, December 23, 2007
Food is said to be a great motivator for working out. I cannot agree more with that statement.
I dragged myself out of bed for our Sunday 21km run this morning. There were very few festive runners - Michael, Ricci, Wong, Peter, Julie, TH, Jason, Siew Lee, Wayne, Lai Chee, Alber, Thomas and myself - and about half the group took a shorter route. It was a slow but not-so-easy run for me. I was trying to wean myself off my reliance on the Endurance drink that was a staple for previous trainings. Alber and I took a wrong extension and went a longer way. At the boring Marina South Pier stretch, I saw Michael and Thomas, who quipped that they were on a recovery walk. Ha, felt so much like joining them on the walk. The return run was a hopscotch mix of jog, walk and... hop. There were so many millipedes crawling on the pavement, I had to do a little tip-toe dance and hop to side step them! I hate creepy crawlies, yucks! Alber, on the other hand, was full of energy, having rested a whole week. He kept running ahead and jogging back to wait for me. I was getting giddy seeing him run in circles.
The only thing that kept me going was the thought of the party my mum was having in the evening, complete with all the requisite xmas feastings. My usual practice was to count my running rhythm. So I started mumbling "Tur-key-Cheese-Ham" to myself. Brilliant! A 4-count beat! And if I wanted to go faster, I would hum "Tur-key, Tur-key" in a 2-beat pace. If I ran a little bit more, I could have an extra ham or cheese. That was the extent of my mathematical grasp. No complicated simultaneous equations. Just a straightforward linear tradeoff between running steps and food bites.
But the run was worth it, and made dinner even more gorgeous. My mum found a wholesale supplier of poultry, cheese, sausages and the likes, and bought an array of food for the party. Looking at the size of the ham leg, I wondered what size the animal was before it met my dining table. Turkey, cheese, ham. Protein recovery? :)
Saturday, December 22, 2007
RPM class by Rodney in the afternoon was surprisingly tough. He had a different style from the other instructors, usually very high cadence even at high resistance. There was hard breathing throughout the class. It was my 5th RPM for the week. In 6 days. I think that was the highest record. Interestingly, there was an article in the papers today about the delusion of high-calorie burnt from spin classes and the calorie numbers displayed on treadmills, stair-masters and stationary bikes. It suggested that most people (and machines) overestimated the amount of calories burnt in our workouts, and then mistakenly consumed the equivalent amount.
I bought a Phiten Rukawa X30 necklace (http://www.healthshop.com.sg/). It apparently utilized aqua-titanium to improve blood circulation and relax the body. Many of my athlete friends had been using the necklaces and bracelets and they had favourable testimonials. I could try wearing one to sleep each night and monitor if I recover better from trainings. :)
Thursday, December 20, 2007
I had not done any weights and strength training for a long time and was inspired/ motivated/ disgusted by flabbier arms to do something about them. Everything had to start from scratch, from the minimum baseload of weights. I had a feeling I would ache the next day, and I think I strained my back in my over-enthusiasm. After Pump, I dashed over to the One Raffles Quay to catch a RPM class. It was led by an instructor new to me. I arrived early to reserve a bike, having learnt my lesson in the morning. Even then, the studio was already quite packed. My gosh, don't we all have a life instead of stalking gyms on a public hol?!
Wednesday, December 19, 2007
Tuesday, December 18, 2007
I needed a new pair of runners. My shoes would not dry in time in the wet year-end weather. I picked up a pair of Pearl Izumi SyncroPace from Running Lab, and was eager to test them at Safra's run. The route was ~12km from Clubhouse to Cantebury Estate, 2 loops of Labrador Park and return via Henderson Road. That was my 1st pair of Pearl Iz shoes and I was curious to try them. According to Pearl Iz's brochure, the SyncroPace was a "Stability + Cushioning" - moderate stability with excellent cushioning. At Running Lab, it was listed as "Performance Stability". My daily staple are stability shoes like Asics GT21** series and Mizuno Wave Elixir. So the SyncroPace matched that genre.
For the 1st stretch from Clubhouse to Depot Road, the shoes felt really good. Cushion and support were very good, my feet felt snugly in place and the shoes could adequately catch hold of wide strides. The shoes had a nice bouncy feel which added a spring in each step. However, the problem of slippery shoes arose when I was coming out of Cantebury Estate. The cement path was slightly downslope, wet from the rain and semi-covered by fallen leaves and twigs. I almost went gliding but managed to stop myself in time. So I tried to gingerly walk through that stretch of wet pavement. Even then, I skidded a few times.... walking! In all my days of running in different shoes and terrains, I had never skidded as much as tonight! That was when I realized that I should have checked the soles before buying the shoes. :(
The soles had little circular bumps instead of flat markings. They drastically reduced the amount of surface area and frictional contact with the ground, making it especially slippery on wet pavements. A typical mid-foot striker engages the ground on the fleshiest part of the runner's soles, toe-off and go. The bumps are located on the forefoot area of the shoe soles (see picture), meaning the big toe experiences the 'skid' and instability right at the very moment of toe-off. It happened a few times as I was walking, and also when I was opening up strides. It was very irritating, because one would have to hold back and be extra careful. You never knew if your next step would send you sliding.
Tarmac roads are not a problem. Cement pavements that are dark, wet, covered with fallen twigs, brown leaves and so forth... you get the idea... would be a challenge. In my mind, the shoes would be really dangerous if we were doing speed work on MF loops or running down MF slope.
The shoe body that cradles one's foot was a full-piece seamless construction. There was a thin sponge/ fabric that lined the inner shoe completely such that the foot was kept snug and eliminated chances of foot/ toe abrasions. However, that same construction meant that you would not feel the 'wind through your socks' on runs and consequently, a less ventilated feeling. By contrast, most running shoes have mesh tops and sides that allow more wind and ventilation - but which would leave your feet cold in winter runs.
From an amateur runner's perspective, the Pearl Izumi SnycroPace offered a softer (yet firm) cushion over the Asics GT, but had a firmer support over the Mizuno Wave Elixir. The SyncroPace would be a good pair of shoes for cool and dry conditions on tarmac (or rough) surfaces. For instance, evening track workouts, and marathons in Tokyo, Hong Kong and temperate countries.
That said, my intention of buying those shoes as a wet weather backup would have been misplaced. The shoes offered an excellent blend of support and cushion for an enjoyable run. Pity the skid marks.
Monday, December 17, 2007
I took a quick shower and decided to go to Ding Tai Feng for dinner. I had a sudden craving for its steamed dumplings and dan-dan noodles (in tangy peanut sauce). The plan was to eat alone, and get some peace and quiet to read my Economist. Alas, the couple at the next table had finished their meal, and the guy decided to impress his date by starting a monologue. He rattled on about his religious conversions, his school rugby training days and how he proud he was of his raw power without having to workout much, and yada-yada-yada. The girl did not have any chance to interject the monologue beyond nods and some sympathetic sounds. What a killer. My dinner plans were going down the drain.
I am now on a boycott of taxis due to the fare hikes, so I tried to take a bus home. The public transport was not cooperative. My direct bus was so packed that I could not squeeze onboard. I ended up taking a different bus and changing another later. Ooophf, the bane of public transport I say. I mentally drafted a note to the forum page.
Sunday, December 16, 2007
I went out fast initially, above my normal pace for a 20km attempt. I cut 3min off my normal timing on the first 5km, which should have triggered alarm bells that I was going too fast. I ran with Jason for that 1st loop, with me panting and him coughing along the way. Unfortunately, it was too late by the time I decided to slow down my pace and the 10km loop felt extremely tiring. Even as I tried to stroll a little to regain my breath, my rhythm was totally lost. When we reached clubhouse after the 1st loop, Jimmy, Wong, and Julie were having a break at the entrance. Jason was not feeling well and decided to stop. I continued on the 2nd loop alone. I was glad Jason did not come along, he would have been utterly irritated. That loop was a lost cause from the word go. It was a great struggle, with multiple stop-strolls in between jogs. I lost count of how many times I did that, and how many runners bypassed me. Why was it mentally so hard to continue running and not stop? It was only 20km. :( The total time for run was way longer than my usual, nevermind that the 1st lap was faster.
I still need lots of practice and training to find a new balance between power (which I'm trying to build) and sustainable pace (which I had but slow) so as to create a more effective rhythm. Retail therapy beckoned during sulky moments like this. I indulged and bought 4 pretty pairs of shoes for my 1 not-so-pretty pair of feet. :)
Thursday, December 13, 2007
Wednesday, December 12, 2007
Tuesday, December 11, 2007
I started off strong, but only because everyone was still chatting and taking it easy. After 15min, the runners began to get serious and picked up pace. I lost a group at the road leading to Labrador Park. I was already panting on the way up the Labrador Hill, but I persisted in keeping a close distance with my target pacer for the day. The 2 loops within the Park were quite a killer, I had to distract myself from the huffing and puffing by totally focusing on the pacer ahead of me. Then I was dropped, or rather I could not keep up. I continued alone back to Safra, desperately trying to test out the speed I was using. Speed is relative. What is fast and heart-thumping for me is often a relaxed pace for the better runners. I tried tagging on a front group as we waited together at a traffic junction. Of course I could not, and I lagged further and further until I could not see them anymore. Then I tried sprinting on the finishing slope up Henderson Road and nearly died 3 times (metaphorically).
The bitter pill was knowing that I was pushing the pace and strides, yet not being able to close or maintain the gap. It is very demoralizing to go for a run feeling totally refreshed and recharged, only to be reminded once again that one cannot perform up to expectations. Or perhaps the problem lies with the said expectations, and not the runner. And yet perhaps, redemption might come from the expectations, and not the runner, to spur us to better ourselves. I would just have to train so much harder and push so much more. That, plus I need to drop 2kg to go faster.
Sunday, December 9, 2007
Monday, December 3, 2007
I refused to do any recovery run today. Alber, on a high from his good marathon experience, suggested a short run. I am definitely not going anywhere near my runners and gear today. I think I deserve a little break, even though I felt like I had not completely offloaded the carbo I had in the past week. In fact, I had probably gained weight! Anyway, I gathered a few runners and we headed out for a dinner buffet to recharge ourselves. We had an enjoyable time recounting the hits and misses of Sunday's marathon and the people we saw along the way, in between gobbling down plates of oysters, seafood, sashimi and everything else on the buffet spread.
I believe that running is an individual sport. I still do. But teamwork will always make the experience better. One spoke about the "missing link" in a surprise pacing partner he found on Sunday, to motivate and look out for one another. When you have a shoulder-to-shoulder pacing partner, running stride for stride in sync alongside, words are unnecessary. Team support also meant generosity in sharing tips, strategies and resources like gels and salt tablets. Or simply by being there during the monotony of long long runs, or the lung-bursting pain of speed work.
Yet at the end of it, we run our own race. From when the gun goes off to when we see the finishing tape, the show is ours. Make it a good one.
Sunday, December 2, 2007
The Stanchart run was my 4th marathon this year, in addition to a variety of other races and climbing activities. I could feel the race fatigue setting in at the start of the run, and it was not feeling like a PB day. I did not see any of the marathon pacers at all throughout the race even though I was going at a relatively consistent pace. This was probably the 1st year that I did not manage a negative split timing. :( I struggled through the last 10km, and was overtaken by many runners whom I know.
Many of the Safra runners clocked good timings, especially the first-timers. That proved the effectiveness of the training plan and the results were for all to see. All those who conscientiously did their speed work and interval trainings showed huge progress today. I probably should also rethink my new strategy of re-mixing my Endurance drink on the run, which cost me a couple of minutes. The race today got me to re-evaluate my running strengths - were there any? Given that I am no good in sprints or power bursts, and that I have also lost my endurance edge since many relatively newer runners have caught up, fast. Some natural first-timers were way ahead of me in their debut marathon. So, why am I running? Nonetheless, I was happy that Heng, Alber and Shirley did very well today. At least my sharing of tips and race strategy was not in vain.
On hindsight, some of the things that could have gone better today:
- should have worn my lighter Mizuno race shoes instead of Asics GT
- my Endurance drink was too concentrated, hence perpetual thirst and kept stopping for water
- no more pasta loading for future races - once again proven that I could not digest it efficiently, and ran with a stuffed feeling
- as a result of which, I went to the toilet at 18km (1min!), missed pacing with Alber, ran alone thereafter and basically slacked
- tried new strategy of carrying a small pack of Endurance powder and twice re-mixed my drink while running - I've to think of a better way to refresh my drink
As a self-consolation, perhaps this could be a warm-up to the HK Stanchart Marathon two months later. I wonder how I could maintain next year's excessive running in preparation for the Sundown Ultra. Shudders.