Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Paying Respect to MF

My first run up the MF slope tonight. 10km route. It took me almost 45min to warm up and barely made it up the Kg Bahru slope. And by the time my legs found their rhythm, the run was finishing. Fab... I think I need more hill runs and mileage to get in shape for the HK marathon 3 weeks away. *gosh*

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Low-Sugar on Carbon Wheels

I tried out my new carbon wheels today. I was suppose to ride with Henry and WH but I totally overslept. Oops. Alber had class and could not ride with me today. So I ended up cycling alone. I was a little hesitant because friends told me that a deep-section wheel catches more wind and is more wobbly. The brakes also take a little bit longer to be seasoned since carbon is 'slippery'. Great....

I headed for the only familiar route that I knew - Mandai. My aim was to complete 5 loops. The wheels were smooth and nice. Except that they were nice only above 30kmh. They picked up speed easily after that, but then I don't normally cruise at 30kmh so I did not benefit much from that. Uphill battle, downhill breeze. In fact the downs gathered speed so quickly, I was a little scared. The wheels had a nice zzzzzng sound when they free-wheeled. Ahhh... but that also meant I slacked off a lot. Oops. Ok, it's the rider's problem, not the wheels. My bike handling skill was not ace. And if the engine doesn't whoosh and zoom, the wheels couldn't whoosh and zoom....

The first three rounds were ok, but I started to feel hungry. Just as I pulled into the bus stop near Shell for a cereal bar, it started to drizzle. But it was a passing shower that stopped in 10 minutes. I only had one cereal bar, which was a mistake.

My fourth round was better, boosted by the cereal bar. I ambitiously thought perhaps I could complete 6 rounds. I saw Henry and Lucille jogging near the Mandai PCN. Wow, brick training, power!

Then trouble struck. I headed for the 5th round and just 6km after, I started to feel low sugar. Extremely low sugar. I felt cold, light-headed and could just go at a sustenance pace. I could feel the body shutting down, as if it was trying to conserve what little energy there was left. I had to fight to stay awake, and alert. To the extent that I stopped at the pedestrian path at the Woodlands-Mandai junction and stoned out for a while to recover.

I contemplated taking a cab home, but figured I should be able to last until the coffeeshop enroute home. So I skipped the rest of the loop and u-turned at the Crematorium junction and headed back. It was a lot of cruising and free-wheeling. I had another pit-stop at Shell, and recomposed myself for the last 5km to the coffeeshop.

That 5km never felt harder or longer. I had to stay focused and not drift off. Once at the coffeeshop, I polished off an iced milo, an iced lemon tea and a pau. It was another 5km home. Whew. Next time, I would bring more food on the ride.

Saturday, January 22, 2011

New Wheels!

My first set of racing wheels - the Reynolds Assault. Ahhhh......

It was a decent set of carbon deep-section wheels. Friends had recommended them to me. So on a nice sunny afternoon, we all turned up at Cycleworkz,.... to buy wheels and gear! Or simply to gather and socialize. Between the 7-8 of us, we bought 3 sets of new wheels. :)

I shall try them out tomorrow. Hopefully I will be able to get used to them and not fall off.

Happy Trails

My first trail run of the year. Happy happy trails. :) Until I discovered new cement steps inside the trail, horrors! I hope NParks doesn't keep 'repairing' the trail until it becomes a fake, sculptured trail.

My hamstrings were extremely tight. I don't feel the pull when I walk, only when I run. And my back, tensed ramrod. It had been a long and tiring week at work, little sleep, too much computer and mouse time that my right shoulder ached. Well ok, I was sore everywhere.

So my run was really really slow. I saw a number of friends in the trail while I shuffled along. Luckily I was still able to complete two rounds. Whew. Time for a massage!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Nice Long Run

I had a whole day of workshop facilitation today, so it was nice to be having a long run in the evening for the mind to tune out and reflect. We did the 14km Portsdown - MOE - Alexandra route. I was late and ran with Alber. It was an easy slow run, not that I was capable of anything faster either. We did not see any of the other runners until Depot Rd and nearing Safra.

I relished the time alone to think to myself. I had another workshop coming up and was cracking my brain on how to design it. The run was a perfect opportunity to mull over possible ideas.

A great session at work today, followed by a nice long run, that triggered more ideas for the upcoming workshop. Ended off with an entire plate of nai-bai (vegetables) all to myself! Ahh total bliss. :)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

12km Only. 30km More

My first proper run since I got back. 12km full of upslopes.
(1) the zig-zag hort park route to kent ridge park
(2) south buona vista road
(3) kent ridge park

Obviously I was totally unconditioned for the run/ slopes. My knee ached a little and by the end of the run, my right toes were cramping.

My gosh, so cmi... and 30km more to a full marathon. I am so gone...

Monday, January 17, 2011

Wetsuit for a Cold Day

It took me ten minutes to tug on my wetsuit, and I was already late for class to begin with. But it was a good evening to try out my newly bought wetsuit, because it was so cold after the rain. It was my first time swimming in the wetsuit. It was an Orca Sonar (mid-level), a third-hand piece and already seasoned after a few races. Last IMWA, I rented an Orca Equip (entry-level) and it fitted me ok. So I decided to get the Sonar when the opportunity arose as I knew the owners before me.

I could feel the water enter my back when I got into the pool. Was it suppose to? Then some water crept in through my sleeves too, but not much. W had the same problem too apparently. Perhaps we were not bulky enough to fill up the wetsuit snugly.

8x 50 easy swim - 1:12, 1:13, 1:09, 1:09, 1:09, 1:11, 1:14, 1:07

8x 100 @ 2:45 - 2:19, 2:23, 2:27, 2:20, 2:23, 2:21, 2:25, 2:23, 2:26
(by which time I started to feel the heat in the wetsuit)

Supposedly 10x 50 @ 1:05 - kidding??
1:16, 1:13, 1:07, 1:14, 1:20, 1:21 (skipped last 2 sets)
(felt the drag and heaviness now)

Sunday, January 16, 2011

First Ride of the Year

It was my first ride of the year. We met at Mandai to do loops. The target was 5 rounds. Note - target. My legs and butt were certainly not conditioned for the bike. I was going slow, oh so slowly, but still the fatigue set in quickly.

1st loop - long and boring, but ok.
2nd loop - lactic setting in.
3rd loop - why am I doing this??

And then the guys stopped! They had started earlier and had completed an additional loop. Well ok, my quads were tired and I was mostly cruising by that time. So we went for lunch instead.

It was a pain to get back onto the saddle after lunch. There was 5km to home, and I almost cramped. Great, CMI.... Could not feel my butt nor legs. 180km in 7 weeks... omg!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Lane 0 To Myself

I had an entire Lane 0 all to myself today. I was so slow and there was an unused lane so I was demoted there. Which was fine by me, I could go slowly at my own pace. Getting back into the rhythm of things.

We did many many sets of 50m drills with pull-buoys. Then we swam 100ms throughout the night.

6x 100m @ 3min - 2:39, 2:++, 2:55, 2:51, 3:01, 2:56
Repeat - 2:48, 2:53, 2:56, 2:54, 2:58, 2:56
Then to draft the people in Lane 1 - 2:20, 2:15

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Sputtering Swim & Run

Home finally! It was a long long time away, I was eager to resume my training routine..... if I still remembered how to swim, bike or run.

First test, swim. 20 laps at Safra. My arms started to feel heavy after only 10 laps. Oops.

Second test, run. Alber and I did a short run around Canterbury and we did the inner loop twice. It was a jog at conversational pace. Survived.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

An Adventurous 2010

One week into 2011 and I am trying to recall the highlights of 2010. We had welcomed 2010 with a house party with good friends and training kakis. Those were folks who saw me dripping wet from inelegant swims, sweaty from my clumsy rides, who heard me grumble and swear on the run, and in all degrees of unglam race situations. Those friends never gave up on me, and cheered me on during races. We toasted farewell to 2009 and popped crackers on New Year's Day.

2010 was a year of travels and races, crowned by a long mountaineering expedition to Argentina. I am thankful that I had my health, fitness and mobility to pursue the extreme sports that I love. I continued my 'tradition' of having some race or event each month. It was not intentional, but I just could not sit still without some adventure or distraction.

I started the year teaming up with KC for the Safra Avventure Race. We had a bad puncture that cost us much time, but it was good fun. Once again I thought seriously about getting a mountain bike, but never got to doing it.

Then I plunged into more swim, bike and run than I ever did before. I tackled my second Ironman in February. It was the last IM Langkawi, touted to be the hottest race in the series. Many athletes suffered at the lack of water and soaring temperatures. I was glad to complete the race and earn my finisher tee.

I did more trackwork and intervals, but IM had introduced a new concept of slowness. My speed plummeted from all the ultra distances and endurance races that I did. March saw the inaugural 218km NTU Run Round Singapore. I offered to pace Melvin for a short segment, which eventually turned out to be 60km. Totally unplanned, but I had great fun and was inspired.

In April, I gamely joined friends for the 6.5km Kapas Marang Swim. The maximum distance I ever covered in the open sea was 3.8km, and only because of Ironman races. I swam half and finished the distance on the police jet ski. It was amazing to see people who can swim fast like fish in the open waters.

Back on the roads, I paced Alber for one round (42km) of his Sundown 84km Ultra Marathon. I was not conditioned for long distance road running and cycled the second run, dishing out drinks and food. It was interesting to be a supporter instead. No pressure, just enjoying myself and the atmostphere.

I spent a good part of June in Scandinavia, soaking in MidSummer Night and the never-ending summer "days". Serendipitously, I visited Pat in her new home in Norway and learnt much more about her than I ever did when we were training in Singapore. I had hoped to join a race in Scandinavia, but summer races were so popular they were sold out almost a year in advance! I was almost up for a St. Petersburg Marathon but pulled out at the last minute. There was a little tinge of regret but I am sure I would have the chance to run other interesting races in the future.

Fresh from the trip, we headed for Port Dickson OD Triathlon. Short, fast races were not my cup of tea, but the convoy drive up to Malaysia and road trip made up for the bad timings. Races were just an excuse to get together.

Unfortunately, good things do not last long. I battled lower back and ITB problems soon after the race. I must have overused the muscles. That meant a lull of two months in August and September, while I spent an inordinate amount of time and money on treatments, with an eye to recover for my next key race. It was a jittery and trying period. My mood went on a lull as well as I diligently did all my stretching and strengthening as instructed by my physios.

In September, I decided to add stairs climbing to my training routine. I had an expedition to Mt Aconcagua at the end of the year and figured I should start training for it. It was somewhat opportune with my injury because stairs was low-impact and did not seem to induce much pain.

By October, I managed to recover enough to run somewhat pain-free. It was mentally agonizing and I tested my recovery at the Desaru long-distance triathlon. It was another road trip with training kakis, and I had no expectations except to complete the race. Thankfully I did. My "ace race" was the TNF 100 Duo and I wanted to defend my podium position from last year. I had an excellent partner in Lai Chee and we came in first. I was ecstatic, my very first "Champion" trophy!

I took a short break to go rock climbing in Krabi with Alber, before resuming my training for my climbing expedition. We then made our annual trip in November to Powerman Malaysia to battle the hot weather for a gruelling long distance duathlon.

Amidst my triathlon trainings, my focus shifted from local races to my Mt Aconcagua expedition in December. But there was one last race for the year, the Singapore Marathon. Totally unprepared for it, but I had a free slot two weeks before the event and took the chance to slowly burn some tarmac.

The marathon somewhat calmed my nerves. I was all too anxious and apprehensive over my climb a few days away. It was a bold decision, to venture to Argentina alone for a month. It was a mountain that I trained for, and a region that I had never been to. I was too long out of the mountains and the thought fascinated me. No Singaporean female climber had scaled Aconcagua and I wondered if I would be the first.

I made a short acclimatization climb to Mt Vallecitos and readied myself for Aconcagua. Alas, planning for expedition dates and timing the summit weather was like trying to strike lottery on hindsight. I did not summit the mountain, coming 400m short of the peak. I was really disappointed, but every climb teaches us something useful for the next expedition. I surprised myself with each successful ferrying to higher altitudes, with pack weights that I never imagined I would carry. There was some solace in that.

I ended 2010 and began 2011 in the mountains. I only hope that 2011 will be as fruitful and eventful (minus the injuries) as before. I am certainly looking forward to more exciting adventures. I had a list of activities that I would love to attempt in this lifetime. Maybe I might frame it up as a constant reminder to myself:

- Mt Denali in Alaska
- Mt Vinson in Antartica
- Run a polar marathon (basically visit the N and S Poles)
- Trek & pull snow sled across Antartica
- High altitude trail ultra-marathon
- Mt Elbrus in Russia
- Mt Everest.....

In the meanwhile, there are some races already lined up for 2011. But what I really eagerly look forward to, is my impending flight home in 18h. Can't wait! :)

Monday, January 3, 2011

Mt Aconcagua Climb

Album 1 - Start to Base Camp
Album 2 - High Camp 1 to Summit Day
Album 3 - Post-Summit

It is not possible to record all the events in the past 20 climbing days in a single blog entry. Should I note down the factual bits, when we did what, numbers and how? Should I focus on the summit day in particular, or a theme perhaps like food? It was a long climb. Tiring. I had lines and ideas flowing through my mind on the many long treks, but now that I am comfortable in my Hyatt room, where do I even start?

Chronological Events -

16-Dec: We had 3 guides and 11 clients. We got our permits and drove 4-5h from Mendoza (800m) to Penitentes (2400m). We stayed at a nice ski hotel with hot shower. We organized and weighed our duffel bags for the mules, and had a good steak dinner. I had my last ice-cream for the year 2010!

17-Dec: We did a slow and easy trek from 11am to 5pm (with hourly breaks), going from 2400m to 2800m. The route followed along the river. We carried only our jackets and food. The approach was very windy but hot and dry. We reached Pampa de Lanas campsite and pitched our own tents. We were expected to do so at each campsite. We had a traditional Argentinian meat BBQ dinner, cooked by the mule drivers. It was my best steak ever, succulent, juicy with crispy skin. Ooooh...

18-Dec: Breakfast was scrambled egg. Then we broke tents and set off at 1030am. There was a short bridge crossing along the way. It was very windy along the way and anything that was not secured got blown away. We arrived at the next campsite at 5pm, 3200m. We had some tea and snacks. The guides made us avocado & salad with bread. Then dinner, which was typically some pasta or carbs of sorts.

19-Dec: Basecamp: River-crossing day! Not exactly because it was a dry season and the "river" had shrunk by two-thirds. What was left was a few metres of cold water about calf deep. We chose not to bother with changing and carrying wet shoes, and got a mule driver to ferry us across, one-by-one. We started at 915am and stopped at 2pm for a picnic lunch. I totally over-ate. The subsequent trek to our Basecamp (BC) Plaza Argentina was an absolute chore. We arrived at 330pm, 4200m. The BC was a luxury. We had a big dining tent with tables, chairs and laid out cutlery. Juice, nuts and snacks were prepared for us. There was a huge tent by Daniel Lopez that offered B&B service, internet, phone and so on. A hot shower cost USD20! We had shepard's pie for dinner and cake for dessert. Bliss.

20-Dec: It was a rest day at BC. Food was amazingly good, we were very well taken care of by two young Spanish ladies who manned the kitchen tent. It was fully equipped with a giant oven and all sorts of culinary contraceptions. After an idle breakfast, we went to the medical tent to be checked by the BC doctor. Everyone had to be measured and 'approved' by him. Readings: O2=84, pulse=90, BP=110/80. Lunch was a sumptuous grilled chicken thigh and vegetables. I cleaned off the meat to bare bones. Then our guides handed out snack packs and briefed us on the ferrying routine for the next days and what to pack.

21-Dec: It was our first ferry/ carry attempt. Above BC, we started wearing our plastic boots all the way. The idea was to bring some personal gear up for storage at HighCamp 1. Some of our climbers chose to engage personal porters. I prepared my pack, it was 17kg. My new Osprey Ariel 75 was put to good use, it dwarfed me. We left at 1030am and arrived at HC1 at 340pm, 4900m. It was a tough terrain, with lots of loose scree along the way. We deposited our gear and headed back to BC. The descent took about 3h. It was a long day, and some of our climbers felt sick from the altitude. Oxymeter reading: 80 (O2)/ 95 (pulse).

22-Dec: Another rest day at BC, much appreciated. One of our climbers, Martin, decided to stop the climb. But before he left, he kindly shared his satellite phone minutes with everyone, as an early xmas present. Awww.... I managed a call back to Singapore. And also rewarded myself with a hot shower. My hair was feeling yucky and starting to itch by that point and it was irritating to sleep on them. The shower was a great investment, I felt so clean and refreshed after that! It was grooming time, helped by the very hot day at BC today. Everything was pulled out of the tent to be aired in the sun. We had lasagne for lunch, and an awesome steak for dinner. Oxy-reading: 85/90.

23-Dec: HighCamp 1: Today we move from BC to HC1, leaving behind the comfort and fine dining. My pack was 14kg. We left at 1030am and arrived at 330pm to super-duper heavy winds. It was a challenge setting up our tents. Everything was flapping and rattling away. We could not do much but lied in our tents and waited out the weather. Underneath the shelter, we could hear our tent poles rattling viciously in the wind. I went outside to pee and nearly got blown off balance by the sudden gusts of wind. One of our climbers was diagnosed with HAPE by a doctor who was at the campsite. He ordered her to descend immediately and a guide went with her. It was a sad moment for the expedition.

24-Dec: We did a carry/ ferry to HC2 at 5300m. It took us 4h from 11am to 3pm. We had to cross a col, and did a short section on ice using crampons. I took some group gear and my pack was 15kg. It was not as tough a carry compared to BC-HC1. We left our gear and returned to HC1 by 5pm. I used the infamous 'grey shit bag' for the first time. Climbers in Aconcagua were expected to carry all litter out, including poo. So each of us were issued bags to collect them. It was 'challenging', I squatted over the bag until I almost cramped. It was Xmas eve and we had pasta with choc chip xmas bread. The guides gave us an Aconcagua collar pin each as present. One climber, Christina, had some xmas songs on her iTouch. Everyone was in a festive mood. Another group of climbers had xmas tinsels and bells on their tents.

25-Dec: It was a rest day for us at HC1. It was also Xmas Day. We woke up to find 2 gold chocolate coins outside our tents. I think one of our climbers left them there because the coins had Fort Knox and US Quarter imprints. It was a nice gesture. It was a hot day, no more winds. But it was hard to kill time because we had left all our books in BC. There was absolutely nothing to do but sit around. There was a limit to how often one can trim those nails, clean one's face and do more grooming. Oxy-reading: 79/94.

26-Dec: HighCamp 2: We moved from HC1 to HC2 at 5300m today. It took us 5h from 10am to 2pm, longer than the previous carry. I had 18kg on me today - whew! my heaviest ever. It was more than one-third my body weight. I had half my tent, and my tent-mate, Brett, took the other half. It was indeed energy sapping, I felt like a porter. Each porter in Aconcagua is limited to 20kg of carry. Oxy-reading: 79/84.

27-Dec: We continued our carry to HC3 in the morning. I had a light pack, perhaps 12kg. But it was cold and snowy. I felt the cuts of the snow and wind across my face, and visibility was low. Everything was shrouded in white. It was a tough trek because of the weather. We took 3h from 11am to 2pm to reach 5800m, and just 1h to return to HC2. Oxy-reading: 72/89.

28-Dec: Rest day at HC2, another day of doing nothing and trying to stay sane. Some of the girls played game using soil and stones. The weather was ok so we had lunch outside in the open. Oxy-reading: 71/97.

29-Dec: HighCamp 3: We move to HC3 today. Yes!! No more waiting around. I was excited because that meant summit attempt would be the next day. HC3 was too high to be 'staying and resting' there unnecessarily. We took slightly less than 4h from 11am to 2:50pm. There was snow but not cold. We set up our tents at 5800m and got organized for summit attempt. Dinner was instant mashed potato with canned tuna. Delicious really at that altitude. We were each given 2L of boiled water for the summit push.

30-Dec: Summit Attempt: I had a restless night and kept looking at my watch. We finally heard the shouts of "Hot Water!" from the guides at about 5am. We reluctantly got up and readied ourselves. There was some wind but not strong. We had to put on all our warm clothings and crampons. I wore a thermal, micro-fleece, down jacket and shell. I put on two pairs of socks and inserted hand-warmers in between them, on the arches of my feet. Then I wrapped on my gaiters and strapped on the crampons. I did not have time for breakfast and took a cereal bar instead. It was cold outside, the warmers did not feel like they worked. I skipped the ones for my hands (a BIG mistake) and put on my glove liners and down mitts. We were told to put 1x nalgene bottle in our down jackets, and another bottle in the backpack. All our food was within access in our shell jackets. By the time we started, it was almost bright and there was no need for headlamps. We set off at 630am.

Barely an hour into the attempt, all except 4 climbers (out of 9) had turned back to the campsite. So it left 4 of us and 3 guides, trudging on. I made good progress in the first 1-2h. But the lack of breakfast soon caught up with me, and I could feel my energy sapping out. I reached for a Clif Bar, but it had frozen in the cold and was impossible to bite off. I sucked on a sweet, but it was insufficient. It was also almost impossible to unwrap the tiny candy in my clumsy mitts. Like a battery draining, by the 4th hour I was quite flat. I managed to get an Quaker cereal bar, and endured. Meanwhile, one of our guides, Maria, had problems with the altitude and chose to descend. She asked if I wanted to go with her, but the thoughts of summit were too tempting. I pressed on with 3 other climbers and 2 guides, but not for long. I was moving extremely slowly and would not have lasted another 8h. There was still another 4h up to cover that last 400+m, and 4h down to HC3.

I turned around with one guide at about 6500m. Sadly. I actually felt quite strong and confident for this climb. According to our guides, it was a tough summit day - it was not as cold nor windy, but there was too much snow which made the trek up very tiring. At many points, the snow was more than calf deep. It took me another 2h to descend to HC3, very slowly. I discovered that 3 fingers on my left hand felt numb and looked discoloured. I think they were mildly frost-bitten. *gasp*! It was my first time encountering frost-bite! Maria gave me some hot noodle soup, which I took in Dawn's & Olya's tent. It was always warm and cosy in there. I was so exhausted that I just lied there and had my first nap of the expedition. In the meanwhile, we waited anxiously for radio updates from the rest of the climbers. They met with some winds and bad incoming weather, and finally turned around at close to 6900m. They were so close to the summit, about 45min - 1h away, but everyone was very drained as well. They took another few hours to descend, totaling a 12h summit attempt. I skipped dinner that night and slept all the way.

31-Dec: Those of us who attempted the summit were still tired. We were supposed to break camp and pack up to go down to Plaza de Mulas (the basecamp of the normal route). I was very slow and unfocused in the morning. The descent took about 4h, and the first hour was through thick snow that was very tiring. I woke up late and did not get breakfast again. That, coupled with the no-dinner last night, meant that I was moving along uninspired and at a subsistence pace. Plaza de Mulas was a HUGE campsite at 4200m, totally commercialized because there were so many groups there, each with their own set of dining support, camping grounds, shower/ toilets and other support facilities. We used the facilities offered by Grajales. It was NY's eve and apparently there would be some bonfire and celebrations around the campsite. But I was too tired. Dawn and I were given two free bunk beds in one of the B&B tents, we promptly fell asleep. The rest of our team was snuggled together in the big dining tent.

1-Jan-2010: The first day of the year!! But we were to spend 8h walking on a dried river bed and trekking through an endless valley to get to Penitentes. It was utterly boring because after 2h, the surrounding sights seemed the same. Just a long never-ending walk with no end in sight. We stopped a few times for very quick drinks and plodded on. Everyone was stretched (mentally) by the trek out. It was not tough, given that we were dropping altitude. It was just too long. We finally got to the Park entrance and waited for our van, and arrived at Penitentes close to 8pm. Whew! That marked the end of our Aconcagua expedition - the physically demanding segment was over, almost too soon. We all headed for a well-deserved hot shower.