Thursday, March 31, 2011

First Love - Running Shoes

No amount of self persuasion or coercion could get me to the pool tonight. Sigh. My friends stopped the class and I found no motivation to enter the water. Very reluctantly. So I headed for the next path of least resistance, to my running shoes.

Alas, my calves and lower calves were so tight, no kidding. They were like rock solid 'bloated', and felt impossible to run with that heaviness. So I waddled along. Poor Alber had to keep jogging on the spot, running backwards and all sorts, just to wait for me.

We went up Morse Road, the usual 6km route. But we turned up a flight of stairs back onto MF loop, instead of running past clubhouse for a second round. A little confusing for my first time, but I soon understood the route.

Total: 12km.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

Woodside Trail Run

I had pre-registered for a 50km ultra at Woodside Trail. I love trail running and California is one of the best places in the world for that. They have so much forest land and trails of all distances. And the weather! In normal circumstances, the weather was a plus. Alas, it had been raining the entire week in Palo Alto and this morning was no different. The rain started in the night and continued strong into the wee hours. When I woke up at 7am, it was cold, windy and wet. It felt like 7degC. The kind of weather where I would sleep in in Singapore and scrap all my training plans. I contemplated a long while if I should go for the run. The intent for all overseas trail runs was a scenic view because on my own, I would not be able to figure out the distances and routes. It was less about clocking mileage. So if it was going to be bad weather and miserable, that defeated the aim.

I was indecisive for a good 30min before I decided to 'kick my butt' and get going. I got dressed, ate breakfast and drove to the Park. I was late by 20min for my category. Oh well. I registered, collected my race tag, and started running. The instruction was to follow the Pink ribbons, which should appear every 3-4 min. But somehow somewhere I must have missed a turn, and did not see any ribbons for more than 10min. I had no idea how far I had run or if I was on the right track, since there were no other runners in sight. So I backtracked, saw some people who pointed me in the right direction, and ended up merging with the tail-end of the 35krunners. I was now far behind the 50k runners. Brilliant. I think I would switch category instead.

Meanwhile, the rain continued, and the race course was like a giant teh-tarik mud puddle. The waters and mud were shoe-deep, so every step was soaking cold. I was trying out my 'rain gear combo' to see what worked in a cold, wet race. (Ask me separately how each gear worked) Mentally, it was IMNZ deja vu, with a tinge of apprehension. Yours truly was wrapped up like a Michelin man:

  • Top: Nike comfort fit long-sleeved with thin fleece lining, Mountain Hardwear GTX Paclite shell, Nike running skull cap, Serius gloves
  • Bottom: CWX cold weather compression long tights, Montane featherlite outer pants to block the wind & some rain, REI trail running gaiters, REI merino wool socks, Salomon XA Pro 5
  • And my camera & water bottle
Along the way, I was bypassed by a group of college runners on their training run. The guys were in Tshirt and shorts. One girl had on the tiniest pair of short tights. So next to them, I looked like a klutzy hiker.

I continued running and/ or walking for what seemed like an eternity, and finally reached the first aid station. It was at the 9.7k mark, but I had already taken 1:45h! The getting lost bit must have added much time although I had no way to verify how much. I had no sense of geography or distance (everyone counted in miles).

The aid station was quite well-stocked. In addition to the usual race munchies, it had boiled potatoes and salt. That turned out rather tasty. I took my time to eat, drink and take pictures before heading out. The next aid station was another 9k away, then another 9km back. Then the last 7-8km to Finish line.

Despite the mud and rain, everyone was in good spirits, and smiling. We had more than we signed up for. In my last few km, I met an elderly runner and we ran together to the Finish. The chatting and pacing was very helpful because both of us were already very tempted to stroll. All in, I ran 5:30h. But no idea what the distance was.

I think trail runners are such a crazy bunch. Smiling and enjoying ourselves despite the mud and weather. Totally nuts. Loving it. :)

Monday, March 7, 2011

Ironman New Zealand 2011

Brutal. Brutal. Brutal. Those are the only words I have to describe the race. I have my fair share of endurance events around the world, but IMNZ 2011 ranks up there (finger points to sky) as one of the most brutal and miserable ones. It was a race that tested, stretched, and almost snapped my limits. A race where I was that oh-so-close (eyes narrow to a slit) to giving up or getting cut off, but miraculously found the foolhardiness to finish it just in time. A race where, for the week after, I was so mentally drained that I felt no urge to resume running - which is rare for a hyper-bunny like me.

Race Day Morning

It rained the entire night and continued into race day morning. Not a good sign. The weather forecast was for heavy rain and I wondered how that would be, relative to the tropical downpours we have in Singapore. We got up, fed ourselves silly with breakfast and walked to the race site for body marking. I decided to put on my wetsuit in the comfort of the room and as an added insulation against the cold. It was a 10-15min stroll. We had our markings, pumped our bicycle tires and checked in our Special Needs bags. Then we made our way to the swim start. The rain was a heavy drizzle that never stopped.


Perhaps it was the excitement of the race. Or that I had been walking around in my wetsuit. The water did not feel as cold as I anticipated. I only just waddled into the lake when the canon blasted and the race began. The lake was clear and visibility good. I could see the swimmers around me, and soon many overtook me from behind. I plodded on. Siew Ling was next to me, I could recognize her by her swimming gear. I did not know how many buoys there were in total. They were marked in ascending order, so I just counted and made sure I got to the next buoy and aimed for the next. I managed to swim in a relatively straight course because the buoys were easy to sight. I did not dare to look at my watch and simply looked ahead, secretly hoping that I was not the last. I exited the lake at 1:51h and realised that it was still raining. Yeah! Swim cleared! Supporters were at the swim-exit, happily cheering us on despite the weather. I brisk walked the 500m path to the transition tent.


The transition tent volunteers yanked the wetsuit off me (thanks!). I dried myself and changed into my cycling gear - an UnderArmour coldgear long-sleeved top, a CWX compression long tights, and an Orca cycling shorts. Then the accessories like gloves, shoes and race belt. I underestimated the weather and did not have any protective gear with me. My running jacket was in my run Special Needs bag! Argh. I stepped out of the transition tent and promptly got drenched.

It was cold and miserable. I struggled through the first 10km of rolling hills. I started shivering from the cold and it got so bad that I had problems controlling my bicycle. The kind of shivering that starts with simply feeling chilly, to involuntary shudders from internally. I thought I might black-out or fall off the bike. I took 1h to cover 20km (what?!) and seriously contemplated giving up the race. At that speed, there was no way I was going to cover 180km within the cut-off time. I was seriously losing it. But there was no chance to quit. An ambulance zoomed past me, and obviously I did not look like I was in enough trouble for it to stop by me. Cyclists flew by on the opposite side. The pros made it seem to easy. Several of them were in sleeveless tri-suit and I really wondered if they felt cold at all.

I stopped at 20km. There was an aid station across the road and a volunteer ran up to me. I asked if she had a poncho - I was desperate - and bless her, she found one and helped me put it on and tied the loose ends. I psyched myself to continue pedalling, step by step. So there I was, riding in the rain like a crazy woman with a flapping plastic sheet. Friends who saw me on the opposite road later told me that they did a double-take at my ridiculous 'outfit'. I told myself that that could not be worse than attempting a mountain summit in the howling winds. No guide was there to tell me I could not make it or turn me around. If anyone decided to go or quit, it was me alone. So move that butt and keep pedalling!

I thought that I should at least stake it out to the u-turn point and see what 45km looked like. I physically stopped at every aid station and ate a chocolate bar. Bananas could not generate enough body heat like the chocs did. Then I filled my aero-bottle with coke, and it was coke-choc-coke-choc all the way. I lost count of the number of choc bars I took. And for a person who does not take soft-drinks, I must have filled my year's quota of coke!

Miraculously I made it to the u-turn. Then I thought that I should at least get back to the starting point if I wanted to quit, or be stranded in the middle of nowhere with the grazing cows. Meanwhile, the rain continued unabated. It sometimes drizzled, sometimes poured and the chilly wind attacked us. I kept my poncho, never mind the (lack of) image. My speed was unglamourously low and I kept making mental calculations of the distance and time remaining. I cleared the first loop, and there was no way one could stop in the city with so many people cheering us on. Just as madly as the athletes. It was admirable, the supporters.

So I went on my second loop even as many riders completed their bike leg. The pain of the slopes repeated itself. I was panicking now because the prospect of being cut off was very real. My mental calculations refreshed themselves every 10km, counting down the speed I needed to maintain. Girl, keep riding and keep that speed at XX. At one point, I made an erroneous calculation and had a major panic attack, only to realise that I had counted an extra 10km. It was down to that level of granularity and emergency planning. Still, I was on Mission Urgent to make it back to the transition tent. My abductors cramped a few times. In the last 20km, I decided to push my bike up a particular slope for fear of cramps affecting the last segment. I needed those legs to pedal all the way back. I packed my running shoes all the way across a 10h flight and I must use them! I fought against time, never before so intensely, and finally crossed the timing mat at 10:25h, with 5min to spare. 8:15h on the bike. Whew! I knew I was not a strong cyclist, but never expected to be so waylaid. I was the second last to complete the bike leg and it was a hallelujah moment. Almost proud.


It was with great joy that I put on my running shoes. Once I had them on, I knew I would be able to complete the race. I had about 6:30h left and I targeted 6h for the marathon. That would be my longest marathon timing ever. But in a race like today, I realistically only aimed to survive and finish within 17h. Nothing more.

I shuffled those legs. I started with 6.5min pace, not bad I thought. But then slowed to 7min and eventually close to 9min. It was one of those dilemmas where I would love to stroll a little, but risked shivering once I stopped. So I kept moving. The aid stations had cups of salted chips and pretzels and they were way more appetizing than powergels and lemon-lime-anything. I changed my poncho a few times at the aid stations.

10km. 15km. 21km. Friends had completed but I was just on to my second loop. Funny how I never thought of giving up once I was on the run. A marathon? Yeah, bring it on, it was the only thing that kept me in the race thus far. Keep going, hanging on. There was only one thing playing through my mind - shuffle, shuffle, and shuffle. 25km. 30km. 32km. After that it was just counting down every km. Winnie, Lynn and Henry were slightly ahead of me. I hoped not to see and overtake them because it meant that they were walking and we were all cutting it close to the 17h. They did not disappoint and kept their place in front of me.

Finally, round the bend and toward the finishing chute. It was one hell of a race, totally mentally and physically drained. So I think I truly deserved that finishing moment of running in with my hands raised in some sort of a wild victory wave. 16:44:44h. It was so close. The weather put a spoiler in my race and I was not sure if I could make it. IMNZ was really something.

Post-race, we found out that we had a completion rate of 97%! For a race so tough and demanding, it was a marvelous achievement for everyone. Thanks to all for their cheering along the way. :) Congratulations!