Monday, December 31, 2012

Thought for food

A few days ago a Twitter friend suggested I write a post about the runner's diet - how to fuel yourself for a good run.

You'd think December 31 is the worst possible time to write about the runner's diet - seeing as it comes smack dab in the middle of the festive season (with all the accompanying festive eating). Alternatively it couldn't be a better time - there's no better time to make New Year's resolutions, is there?

Singapore is full of good food, and thus of foodies. So much so that my father-in-law, visiting from Ohio, said: "You guys have such a foodie culture. Is that because there's nothing better to do?" Well, of course not! Some of us run. Some of us run to eat...

I could talk about eating everything in moderation. That includes
char kway teow,
fish congee,
chwee kuay,
dragon fruit,
and my grandmother's popiah*... all of which I've had in the last week alone. And then some.

*Popiah is actually pretty healthy. It's sort of the Singaporean Chinese version of a burrito - a spring-roll-like, very thin flour wrapper, lettuce leaves, a filling that's mostly braised vegetables and tofu and bits of meat, topped with shreds of egg, bean sprouts, crab meat and shrimp and peanuts, slathered in garlic and chilli and sweet sauce...mmm. Of course, my relationship with my grandmother's popiah has never been one of moderation.

But I think my number one motivational eating principle is... eat like an athlete. I don't believe in junk miles. But I do believe there are empty calories. If you think of your body as a high-performance machine - or if you want it to be a high-performance machine - then you have to put in high-quality fuel.

Because I'm motivated more by the outcomes of my runs and races than the way I look, 'eat like an athlete' is the single principle that has kept me walking on by when cakes and deep-fried curry puffs call my name. (Curry puffs calling your name, you say? I think those are called overtraining hallucinations.)

I also like Michael Pollan's maxim - eat (things recognisable as) food, not too much, mostly plants. That dovetails very well with eating like an athlete. For me this means plenty of calcium-rich foods, iron-rich foods, and greens, and getting *enough* food rather than trying to limit or count calories. (Especially second breakfast. Which as we all know is one of the five most important meals of the day. A typical pre-run first breakfast might be a banana with peanut butter, and a cup of coffee. Second breakfast is cereal or oatmeal or eggs or yoghurt or something like that.) It also means hydrating, especially with water and smoothies. For you this may mean something else. Sorry if that's not very helpful...

Eating everything in moderation also applies. Particularly to popiah.

I make an exception for very good dark chocolate, as happiness is also crucial to athletic performance. There is no such thing as too much dark chocolate...happy New Year!

Saturday, December 29, 2012

Shoes. Let's get some shoes.

Dear Nike,

The last time I owned a pair of your shoes was about, oh, ten years ago. (At the end of JC - what we call high school - I discovered Saucony and Mizuno and never looked back.)

But then a few months ago, strapped for cash and time and fed up with running shoes that were so feature-heavy they were actually heavy, I popped into some random shoe shop at Queensway and found...

this pair of Nike Lunarglide+4s and I am in love.
My shoes are grimy in about a week, and I've had these for 2 months. Who are all those people walking around with pristine sneakers? Where do they run??? 
Now, I'm a neutral runner/ underpronator. I'm like the Switzerland of runners. I once had a really bad experience with some running-store twerp who took one look at my flat feet and said "You're an overpronator". Whereupon I brandished the wear pattern on the soles of my shoes at him. You try telling me I'm an overpronator, sir...

The nice young fellow who helped me out at the shoe shop was not such a know-it-all. In fact I'm not sure he knew that much about the merchandise in terms of actual running, which is not a problem - I think chasing the latest 'evidence' can really do more harm than good. Does the shoe fit? No? Get a different pair. Do you have knee/ foot/ ankle problems from running in those shoes? It might be the shoes or it might be the running. Have you tried strength conditioning?

Anyway, now that I've been running in them for a couple of months,
including one marathon! this was at the end where my body just wanted to FINISH, i look so much happier here than the guy behind me, and i'm pretty sure he was doing the half-marathon. As you can see I also believe in the motivational power of neon.
the Lunarglide+4s are pretty neutral, very comfortable, springily cushioned, and very, very light. The fact that they come in all those candy colours is a nice bonus. (I can't believe I'm saying this. I've never been bothered what colour my running shoes are as long as they are shoes.)

But, dear Nike, would you PLEASE make the next version with a bit more traction?

The Lunarglide+4s work very well - until it is wet. Then they have no traction on wet surfaces whatsoever. I once tried to run hill repeats in a light drizzle*, and ended up slipping and sliding so much that I took off my shoes and ran in my socks. Even my socks had more traction. You'd think for a company based in Oregon, Nike would know what to do with wet surfaces...wet leaves? slick polished concrete? slightly algae-covered asphalt? dear god, granite tiles in building doorways? nope. I live in fear of landing on my ass or breaking something.

* Singapore definition of light drizzle - ie it has been raining all day and is now just coming to the tail end of the rain and also it is 25C -if you are lucky- and the humidity is 90% so nothing dries and there are unexpected puddles everywhere. This happens year-round, but especially in December. In Singapore there are two seasons: hot and wet, and hotter and wetter.



PS For trails, slippery surfaces and just walking around, I also love love love my New Balance Minimus (minimi? minimuses? mini-mes?) But that's a review for another day.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

2012 in review

Here I am sneaking a post in between work, family and training. My in-laws are visiting Singapore from the US for the first time and the list of things we've fed them resembles a hobbit's pantry list, if hobbits were Southeast Asian.

This was one of them: PUMPKIN CHEESECAKE (which is not Southeast Asian, but it is still delicious)

Pie crust 
Digestive biscuits - 10 to 15
Melted butter

12oz pumpkin puree
2 blocks (about 500g) cream cheese
2 eggs
1/6 cup yoghurt or sour cream
slightly less than 1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/8 tsp nutmeg
1/8 tsp ground cloves (optional)
1 tsp vanilla
2 tbsp flour
1. Preheat oven to 350F/ 176C
2. Crush digestive biscuits till crumbs form; mix with melted butter, press down into 9-inch pie tin.  Set aside.
3. Beat cream cheese till smooth. Add pumpkin, eggs, yoghurt/ sour cream, sugar, and spices. Add flour and vanilla. Beat till well combined.
4. Pour into crust and bake for 1 hour, let cool 15 minutes, then refrigerate at least 1.5 hours.

Here's a little end-of-year sum-up, questionnaire devised by MissZippy1.

Best race experience? That has to be the Great Eastern women's 21K, which had cheering spectators (I saw the same set of folks three times), food and ice cream (!) at the finish, wet towels, the worst race photo of myself I've ever seen,
Obviously I'm just woolgathering here.

AND I crawled in with a 2:11 PR.

Best run? 15km mixed trail and road one weekend during marathon training: down Clementi, up Rifle Range Road, said hi to the Metasport bike group doing hill reps, ran through a desolate trail and nearly trampled on two birdwatchers on the way to MacRitchie Reservoir, around the reservoir, and two egg McMuffins at the end. (I don't run for my weight or physical health. I run for my mental health...)

Best new piece of gear? I have trouble buying gear for myself in the consistent belief that I don't deserve  it...finally bought myself a pair of 2XU compression calf sleeves and wore them on the way to my speediest 10K ever. 2013's might be the fuelbelt I got as a birthday/ anniversary present.

Best piece of running advice you received? Get a coach. If you don't think you're fast enough to deserve a coach, how will you get fast enough?
In 2013, here's something else I want help with. When I try to run fast, I need other people around to race. My time-trial times are never as fast as when I'm actually chasing someone down that I think I have a chance of overtaking. It's a different head game...

Most inspirational runner? Desiree who is super hardworking, always chipper, and is the first one to stand there at the finish and cheer her friends on.

If you could sum up your year in a couple of words, what would they be? The only way to go is up.

And some specific time goals/ new year's resolutions for 2013. Making these public is very very scary.
- Run a sub-25 5K.
- Run a sub-55 10K.
- Break the elusive 2h mark for the half marathon.
- And go under 5 for a marathon!

Some non-time goals.

- Stretch, PROPERLY, twice a week. For too many years I've been coasting by on my ballet flexibility, and have very bad runner habits - like not stretching after a long run. When I do stretch, I need to stretch differently and deeper and in wacky positions just to get the stretch I need (please do not be alarmed if we're stretching on the track and I fold into a position you didn't think humanly possible).
- More strength training - will need this if I'm ever to get faster...
- Get a friend into running and get her addicted.
- And have fun on every run!

As we go into tri training season I leave you with one tri training thought. I like swimming well enough when I get to the pool, it's getting out the door to go to the pool I have trouble with. (Help!!) (I have no such problem with running: shorts shirt shoes out the door.)

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Some recent workouts

Saturday. Enduro 'triathlon', a comedy of errors - could not find bike pump, roads too wet to ride. Spent half hour searching for my goggles in my burgeoning 'sports gear' drawer (have not swum a stroke since May). Swam, then ran the run leg twice in lieu of the bike leg, then ran the run leg twice with everyone else. Or more accurately behind everyone else. Swim 750m. Run ~8km.

Sunday. Walk/ jog with my friend Daphne - the goal was good company and a little fresh air.

Tuesday track. 4-minute 800m repeats ("that's aspirational...") followed by 400m recovery at half the pace.

Thursday. 1.3km swim. Did not sink. Success. I am now ready for the weeks of eating ahead...

Friday, December 14, 2012

The loneliest pace

Today's workout. Friday morning. 5km, canal route, 29:55 ('recovery run that turned into a tempo at the end'). forgot to stretch when i got home. 

Maybe it's the good folks I train with, maybe it's just me, but it's been incredibly lonely training for the marathon this year, especially doing long runs and tempo runs at my pace. There aren't a whole lot of serious women runners. I'm usually somewhere between the middle of the pack and the really fast women, somewhere in the front 10-30% depending on the race. (And still in the last pace group at training - a pace group that is shrinking steadily. We are all getting faster by dint of hard work, but everyone else is getting faster faster while I am basically running in place.)

So what am I doing about it? Talking my friends into running with me!!

From a Facebook chat with a friend...

i love getting friends into running cos it means i have more people to run with
and then if i get them addicted to the point where they run at my pace... cowabunga.

My friend Daphne Maia is trying to slim down and get fit. Over on her blog she's chronicling her weight-loss journey, sponsored by a supplement maker called GLOW Raspberry, who are also sponsoring meetings with a nutritionist and fitness training sessions. (I hate to tell you this hon, but of course this going to work! I bet no supplement maker ever does a controlled experiment where they give a control group the supplement without the nutrition and training advice - "here, go do what you normally do and eat what you normally eat and take this pill, chronicle the pill-taking on your blog, and let's see if you lose weight") <-- please excuse my inner statistics curmudgeon. My grand-uncle was a government statistician, it runs in the family.

While she chronicles her diet/ fitness adventure, I decided we should have actual adventures - so on Sunday we're jogging around Marina Bay! I am throwing pace out the window and just going to enjoy the sunlight and the giant garden we're running through...

Wednesday, December 12, 2012


(Sorry about that title. I have a lot of friends watching Singapore vs the Philippines in an AFF Suzuki Cup match and tweeting about it, and the Singapore team beat their opponents 1-0. Anyway, onward and upward.)

Right then. Some goals. Some of these are immediate, for the next year. Some of these are for ever.

1. This one's most important, so it's right at the top of my list. Tip the balance so that the percentage of negative I'm-not-a-fast-person or-even-one-of-those-girls-who-runs-AND-looks-like-she-never-broke-a-sweat thoughts is smaller than the percentage of positive I-CAN thoughts.
(Going to have to change my blog title along with it. Calling yourself Genetically Challenged - well played.)

2. Set new 5K, 10K, half, tri and marathon PRs. (Why yes, I do think this is possible next year.) More on this soon...

3. One day I am going to BQ. No two ways about it. It may have to happen when I am 70, but I will be qualifying for and then running Boston. Watch this space.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Trash talking

I can now say I'm a proud member of a super not-so-secret running club: the Singapore Glove Project!

It's just mind-boggling how much trash one sees while running. (Dear runners: if you can't pick up trash while running, please try not to CONTRIBUTE to the trash - after a trail race recently my beautiful trails were littered with gel packets.) Now, this has always annoyed me, so I signed up with the Singapore Glove Project as a way to 'pay it forward'while still doing what I love, and this week was my recovery week from the marathon - no serious training for me!

On Saturday we ran out to West Coast Park.

(Photo stolen from Ken Jin, who organises this thing. Obviously this is pre-trash pickup. Post-pickup we were trashed.) 

I noticed the worst of the rubbish was on the playground and around the barbecue pits - and that most of it was McD's cups and wrappers. Good argument not to have fast-food restaurants and convenience stores in parks...

You're not going to set any personal bests this way. At least, time-wise. You will however get a good back workout. Reminds me of playing table-tennis in school and spending more time picking up ping-pong balls than hitting them... You might also get funny looks from members of the public. But most importantly you get the satisfaction of having DONE something about the rubbish menace.

(Update - PS: joining the super not-secret Singapore Glove Project is incredibly easy; there are no membership fees or monthly meetings, all you need is one large trash bag or leftover plastic carrier bag, and one reusable rubber kitchen glove, or a plastic glove, or a smaller plastic bag to swathe your business hand in. Walk out the door, look around, start running, pick up trash, GO.
If you don't feel like workin' it so hard, just focus on the non-biodegradable stuff. For extra bonus points, also feel free to give yourself points for every different category of trash - cans, gel packets, ciggy butts, PET bottles, soda cups etc. For exxxxtra bonus points, get your friends to do it as well.)

Friday, December 7, 2012

G.C. does the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore

Yes, I ran a marathon last Sunday. 
Yes, it took me 5:19, and I'm slower than Oprah Winfrey (!!!). 

The Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore was my third full marathon. At least, I consider it my third. My first was three years ago (6:18 with plenty of walking). Two years ago there was an absolute disaster - I was running with a friend, and he wasn't feeling well, and then I wasn't feeling well, and then I had gastrointestinal issues, and then I cramped up, and then he cramped up, and we both staggered in around 6:30 - I don't count that one. Last year I ran Tokyo in 5:15 (again with the cramps, but visualising my coach Trudy behind me running me down on her bike - very effective). 

But this time round, I actually trained. 
Sometimes I don't really want to say that I've trained, or train hard at all, because what if I work my butt off and am still a flop? Because you know that happens (we've all been there). 

For the last couple of years I've been training quite regularly with Metasport, a triathlon group here, doing intervals and hills. I really stepped it up this season. Goals, people, goals. It seems to have worked a bit. I'd set myself a target: finish this year's marathon in less than 5 hours. Seemed doable. 

But. BUT. 

From the start line to 23km, I was perfectly happy and healthy. Nothing to see here guys, moving right along. I hit 21km in a relaxed 2:15. 

And then things began to fall apart when I felt the first twinges of cramp in my quads. If I hadn't been wearing compression calf sleeves, those bits of me would have cramped too.  

I downed a bottle of water in an effort to wash the cramps out of my system and took the second of my four gels. No effect. Around 25km I had to walk, and told myself I'd just walk for five minutes, then run five. Then walk five, then run five. Bottle of water, salt capsule. Walk five, run ten or fifteen. Rinse and repeat. Told myself I'd still get in under five hours if I could just run 9km an hour for the last two hours. Not so hard, right? It is when your legs don't work. Somehow I was still passing people. Then the 5:00 pacers passed me... 

At 38 or 39km there was an enormous expressway on-ramp. Dear marathon organisers: this is some kind of cruel joke. Not acceptable! 

At 40km all of my training discipline kicked in and I shufflesprinted the final couple of km ("tempo run, tempo run") to the finish. 

The worst part wasn't the cramping. The worst part was that I was chafed in some VERY UNPLEASANT PLACES. (One day I'll laugh about this.)

A couple of days ago I found out that I came in 3665th of 12,922 marathon finishers; implausibly ahead of 71% of the men, 430th overall woman, 227th Singaporean woman, and 94th of 681 women aged 20 to 29 (what???).

Ok, so I didn't hit my time goal, but the marathon wraps up a great training season and I learnt an important lesson: now I know I probably need to start with the electrolytes - MORE and EARLIER in the race. (Somehow this sort of thing never happens on long training runs!) 

We don't have seasons really, but I like to spend the first half of the year on multisport and the second half just RUNNING, which is my first love. This year I set 5K and half-marathon personal bests, and literally lost track of how many times I went under my 10K best time. Believe me there was some whooping and hollering after the Singapore Biathlon in February when I discovered I'd gone under an hour for 10K for the first time. Though at first I thought the course was short. 

...And I was still faster than Katie Holmes! 

Hello world!

Hello there,

I'm the Genetically Challenged Athlete.

Growing up in Singapore, I was never an athletic or sporty kid. I did ballet for years and when I wasn't at the barre I had my nose in a book. I spent most PE lessons running away from the ball, after getting beaned in the head too many times and spraining my fingers more times than I have fingers. (Oh, the tyranny of PE lessons to the genetically challenged!) I thought I was a lifelong bookworm with not a single shred of athletic talent.

But somewhere along the way I discovered that I liked to run. (Maybe it was all that running away from the ball that did it.)

However I am VERY genetically challenged - short legs, not much muscle, not much speed, not much endurance either. I have never won a race in my entire short life, nor placed, nor age-group placed, get the idea. In a race with three women in the 20-29 age group I would probably come in fourth.

Now I also do triathlons. That's THREE sports to be genetically challenged in.

Here is a great essay by one of my favourite writers on running, Kristin Armstrong.

Like her I have never won a single race in all my life, and like her sometimes I ask myself why I run. Why I sign up for race after race, haul myself out of bed at 5.30am on weekends, watch as everybody else disappears down the trail ahead, or show up at the track and be the last person to finish the set, week after week. (But as they say, if you don't think you're good enough to deserve a coach, how will you ever get good enough?)

I'd say that I do it because running is fun, but that's a lie. It's fun, but it's never all fun. Sometimes it's just sheer work. Sometimes you just have to show up and work, and work and work and work. Isn't that how life functions, though? You show up, you work, you do your best. You go home with your dignity intact knowing that you were professional about it.

I'd say that I do it because finishing the run I set out to run makes me feel a little more accomplished, makes me feel like less of a loser (this can be a very dark place). Even on the days with the really bad workouts. And on the good days, it can be pure joy.

I'd say this is a curious kind of love.