Monday, December 30, 2013

Year-end reflections, or just week-end ones

- I thought I'd better put up this post while it's still 2013.

- 42! It's the meaning of life. It's also the number of kilometres in a marathon (give or take a bit) and the number of kilometres I ran this week (give or take a bit). It's a good number.

- Christmas came and went. I worked on Saturday and will be working New Year's Day, but Christmas Eve was spent with family, Christmas Day with friends and family and board games and long run and pie. Quality time.

I ran 14++km with Rachel (+1 if you count sprinting to the MRT station and THROUGH the MRT interchange to get to Sengkang on time because I live on the other side of the island) and it turned into an impromptu road+trail run because part of the Punggol park connector is being resurfaced. Ridiculous. I loved it. At the end I got to see Pixie, Rachel's Pomeranian who is just a fluffy, flirty little ball of adorable.

path resurfacing - note sudden trail run segment!
you know you're a runner when yours are the muddiest shoes in the gym. oops.

- This year I ran a marathon in a time I didn't think I would ever see when I ran my first marathon four years ago. A time that starts with a 4. Rachel is training for the Tokyo Marathon and I told her what I think is the real secret (for a baby marathoner) to upping the mileage. Don't think, just run. Don't overthink it. Don't think, 'I'll be too tired for tomorrow morning's track workout or Thursday's tempo if I run tonight'. Don't think, just run easy (and the secret is to really run easy - something I'm working on myself).
For regular people with full-time jobs, this will hardly result in overtraining. Unless you're obsessive about it.

- On Sunday morning I started out running my usual canal route.

ZEBRA EXCAVATOR 
(Also for anyone who's counting: 2 grey herons, 4 striated herons, 4 little egrets, and 1 kingfisher. Yesterday was a good day for grey herons.)

 At the turn-off to Pandan Reservoir, I decided to go the other way instead on a whim, and found myself running to and through West Coast Park! I'm not really sure why it never occurred to me before. I run to West Coast Park. I run to the reservoir. For some reason I've never thought of connecting the two on foot. I am an idiot.

- On Sunday afternoon I was exactly five minutes late for a strength class at the gym (for very good reason: lunch and hanging out with a couple of friends) and, well, decided to do a short sharp run instead. (I'm allowing myself to do this because, remember, I have no training plan right now.) I found myself holding a pace, for a quick 5k, that five years ago I'd thought unimaginable but is now my happy tempo run pace. I've been running this for months now but the actual speed didn't occur to me until I saw the numbers on the treadmill.

Who is this person? I thought to myself. How did I get here? It was an important lesson that improvement takes time. I'm always impatient, always wanting to accomplish this or that, expecting to PR every goal race. It doesn't work that way.



- And what of this year's resolutions? The most important one, the one at the top of my list, the one about changing the ratio of positive thoughts to terrible slowpoke negative ones, that's doing fine. That's a work in progress.
The 5k PR didn't happen (not enough 5ks), nor did the 10k one or the half. Doesn't matter, they'll come. The tri and marathon PRs did; I spent a big chunk of the year focusing on City to Surf and I'm happy I did. Marathon training has completely broken my perspective on the definition of a short run and I'm quite glad for it. 

Monday, December 23, 2013

Left Behind

When you're one of the slowest members of the running group you train with, you try to stick to intervals. No one gets dropped when you're running laps around a track! I obediently stuck to intervals...until this past weekend.

One of the group members had semi-organised* a road-and-trail Christmas 'fun half' (*i.e., we had a rough idea of a route) - 21km or so up Rifle Range Road, a loop around Macritchie, and back down Rifle Range. Sounded fun, so I signed up.

Except. Only the fast people showed up on Saturday morning. Itsuko. Susan. Mark. Nynne. These are people with marathon PRs in the neighbourhood of 3 and a half hours. And me. I. Am. Not. A. Fast. Person. I think you can guess what happened next.

Can I just say - trying to do a long run with a group of people whose long run pace is an entire minute per km faster than yours is a terrrrrible idea.

Almost immediately, the group dropped me. Ten minutes later I spotted two of the other women in the distance and sped up a bit to catch up. Then they dropped me again. I gave up for a few minutes to take this photo and text our coach: "This was a baaaad idea."


20 minutes later I found the whole gang standing around at the end of the Rifle Range trail into Macritchie waiting for me to catch up. (I was trying to catch up, I swear. My knees are a mite annoyed at me now for sprinting every downhill and my left calf is upset with me for the uphills.) We ran a bit more with me at the (increasingly longer and longer) tail end. Then everyone stopped at the ranger station and I barely caught my breath before we were off again.

Nynne asked: 'Are you all right?'
I wanted to say, physically, yes; mentally, not so much...but I didn't have enough breath left to say much of anything.

After an hour of trying to catch up by desperate fartlek, I finally lost everyone altogether and lumbered away into the forest like a dying elephant for the benefit of the herd. I felt like a dying elephant too.

I don't blame the herd; I know it's very difficult to run slower than your natural long-run pace to wait for someone. And I felt awful for making everyone stop and start to wait for me. I'm sure real elephants have all sorts of rituals around a dying member of their herd, like covering them with leaves and stuff, but that'd just be mortifying.

In the end I wound up running a little bit more, clockwise around Macritchie, and sneaking out the Lornie Road trail exit to jump on a bus home - maybe 14km in total, I never really checked.

This isn't the first time I've been dropped, or DFL (dead _ing last) on a group run, and it's pretty depressing. I'd rather do a long run on my own than go out for what ought to be a social run and be left behind. I know the theory is that running with people who are faster helps you get better, but I think the idea is to run with people whose pace is in reach, not 'in your dreams'. And you wouldn't believe how hard it is to find people whose natural long-run pace is a middling ten-minute mile.

And what of those track sessions? I am getting faster...imperceptibly. It's just that everyone else is getting faster faster. Who knows, maybe I've reached those limits I keep trying to push. HELLO, ELEPHANT GRAVEYARD.

How do you handle getting dropped? Really, is there any way to make it less demoralising? 

Here, have some chocolate chip cookies. After my disastrous fartlek of a run I made these and took them to a friend's housewarming/ Christmas party. Mmm.  

Saturday, December 14, 2013

A running tally


For the second year in a row (my blog is only one year old, okay) I'm doing Miss Zippy's Year of Running recap. Here goes:

- Best race experience?
Does it count as a race? The Hen Party Tutu-Wearing Chicken Run (aka the Pocari Sweat Run in June), with the blushing (ok - glowing...ok, all-out sweating) bride and the hen party crew. A run with, and for, friends.


- Best run? 
This may be a strange choice - but I'll have to say 24km on a treadmill during the Great Haze of 2013, which told me a few things about myself, my capacity to deal with boredom, and the nature of the universe. I developed the ability to hold multiple chat conversations on a phone with minimal typos. I may have seen my life flash before my eyes.
Also, the other day my run by the canal was like the 12 days of Christmas gone wrong: 4 little egrets, 3 spotted doves, 2 striated herons, 1 stray common sandpiper, and a very fit uncle on his unicycle. (He's a regular there - every other regular in the neighbourhood knows him by sight. So, any run on which I see Mr Unicycle Uncle is a pretty good one.

Best new piece of gear? 
Tim(ex) III - my third Timex Ironman 30-lap watch in a row. I am a woman of extremely little gear. (Husband may disagree, citing overflowing gear drawers.) I've run for ten years and *STILL* don't own a GPS watch or heart-rate monitor... Mr Tim and my twice-yearly shoe purchases are about as technical as I get. My goggles are five years old. My swim caps are the latex freebies I get at races. Until perhaps two years ago I hadn't purchased any of my own running shirts (they were all free from races).

- Best piece of running advice you received? 
It's a tie: All of George Sheehan's 'Running and Being' (READ IT), and Holly bellowing "USE YOUR HAMSTRINGS" at the end of a rather rough sprint tri.

- Most inspirational runner? 
The most inspirational runners in my life will be, now and always, mum and dad. My mum runs 4.5km twice a day (you heard that right). She gets it done. (She claims not to enjoy it and doesn't race, but really she secretly likes to run.)
My dad doesn't run that much any more but if he could do his first marathon in his 40s with two kids I can certainly do it now. I'm told he finished those runs BEFORE taking me for our morning walks when I was little. The walks were at sunrise on a Sunday so I can only imagine what time he actually woke up.  

- If you could sum up your year in a couple of words, what would they be? 
Running is my antidote, my universal balm.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Meet Singapore's Rosie Ruiz.

[A quick aside: First of all, I'm seeing a few new readers coming over from the Venus Run blog-posts website. Welcome! 
I've actually signed up for the Venus Run again; it'll be on March 8 next year. 
It may start going downhill, end on a rather painful uphill, and involve a bright pink shirt, but other than that the event is well-organised and great fun. It's fairly small - registration is capped at 5,000. And there aren't many short sharp timed 5ks - I want to know whether I'm getting better at this distance over time.
NB - I pay for my own race entries.) 

Rosie Ruiz may just be the most famous runner to have not-won a marathon. In 1980, she notoriously cut the course of the prestigious Boston Marathon to nip in ahead of the real winner, Canadian runner Jacqueline Gareau. Fortunately two Harvard student spectators noticed her bursting out of the crowd near the end to enter the course, and exposed her as a fraud.

This year's Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore had its very own Rosie Ruiz, too, who is giving the original Rosie Ruiz a run (...or...not...?) for her money. Read this staggering story:
'Mystery 'winner' just wanted T-shirt and medal' 
Chua Siang Yee, The Straits Times, December 5, 2013 
PASTRY chef Tam Chua Puh admitted yesterday that he took a short cut in last Sunday's marathon, but said he never meant to be the first Singaporean to cross the finishing line.
When the unknown beat SEA Games-bound marathoner Mok Ying Ren to the top spot, it caused a two-hour delay as officials scrambled to check.
Mr Tam, 43, who ran barely 6km of the 42.195km route, told The Straits Times yesterday that he did not mean to cause any trouble. All he wanted was the finisher's T-shirt and medal.
In fact, he also admitted, he had done the same thing in two previous marathons, but was disqualified both years.
"I am sorry if I offended anyone. I never thought I would create so much inconvenience for the organisers," he said.
His explanation came three days after the controversy over his finishing time of 2hr 46min 57sec, well ahead of all the best Singaporean racers.
Emcees at the Standard Chartered Marathon Singapore initially declared him the winner of the Singapore men's category, before he was disqualified for missing all but one of the race checkpoints.
Racer Mok was then crowned the winner with a time of 2hr 54min 17sec.
Yesterday, Mr Tam said he had lasted only about 6km of the race and gave up because his left knee ached.
"I stopped at the Esplanade because my knee was too sore. I got hit by a car when I was 12, and my knee hasn't been okay since," he said.
But he was determined to collect his T-shirt and medal.
"After resting at the bus stop, I made my way back to the finishing line. I saw some Kenyans run past, and I thought I saw some local runners run past too, so I assumed it was safe to return to the race. I didn't expect to be the first Singaporean to finish."
The runners he spotted going past were the leading foreigners.
Mr Tam said he finished the 2011 and 2012 races the same way. Both times, he covered about 19km before giving up. Each time, he approached the medical vans and got a ride to the end point, where he resumed running and crossed the finishing line.
Asked if he did not think that was cheating, he said: "It never crossed my mind. Having signed up for the marathon, I just wanted to cross the finishing line."
Before last Sunday's race, he was issued a red bib, for runners expected to finish in more than five hours.
Married with one child, he said he picked up running in 2011 and runs mostly on weekends, 1km each time.
He seemed perplexed to be asked what possessed him to do what he did in the race.
"I never thought about going home midway. It would have been like giving up. I like running because I love nature, and I enjoy looking at the sights along the way. Winning never crossed my mind."
---

This is one of the most bizarre and funny race-bandit stories I've ever heard - I can't even get mad at the guy because he just sounds so spectacularly naive.

Here's something everyone ought to learn in kindergarten (what are kindergartens teaching these days??): if you don't finish the race, you shouldn't get the t-shirt and medal. That's why it's called a finisher tee. Would you drop out of a university course midway, show up for the graduation ceremony and then insist you should get the certificate because you paid to sign up? Um, no...

Second basic principle of running: If you're not trained for a full marathon, don't sign up for it!
You know, there is a 10km category. Maybe he thought that the 10km marathon was the same as the 42km marathon?

Even if you're just trying to complete a full marathon, you still have to train to complete the whole distance. That means running more than 1km at a time and more than just on weekends. If you don't want to put in that much time, there are lots of other shorter events that you can do safely.

Still more hilariously, he did the exact same thing twice before - in 2011 and 2012. And was disqualified both times. So here's where it gets serious: why didn't the organisers simply bar him from entering again?

Cutting a race course doesn't just hurt only the top Singaporean finishers. It hurts everyone who came in after you. That includes the local middle- and back-of-the-pack-ers (I am one) who've worked their butts off to actually train for this, no matter how long they take. It causes chaos for the runners and for the organisers.

It didn't help that the organisers' timing system really did fail to capture runners at certain checkpoints - reason number 2 I'm rather disappointed in the organisers of what is supposed to be Singapore's flagship marathon.

But where is this impulse to cheat - or naivete like Mr Tam's - coming from? We promote running as a great way to get healthy, to improve cardiovascular fitness, to lose some weight; and running is the biggest participant sport in Singapore. All that is terrific. But there is no one teaching Singaporeans about proper training, race ethics, or even ordinary running etiquette. Running is a broad church that welcomes all comers, but it looks as though sometimes it also needs to hold their hand.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Three things...Tuesday. Sorry, alliteration.

It's that time of the year again...the north-east monsoon. It's that time of the year when I start running out of dry running shoes. And I have three pairs. Yesterday I was running along the canal as usual, in the rain, everything getting soggy, when I saw a man running along...barefoot and holding an umbrella. At first I thought he was nuts, but after a while it all made perfect sense: why get your shoes soggy when you can avoid that by running barefoot? Why get yourself soggy when you can carry a brolly? I don't know what's normal around here any more.

Also, I just got back from India where I went to the wedding of two dear friends, enjoyed great company and amazing food, tottered around in yards and yards of fancy silk sari that someone else had to pin and tuck onto me, closed down a club partying late into the night in heels so tall that my right big toe has gone numb from too much dancing and still hasn't recovered, visited the world's largest mangrove area and saw crocodiles in the wild, and definitely did no running at all. You'll hear about that one later.

Meanwhile, in the spirit of Sesame Street, this post is brought to you by the number three.

Three things I'm enjoying this week: 

1. Relays - specifically the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon ekiden relay: all the fun of a full marathon, with none of the work! okay - only a tiny little bit of the work. PS my team beat all the other teams from the office and now we are officially the fastest journalists in Singapore. Which isn't saying very much.

2. English singer-songwriter Jake Bugg.

3. This post from Wellfesto about '10 things I want my daughter to know about working out'. It's the very positive flip side to all my snarking about the messages that women today hear about their bodies and diets and exercise routines.
"I’ll never talk to my daughter about fitting into THAT DRESS.  But I will talk to her about what it sounds like to hear pine needles crunching under my feet and what it feels like to cross a finish line and how special it is to see the world on foot.  I will talk to her about hard work and self sufficiency.  I will teach her the joy of working out by showing her I love it.  And I’ll leave the rest up to her."

Three things people keep asking me about running for some reason so I thought I'd share some FAQ answers here:

1. Do you run every morning?
No, but I prefer to run in the morning because I KNOW I have at least half an hour free. I run about five days a week.
2. How many marathons do you do a year?
Usually just one! (A marathon is a very specific distance: 42.2 km. If you refer to 'a 5km marathon', 'a 10km marathon' and so on in front of me, I will smack you. Please also refer to this post for more details and entertaining gifs. And yes, you may also laugh at me for my complete lack of knowledge about other spectator sports.) 

3. How do I start? 
You don't need any specialised equipment, but do wear something comfortable - make sure your shoes are especially comfortable. Now put one foot in front of the other at anything faster than walking pace and do this for 1km.
Do you still feel fine? Do it for another km. If not, you can take a walk break, have a little drink (I mean water), or stop and rest.
Rinse and repeat.
This really is how I started running. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

The Great Eastern Women's Run - a race report

No matter what you think about women's-only races, the Great Eastern Women's Run is the best-organised road run in Singapore.

This year they really hit out of the ballpark. First of all, because the organiser Great Eastern Life is an insurance company...all the runners are covered during the race. There are massages and loads of food at the finish, and even a little clean-up station with wet wipes and deodorant and a mirror to check your hair (AFTER the race, when it totally makes sense, not before.)

And I love the way Great Eastern focuses on family/ friends/ fun rather than the kind of shape one is in. No tone-deaf fitspo here.

No, they aren't paying me to say this. I don't even have any insurance plans with them.

Thanks to some work trips, some crazy workweeks, and some decline of motivation (ahem) after hitting my marathon PR goal for the year, I was definitely undertrained going into this half marathon. Tempo runs? What tempo runs?

I had a half-hearted notion of PRing, as last year's time was about 2:11 while trying to ward off cramps. My plan was to go 6 minutes per km for the first 16km and, if I felt so inclined, to push harder for the last 5.

Long story short - I did not feel so inclined.

The loop-the-loop route involved running up and over Nicoll Highway...twice. And here is my biggest complaint about this race: when I tried doing lap splits on my watch at every kilometre marker, the first 8 'kilometres' took me 6 minutes, 6 minutes, 8 minutes (?), 3:40 (??), 7 minutes (???), 4 minutes(?!?!?), 6 minutes (phew, finally, a real kilometre), and 8 minutes (sorry, WTF? I know this works out to 6 min/km, but those markers are ridiculous.) And then I pulled the plug on the splits; they were getting too confusing. Dear Santa, can I have a GPS watch this year?

At about 13km the wheels fell off my 6min/km effort and I slowed down quite a bit (but sped up for the Holly-cheering point), staggering into the finish with a 2:14:34 gun time. Seriously, my legs didn't feel like moving that day. And I was h u n g r y. STARVING. I felt like I could have eaten an entire pizza on the run. I spent 5 km thinking about food. Hey, it was a nice distraction. Truly. One of my running mottoes is "There's chwee kuay at the end."

Oddly, despite all the food at the end, I didn't feel like actually putting any in my mouth, so I squirrelled an apple away for later.

I'm not terribly disappointed because the weather was terrific and I was having so much fun. My friend C completed her first half marathon (!!!!! this girl is going on to great things and I'm pretty sure she's addicted to running now) and S and A ran all the way without stopping to walk, and I'm incredibly proud of them.

And I even found my race pix. Not too unglam or shapeless for these photographers! Here you go.

I WILL NOT SMILE BECAUSE I'M TOO HUNGRY FOR THAT.

Too long, didn't read? 

The good:
Pretty good organisation
Race started on time
Great amenities
Focus on family/ friends/ health
Clearly marked route

The bad:
WTF, distance markers?
Nicoll Highway slopes...TWICE. (not as bad as the City to Surf hills, but I was not expecting inclines!)
Too many loops in the route (again, not as bad as the City to Surf hairpin turns)

In other news...
Last Friday was my birthday. On Friday morning I had a terrific run. On Friday night I somehow got out of work at 8pm and made it to a nice (not break-the-bank nice; just cosy) restaurant by 9pm...where they miraculously had a table free up right as we got there, without a reservation, at peak hour on a Friday night. Birthdays really are magic.

Oh, and thanks to my fantastic husband there's now ice cream cake in the freezer. (Every year he asks me what I want for my birthday; every year I say ice cream cake; every year I get an ice cream cake. Isn't life grand?)

On Saturday morning I had a nice run, too. Despite eating ice cream cake for breakfast.

A mystery
I've been running for AEONS, so when will my easy run pace get faster? Such a mystery. Ok, I admit, this week at track I dropped out two *hard* 400 reps short of a full set. (Yes Coach Shem, I'm more disappointed in me than you are. It's a good thing you already know how I feel about 400s, because I was too out of breath to complain.)

I've still got to figure out what my goals are for next year. Do I want to try for another marathon PR and the family marathon record? Or be a running buddy for a physically challenged runner? Or run half-marathons until I get to the elusive 1:58? Or volunteer at a race? Or do my first ultra? Or help Ken Jin grow the Singapore Glove Project? Or pace a friend? Who knows? Focus, crazy woman, focus.

But honestly? 
If I wasn't training for anything I would probably run between 5 and 10k maybe 5 times a week, and however far and fast I want to on weekends (10? 15?), just because it's quiet and peaceful and I love watching the sun rise while I run. And keep going to Tuesday track; I like those people. I reckon that sounds like a good plan for a while, what do you think?

Does anyone else have a drop in motivation after hitting a nice fat goal - like a marathon PR? I feel like I'd  focused so long on sub-5 that I don't feel like focusing all that hard for a while. Mentally, anyway. My legs are fine. 

Saturday, November 9, 2013

How to go running in Taipei

Here is the short answer: Don't! The traffic is terrible in town and there isn't much pavement to speak of.

Also, I didn't have much time so I couldn't afford to get lost. I ended up doing most of my running in the hotel gym.
Source: this is a pretty good interview about motorbikes in Taipei.
I was there on a press trip with an international group of environment/ business journalists from the US, Australia, Thailand, Korea, Singapore, Poland, Turkey, Greece, Guam, Paraguay, Honduras, Spain, Portugal, Germany...have I forgotten anyone?

On the Saturday of the weekend I was there, I met up with my publication's correspondent in Taiwan, who asked me what I thought of the country. I think Singapore and Taiwan can learn a lot from each other, I said. Taiwan's pretty good at getting people to manage waste and recycle, and is very strong on environmental education... but their traffic is... '比较乱一点' ('a little messy'), I trailed off diplomatically. She roared.

So don't run. Maybe get on a bike instead.
Source: http://www.wantchinatimes.com/news-subclass-cnt.aspx?id=20131101000102&cid=1103
And eat a lot.

Shilin Night Market, probably the most touristy night market of them all; I had stinky tofu, oyster omelette, dumplings, a papaya milkshake, and shaved ice with red beans and peanuts. Not all at the same time, that'd be weird.

aforementioned stinky tofu - none of us died of it

Walk a lot. (Also: The subway system is great.)
we also got to go out to this reforested area called Dongyuanshan

Wear a hard hat. (Any day in which I get to wear a hard hat or be on a boat is an excellent workday. There was one time I was on a boat - okay, a very big ship - wearing a hard hat. Double win! Except for the time I was horribly seasick.)
Well, wear a hard hat and a quizzical expression, anyway.
Experience a real earthquake. (There was one in southeast Taiwan, which we felt a wee bit up north in Taipei.)

And take a lot of photos.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Why I'm proud of my unglam running photos

An open letter to 'Tekko', running photographer extraordinaire

Dear Mr Koh,

Thank you for your completely unsolicited advice on how to avoid unglam race photos.

(A warning to readers: if you click on the link, be prepared to throw up a little bit - between the grammar and the attitude. To save you the trouble, I'll summarise Mr Koh's sage advice for you here, after I run to the bathroom and hurl: 

"...For those ladies who are honest enough and admit that they do look unglam in their running pose, here are some tips on how to look glam:
1. Put on some make up. 
2. Tie up your hair. 
3.[Wear sunglasses to avoid the shut-eyed or slit-eyed look.]  
4. And last but not least, smile.")  

First of all, some of that is terrible advice.
- Wearing makeup while running is actually bad for your skin. Sunscreen, however, is recommended.
- I don't know how anyone with long hair can run with it untied anyway; won't it get everywhere?
- I'll wear sunglasses when the sun is in my eyes, thanks.
- No, I will not smile on demand just for you, honey. Go stick that lens where the sun don't shine.

Next, your post is totally insulting to any serious runner - male or female. I don't know about you, but I don't run to look glamorous while running. I run because I love to run. I love the way I feel while moving fast with the sun on my skin and the wind in my hair. I run to become a better runner.

I'm proud of every single one of my race photos. Even if it looks like I'm barely moving in some of them. Even if my hips are sagging and my hair is plastered to my face (you should see the triathlon photos of swim-cap hair/ helmet head, that's worse) and my form sucks at the end of a long run. If I look unglam and sweaty, that's because I'm actually working hard. I've worked very hard for some PRs lately and you're not allowed to belittle that.

It's a race, not a fashion show. Okay, so maybe some of us are in fact running to get into shape - none of your beeswax. I know you shot Shape, which is an all-women's race, but you don't get a free pass on the sexist attitude because of that. So your glamour shot examples consist of conventionally beautiful, slim women? I'm a runner, I have leg muscles. Sorry I'm not sorry. I wonder, if you were shooting at the Army Half Marathon, would you be complaining about unglam army boys too?

But either way, glam or unglam, that's none of your business as a race photographer. YOUR job as a race photographer is to snap action shots, not fashion shots. You're supposed to capture the full agony and ecstasy of running. (It wouldn't be called a race if it didn't involve *some* pain.) And if you're not capable of doing that, what kind of photographer are you?

Finally, what gets to me the most is that your 'advice' is completely unsolicited. You didn't offer it because someone complained to you about hideous race photos and asked what they could do about them. (Photoshop. Or don't run, perhaps.) You're offering it because YOU think we don't look 'glam' enough for YOUR taste.

Do I give a flying fish what you think I look like while running? Not one bit. So please keep your nose out of it - or next race, you can get a pretty little photo of pretty little me flipping you the pretty little bird.

Sincerely,

The Genetically Challenged Athlete

PS: Later edit: it was Holly who first alerted me to the original post. Her post is awfully polite.
Fit and Feminist puts it better than I ever will.

I genuinely appreciate the time and effort put in by race photographers - who instead of running into a breeze have to stand out there in the hot sun for hours and hours. I especially appreciate the ones who volunteer - you're all heroes! But I don't care if my unglam photos ruin someone's album.

PPS: Husband, on reading the offending post: "Wow, I dunno why some guys think it's okay to say really stupid things if they add 'hurhur' or 'don't take it so seriously' afterward." So that's pretty much my final word on it - that was some really stupid advice. It's a blog, feel free to disagree. Ok, I'm done now! 

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Some things I'm enjoying

I'm about to take off for a weeklong work trip to Taiwan, so here is a smattering of things I'm enjoying this week. Last week there was precious little running and six days of frenzied working.

1. This New York Times article reminds us that there are equally dedicated runners of all races and income levels. (It's just run blogging that's particularly middle-class, I guess.)

2. Terzah's post on BQing at 40 during the Chicago Marathon is one of the best I've ever read. More inspiration to us dreamers.

3. I'm currently reading Daniyal Mueenuddin's 'In Other Rooms, Other Wonders' (short story collection) and this month's Scientific American.

4. Last week I almost ran into the owner of my favourite local running shop out walking his dog. I very nearly ran away from him because I was wearing a pair of running shoes I hadn't bought at the shop, but fortunately I don't think he recognised me.


Sunday, October 20, 2013

Bad blogger day

I read Holly's post about bad bloggers some time back and was inspired to write this post.

This plate held my post-run toast with a smear of avocado.
Never mind that there's no proof that I really ate toast with a smear of avocado.
Or that I really ran.

The banana peel has disappeared somewhere into this waste bin.
I really did eat a banana.
But the peel is underneath the chip bag, the milk carton, and the Tim Tam packet. Sorry. 
I'd even have a Luna Bar wrapper for you (from earlier this week at work) but I threw it away, so here is a picture of homemade doughnuts instead (again, just in case anyone mistook this for one of those healthy living blogs).
The friend I fed these to for brunch called them 'zaftig'.
Are you calling my doughnuts fat, I said. 
Worse, I'm going to now proceed to write about things that I have no photos of

On Sunday (that's today) I woke up and decided on a whim to run to East Coast Park. 

That's 17km and took me two hours. (Half-marathon training: I know how far I'm supposed to run, but I often don't plan where to run until I'm actually out the door.) It went a whole lot better than that other 18km I did the other week.  

There would be lots and lots of lovely pictures of the river (and the canal, a little farther upstream, that is being dredged at the same time construction is going on - in other words, it was a huge mess and a road-crossing, fence-jumping nightmare but I can't wait till it actually looks nice again); except for one fatal flaw: if I stop running, I have a hard time getting started again. 

There would also be lots of lovely pictures of East Coast Park per se but the sun was in my eyes. Yes, I did bring my phone. No, I'm just too lazy to take it out of the pocket on my handheld. 

Sadly I was once again seduced by the pockets on my Mizuno short tights, which of course got soggy and chafed my thighs (there was much yelping when I discovered this in the shower) (thigh gap, what is that?). No, I'm not going to show you a photo of that.   

On Saturday I ran 10km up and down the usual canal path. There's a little bit of excavation work going on at one end, and seeing this fellow here always makes me smile: 
Zebra excavator!
I know I said there weren't going to be any pictures. Bazinga. 

This week's runs have been a little...end-loaded.
Tuesday: AM 7km, PM still restless so 5km (it was a public holiday)
Thursday: AM 8km, PM office bonding exercise (literally) - ran 5km with colleagues; did I mention we're training for the Stanchart ekiden relay?
Saturday: 10km
Sunday: 17km
I had the best of intentions to run on Monday morning and swim on Friday. I really did. No go. 

Tuesday, October 15, 2013

Reason #19685 I won't be doing the Shape run again


Recently I got a new running shirt from my dear friend D.
It's a very lovely mango-coloured shirt; the only drawback is that it isn't mango-scented or mango-flavoured. One day they will start making mango-scented clothing and I will be a goner.

Photo from http://offshewent.com/2013/06/shape-run-2013-singapore-race-pack-collection/ 
Normally I'd be pleased, but the shirt is coming to me in somewhat unpleasant circumstances.
It's the race shirt for the Shape Run. (The Shape 5k/ 10K was, like the Trifactor run, also postponed from July due to dread haze, but race pack collection was back in June.)

When D signed up to do the 5k, she picked a size L shirt; at race pack collection, it emerged that the size L was minuscule. Which, fine, everyone should read the size charts carefully.

What's more disappointing and rage-inducing was that when she asked about swapping it for a larger size, the packet pick-up people told her: "We usually don't have larger women running". (I understand if you have a strict rule about swapping of shirt sizes, which could create chaos. But if you don't have larger women running, why are all the XL shirts taken then? Could it be because your sizing chart is absurdly small?)

For those of you who cannot think in metric, the XL chest width of 46cm (92 cm around) is 18.1 inches (36.2 inches around). I see all my readers are now laughing or crying in disbelief.

So, gripe number 1: a size chart clearly intended for a population of supermodels. (Extremely stunted supermodels. The shirts aren't that long either.)

Gripe number 2: What do you mean by "we usually don't have larger women running"? That sounds suspiciously like a 'what are YOU doing here' line.

D enjoys running. Not, perhaps, as fanatically as me, but as a pleasant means of moving about and enjoying some fresh air. Here's the thing: her enjoyment of running is entirely separate from her size. I don't care if you usually have larger women running or not. You do now - and you can jolly well cater to them. There's no need to suggest that she doesn't belong there. YES SHE DOES.

Previous years' gripes have included chaotic organisation involving a hilariously long bag pick-up line, and male pacers. I've gotten so fed up with the whole thing in general - not that I liked the magazine very much anyway, for similar reasons - that this is merely reason number 19685 not to do the run.

Elsewhere on the internet, a beautiful, very brave woman put up a photo of herself in a swimsuit for a very good reason. (There are good and bad reasons to invite other people's gaze - I'd say this is a very good one. Arguably, also, as it's her website, the blogger is also gazing back at her audience.)

While Emmie of Authentically Emmie is indeed a weight-loss blogger, she's clearly divorced her weight and her dress size from her sense of self-worth, and is losing weight as a side effect of a suite of measures (good nutrition and exercise) to improve her health. Incidentally, that bathing suit is amazing, and now I want one.

AN IMPORTANT ASIDE about the correlation between weight and health:
While it's correct to say that statistically speaking, the population of obese people is at higher risk of dying of cardiovascular disease and cancer than the population of not-obese people, you cannot draw this exact conclusion about any one obese person versus any one not-obese person.

Incidentally, I just read about this curious Finnish study of 16 twin pairs where one twin was obese and the other was not, which found:
- In about half the pairs, the obese twin was metabolically healthy, and had the same blood work and liver fat as their non-obese twin; they also had more fat cells than their non-obese twin.
- But in the other half, the obese twin was metabolically unhealthy with a fatty liver and the same or fewer but larger fat cells than their twin.
What does it all mean? Maybe some people are fortunate. Maybe the healthy obesity is a transient state. Either way, it does reinforce the idea that you can't tell much about people just by looking at them.

Anyway, about the Shape run. D is still running. It had better be better-organised than previous years (one hopes). No one was severely hurt; the primary end result of this is that D won't be able to advertise for the Shape run by wearing the @$(#! shirt, and I will have to do so on her behalf. Except I'm sufficiently enraged with the Shape run organisers that I will be wearing this shirt only in the dark. Take that, luminous mango.
---


On Sunday I went for a run with two friends, A. and Holly. A new segment of park connector has just opened - basically, it's an overhead bridge across the expressway, which was the only thing barring pedestrians from getting to the quiet and breezy Pandan Reservoir before. This is at Pandan, at roughly the midpoint of our 15.5km run. It's in a pretty industrial area and you can see the warehouses across the reservoir on the other side - A., who is from Minneapolis, said it reminded her of a lake trail there!

Sunday was very, very sunny: I think we all have magnificent tan lines now.

Training for the Great Eastern half marathon is going fairly decently, I think. It's kind of hard to focus on training when your marathon is followed in quick succession by a sprint triathlon you're doing for fun but still need to train for, which is then followed by a goal half marathon in which you want to take your previous PR and essentially break it over your knee. But I managed to run about 40 km last week, so it's not too bad.

Today is a public holiday and I'm having a wonderful hermit day - me and my book and this week's Economist and a couple of Coursera courses and some coffee and ice cream. Tuesday is usually track day, but as it's a holiday, track is off this evening. I've already run once this morning - about 7km - but am still feeling restless so might talk the husband into jogging with me later! 

Saturday, October 12, 2013

That time I dropped out of a half marathon

When Super Generic Girl posted a list of things you definitely, absolutely shouldn't do while dealing with a running injury (do as she says, not as she does, folks), I commented very briefly about dropping out of races.

You know. Such as last weekend.

I'd originally signed up for the Tri-Factor Half as a training run for the Perth City to Surf marathon. But the Dread Haze forced the organisers to postpone it to this past weekend (October 6). My training plan for November's half marathon said 'run very slowly for two hours', and I'd already paid up for Tri-Factor, so off I went to do it.

When I woke up at 5.30am there was a fine ol' storm outside and I nearly rolled over and went back to sleep, but a quick check of the weather radar showed the rain would soon pass and that the weather would be cool and lovely. So I hauled myself out of bed, had some toast and went off to East Coast Park. The race started just a smidgen late - 7am instead of 6.45 - but it was the smallest half-marathon I've ever done here. (If you're the sort of person interested in signing up for things for the possibility of winning prizes, take note! I am not. I haven't a chance.)

I know lots of people think running back and forth along East Coast Park is dead boring. And I know the reclaimed land is slowly crumbling back into the sea. And it's mostly flat. (MOSTLY. There are some hills which don't look like much, but which suddenly start looking like Mount Everest once you're tired.) But we went east before the sun rose, and west after it did, and the temperature was perfect, and I mean, you cannot possibly complain about a sea view the whole way.

For the first 10km (completed, on pace, in 1:03) I had absolutely nothing to complain about. Nothing. Zilch, zip, zero. The sun came up and the sunrise was exactly as pretty as sunrises tend to be.

At 11km I began to feel a little nauseous. And then a lot nauseous.  Let me tell you, as delicious as watermelon Nuun tastes going down, it tastes a lot worse coming up.

At 13km I began taking little walk breaks.
At 14km the walk breaks became longer.
Shortly thereafter I started taking little run breaks in the midst of all the walking.
And then shortly after than I just started walking altogether.
People a little way behind me began to pass me.
People a long way behind me began to pass me.
People whom I'd seen way back after the turnaround began to pass me.
And worst of all, I caught myself wishing I was on Squeaky, my road bike. When does that ever happen? When do I ever choose a bike ride over a nice training run?
The sun came up. It got really ugly. At the 18km point, right near where I'd parked, I snuck off to the car.

It's a good thing this was only a training run. After all that I came home and had a good long nap and went to work the evening shift from 2 to 11pm.

I still don't know what happened, and won't know (no I'm not pregnant - sorry Gran). Could be the toast. Remember the toast? It was sliced bread that came in a plastic bag. Regular, perfectly ordinary sliced bread. It's just that we've had a breadmaker for so long, I haven't had regular storebought sliced bread in a year. Maybe that stuff.

I've not had to drop out of an A race. So far. But then again, I haven't really been that strategic about my race schedule so far. Let's not jinx it. (Which is why I'm diligently doing my squats and pushups and hip drops and lunges and planks. I am unbelievably lazy when it comes to strength and stretching, but it's preventive medicine.)

---

This weekend has been extremely laid-back so far. This morning I went on a Singapore Glove Project run with Ken-Jin. (Singapore Glove Project: we like to run, but we hate trash on our running routes.) As usual the remnants of Friday night's parties were all over the place. Also possibly Thursday night's parties. Opening-ceremony paper confetti is basically the worst idea ever.

A possible culprit!  (Photo credit: KJ Tan)
Ken Jin disapproves of all the confetti.

We also saw an entire 7-11 chicken bryani on a bench, unopened.

Drunk people do strange things. (Photo credit: KJ Tan) 
I'll call that a 6km fartlek with plenty of stopping and walking.

Tonight the husband and I are going to some friends' housewarming party, and tomorrow morning at the crack of dawn I'm running 14km (that's 8+ miles for you people who think in imperial - I only speak metric when it comes to distances) with two friends who really, really need to meet each other (and can then speak to each other in miles as I run out of breath trying to keep up with them).

If you think this will result in some sleep deprivation you may be right. But it appears to be Karaoke/ Singalong Day at the void deck of the block across from mine (I've heard songs in three languages and two dialects and they've been going since THIS MORNING), so I doubt I will be getting much sleep anyway...

Friday, October 4, 2013

Triathlon spectating

And here's what I did with the rest of my weekend. I train with a tri group. Their enthusiasm is infectious.

They couldn't get on their bikes because they were...two tired. (C and A, after the tri) 

L on her second of 2 5km run laps, OD tri 


G killin' it. Would you believe she has done - this year alone - her first marathon, her first OD tri, and will be doing her first 70.3 in November?? Crazy lady.

I., on what I think is her third OD tri of the year. Just thinking about that is exhausting.


E on the run. Shirlene and I screamed our little hearts out. 

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Fun-size triathloning, or Her Gumbyness at your service

I'm laid up today with an ordinary, garden-variety, nasty, virulent cold. While feeling sorry for my congested self and working my way through a box of tissues, and in between library books, I decided it was high time to write my Cold Storage Sprint Tri recap.

I am a terrible blogger and my husband/ superstar cheer team is a terrible photographer*, so there are almost no photos of this tri.

*He's a great photographer when he remembers to take photos.

This is tri number three. I always start with the best of intentions. I did WANT to train for the swim and bike, but life has a funny way of getting out of hand. And my first love is running - obviously. It's just so much easier to train for a run than a tri. But I train with a tri group, and it's hard not to be ever so slightly infected by their enthusiasm. And these things are great fun.

I'd been doing a wee bit of swimming, so the plan was to go somewhat hard on the swim, really easy on the bike, and push pretty hard on the run.

Pre-race: 
The marathon's really driven home the importance of carbo-loading and, uh, pre-hydration. I don't remember what I ate for dinner on Friday night but I do recall it involved a lot of rice, while Saturday morning involved Cheerios.

On race morning I hauled myself and one very drowsy husband to the start point. In fact I think I left him sleeping in the car while I cycled to the race, which wouldn't start for another hour and a half.

The swim:
Turns out it was more than an hour and a half - the race started a full twenty minutes late. In broiling heat. With transition a good ways away, and no hydration stand at the start point. So I was dehydrated by the time we started.

I have a tiny problem with getting motivated on the swim: in general, when I hit the water all I want to do is roll over and float for a while.

Anyway, from start to end I felt like I couldn't breathe. So much for going out hard. I hauled myself out of the water in 19:04. A bit dismal. Turns out this was my fastest swim split in a tri by about 15 seconds. My primary goal was not to get swum over by the men behind me - mission accomplished! And then it was up a ramp and over a specially constructed, carpeted, mildly slippery, absurd overhead bridge over the bike course, back into transition.

The bike:
We had to do three laps of a 6.6ishkm loop. Don't ask me why 3x6.6 instead of 2x10. I think it's to slow us down with all of those u-turns. I kept getting overtaken by men with frighteningly pointy helmets tipping perilously over in ever-more aero contortions position. As usual, I was happy to not fall off my bike.

There's really not a whole lot to say about the bike course, except that it was narrow in the wrongest places. And that perhaps if I insist on cycling in my trainers I should get some cages for those pedals?

Midway through this I discovered that my front derailleur wouldn't shift and the cable was loose! Fortunately or unfortunately the course was flat enough that I trundled around the whole thing using my big gear the whole way.

When I got back I saw enough of the bike rack still empty that I honestly thought I'd missed a lap, and had a moment of panic. I hope my bike split of 54:17 includes the transitions, because otherwise I was embarrassingly lazy out there.

The run:
I managed to actually stop and dismount instead of simply falling off my bike. Hooray. Popped into transition for a quick water/ Nuun stop before dashing out again. I even had the presence of mind to grab my Clif blocks, a mishmash of singleton leftovers from previous races. (This will be important later.)

Then it was time to scamper back up the ridiculous Green Carpeted Ramp of Doom - seriously, that thing must've possessed a 10-degree incline - and down to the road for the 5km run leg. I might've passed a few gentlemen on the ramp. Maybe. And also at the start of the run. And the rest of the way. I can do 5km in my sleep, I kept telling myself. I can do 5km in my sleep. (I can. I promise you. I have done 5km at the canal on many a morning before I've even woken up properly.)

And that's when I started to cramp.

I drank some of the prooffered 100Plus and fished around in my pocket for the baggie of Clif blocks. Hallelujah - two margarita shot blocks. These got me through the turnaround, as did the privilege of watching Holly crash into a large bush. After I stopped cramping I started doing that thing I always do - pick someone as a rabbit and try to pick them off - and then Holly's cheering and running a bit with me got me through to the finish in 29 minutes flat. Alas, I have no finishing kick; a girl I'd overtaken several minutes earlier blew right by me on the way to the finish.

IMPORTANT NOTE TO RACE ORGANISERS. Please to have drink stations AFTER the turnaround too. And distance markers - of which there were none. How do you have a run leg without distance markers? Some of us are a bit impaired when it comes to gauging distances...

Overall this was actually my fastest tri. I seem to be getting better at something. But what is it? I think the answer is transitions. One's transitions become very fast when there is a nest of large bitey ants underneath one's bike. Just so you know. So next time perhaps there should be piranhas in the water? Just small non-lethal nippy ones, maybe?

Next year I move up an age group, into the very fast and frightening 30-39. I still haven't really decided if I want to buckle down and train properly for these things instead of just winging it like I always do (going into this I swam three times,  rode on the trainer twice, and noodled around fiddling with my tyres and watching CSI once). I do want to do an Olympic-distance (1500m swim, 40km bike, 10km run) tri but I want to race it. Tell me, dear readers...how do I do this?
--
Workouts last week: 
Tuesday: track: 3[2(600 moderate/ 200 easy), 400 hard]
Wednesday: AM - Ran 5 miles (about 8km) with my friend A; every time I felt like giving up I thought to myself, 'I am running with a woman who gave birth six weeks ago and SHE isn't giving up, you wuss.' PM - tempo set at swim.
Friday: AM - Ran about 10K with Holly.
Saturday: Sprint tri!

Workouts this week have been temporarily sidelined due to a head cold. How is my chlorpheniramine not working???

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Marathon party's over. Now what?

A brief summary of plans, daydreams, and amusements 

In the very short-term: 
- A small colony of pre-race butterflies has hatched in my stomach ahead of this weekend's triathlon. Of course, this suggests that there were caterpillars and then cocoons in my stomach earlier. (When you click on 'register for race', the pre-race caterpillars magically get into your stomach through an interdimensional...(I am unable to resist)...wormhole.)

Mid-term:
- I will have to learn to love the tempo run if I want to PR (<2:11) in the half marathon. I have never loved tempo runs. Tempo runs are a whole world of pain that speedwork and long runs are not. Pain and misery. Someone teach me how to love a fast tempo please.

- In December I'll be taking part in my first relay with some colleagues - the Standard Chartered Ekiden! 6 of us run 42.2 km in all. Better yet, we're going head-to-head with a couple of other teams from work. (Losers buy lunch!) As long as I'm not first (pressure!) or last (too much pressure!) or working that day (zzz - you know it will happen to me, what else is new) I will be fine.

- Sometime between the Great Eastern Women's Half (November 10) and the time running/ tri season picks up again, I want to have adventures - we're going to India in November for the wedding of two great friends. And I really want to learn to surf or stand-up-paddleboard (the latter is somewhat more likely because I don't have to travel to do it). Anyone want to learn with me?

In the long term:
- I still want to volunteer at a community race. (I was supposed to volunteer at a Craze Ultra station this weekend, but that went out the window when I was recalled to work last-minute on Sunday. Thanks, work.)

- And I'm kind of curious to find out how much faster I can actually get, particularly at the marathon distance. There are incredibly cool runners older and wiser and far more laid-back than I, who go 'to heck with PRs' and wear costumes to entertain other people at races, but I figure I can save the costumes for later, y'know?

For the full story, go hunt down a back issue of Sunday Life!.

In other news, read this piece on John 'The Penguin' Bingham, whom some deride as having ruined competitive running (people run marathons just to finish, rather than to actually compete). Then tell me what you think. I am in two minds about it. I like chasing down other people and passing them. (This happens so rarely that sometimes I just try to finish.) I do enjoy competing. But mostly with myself.
--

Workouts this week:
Monday - swim 1.5km
Tuesday - track/ 3[1000/400]
Wednesday - midday swim at lunchtime 1.2km
Saturday - 'long' run/ started tired, was tired all the way, legs like rubber. You know some days you feel like you're flying and that you could run for ever? Today was the opposite of those days. 12km. Blech.
  

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Multiple yellow lines: a weekend two-fer

A first-timer's Yellow Ribbon 10K

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, when I was just a baby reporter, all the rookies went on a field trip to the courts and watched a few cases of people being sentenced - from drug offences to petty theft. I used to wonder what would happen to them when they got out of jail.

As it turns out, the best rehab programme in jail means nothing if society at large doesn't give an ex-con a second chance. That's why the Yellow Ribbon Project was started by a group of government agencies and community organisations: it campaigns to give people another chance, and helps ex-offenders find work, get family counselling, and stay off drugs.

The Yellow Ribbon Prison Run is a 10K/ 6K fun run meant to highlight (in bright yellow) this cause, and runners get a chance to fundraise for the project or donate directly. Oh, and you get to run around the prisons at Changi - a part of town most of us will never see (at least not from the inside).

The race is astonishingly well-organised. Shuttle buses are provided from the nearest carpark/ MRT station (Expo) to the start point (except for one minor quibble: the bus ride took nearly 50 minutes including 15 totally unnecessary minutes of being stuck in traffic). Husband and I got to the start point half an hour late and started with the 6K runners - this was our own silly fault.

The course has gentle rolling hills, and can be narrow in places. It's way out at the eastern edge of Singapore, and is completely different from all the city road races that take you around and around downtown. To give you an idea of what a normal-sized race in Singapore is like - 10,000 people did this run. If you plan to PR, do not for the love of all that is holy start with the 6K fun runners and wrassle your way through the tail end of the 10Ks like we did.

This was a regular old tempo run for me - I'd just run 14km the day before - so I wasn't too fussed, and simply enjoyed the view; I wound up moseying in in 59:17, no PR but a decent enough time (I've been doing sub-1h 10Ks consistently for only a year now), and to my astonishment was 18th in my age group. At the start, husband immediately zoomed off ("I love you! See you at the finish") and was done in 49 minutes. This is testament to an unjust universe, as his entire training consists of running 4 to 8 km home from work four days a week.

Schoolchildren came out to cheer - so cute! Even the guards at the women's prison were out cheering us on. And the goody bag we got at the end contained a miniature mooncake (it is mooncake season) with a yellow ribbon on it - baked by a service run by ex-offenders! Unfortunately I had to go to work right away after that, so wasn't able to stick around for this...

Photo from the Yellow Ribbon Project Facebook page. 
I'll probably be signing up for this run again next year. Everyone deserves a second chance, after all...


I have these in yellow: A short, tight review - Mizuno Inspire short tight


I have two pairs of these - one has that bluish-purple stripe and the other has a yellow stripe. I wear them a lot (though I did not wear them for the Yellow Ribbon run, alas). The length (3 inch inseam?) is perfect. Note - I am 165cm/ 5'4 with stubby legs and I won't get arrested for wearing these in public. If you are taller, you may disagree. Despite the name, the size S was neither too short nor too tight for me. So what's the catch? Read on.

The tights have TWO pockets - a small one in front (I put my keys in there and there was no bouncing) and a larger one at the back (my Ezlink card, ID and a bit of cash fit in there just nice). With so much pockety goodness you'd think they'd be perfect for a long run.

So I took them out for a long(ish) run on Saturday, a lovely, unplanned, go-where-my-feet-take-me morning run. (This is what I do when I'm not training for marathons.) I ended up running about 14km downhill, uphill, and through to a trail that took me halfway around Macritchie - one of my usual routes, with some variations.

And then I got on the air-conditioned bus to go home. And I froze my butt off because my shorts were so soggy.

Use for: short sharp races (10K and under) to carry all your essentials around in if you don't want to deposit a bag, short runs before work, track workouts when you are running late
Don't use for: long runs, anything where you might sweat a lot and can't change out immediately after, sitting around straight after a soggy workout if you mind leaving damp butt-prints

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Adventures in shoe shopping: NB RC1400

Who reviews a shoe after they've already put 200km on it and used it for a marathon? I do. Sorry guys, it's been an epic few weeks.

I've already talked about how much I like my local running shop. They're like the fancy wine shop of running shops, except much less snooty. They know about shoes that I didn't even know existed, because these are arcane shoe models that are nowhere to be found in the blogiverse. It is less of a pain to go there and dither than to buy the wrong cheap size of a shoe model that doesn't work for me, online.

Their incredible shop assistant once helped me try on eight pairs of shoes.

They have shop doggies. (I am a sucker for smart doggies.)

And they have a rainbow of compression sleeves.
you sexy thing, you. all shop pics from TRG Facebook page.

What more can I ask?

Anyway, the New Balance RC1400.

I walked in one day and said, "I've been running in the Saucony Fastwitch, but I need something a little more cushioned for the full marathon I'll be doing in two months. Oh, and I like being able to feel the ground."

The owner thought for a bit, measured my feet and brought out three or four pairs; after about 20 minutes of dithering I settled on these.
obviously too pristine to be my shoes now
These are great shoes - light but cushioned enough for long distances (minimalists be warned, you can definitely feel a bit of a heel drop - it took me some time to get used to). I still prefer my Minimus and Fastwitch for speed work, but these served me well on long runs once I got used to feeling a bit more heel drop. They are incredibly soft and comfortable (did I mention I ran 42km in them with no blisters or chafing or...basically, I barely noticed I was wearing things on my feet, and I immensely dislike having things on my feet). I could run sockless in them, tri-style.

I am not one to bother about what my shoes *look like*, so long as they *work for me*. But these are good-lookin' trainers. As you can see.

Only one quibble - I don't know if it's ordinary wear and tear and humidity, or my bad habit of running on wet trails/ in the rain, but the plasticky overlays on the upper are starting to peel off. Well, as long as they still work...
---
Speaking of rain, I went to London for work last week. Like I said, it's been an epic two weeks - first I went to Australia to run a marathon with Holly, or more accurately a long, long way behind her; then I came back to work for a week; then I went to London for a work trip/ conference. More on that trip later, but my sister and I had a somewhat more exciting run on Hampstead Heath than planned.


When we started it was cool and a little overcast. We then proceeded to get completely lost. Whereupon it started to rain. Of course the moment we were done the sun came out and the birds started singing.

did not look nearly half as cocky afterwards
---
And now it's time to hurl myself into emergency tri-training mode.

COLD STORAGE INTERNATIONAL TRI: SEPTEMBER 28!!! 

Tri training is so hard. Mentally. As in, I have to decide whether to swim, bike or run on any given day, instead of doing what I always do: roll out of bed and go for a run.

But I don't want to be the resident Metasport embarrassment - the one who hasn't improved on a tri in two years, the one who has to breaststroke half the swim, the one who falls off her bike while doing a U-turn... you see what I mean? I have my work cut out for me. I'll try not to be such a gumby this time round.
---

Friday, August 30, 2013

Ordinary eating

Chanced upon this recently: about eating like a normal person. Quite enjoyed it.

Here is a list of all the things I have eaten in the last 24 hours. Just so you don't mistake this for a 'healthy living blog'. I had to think really hard to remember this for you. Appreciate it.

Dinner:
- Plate of beans and rice with a dollop of sour cream
- Slice of homemade cheesecake
Breakfast:
- Two eggs over easy
- Three handfuls of almonds
- Cup of iced coffee
Elevenses while working in a cafe:
- Flaky croissant
- Cup of hot coffee
Office lunch:
- Mee siam, two chicken wings, vegetable curry, two fishcakes
- About a jug of water
Teatime:
- A sardine puff and three chicken nuggets

This may or may not be an average day. (Okay, on an average day I have toast or cereal for breakfast and don't run out of both at the same time, and my impression of an average day seems to involve considerably more fruit and veg, and during marathon training, more of everything.)

Of course I don't normally do this ('this' being: write down everything I eat) because food doesn't really stress me out. That's why my impression of an average day is just that - an impression.

I'm not really fussed about it though. I think what I eat has a way of balancing itself out in general so that overall, it's fairly healthy. So...no need to judge myself for it.

Most importantly, I enjoyed every bite.

Monday, August 26, 2013

The Effect of Hansons Marathon Training on a Marathon PR: A Perth Chevron City to Surf marathon race recap

I did say some time ago that this marathon was going to be an experiment. So here you go...

Abstract: This case study is of a female subject, aged 28, running her fourth marathon in four years. Using the Hansons Marathon training method, subject successfully attained her goal time of under 5 hours, produced a 20-minute PR, AND had fun most of the way except for quad cramps as usual right near the end.

Introduction: This is a one-subject case study. You know me. I know you (if I don't, please leave a comment to say hi!) Let's skip the introduction. You can read the rest of the blog.

Race faces - it was go time at 5am! I'm on the right; on the left is Holly whom I talked into doing the marathon as well. SHE had a VERY good run. Read all about it. Photo courtesy of Holly. 

Methods:
- Training:
Starting in April, I began using a variant of the Hansons Marathon training plan (I didn't get the book until about a month ago - READ THE BOOK if you intend to use it). Its most important principle is probably cumulative fatigue: you run six days a week with a speed day, a tempo day, a longer run day (up to 25km), and three easy days. This is to simulate the LAST 25km of a marathon, not the first. Rest between your speed day and your tempo day.
I was able to stick to the training plan, give or take a few km, for the first 10 weeks or so; thereafter, work commitments, illness and slight injuries meant a week of lower (40km) mileage every couple of weeks.

- Other stuff
Nail polish (blue, the usual; assume colour does not affect aerodynamicity and fingernail aerodynamicity does not affect overall speed)

Immediate pre-race inputs: Dinner - pizza, turkish bread with dips and caprese salad. (Photo from Holly.)


Breakfast - coffee and Orgran's Buckwheat Os. The cereal was much like Cheerios but, well, made from gluten-free buckwheat - since I have no gluten sensitivity this was not a concern. These were a brand new (to me) cereal that we'd been eating for the past few days with no ill effects, and since I sometimes have cereal before a race I figured this would do just fine.

During-race inputs:
Hydration - Nuun in the waterbottle, refilled twice with water
Fuel - One pack Clif blocks in 'margarita' flavour from 6-21km; half a chocolate Honey Stinger gel from 28-30km, gave up because too sweet; one chocolate Honey Stinger gel from 37-40km because of hunger pangs.

Garments: Race-day weather was uncertain (rain? yes? no? how much?); the temperature was a balmy 12 to 19 degrees C throughout the marathon - really optimal running weather for me (i have been known to winter hike in New Hampshire winter in a t-shirt). I wore a wind jacket and cotton arm sleeves to the convention centre start, discovered I was warm by the time we got to the start point 1km from the hotel, and took the gamble to leave arm sleeves in clothing bag. Cap, capris and tank top ended up working out just fine and were a great departure from the usual What Not To Wear disasters.

Results: 
I maintained a fairly even pace till the 30km mark, crossing 10km just over an hour, 21km in 2:12 (very nearly pulled off a new half-marathon PR, which should NOT be the case during a marathon), and 30km around 3:30. (There were two fairly big hills between 22 and 30km and much of that portion was upslope.)

Between 6km and 12km I crossed paths with an older gentleman who had lived in Perth for 44 years ("I came on vacation 44 years ago and never left. Been to Singapore plenty of times") who was running his 38th marathon with bells on. Literally - he had them in his hand. Out of curiosity I asked him what time he planned to come in. Five hours, he said to my slight horror (while he was good company, I was not about to listen to jingle bells for 36 more kilometres this far short of Christmas). I ran away. (Later edit: he did remind me to run the tangents. "Cut the corners," he said. "Good girl.")

There were some GREAT views of the Swan River, first as we ran along it, then from the top of a hill in King's Park botanical gardens. Sadly, I never got to see the surf at the beach where the race ended - was just too sore to walk around a whole lot. Also, there was a big ol' downhill right after the finish line, which was quite enough for me.

On-the-run funnies included three cyclists with signs at the top of a hill: "BIKE FOR SALE", "EPO UP AHEAD" - "Do you offer rides?" I said.

Official results and race splits aren't in yet, but I felt like I began to slow down around the 32km mark and cramped at 36km - to the point I had to squat down and stretch out my thighs. I walked about half a km, crunched half a Nuun tablet, drank some water, and kept on going. (At that point I had about an hour left to get in under 5.)

There were not one but TWO hills from 38km, right before the finish. Fine, I understand, this is natural terrain and not the bridges that race organisers in Singapore keep saddling us with.

Oh yeah, and I came in at about 4:53 (race clock minus the extra minute it took to cross the start line). This was a >20-minute PR from my last one, and I'd very much wanted a sub-5-hour marathon too. Winning!

Edit: Official net time was 4:54:18, with the following splits (really just for my own info):
10K - 1:00:08
20K - 2:05:05 (1:04:56)
30K - 3:15:13 (1:10:08) <-- big hills here
40K - 4:35:11 (1:19:58) <-- cramps AND hills here, always a fun combination
Finish: 4:54:18

Discussion:
Would I use the Hansons method again? Yes, it seemed to work. It seems as though there are plenty of believers, too. (Jeano!) I managed to hit and stay at higher mileage, fairly consistently, than in previous training cycles where I topped out at 55+km. Thanks to the increased mileage, I'm in better shape than I was during my previous PR (5:15 at Tokyo in 2011). And I'm now used to running six days a week.

It probably worked for me because I have so much room to improve (my marathons over the years have been 6 hours, two in the low 5s, and now this.) I'm not sure cumulative fatigue and higher mileage alone would work as well for someone who's pushing PRs of a few minutes each time. That one will take speedwork and mental mettle.

Mentally, this was the easiest marathon I have ever done, as the weather was so pleasant. For the last 6km, the motivation was very simple: I knew there were hills, I knew I would cramp, I came prepared for battle.  I simply wanted that sub-5 way, way more than I minded the pain. In all I might have walked a total of 1 or 2 km - at no point did I think 'I want to throw in the towel', it was more like 'well if you want it you're going to have to fight for it'!

Why was I injured in training? That's a mystery but there are a few possible reasons: Hansons does not specifically include strengthening/ agility exercises or a stretching regimen, which I started doing quite late and which often fell by the wayside due to work; I'm also extremely flexible and somewhat injury-prone. I'd definitely recommend doing some strength exercises and much stretching/ foam-rolling in any marathon plan.

Why in the two blue hells do I still keep cramping?
I have very nasty and well-documented problems with leg cramps. The nice physiotherapy student who gave me my post-marathon massage said the crampy muscle was, very specifically, the vastus medialis. That's the lower bit that goes from the inner knee midway up the thigh. I'm glad it held off till 36km, the longest I've gone in a marathon without cramping. Thanks, weather.
I did a couple of things that probably helped: sugarless electrolyte drink and Clif margarita shot blocks with electrolytes from the beginning, and Nuun-tablet crunching (what? haven't you ever had Pop Rocks?) and lots of water the moment the cramping began.
But I don't know why the cramps happen at all. Was I dehydrated? Perhaps, but I didn't want to drink more water because I could feel it sloshing around inside me. Why do those muscles cramp and nothing else (calves hamstrings glutes other quad muscles)? If you have any answers, correspondence is by blog comment please.

Would I recommend this race to Singapore runners? YES. At 1500 runners, this was easily the smallest marathon I have ever run. The 'swag' that Singapore runners are used to in their goody bags (daffy knicknacks, snacks, caps, vouchers) is nonexisistent; you are paying for excellent organisation, abundant water and Powerade and Gu, trucks to transport your baggage to the finish line, portapotties, road closures, shuttle buses to get you back to town, and finisher shirt and medal.

The course has a number of hairpin turnarounds to make up 42.2km so don't expect to be too fast. But spectators do line the streets and cheer. This year, the weather was superb. Just make sure you do a great deal of hill training (you have no idea how many times I've run up those @#(%& Botanic Gardens and Rifle Range Road hills in training). And take it easy on the downhills.

Supplementary materials
Link to obsessively checked Perth weather website
Link to City to Surf website. All I could think was 'Chevron is a sponsor? If you win what do you get? Free gas for a year?'

This is a really hard-earned medal, thank you very much.