Wednesday, January 30, 2013

Race review: The Green Corridor Run

Pre- rail removal. Today, the rails and sleepers have been removed, and the land grassed over.

I've walked this piece of land many times for the past few years. I'm sorry to say I hadn't walked it before the trains stopped running, but then, my sense of self-preservation forbids me from taking a stroll along an operational railway line.

The whole line is 26km, perhaps five to ten metres wide at its widest. For more than 70 years it shuttled people and goods from Tanjong Pagar up to Malaysia, and onward up through the Malay Peninsula to Thailand. In 2011, the railway land was returned to Singapore by Malaysia's Keretapi Tanah Melayu national railway firm in part of a land swap. Heritage and nature enthusiasts have pleaded for it to be retained as a continuous green lung.

(I am writing this paragraph basically from memory. I covered it for the local newspaper for two years.)

And here I was, Sunday morning, at the start of the Green Corridor Run, along this former railway line now called the Rail Corridor.

For Singapore, this was a relatively small race. The 10.5km run from Tanjong Pagar Railway Station to Bukit Timah Railway Station consisted of three waves of about 2,000 people each, starting at 7.15am (competitive), 7.45am (competitive with self) and 8.15am (adventure walkers). We took the 7.15am wave (because heat.)

There were people wearing white shoes and socks, massing in with the others. People! I am not sure what you were expecting from a trail run. But then, this is a country that calls concreted-over, tree-lined pathways next to canals 'park connectors', so you are forgiven for expecting tidiness. (Instead of park connectors, I would prefer connector parks, but then people would complain about fallen leaves.)

The race wound through Tanjong Pagar, Queenstown, Commonwealth, Ghim Moh, and Bukit Timah; it went past my old junior college (high school) and the HDB estate where we live and our neighbourhood hawker centre. It went past relatively quiet estates, left undeveloped because the trains would thunder through. Once, there were shrines and small temples along the route, when it was technically part of Malaysia. Orderliness is in Singapore's DNA; many of these were deemed not only illegal but perilous structures, and demolished.

It went under some very dark bridges with ankle-turning gravel, festooned with some pretty creative graffiti. In the good sense. (This IS Singapore.)
There were plenty of plywood boards over the very muddiest areas. (See, there are uses for plywood besides hoarding it for election hoardings <-- link is pure comic gold)

Midway, there was also a traffic-jam of people daintily picking their way over the plywood boards. The mud is the FUN part - I splashed straight through. Nearly lost a shoe. (Must tie laces tighter next time.)

I chatted a bit with an older white-haired gentleman who was very fit; and when I got to brunch with friends and friends of friends later, discovered that he was the father of a friend of a friend!

I also took it very easy, walking over the rockiest bits - I've sprained my ankles so many times before and it's a horrible setback each time - and finished in 1:05:40 for my pains.
back in there in the purple shirt...image from the Running Shots facebook page:

At the end, there were plenty of water bottles, apples, bananas; we each got a handy sport towel and a finisher medal. Best of all, there were shuttle buses at the end to the nearest MRT stations. A very well-organised race!

We took a bus home from the end point at Bukit Timah Railway Station, and it was slightly surreal to cross the overhead bridge to get home and go over the very same race that we just finished.
& here's the view from the bridge!

But the most important thing about this run is that it gets people outdoors - people who might never have set foot on the Rail Corridor otherwise - in the kind of tamer/ 'safer' environment that Singaporeans are used to, with water and exit signs and snacks at the end. It shows people some of the possibilities of what the railway land could be. In the end, isn't that what really matters?

More information on the Rail Corridor/ Green Corridor can be found here and here.

Saturday, January 26, 2013

In which I am a curmudgeon

Also known as, the one in which some marketers ought to be taken out back and shot. (In a manner of speaking.)

I made the mistake of signing up for the Venus Run. (I wanted a timed 5K and other people to chase. Don't judge.) Now, there are all-women's runs and there are all-women's runs. The Great Eastern Women's 10K is a stellar example of an excellent one.

I have, depending on how you look at it, very high or very low standards for a race.
- Is the distance correct?
- Was the course smooth?
- Did the race start on time?

But a race organised specifically for women? That's a nice thought. In Singapore, and in Asia in general, you don't find a lot of serious women runners. That's due to all kinds of things: historically, general poverty and agricultural societies meant nobody ran for leisure (what a concept! to be running while you could be working); it's very hot; it's not culturally acceptable (dainty? ladylike?) for a woman to be wearing very little in public and sweating copiously, etc. That's shifting these days, but we don't have the same level of enthusiasm about women in sports that the post-Title IX US does. So yes, I appreciate the effort to get women moving.

The Great Eastern Run does this very well, and its message is very clear: women, you need to be fit for the health of your heart. (Great Eastern is a very large insurance company, and they have a big financial incentive to do this!)

But then there's the Venus Run. And I present to you THIS GODAWFUL SHIRT:

It's going to have THAT PROBLEM isn't it. The one in which it's too short for my hilariously long torso. 

Aesthetics aside, there's so much wrong with the things on this shirt.
I am not sparkly. I am not bioluminescent. I AM NOT A SQUID.
Squid, btw, are amazing.

 I do not want to be exhorted to sparkle. If I want to sparkle, I will wear nail polish, gosh-darn it. (I enjoy sparkly nail polish.)

The bigger problem is this: Don't define me in relation to all these other people. Sure, I'm a daughter, (ex)girlfriend, sister, wife, granddaughter and proud of it. Sure, I love my family - but I'm me first, capisce? I'm also a runner, a writer, a journalist, many other things that you can't stick a convenient label on.

That and, let's see you put all these things on a men's version of this shirt. (What? Unimaginable? EXACTLY.)

I am not trying to discourage women's participation in sports and outdoor activities. In fact I will be your biggest cheerleader and better yet, run with you. And I very much respect the people who run marathons dedicating each mile to a person they love. I just don't think we need to be defined by all of these other people in order to find our motivation to run.

Suffice it to say I will not be wearing this shirt.

It gets worse. There was one last year, the Shape Run, that featured male pacers. (Unless you are trying to break a world record, there is no need for male pacers. In fact, these days, the records people don't accept women's record times from mixed-gender races. Which is a whole nother kettle of fish.)

What do you think of all-women's runs and the Venus Run marketing? Is there a good way to sell these things to women without being demeaning or reducing us to a series of limiting labels? 

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Catching up

...and catching my breath.

Two weeks since I posted, two weeks of workouts. (I keep a log, religiously, even if the entry just says '11km run' - everything else is in my head.)

Jan 9 - swam 1.6km in all, crippling sinus headache
Jan 10 - Hills at the Botanic Gardens, 8 x (3:08 - 3:24)
Jan 12 - 16km on road and trails in the NB Minimuses (minimes? minimi? minimodes? ack - somebody tell me what the plural is)
Jan 13 - a hilarious 10km track relay with Kate and Linna - we each ran one lap and passed on to the next person. We were very, very far from first.

Last week I was on the afternoon shift - I work from about 2pm to 11pm or 12am, then come home, collapse, wake up at 8 or 9, by which time it's too hot to run... which throws a huge wrench in my training. So I barely ran:

Jan 17 - 5km canal run - EXHAUSTED.
Jan 18 - Ooh, this was #doprah day. Friday's 'workout' consisted of me lazily pedalling on the bike trainer (but not too hard, or I wouldn't be able to hear Lance mumbling) while watching Oprah lightly grill Lance. (That day's lunch in honour of the event: lightly grilled shrimp, pan-blackened, with a dash of sambal belachan.)
Jan 20 - ran 10.7km with the hubs
Jan 21 - long run for the week, 14km - not really training for anything long at the moment - and did a Zumba class in the evening. (To this creaky ex-dancer Zumba is a riot. It's like dancing, except you don't need skills. I am still not 100% sure how I feel about it.)
This evening at the track: 4 x (1km at 10k race pace/ 400m hard): 5:24/ 1:47, 5:21/ 1:43, 5:58/ 1:52, 5:23/ 1:47 <-- I think of this as the 'teaches you to finishing kick' workout. // finally catching up with my speedy friend Janice - I feel like she's hauling me around the track.

It's nearly Chinese New Year. Time to undo all my nutrition! ::gleefully::

Also, a little boy I adore is almost 1. (This is our nephew - his mom and dad live in Baltimore and he turns 1 TOMORROW EEEEEEE.) 

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Turning up the heat

The other day I read something that made me laugh out loud.
It was this sentence: "Roberts is the medical director of the Twin Cities Marathon who published a report in 2010 that recommended a Do Not Start temperature of 68 degrees [20 degrees C] for races held in northern latitudes." - from this Runner's World story.

I mean, yes, I fully understand that it's all relative. That if it snows in Chicago, municipal authorities are completely prepared, but dust Texas lightly with snowflakes and all traffic comes to a halt. If it snowed here race directors would call the race off and the entire country would shut down. (Unless climate change goes really nutso and we have a new ice age somewhere, it's HIGHLY unlikely to snow here.)

That made me laugh, because seriously, 20 degrees C is just about the COLDEST it ever gets here.

The other day I did 5x800 repeats at 4:09-4:22 - the temperature was about 26C (79F) and humid, and the day was heating up.
But a year ago, while visiting Japan, I did 6 x1km repeats at 4:30-4:57 apiece.  It was February, and the temperature was probably about 6 deg C (42F). Sure, I was chilly for a bit, but that's what a warm-up is actually for. BLISS. 


Here is a story - the very first marathon I did took me just over six hours. I sweat a lot when I run, and I lose a lot of salt when I sweat. I am a puddle. My eyes sting. I cramp. I run hot - I've been on winter hikes, in New Hampshire, where after half an hour I am down to a t-shirt. A worrisomely damp t-shirt.

This marathon started at 5am, and it was mayyybe 24C/ 75F. In December. (The temperature doesn't really vary much year-round.)

 As the day wore on, it got hotter. I lost more salt. I cramped up. It got even hotter - like 29C/ the shade. In the direct sun it was easily 31, 32C - 88 or 90F. I was carrying a single bottle as always, which then caused my wrist to cramp. (I didn't even know my wrists could cramp.) I hadn't yet figured out how to swallow a gel. The salt capsules I'd carefully prepared were a mushy mess in their little ziploc in my pocket,  from the heat and humidity. I cramped. I was miserable. I got sunburnt and ended up with a hot pink nose to match my hot pink shirt. I walked. A lot. (This is the story of my life.)

This, ladies and gentlemen, has been my motivation to train for every marathon since then: want to get out of the sun? Run faster! 

Of course I've also cramped on both marathons since then. There is an electrolyte/ hydration sweet spot that I haven't found yet...

Sometimes, I wonder what I could do if the weather was cooler. Me and Singapore weather, we're a bit of a mismatch. Just be warned - now you know what to expect if you attempt a marathon in Singapore!

But Singapore is a nation of runners. So how do we survive running in the heat?
Hydrate a bit more.
Start early. Or run late.
Wear a visor, not a cap (that just traps too much heat).
Tote something cold. I like to freeze my water bottles the night before.
Wicking clothing is nearly useless - at track workouts, my friends have had to wring out their shirts. (We're all disgusting, it's cool.)
And if you run on shaded trails, you can run at pretty much any time of day, because it will feel the same no matter what.
I have been seriously hungry all week. Five meals a day hungry. Starting to wonder if I have an actual tapeworm.

Thursday hills x 8
Saturday morning easy long(ish) run: 5km on roads, then 11km on trails with my friend Adrienne -at conversational pace, we had a good catch-up because I haven't seen her in person in months! - strides at the end.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Head games, or, the wasted energy of envy

Yesterday I did the first speedwork of the year, 5x800 (4:22, 4:20, 4:18, 4:09, 4:13). Not great, but ok splits for someone trying to recover from a very mild cold - a cold so mild that I never got sick enough to skip work or other commitments. I was just very, very tired and slightly sniffly and had the lingering feeling that my head was stuffed full of jello. Christmas bug, you win...

How to get over a cold - day 1: (have someone else) make fresh tomato sauce for pasta.
Day 2 - Turn leftover sauce into gazpacho with the addition of salt, water, tomato paste, vinegar, hot sauce, great glugs of olive oil and two punchy cloves of garlic. (Do not consume immediately prior to interview, meeting or generally any human interaction.)
Day 3 - Go to the track for speedwork. Do 800s until less fatigued.

"Stop wasting energy on letting 'talentless' be a stumbling block!" - sage advice from my runnerd friend Desiree, when I complained I was struggling with being talentless know... genetically challenged.

This is much harder to write. In this age of facebook and twitter and dailymile and athlinks, it's so easy to compare myself with other people. Other people who have been running, not even semi-seriously, for half as long as I have, and who are so talented they are able to waltz in and run my times with half the work. (And are genuinely nice people. And hot. And have the supernatural ability to not be a dishevelled, soggy mess after a workout - I am not one of those girls.)

I've had this struggle as long as I do...pretty much anything I love. There will always be more talented writers, more talented runners, more talented dancers. At least running is objective - a time is a time is a time. In the arts, the choreographer or dance instructor can have favourites, the publisher and prize committee can pick and choose.

It doesn't help to console myself with the knowledge that I work *hard* for everything I have - because the people with more talent work just as hard and shine brighter.

I must add: it's impossible to be miserable while running solo. I might be more or less tired than usual, but never miserable. It's when I run with other people that the trouble starts: other people motivate me, but I'm miserable when everyone else disappears into the distance (ahem, upcoming Green Corridor Run) and I am dead last.

I know comparing is a waste of energy, that I should buckle down and work even harder and keep breaking my PRs. But it's hard not to compare.

How do you stop yourself from envy?