Sunday, March 31, 2013

Liebster and lovin'

Oh my goodness, nearly forgot to share the Liebster Award bloglovin':

I nominate my friend Shu - an ex-colleague, now teacher (once a journalist, always a getting away from it) with the most delightful sense of humour. She's no slouch in the photography and fashion departments either! I suspect she has too many followers to qualify for the award, but I wanted to share the love because I miss her.

Things I'm loving right now:

1. Edward Humes' book Garbology, about America's (and the developed world's) addiction to refuse-generating Stuff and what this does to the environment. Each chapter reads like a magazine article: you'll meet the Bay Area family whose entire trash output per year fits inside a mason jar, the world's first garbage archaeologist, and the Trash Trackers of MIT.

2. This week my friend from our university's dance group visited Singapore with her boyfriend in the middle of a trip around Australia/ New Zealand/ Southeast Asia. So of course we had to feed them. We all had crab last night.
 this is salted egg crab. it doesn't look like much but it is delicious.
not my photo, borrowed from someone else's review...too busy eating to take photos. 

3. The Yellow Fellows, who are running to raise funds for the Singapore Cancer Society, which does free cancer screening, public education, home care, and funds treatment and transport for low-income patients. They ran the same 10K I did this morning, and their shirts were even yellower than mine. There's a link to their donation site on their Facebook page.

4. We had friends over last night and they used all the regular glasses so I'm drinking my Nuun from an old pasta-sauce jar. Lemon-lime with an ethereal whiff of tomatoes.

5. The watermelon and grapes I thought to toss in the freezer yesterday. Mm.

Things I'm loving somewhat less right now - because I am also a curmudgeon, ok?: 

This morning I did the 2XU
 ("2XU: two times you!" "one of me is enough for the world to handle, thank you very much")
10km as a tempo run, using the bib of a friend of a friend who couldn't make it. (I got stuck behind a lot of people at the start, started tired and got tireder, and my phone claimed it was a tiny bit short: 9.8km in 1:01. Except my friend's GPS said 10.41 km. I feel like I've fallen into some kind of gravitational distance warp here.)

But my body, without my consent I might add, has made it its mission in life to chafe in as many interesting places as possible. And I don't mean interesting places like 'inside Marina Bay Sands'. Stupid weather. Stupid shorts seam. Stupid me, forgetting the Bodyglide...

The reason I want to do longer tempo runs is... I signed up for the Perth marathon in August.

I've cramped after 25km on every single marathon I've done, and if I don't cramp I will almost certainly PR (under 5:15). A bit of back-and-forth email discussion with one of the coaches led me to the conclusion that what's going on is
a) I lose a lot of salt
b) muscle fatigue from not being conditioned to push hard on longer distances.

So part of the solution I've come up with is
1. longer tempo-paced runs (which for me is a little bit over 10 km/h). Going to force myself to do more of these in the months ahead. I hate tempo runs...
2. speedwork + strides - which Tuesday night track takes care of, but it's geared towards sprint-distance training
3. more strength training -  anyone got a good routine?

"If you can't run a fast 10km, you can't run a fast marathon," said my coach.
(Hey coach, I'm just trying to PR here, not qualify for Boston! This IS my 'fast', or at least a level of fast I'm confident of doing. It's not very fast for the other people you coach, but where I am is where I am, so let's work with what I've got, OK? Having the inverse of natural ability is kind of frustrating sometimes.) (And here we insert a very important note about mental health: I have some stress issues and if I'm not running with joy, if I'm running on upset or stressed or angry, I don't race please don't feed the self-doubt demons in my head.)

Almost none this week, it has REALLY been a nightmare at work. 
Tuesday extra exhausted track session.
Thursday easy 5k recovery run.
This morning: 10?km, getting slower every km I ran. 

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Perfect 11s

Jumping on the Liebster bandwagon that seems to be going around the blogiverse. Because this is a thing on the internet its provenance is not entirely clear, but what the Liebster Award seems to be is a way of helping little blogs (like yours truly) with a handful of followers (<200? <3,000? I prefer the latter because it has a heart in it) get noticed.

You're supposed to write 11 things about yourself...

1. I have the attention span of a bored housefly.

2. There are many things I would like to be. Eg: a vegetarian (not out of love for vegetables, or any particularly animal-activist reason, but out of sheer meat-takes-more-resources-to-produce guilt.)

3. Or: a boy (this about ten per cent of the time).
3a. Or at least, "gender-fluid ambisexual pancuddler".
3b. Or Tilda Swinton.

4. I hate labels.

5. I have always had a terrible crush on Tilda Swinton.

6. My single favourite item of clothing is a pair of bright-pink size-small fleece trousers with neon green frogs on them going 'Ribbit', which I obtained for $7 from the Marshalls in Somerville, Massachusetts. I have worn them on all sorts of chilly nights: a climbing/ camping trip in Red Rocks, Nevada; apres-apres-ski during a ski trip to Nagano; and reallyreallysoon, to hike the Heaphy Track in New Zealand.

7. I can't sleep with trousers on - it's shorts or less. Yes, this ties in with the fact that my favourite item of clothing is basically a pair of fleece pajama trousers.

8. From age 9 to 16, I was in a gifted-students programme, which basically meant "where they put the nerds". (True story. Fellow programme victims are at a science-olympiad type competition. Three of them in one corner having a very intense discussion about something. One of the others turns around and says, "Is this how the rest of the world sees us?") The programme was also my salvation: take one awkward, nerdy 9-year-old and put her with other people exactly like her. Presto - friends!

9. I'm right-handed but I wear my watch on my right wrist. Don't ask me why, it just feels right!

10. When I was 8, I memorised the longest poem I could find in any book I owned: "The Highwayman", by Alfred Noyes.

11. This is taking far longer than it should - can I go to bed now?

...and answer 11 questions from the blogger (Holly) who nominated you...

1. If you could eat any breakfast food right now, what would it be?  Please be very descriptive.  I love breakfast food and want to drool all over your descriptions.

A large breakfast burrito, scrambled eggs, cheese, salsa, and guacamole, in a flour tortilla. Alternatively, poached eggs with corned beef hash and some homefries from The Fort diner in Lebanon, New Hampshire. Or homemade granola with lots of nuts and chocolate chips. Alternatively alternatively, a large cup of oatmeal with warmed blueberries and a drizzle of cream...

2. What book is closest to where you’re sitting, right this very minute?

Edward Humes' 'Garbology' - about how very much trash we developed countries produce. (If we were so developed we wouldn't produce that much trash.)
Also the very funny Mindy Kaling's 'Is Everyone Hanging Out Without Me? and other concerns'.

3. Think about something you really want to do (you don’t have to share what it is).  What’s holding you back?

Timing. (Isn't it always timing?)

4. Which holiday has the traditions that you enjoy the most?

Chinese New Year, mostly because it involves serious time with my wonderful extended family.

5. Fill in the blanks: I would do twice as much (insert household task/chore), in exchange for never having to (insert another household task/chore) EVER AGAIN.

I would do twice as much laundry (I feel like I am already doing twice as much laundry), in exchange for never having to take out the trash EVER AGAIN.

6. Do you like how common your name is?  [ie, "Sarah"s, do you like sharing your name with half the world?  "Shelande"s, do you like having such a unique name?]

When I was in Secondary 2, there were three of us named Grace in the same class: Grace Chua, Grace Chong, and Grace Chen. Even our Chinese names were similar: Wan Jun, Xiao Jun, and Cai Hong. I don't know how traumatic this was for the other two but it was for me.

7. When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you “grew up”?

A paediatrician (my parents are doctors), a journalist (my mom keeps copies of a 'newspaper' I put together at age six, complete with ads), a ballet dancer, a journalist, a forensic pathologist, a journalist... and then I kind of stopped there.

8.  Do you have as much trouble with the “Insert Numbered List” function as I do?  It always – ALWAYS – screws up my formatting.  I’ve resigned myself to actually typing the numbers.

Hogawd. It's word-processing programs. They hate me.

9. What are you using to replace/instead of Google Reader? 

Trying out Feedly...

10. What smell is nostalgic to you?

Books have a very distinctive smell. (I spent a lot of time in libraries growing up.)

11. Self-Serving Question: What would you like to read more of on this blog?

What work is like for a running coach!

...and ask 11 more questions of other small-time bloggers i want to share the love with. (It's 11.30pm and I've run out of energy after a hard track workout this evening involving 8x100 strides, 4x400 at mile pace, and 4x800 at mile pace which quickly degenerated into 4:15s. Now I'm sitting in a puddle on my couch waiting for the second load of laundry to be done, so this might have to wait.)

But wait! 
I have some BIG NEWS and some not-so-big news.

Big news: I am slowly shedding a toenail. (Aren't you glad I waited till after the description of breakfast food?) Toenails are overrated - at least that's what I'll keep telling myself. Last year I'd go for a long trail run then (this is the correct order, pay attention!) come home, eat second breakfast, take a shower, stretch, and THEN check to make sure my toenails were all still there.

The goal is the same as ever - A goal - sub 4:30 even if it hurts a little (and learn to hurt a little); B goal - sub 5:00 and have fun, no cramping; C goal - run an entire marathon without cramping.
Last year I did the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon in 5:19, thanks to crippling quad/knee-cramps. It may be time to treat myself to some compression capris. I love my calf sleeves but my calves haven't been giving me any issues of late. Time to give the quads some love. Nuun has been keeping me relatively cramp-free and I may try taking a half tablet for some concentrated electrolytes mid-run.

What's your goal race this year? Or your running goals for the year? 

Saturday, March 23, 2013

Not About Running: Things I Learned At The Gym

Written by a gym class antihero 

This past week I've been on the afternoon shift. Theoretically that means 2pm to 11pm, and I cover any news that breaks late, but in practice that (There is no such thing as an off-duty journalist.)

What that really means is that I wake up around 8 or 9, and because I'm a chicken, I don't want to be roasted on a late-morning run. So to save my sanity and my skin, I tried out a Fitness First 5-day trial pass I got from the Green Corridor Run earlier this year. There's a Fitness First gym basically around the corner from where I live, so this was great. The goal was to try as many classes as I could, while also sticking to my sprint-tri training plan, and chat with a trainer.

Here's how it went.

I had a longish chat with a sales person, who handed me a couple of brochures. This was one...

Not encouraging... the whole purpose of working out (for me, anyway) is for my mental health and to be able to race faster and stronger.

Small digression: here's something else I got in a recent race pack: Shape magazine.

Check out the coverlines: there's one woman losing 30kg, 'the #1 secret of skinny women', and (because this is the Valentine's Day issue) '15 tantalising recipes he'd love' (so you can't cook sirloin, lamb chops or chocolate pudding for YOURSELF, just for YOUR MAN - hello, Cosmopolitan?...I will cook these things for myself anyway - they look delicious). Mixed messages much?

note also that the 'recommended' weights are 1.5-litre bottles. YEP 1.5kg.
i get a better workout carrying my bag to the mrt station.

looks like she does work out regularly, but that is still a WEE TEENY kettlebell.
story says '4-6 kg'.

Also, you can totally tell which photo shoots were done locally and which were done in the US. The models in the local ones have no discernible muscle definition. Now, I'm in media, and this could just be a limitation of the local industry (small). There are no fitness models here to speak of, I think, and finding models with the right experience is probably very difficult. It's still funny/ sad though. (I know, the world has room for a whole diverse range of body types, but poor underfunded Shape magazine looks as though it's been using the one same model this whole time.)

Trying to sell me exercise because it'll change my size or shape just doesn't work for me. I work out because I want to be stronger and faster and better at the sports I love to do; because I want to be more flexible and graceful for dance; and because it's fun and a source of stress relief. The size I am or want to be has ABSOLUTELY nothing to do with it.

Back to the gym, or I'll get too annoyed to keep going.
Day 1 - Zumba class. Nothing new here - just a bit of dancey fun. Not the greatest class - I had more rhythm than the instructor. For better classes, try Gonzaga at Fiesta de Fitness!

Day 2 - Hot yoga followed by 4 x 800 on the treadmill. I quite liked the yoga class. Apparently it wasn't very hot - I just...sweat a lot...and lose a lot of salt. I could do COLD yoga and I'd still be a puddle. By the end of class my toes were cramping. Then I drank an entire waterbottle of Nuun and punched out a bunch of 800s on the treadmill in 4:06 apiece.

Day 3 - The branch I was at had a rooftop pool, so I went up there to do this: 200 warmup, some drills, 3x200, 4x50, cooldown. Skipped the drills. The pool was pleasantly chilly (plus) - I hate it when the pool is like hot soup before you've even started swimming. Also deserted (plus). Also rather short (minus, doubleminus because silly me bumped my head on the end of the pool after a too-fast sprint). After living in the US for 5 years and swimming all winter in a chlorinated, echoey hall-pool (as opposed to pool hall, duh...) I will NEVER take a 50m outdoor pool for granted again. We're incredibly lucky in Singapore to have full-size public pools you can get into for a dollar!

I also had a chat with a personal trainer. I explained that I want to get stronger for long-distance running and triathlon, and he was like 'you'll have to talk to one of our trainers who does specialise in functional strength training'. Oh well.

Day 4 - Spin class with a hilarious instructor, Sherlin (BIG PLUS) but I do like the feeling of riding outside and the wind in my hair (only a small minus, I ride at home on the bike trainer too). Then I did a core workout on my own in an awkward corner by the window of the 'functional training' section, between one machine and another. My flat is quite small so having space to lie down and stretch is nice. Lying down and stretching with other people watching you is just awkward.

Day 5 - I got off work at 11.30pm and had to wake up at 5.30am for a 6.30am event on a boat (didn't I say there is no such thing as an off-duty journalist?) and felt jetlagged all day so I skipped the BodyPump class I was planning on trying. Whoops.

Conclusion: The classes are fun, but I don't like working out on my own in confined spaces (AKA 'indoors'.) I'm quite happy to take classes - I just wish they didn't have to be tied to having a gym membership!
It could work for you - I have friends who are gym bunnies and go to all the classes by a specific instructor, or who are religious about their personal training - but it's just not for me. (I'm too lazy.)
Another thing - I think it's a riot that franchises like Zumba and Les Mills have managed to trademark exercise. It's like a little cult (but in a slightly healthier way)!

Are you a gym-goer? Favourite class? Should I try this again? 

Saturday, March 16, 2013

'slow' + a musical interlude

The group I've been training with for nearly two years is quite a bit faster than I am, and that's why this little bit of THIS Rachel Toor COLUMN (not so much the rest of it) resonated hugely with me:
Despite my sense of invisibility, many of the women on the team welcomed me, and some even cheered for me as they zipped past, calling out my name as I slogged in after they finished their workouts. But still, I felt like I ran too slowly to belong and I couldn't stop myself from apologizing. I was ashamed and wanted them to know that I knew that I was slow.
But then I go out and do local races like the Venus Run and wind up on the first page of results. (Never before have I been on the first page of results, which surprises and delights me to no end.)

Which puts me in mind of Amy Christensen's wise words from Expand Outdoors:
...A few weeks later I was at a different workout (with different folks) and assured them I was really slow. [Insert foot into mouth here.] It turned out I wasn’t the slowest. I wanted to take back my statement as soon as it dawned on me how inaccurate I’d been. I knew what it felt like to hear someone say they’re really slow, only to be much faster than me.
I’d been there and it sucks.
...When I tell myself “I’m too slow,” I limit myself—and miss out on the kinds of experiences that might push and motivate me to grow and expand.
These days, I’m working hard to stay objective and state the facts instead of trying to guess what pace a potential partner runs, then assuming what pace they think might be slow or fast (because really—that’s just a lot of assumption and subjectivity going on). I’ll simply state, “I usually run ‘x’ pace on trails and ‘y’ pace when it’s flat for about z minutes.”

It's a purely mental thing. I don't judge anyone else for their pace - just MYSELF. (Runner problems.) In fact, we all know better than to judge someone for their pace - you never know how far they have already come. To me, any runner, whether she is just getting into it or has been running for most of her lifetime, is welcome on the track or trail.

So really what I need to do is keep training, keep racing myself, accept that wherever I am is wherever I am, and HAVE FUN.

Speaking of fun (fun! fun.) on Friday night I watched one of my favourite bands, fun., in concert. (I am a music person. I am a running person. Strangely, for me, never the twain shall meet. Can't listen to anything when I run. Too busy trying not to wheeze. Also, deeply regret thinking 'I'm a poor grad student, I have no money, and therefore can't go see live music' while I lived in Boston - because Singapore is just about the most expensive place in the world to be an indie music fan. /rant)

Here is fun. ('all the pretty girls')

I've loved them since 2009 when they were a little baby band, and my husband and I walked down the aisle to 'The Gambler'. Twice.


Besides playing most of their second album and some of their first they also did a cover or two - I nearly lost it when they went into the opening sequence of 'Seven Nation Army' (by the White Stripes) and they covered 'You Can't Always Get What You Want' by The Rolling Stones. Too cute. I called their encore songs (theatrics! they were totally going to do at least one encore) but they failed to play Sight of the Sun - they'll have to come back, obviously.

I hope all the people who paid $70 to hear their two hit songs ('We Are Young', 'Some Nights') fell in love with the rest of the music by the end of the show. There was one guy standing in front of me. Tall. Clearly dragged there by girlfriend. If you don't want your view of the stage, I'd like it thanks.

Snippet of our conversation on the train home.
Friend while doing background research on ever-reliable Wikipedia: "Hey, it looks like they've collaborated with the singer P!nk."
Me: "What's with the exclamation mark in P!nk? Is that what she's calling herself now?"
"If you can have fun. with a period you can have P!nk with an exclamation mark."
"I never have fun with periods."

This week's workouts:
Tuesday: 5 x 4:00 (800, 800, 810, 810, 780m)
Wednesday: Swim training
Thursday: 6x hills
Friday: Bouncing up and down at fun. concert
Saturday: Bike clinic in which I wobbled around and failed to negotiate hairpin turns on my road bike + the rollercoaster Rifle Range Road + half-yearly dental appointment == enough excitement for the whole day and then some. I'm wiped. Goodnight.

Music person? Running person? Running with music person? Why? Why not? What do you listen to when you run? 

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Race report: Venus Run

Yikes, I've been away far too long - sorry!
Somewhere in between, I was in Qatar on a work trip - had a morning to myself and so I visited the Museum of Islamic Art in Doha. Here it is - isn't it spectacular?

I also brought home a box of dried, sweet dates and made sticky date pudding with caramel sauce (but reduce the sugar sliiiightly) - that was my Saturday morning.

I also brought home a cold. !@&)(*!$ I felt just fine when I got back and even went to training on Thursday night. But on Friday morning I woke up with a sore throat and a sniffle. Friday and Saturday involved a tug of war with my stubborn cold, lots of fluids, and rest.

Today I woke up feeling just fine and ran (not raced) the Venus Run, a 5km road race put on by the Singapore Athletic Association. Because I was just getting over the cold I was very cautious and fighting my competitive catch-up-and-pass-the-person-in-front-of-me instincts the whole way.

Aside from all the sparkly pink*, it was actually very well-organised.
(*It's just a colour. Why do colours have to be gendered? They don't, actually. Slate tells it like it is.)

Funny aside: I sold my cerise Venus Run shirt to a coworker, who asked, aren't you going to wear it on race day?
I never wear (eat/ drink/ you name it) anything new on race day, I told her. What if something I haven't tried before itches? Or is uncomfortable? I'd have a pretty miserable race day. I don't know why most runners here don't realise that.
I think they assume you have to wear it, she said.

Running columnist Rachel Toor has a pretty funny account of running the Singapore Marathon.
"On race day the streets of Singapore looked like the Dean Dome during a UNC-Duke game, with nearly everyone wearing a brand new sky blue singlet. When I expressed surprise about this to an expat friend she told me that Singaporeans are accustomed to wearing uniforms. If you give them a shirt, they think they are supposed to wear it. Singaporeans try to do what they think is expected."

The race started and ended at Marina Barrage. Yep, on the vast green roof, which people normally use for picnics and kite-flying. Meaning: you had to run down the slope at the start, and then UP THE SAME EVIL SLOPE on the other side at the end. When I got to the upslope I started laughing: on Thursday my coach Trudy had us do high-speed zigzags up the grassy slope at the Botanic Gardens. Eight times. I was not expecting to have trained for PRECISELY THIS SITUATION...!!!

The route was a pretty straightforward out-and-back, across the dam, through Marina Bay East, a lollipop u-turn and back again. According to Holly it was at least 0.2 miles/ 321.9m too long, tacking on a good minute and a half for me, and I finished in 29:21.
My coach is right - I DO cross my arms way too far across my body. Photo courtesy of

At my weird in-between pace I often find myself running alone, which usually means more space for me...until there isn't. On the way back, the mid-pack came thundering along towards me in the opposite direction and spilled over wayyyy across the invisible centre line. I'll just squidge over to the left now...

Late in the game I did a flying split in front of a race photographer, and he cracked up.

Because of my cold I didn't get a chance to push myself till I (almost) blow up, till it really hurts. As Amby Burfoot writes about marathoning, "I don’t hit the Wall, because I don’t tempt it. I’m the Cowardly Lion of marathoners, and that’s okay with me." I am also completely chicken. No offense to chickens.

Right at the end I spotted Holly cheering everyone on, all by her lonesome, with a steady stream of 'You can do it little steps little steps you're right around the corner you can't see it but I can just one more minute you can do anything for one minute'. So I joined her. A little while later she was ambushed by a fellow American tracking down a familiar accent!

This afternoon I had some very good coffee with friends, ate too much, and ate too much again. In all, pretty good for a lazy Sunday... and how was your weekend?