Saturday, June 29, 2013

What I think about when I think about running on the treadmill

My Singapore readers (yes, all three of you) may know that Singapore has recently been through its worst period of haze ever recorded.
I won't really talk about it except to say that we've been working anywhere from 11 to 15 hours a day covering this. And that marathon training while working wackaloon hours is somewhat difficult.

As you may have guessed I'm doing my marathon training Hansons-style, which is intended to simulate the fatigue you feel at the end of a marathon. You rack up lots of slow miles over the course of the whole week. Because of my flaky schedule I've had to adapt the standard plan, but am still running six days a week. Even better? I'm already tired. All the time.

Last Sunday I had a 24km long run planned. It started really well: on Saturday night I worked till 1am (when does that ever go well?), went home, slept 4.5 hours and went to the gym (it was both hot and hazy outside) to bang out my 24km at speeds between 8.6 and 9.2 km per hour. I was armed with a phone, some ebooks loaded on said phone, water, energy chews, a gel, Nuun, and a sport towel.

According to the gibberish I posted on Facebook and sent to friends during the run, this is what I think about when I think about running on the treadmill.
- 4km into a 24km run on the treadmill at the office gym. Entertain me or come say hi. (No one did, except virtually.)
- Mr (not-so) Genetically Challenged (obviously I married him for the genetic boost he will one day give our future children): "Hi beautiful. You're insane." Me: "And you married me! *beams* "
- My mouth has no idea what to do with energy chews. Spent the last 2 km with Clif Shot Blok stuck in my teeth. (Mm, caries.)
- Conversation with Holly about pregnant women wearing N95 masks: "A meta-analysis I read said there wasn't really any good evidence for pregnant women not to wear the masks because of increased respiratory burden." (Yes, I typed this out on a phone touchscreen while running.)
- Hooray, 8km down.
- Hooray, 12km down.
- That's a funny-looking sunbird in the plants outside the gym. It's not a common olive-backed one. (It turned out to be a very pretty brown-throated sunbird.)
- Only 8km left! I can do this. I eat 8km for breakfast. (Then I thought about breakfast.)
- Hooray, I've just done a half marathon in less time than it took to do my first ever half marathon.
- You'll feel this tired at 35km in Perth and you'll still have to run. So run.
- Why is it that Australia is full of things that will gladly kill you, while New Zealand has not a single one, even though they used to be the same continent? (The answer probably has something to do with them evolving after the continent split apart.)
- I wonder what Tyler Cowen thinks of Singapore's food landscape. (I was reading 'An Economist Gets Lunch' on my phone at the time - a very bad book to read if you happen to be hungry. I was hungry. I did not find out what Prof Cowen thinks of Singapore's food scene until about chapter 11 while on the same treadmill today.)
- Hooray, I'm done. (I am so done.)

I leave you with blurry treadmill photographic evidence.

I've been forgetting to post the weekly workout log and also forgetting to post in general, but since nobody reads it but me and I already have a notebook full of workout notes, my total for the week of June 17 to 23 was 57km of a planned 62. Either I have to get a lot faster or there need to be more hours in a day in order for me to fit everything in.

Monday, June 24, 2013

New Zealand Week 2: The Lazy Week

See, the time elapsed between Part 1 and Part 2 didn't even take that long. I didn't even end with a throwaway dramatic cliffhanger! (However, as there were only 2 weeks of our NZ trip, this will be Part 2 of 2, not a trilogy.)

You may recall some time ago, in a galaxy far away, I took a hike in New Zealand. In the interim, life and work intervened. Well, here's Week 2 of that much-anticipated adventure.

Should I be recovering from an 80km hike in the middle (Week 5 of 18 to be precise) of marathon training?

After the Walk In The Park, we took (just the one) van to a medium-sized town, Nelson, on the north end of the South Island, where we stayed the night at a backpacker hostel...with pudding.

From Nelson, we took the world's littlest passenger aircraft, a Cessna 208 Caravan, to Wellington, which is North Island's southernmost city, and drove over to my friend Nick's place.

I met Nick years ago while travelling in Ecuador (that is yet another story for another day) and he is a great world traveller and eco-activist who is taking the scenic route through university and just finishing up.

We spent a terrific day in Wellington - a good chunk of it was in Zealandia, a wildlife sanctuary that people have worked very hard to restore to its original condition - before all the invasive species invaded. It being a Monday, admission price was just $10. What's better than visiting a really high-quality wildlife sanctuary? Visiting a really high-quality wildlife sanctuary for $10.

New Zealand has terrible problems with rats, possums and other invasive species, which eat the eggs of native birds or compete with them for food, and in some cases have driven them extinct.

People don't help much either. Once upon a time they used to hunt weka and these wacky-looking flightless birds, closely related to swamphens, called takahe.

that's a radio transmitter, not a silicon-based mutation

What Zealandia has done is to restore a good chunk of outer Wellington to a slightly more pristine state, and has built fences and other protections to keep the rats out. There was a tuatara section, a couple of huge eels slinking around in a stream, finger-length insects called weta, and I spent at least forty-five minutes entranced by a small grey North Island robin.

The next morning we set off for Napier where my grandmother's youngest sister, sixth brother, and niece and nephew (grandma's second sister's children), live. (are you confused yet? I have a large, complicated, stubborn, and bossy family - and that's only one quarter of it - I have three other grandparents you know.)

driving into town - isn't it gorgeous

There, we spent four days just completely relaxing, being fed vast quantities of very fresh food at the various wineries in and around the Hawke's Bay area...
l to r: grand-uncle, his wife, and you know whom - at Elephant Hill winery.
thinking about this makes me hungry again... 

 and also food made by my grand-aunt and uncle, who are both fantastic cooks: lamb roast, laksa, tom yum mussels, or luak, panfried salmon... as well as cakes by my grand-uncle. (In return, I baked sticky date pudding with caramel sauce on our last night there).

And I might've even run once or twice.

Friday, June 14, 2013

New Zealand: A Much-Expected Journey - Part 1

And a much-overdue blog post. We in the Chua-Bramante ('Team Chuamante') family like to do certain things in supremely scrambled order, somewhat late. I got back from NZ at the end of May, and promptly 1) hosted friends 2) had a nightmare week at work 3) had another nightmare week at work that ate my life. Indeed, I joke that we'll finally have a combined bachelor/ette paintball party (stag vs doe, of course) after the birth our firstborn. (No save the dates for THAT yet - sorry parents.)

So of course we finally went on honeymoon in May, after squirrelling away a few dollars each month for this trip and using my parents' frequent flyer points which we got as a wedding gift. Why yes, it's been 1.5 years since we got married...

Ah, New Zealand. The land of hobbits and wacky animals. All of them are so marvellously tame (except for the orcs). There are no seriously wild creatures in New Zealand. At least none that can kill you.

This here is a weka, about the size of a large chicken. They are technically a vulnerable species, but on the Heaphy Track they are a menace. One ran away with a fellow hiker's Ipod Shuffle. Guidebooks tell you not to chase them as they'll only run farther away - just watch where they stash your stuff and go and retrieve it later. On the track, we saw a good 25 of them, just hanging out. 

Don't fall off or into any mountains though, that's a different story.

Week 1: The Active Week

In May, New Zealand is not quite in the depths of winter, but it's getting there. It was rather chilly when we landed in Christchurch, a city that crumbled under the force of a major earthquake two years ago. Christchurch is still being rebuilt, and there's plenty of work for builders and architects - including a couple of friends who moved there from Singapore. We stayed with one of them to relax for a couple of days.

The upside to a major earthquake is that you get to rebuild your city from scratch. There are some interesting things going on, including the Re:START container mall and Gap Filler, as well as some rather stupid-sounding planning decisions.

We spent some quality time there, then in one very long blitz, travelled from Christchurch to Nelson to Collingwood to the start of the Heaphy Track on a series of smaller and smaller buses until finally we were going down a dirt track in a van with a trailer. Side note: Every small town in New Zealand has its very good cafe with very good coffee and what are perhaps the best chocolate caramel slices in the world.

The roughly 80km Heaphy Track is a Great Walk, meaning it's designed to provide tourists a pleasant introduction to New Zealand's wild places. And how pleasant. There were some seriously luxurious huts (four walls, gas stoves, running water, and even LED sensor lighting in one of them!!). We'd planned meticulously for a four-day trek. Dehydrated meals, snacks, hut bunks, bus pickup at the end. Only trouble was, the weather forecast on day 2 of our trek was for heavy rain. And it was supposed to be our long day (24km)...

We got to the trailhead at 7pm and stayed the night at Brown Hut. The first morning was bone-dry and lovely. We were supposed to walk 17km to the next hut, but ended up walking 30km to the one after that to eat 13km into Day 2's walk. With full packs (about 1/3 my body weight). Ouch.

"We're doing this! We're doing this FOR REAL!"

now imagine like this, but wet

But that was nothing compared to Day 2.

We woke up to a massive storm outside. There didn't seem to be any lightning, so we (wo)manned up, raincoated up, backpack-covered-up, and marched on. (Mind you, at this time of year it was about 7 degrees Celsius when we started in the morning.) If I kept my raincoat hood up, my glasses fogged up. If I kept it down, water streamed down the back of my neck. I had my arms across my chest for warmth, and when I dropped them to my sides again, icy water streamed out of my sleeves. It rained sideways, from all directions, at the same time. By the end of our 11+km walk - across squishily exposed territory - there was nothing that was dry. Thank goodness for Ziploc bags.

At Saxon Hut, we changed out of our soggy clothes and tried to warm up. Puddles everywhere.

All of a sudden, there was a knock on the door. And then another. And then another, till a quartet of friendly, woolly-hat-clad, bearded...mountain bikers barrelled into the room. This year was the third and final year of a pilot trial - mountain bikers were allowed to bike the Heaphy in winter, during its less crowded season, so they were out in droves.

biker (L) and the husband (R) trying to start a...coal-fired stove. 
They were just stopping over for a few hours, so after they left, we sat by the fire trying to dry our things. The general rule of hiking is that you have just two sets of clothes: one to walk in and one to sleep in. Maybe some spare underwear and socks, and another shirt if you are very dainty and want a clean shirt after the whole hike is done. So the next morning, there were more than a few yelps as we struggled into our less-soggy, but still-cold gear. I could swear that my boots had frozen overnight...

The next two days (20km and 16.2km) were much drier and less eventful. On the last day we went down South Island's north-western coastline, facing the wild Tasman Sea, and were treated to some spectacular scenery.
Okay, fine, here is a picture of my gourmet trail lunch.
And some nikau palm forest.

Now you're jealous, right? 

Finally we ended up back in Nelson, at a cute hostel called Tasman Bay Backpackers.

And that's all we did for the first week - walk a lot.

Mind you, we did walk 80km in four days over interesting terrain and all kinds of weather, so we could use some sleep.

At this point I could use some sleep too so I'll stop here. I might split the NZ blog posts into three to make more money attract more hits. What's that you say? Oh, too soon.

Double points if you got all the Hobbit references. 

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Spun around at Sundown

This year I had several friends running the Sundown Marathon, which starts at 11.30pm and goes overnight. It's much cooler (temperature-wise) to run at night, but my circadian rhythm really hates it and I end up falling sick if I stay up overnight, so I didn't sign up.

On Sunday morning I had to wake up early to see visiting friends off to the airport anyway, so I had a grand idea: why not be a one-woman cheer station at Sundown?

But where should I go for the best vantage point? How do I track my friends by their bib numbers?
The 'spectator guide' section, on race night, still said 'Coming soon...'

wah wah. I guess there was no demand? 

So I pored over the course map - fortunately I've run most of it before (hometown advantage!).

At 3.30am I ended up at Gardens By The Bay South. Which has great lighting. And water coolers. And toilets. Spectator WIN.

I was holding a sign that said "IF YOU CAN READ THIS... RUN FASTER!" in neon purple marker, and yelling things like "You're looking great! Finish strong! Last few km to go* before breakfast! You can already hear the finish line!"

*this was the truth and I was able to tell them they had 4km left. The 38km point is really kind of the worst point in a marathon. If you don't know how far runners have to go, please don't tell them 'you're almost there'; when they find out they have 30km left they will hate their lives and you.

Luckily, most runners are appreciative of ANY cheering, and I even got a smile out of most people for the sign, which had the intended effect rather than 'Grr! She's saying to run faster when I can barely walk!'

After about three hours I was hoarse and hungry (but probably not as tired as the people still on the course), so I started running for home. On the way, I chatted with a woman in a big flouncy pink tutu-esque skirt and asked her where she got it. (Answer: online). Her philosophy: "If I'm going to be slow, might as well be cute." Good idea. Apparently she's from California originally and has run marathons in Greece, Rome, Kenya, London, Missouri, and now Singapore, some of them in costume!

just add wings

It then started to rain, my legs ached because of yesterday's 16km and wandering around Sentosa with friends, I discovered a brand new blister BETWEEN my toes, and I was absolutely starving and had stomach cramps at the same time, so I ran for the MRT station instead.

And now here I am eating a big bowl of oatmeal with blueberries for br...lunch.

Spectator lessons: Next year, I think I'll actually plan ahead and get gummi bears or sour lemon candy to hand out. (When I did Tokyo, somewhere along the last 10km there was a woman handing out sour lemon  candy to tired, thirsty marathoners - BEST IDEA EVER.)

What's your best race spectating/ cheering experience? Or the best cheering experience you've had as a runner? 

This week's workouts:
Monday - 5km easy
Tuesday - strength, speedwork 5 x 5min
Thursday - 10km tempo
Friday - 5km easy
Saturday - 16km marathon pace - this was a great run. Completed my planned distance, in a reasonable time, and felt good. I think the stars were aligned.
Sunday - 3 hours of marathon cheering. It rained: bike trainer party with a book.