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.

- Plate of beans and rice with a dollop of sour cream
- Slice of homemade cheesecake
- 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
- 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. 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. 

- 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.

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

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. 

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

A rather dramatic weekend

A week ago today, right after my last track session of this marathon cycle, there was a minor catastrophe: my trusty little Timex watch gave up the ghost. Right before the marathon, no less.  (Too many sweaty track workouts, clearly.)
It was at least six years old and had had several body parts replaced - the strap, the battery and so on - so I can't say I was altogether surprised. BUT REALLY, WHY DO THIS TO ME? After all the thinking I'd been doing about setting a pace and sticking to it, vs running watch-free and easy...

So I spent Tuesday and Wednesday mourning for my lost love. I wanted to have a moment of silence for Tim II (my second Timex since JC. I'm a serial timepiece monogamist.) know...someone else would have to time it.

Not one to believe in omens, I decided to 1) try getting it fixed and when that didn't work 2) look for a new watch.

Hunting for a new watch forced me to set foot inside TWO shopping malls on Sunday afternoon. I had a minor shopping meltdown at the second one after visiting five shops and discovering that none had any Timexes. Apparently Timexes are out of style - not that they were ever in style in the first place. Finally I managed to find a shop with one solitary watch of the old model - I can't be fiddling around trying to work out how to stop and start my watch on race day.

(I really, really don't like shopping; even less so when there are crowds. In fact, to give you an idea of my relationship to people - one of my friends once suggested having a birthday party on a private island with a group of friends. What? Spend an entire weekend on an island surrounded by a bunch of other people, even ones I like very very much? That sounds like a surefire way to be overwhelmed and eventually have a meltdown.)

Fortunately my efforts paid off and I went home with Tim III, isn't he cute?

Speaking of too many people, I also saw everybody and their brother on the Macritchie trail on Sunday morning, while I was chugging along. Singapore's trails (actually, there are perhaps two that might be considered proper trails, and I think of them as two segments of what's actually the same trail) are EXTREMELY crowded. It's a very small island. It doesn't help that first of all, trail running is a growing pastime around here.

Perhaps to the point that new trail runners have no clue (what to expect). Some simple sample principles:

1. Please don't run with headphones.  (Especially not when I go 'excuse me! Excuse me! EXCUSE ME!' and finally have to bellow SIAM, LAH* at the top of my voice.)
2. If it's crowded, please run on the left and give way to people coming from behind you (and also oncoming runners). I don't care what side you drive on at home. That's the way traffic flows here.
3. Please DON'T walk four abreast.

Yes, the trails are so crowded that traffic control is desperately needed in places. So, not the most peaceful or quiet on the weekend, but it's the best you're going to get around here.

*SIAM LAH - said in loud, derisive voice, most often used by coffeeshop aunties carrying large trays of hot drinks = "get out of my way, you dodo". I draw the line at shoving though, so you're safe from that.

And tonight I'm off to Perth to write read chill out cook eat good food drink coffee and finally run a marathon. Wish me luck...

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Slow? So what?

Huh (she said incredulously). This time last year, 4:10 was a difficult 800.

Last night's track session involved 5 moderate 800s. Which turned out to be 4:10, 4:07, 4:05, 3:58 (?!), 4:02. With room to chat with my friend J. (Followed, of course, by 4x400 'hard' which I promptly floundered around on: 1:47, 1:52, 2:05 - my shoulder suddenly spiked with pain, who knows why - and 1:59. Yes, my body still rebels during short intervals.)

In this -- my hardest week of marathon prep, mentally even if it physically isn't much, involving a nasty bout with self-doubt -- my body springs a lunatic surprise like this. THAT'S IT, BODY. NO MORE SURPRISES. I can't deal.

There are good track sessions, and there are absolutely lousy ones. There are good runs and terrible ones. Two steps forward, one step back.

Although last night's track was probably the effect of the present I bought myself (along with the husband's set of birthday presents - shirts that practically glow in the dark because he has the terrible habit of running home from work, at night, clad in black).
The downside is, luminous purple makes it harder to hide from your coach on the other side of the track.

Which brings us to this lovely post from The Wannabe Athlete (don't mind her moniker, she is very much a real athlete).

She wrote it as a follow-up to a hilariously nasty comment someone left on her post, 'On behalf of all the 10+ minute mile runners'. That's 6+ minutes per km.

It has honestly never crossed my mind to feel ashamed of the pace I run. Frustrated that that IS my fast, sure. But shame, no...

If you look at my race times today, you'd think, oh, she doesn't really take these races seriously. But my first marathon three years ago took me just over six hours. My first 10k took me at least an hour and ten minutes. My first 5k --  I don't even remember my first 5k, but if I did it'd probably be 'let's not even go there'. So things HAVE changed. But it has taken me a long, long time to get there. Life. You know. It happens.

So I might be one of the unlucky genetically challenged*; I may be good for nothing at all except fidgeting relentlessly. (I am an incorrigible fidgeter. Hey, I'll take whatever superpowers I can get.)

Still, there's a silver lining. My heart and lungs are almost certainly healthier than before, and I'm probably at less risk now from the chronic liver condition I was born with. My blood pressure is entirely healthy - running probably saves me from the stresses of work life. And exercise seems to help maintain cognitive function - at least, it does in this study of masters athletes. I like to think it makes me younger (totally why people still mistake me for an intern, right?) No reason to stop now just because I'm not getting a whole lot faster.

All that is why I never ever, ever judge anyone for their speed or their finishing time in a race. How do you know for sure whether someone has put in the work and is giving it their all, or is on a run/walk plan, or is undertrained because they don't respect the distance? Everyone's got to start somewhere. And honestly, you never know how far each person has already come.

*A note for science nerds. Science nerds who may or may not have read The Sports Gene. I'm looking at you Jeano.

How much difference is there between different ethnic populations? If different populations have longer, thinner legs  or more fast-twitch muscle fibres written into their genetic code, would it be implausible that different ethnic populations have different levels of trainability on average at the population level? Are these things that vary more WITHIN populations than BETWEEN them?

In other news, after this marathon, it'll be time to evict the spiders and their cobwebs from my bike and dust off my goggles. I've signed up for the sprint Cold Storage Singapore International Triathlon at the end of September and would rather not be the resident Metasport embarrassment.

Here's a discount code - TRITSIT1309 - in case any of you want to try a thlon. That gets you 20% off race entry (have not done this one yet, cannot attest to quality of organising). Found on the web via Trititude.

And here's a picture from my favourite run last week, more to motivate myself than anything else.

Monday, August 12, 2013

Is this not enough?

I'm still cranky because my long run yesterday was completely rained out, on the only day this weekend I could've done a long run. (While the rest of Singapore had a long weekend, many of us media folks were in the newsroom; while we do get days off in lieu, I don't get a break till this coming Saturday. Saturday cannot come soon enough.)

I woke up at 5am and spent three hours in running clothes, waiting for the rain to stop; when it completely failed I hopped on a bus to do two Zumba classes in a row. Which, thanks to long-run endurance, doesn't feel like any sort of workout these days. (Why Zumba? Why NOT Zumba? Hey, I'm coordinated when no racquets/ sticks/ balls are involved - why waste it?)

This week I'm on the night shift, which simply means that I wake up and start working from home at the usual time, then go into the office at 2 and am physically there on call till 11pm. (No, that's not what it's supposed to mean.)

I've had it, mentally and emotionally. Not even the marathon training plan will get me through this one (been having doubts about that too - I've been running for so many years and I'm still slow, so why will this time be any different?).  I've run right out of motivation. I've just about had enough. 

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Trail weekend

This week I'm on STRICT orders again to dial it back due to a janky knee (feels like the medial meniscus if anyone's asking - yes I've been icing and now I am finally in possession of a foam roller.) When your knee starts making alarming clicky noises - LISTEN TO YOUR COACH. Oh, and bargain with the running gods to get you to the start line healthy, I guess.

So what's a girl to do? Hit the trails, of course.

On Saturday I took my friend Lin out for her first-ever Macritchie trail loop.

At the end - should be 'You are leaving a nature reserve'. Photo courtesy of Lin. Or should I say Linstagram.

Of course I didn't know it was her first time there until about ten minutes into the run, to which she added, to my horror, 'Oh, I haven't run in a couple of weeks.' (My immediate reaction: 'Oh no, I've killed her!')

(*Later edit, to assuage concerns - I did not, in fact, kill Lin, and there was no whining from either one of us. Just to be totally clear...if I invite you to run, it's not really a serious run for me. I'm expecting a social run at a pace that both/ all of us can handle comfortably, and no one gets left behind. Well, unless it's me, anyway. I'm constantly getting left behind.)

So we took it easy, power-walking all the hills (this works even better than running on steep slopes) and saw what was either a rooster or a red junglefowl - could've been either - near the ranger station. The weather was absolutely brilliant for running, and a wonderful time was had by all.

On Sunday (today) Mr GCA and I went out to the Green Corridor. We basically live right atop it. I try not to run it alone except on weekends though - it's quiet enough as it is and because there aren't a whole lot of entry and exit points, there isn't anywhere else to run should anything happen.

But you have to admit it's gorgeous. Particularly at 7am. 

Today we went a little beyond the Bukit Timah train station, end point of the Green Corridor Run, and turned around after half an hour. Rain has collected in the ditches along the sides of the former railway line and they're pretty full of water now - the perfect environment for white-breasted waterhens (we saw two - good grief, they're getting to be like weka) and I heard a rustle and splash that could've been a monitor lizard. Or a stealth kaiju that was going to pounce from behind and gobble me. You know. Not nervewracking at all.

When we got to our neighbourhood, husband went home, and I continued down the road to Kent Ridge Park, which has these delightful views reclamation and oil refineries at Pulau Bukom off the southern coast. Right.

I promised myself today's easy run would be exactly as fast and as far as I wanted - getting into the flow is after all the point of an easy run, isn't it? Holding back the pace or pushing hard takes too much mental energy. The whole point of an easy run is that it should feel easy - mentally as well as physically. An ample supply of easy runs - that's how you run forever and love running forever.

Neither holding back nor pushing hard was a problem for me today, so I made it 14km to HortPark and headed home. The knee didn't complain. And some bad news in my work email was immediately offset by the coffee cheesecake the husband just took out of the oven...

This week's workouts:
Monday - 10km
Tuesday - speedwork (about 6km - apparently I am not getting slower, just been running in place for the past year.)
Wednesday, Thursday - insane workdays, cranky knee; off
Friday - 5km
Saturday - 10.6km, one loop at Macritchie, felt terrific
Sunday - 13.9km, up and down the Green Corridor and then up to Kent Ridge Park - those hills hurt, but in a good way.
Total: 45.5km with coffee cheesecake

PS: I really, really want to read and review David Epstein's 'The Sports Gene' (Amby Burfoot review here). Can't call myself Genetically Challenged Athlete without at least some discussion of genetics.