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.

(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 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.