Monday, March 31, 2014

Take two

I swear I went to Paris. In order: UNESCO in Paris at night, the view from the Eiffel Tower, the Pont Royal bridge, wandering around the Tuileries Gardens, and surreptitious snapshots in the Louvre. Not pictured : some great meals. 

Saturday, March 22, 2014

'Target muscular calves'...

Ah, Paris in the springtime! Except - I was there for work last week, and cold, and tired, and juggling other work, and feeling somewhat jetlagged (think waking up hungry at 2am).

Still, I managed to sneak out and get some runs in along the Seine and through the Tuileries Gardens. (DC Rainmaker, who actually lives in Paris, has some good resources on where to run/bike/swim in the city.) It turns out the footpaths directly along the river do not extend all the way along both sides, so I kept having to get out onto the main roads and cross bridges and dodge traffic and run along the islands in the middle of the Seine, like a human pinball game, with little elevation changes and flights of steps here and there. The weather was kind of cool and gray so my only good photos are surreptitiously-snapped pictures of museum exhibits. Hello, Venus de Milo!

I also managed to make it to the Louis Vuitton store on the Champs-Elysees. (I was accompanying a friend who had a shopping list of corporate gifts and orders from friends back home.) Specifically, to the restroom of the Louis Vuitton store on the Champs-Elysees.

(Some context: there are a lot of Singaporeans and other folks who love to buy and brandish their designer goods, but for me it's more fascinating in an absurdist, anthropological sort of way. Did you know that when Harvard Business School researchers asked shop assistants and pedestrians to rate people entering a luxury-goods store, the women in the street thought the sharply-dressed shopper was more likely to buy something, but the shop assistants - speaking from experience - thought the gym-clothes-wearing shopper was? The idea being that the latter was confident enough in her appearance, and more likely to be a celebrity making a purchase. WSJ article here. I was not exactly wearing designer clothes, but according to Occam's razor what that should really indicate is I do not have a designer budget.)

Anyway, what I'm trying to brag about is that I managed to...use the ladies' restroom in the basement of the Louis Vuitton store. It is a totally ordinary lavatory. I may be the only Singaporean on earth to visit Louis Vuitton merely to pee.

Otherwise, this week has not been so great for me running-wise. Last week it was a little hazy, and when I tried to do my long run outdoors my chest started feeling tight. Same deal again today even though the skies were clear, so it wasn't the air quality. I have some very mild exercise-induced asthma - not officially diagnosed or drug-treated but I know what bronchospasms feel like when I have them - but it usually shows up only when I do track sprints and goes away once I sit down for a bit. It's never made its presence felt at the beginning of a slow long run. Bizarre and uncomfortable. I finished my run indoors on the treadmill and was totally fine. What gives?

In separate news, this is the single best thing I have seen on the internet all day.

This is another pretty spectacular thing from The Atlantic: The Overprotected Kid (caveat, refers to middle-class, mostly Western kids. The problem we have here in Singapore is a total lack of unmanaged play space. Or unmanaged space in general. Mm, and coddling.)

Right before I left for Paris, somehow or other this came up on Facebook:

Here's the blurb:

"Target on Muscular Calves
Say NO to pant and show your slender calves in this year, use 2B For Leg to slim up your calves! Made for muscular and edema calves!
Highly recommended by famous beauty blogger Kelly for the effect!
Special Offer in Chinese New Year!
$34 per box, exclusive in Guardian"
I still don't know what irks me most about this ad: the message that muscular calves are not attractive, the grammar, or the fact that the makers really believe it works to slim down muscular calves...
(For the record you cannot get rid of your muscles, sorry. You can get rid of puffiness and fluid build-up by elevating your legs, exercising, or putting on some compression socks. But edema can also be a symptom of something going really wrong - like kidney failure or heart failure. Okay? GET A DIAGNOSIS.)

My response to this was: 'My calves are sad you don't like them. These calves carried me through a full marathon last year, and can run 5km in under 25 minutes. I think I'll keep them, thanks!'

Sunday, March 9, 2014

A very productive weekend

Race report: Venus Run 

There aren't a lot of races in Singapore that are just a 5K. Normally, a 5K is the neglected smaller sibling of some big event like a 10K or a half marathon. Or if you're a sprint triathlete, 5K is your cooldown. So I always leap at the chance to take part in an event that's SOLELY a 5K, because when it's well-organised, a 5K race really has a chance to shine.

The all-women's Venus Run is held to mark International Women's Day. It was held on Saturday for the third time (see last year's race report when I did it for the first time), and at Marina Barrage again. The route was changed up slightly - last year's race ended with a very painful climb to the Barrage rooftop, while this year's painful climb was in the middle!

route goes up that wide arm of the spiral, and down the other side
It's organised by the Singapore Athletic Association, and sponsored by compression-gear company X-Bionic, which gave us a really spiffy-looking and probably highly-engineered...but potentially somewhat hot...shirt.  I'm glad the shirt now says 'Diamonds aren't my best friends...Running is'.  I quite like the shirt, even with all the logos, and it will probably stand me in good stead the next time I go cross-country skiing...

So, only 5k? Let me tell you, there is nothing 'only' about racing a 5K. I'm not a speedster at all, and I've painfully clawed my way to every PR minute by minute. I'll take 800s over sprints at track any time. And I'm still a chicken; I don't push myself till I totally blow up. So...why did I sign up for this? I had a good time last year. And I wanted to find out if those track workouts have had any effect.

I walked to the event site from Bayfront MRT. It's about 1.5-2km, and I know all the shortcuts because I've run this dozens of times, but a small investment in shuttle buses from Marina Bay MRT would be really nice. One photographer stationed near the Flower Dome gave me a thumbs-up and I gave him a grin.

I didn't take advantage of this, but I noticed folks with cold drinks and ice cream? fro-yo? before the start. Extra bonus points! I once had a delayed tri wave start at 9am and almost died of dehydration because there was no access to fluids beforehand.

After bag drop (2 minutes), I excuse-me'd my way to a few rows behind the start line, shoulder to sweaty shoulder with loads of other runners. Apparently some 4,400 runners took part. And here I thought it was a smallish race. Normally I'm a prerace Oscar the Grouch, but I was in a good mood, and all the enthusiasm was infectious, even if I was too tightly packed in to do the Zumba warmup. Clearly the organisers were sprinkling pixie dust on the whole thing.

The gun went off and we flooded out; I immediately got stuck behind a couple of people, passed them, traded places with a few others, and then suddenly I'd run the first km in 4:26 (there's that starting-too-fast problem again). The next km flew by, as did a turnaround. Past the first (only) drink station of the race, and then we were heading up to the rooftop of Marina Barrage.

Afterwards, I did hear a couple of complaints that the only water point was at 3++ km on a very hot day. I don't even think to drink during a 5K, but for new runners this could be a bit of an issue. (Something for race organisers in general: Keep in mind that a race experience can be very, very different for the podium finishers and the 1 per cent, vs the 99 per cent; organisers should try their best to ensure that everyone, right down to the last person, has a good experience. Also keep in mind that the 99 per cent pay 99 per cent or more of your race entry fees.)

Going up the Marina Barrage Spiral of Doom.  
I saw Holly and her cheer squad here -
Holly & Zun. Best sign ever, so many people took photos with it! 
 - and before I could yell anything at them (heard someone yelling 'Go Grace', Tekko or Holly was that you?) we were heading down the other 'arm' of the spiral and across the dam itself. I'm pretty sure I began to slow down here, and was passed by a couple of women. Then another turnaround, back across the dam, and back towards the end point.

Thanks to a wonky distance marker that I now realise was *definitely* not at 4km, I thought I wasn't going to make it under 25 minutes. But as I rounded the corner I realised the time on the clock read 24:42, and charged into the finish for a total time of 24:50somethingorother...

A couple of friends with GPS watches confirmed that the race wasn't short, and so I am now the owner of a shiny new 5K PR - a PR that is almost two minutes faster than my last one (26:40 some time in the distant past). And between the heat (30 degrees C at 5pm), the headwind and the spiral of doom this was a tough, tough run. So that PR is legit, hooray! Update: chip time was 24:50 with no puking involved, I'll take that as a success. 

At the bag drop I ran into national rower Saiyidah Aisyah, and chatted with her while we waited to get our bags.
'You run as well as row?' I asked. It turns out she runs for cross-training, typically about an hour at a go. The 5K was painful, she said - 'It's like sprinting all the way!'. Now, she's in training for the Asian Games in August. (And then the Commonwealth Games, and then the Olympics, I hope. Super cool.)

Generally, the race site was well laid-out, with no inconvenient crisscrossings or snarls. The route might have involved a giant Barrage spiral climb of doom, but I'm glad it was at 3.5k this year instead of the finish line like last year (which is nice mentally, because you know that you're done as soon as you finish the climb, but not so great for race atmosphere because more people can fit on the ground than on the roof). So yeah, I'd do this again next year. Just put the distance markers in the right place.

Extra bonus points for:
- Plenty of COLD water and sports drink BEFORE and after the run
- Taking feedback about last year's shirt!
Minus points for:
- Bag drop folks being totally unable to find my bag for something like ten minutes while a queue built up behind me and I began to freak out; finally I went round behind the counter and told them 'please just help the people behind me, I'll look for it myself'. Time taken to find bag: 30 seconds.
- Not sure why, but it took the organisers a full week to put up official results and timings, and not even the full downloadable list at that.
Mega thanks to: 
- Holly for cheering
- The Running Shots team for the pix  

Let's get some shoes: the Mizuno Wave Hitogami 

On Saturday afternoon, before the Venus Run, I also popped in to TRG to get the shoes that are going to see me most of the way through this year's marathon cycle. The New Balance 1400v2 was out of stock in my size, so Wille suggested the Mizuno Wave Hitogami, because they're very similar. Both have a 9mm heel drop, a soft non-plasticky upper, and a wide toe box. The Hitogami looks like it won't have the problem I had with the NB1400 (peeling overlays) though, which is nice.  

Aren't they blindingly gorgeous? This morning I ran an easy 12k in them. Very comfortable - my feet felt at home straight away. Must save them for last few long runs and marathon. 
These guys were also in the shop while I was trying on shoes. They're doing a very, very long run through a very hot, dusty desert to raise money for animal rescue charities. That's dedication. Folks are amazing! 


My life isn't all about running though; this afternoon I made... 

Chilled cucumber-celery soup
1 large cucumber
3 stalks celery 
1 tablespoon lemon juice
A good pinch each of coriander seed powder and cumin powder, to taste 
1/2 tsp salt 
1 clove garlic
1.5 cups Greek yoghurt 
1 tbsp mayonnaise 
1 tbsp olive oil 

Put everything in a bowl and blend with hand blender or food processor. Allow soup to chill out in fridge before serving. Makes 2 large servings or 4 small ones.

I just made sugar cookies (am still wavering on whether or not to top them with caramel sauce - maybe they're sweet enough), and I'm going to make fried tofu and tuna onigiri for dinner tonight. Lucky husband. (He does the dishes. Lucky me.)  

Next up: Marathon training for Gold Coast begins this week. Also, if you're doing the Twilight Ultra challenge, I'll be volunteering, come and say hi! 

Thursday, March 6, 2014

From the department of sensible decisions

Some facts:

1. I woke up on Monday with pain - everything sore to the touch - across the top of my right foot near the outer toes. And a line of pain that follows some muscle or tendon all the way down my outer lower leg. And a tight calf and ITB. I suspect extensor tendonitis. Bizarre. Bodies are like voodoo. (Maybe it is time to invest in that gait analysis after all.)
2. The pain continued till Wednesday so I haven't run since Sunday. I type this sitting on the floor and foam-rolling while having my morning coffee. Except I don't know what portion of me to foam-roll first. I'm going to try running later today.
3. My right foot is not the foot that I semi-sprained on Sunday while running to the end point of the 2XU half marathon to meet my dad. That's my left one. I am supremely sprain-prone (despite a lifetime of desperate stability exercises). If there is a hole in the pavement, my ankles are guaranteed to find it.
4. On Sunday I had my last successful run: 13 easy km to and around the 2XU end point...and then went home and hauled my husband out of the house to run 5 tempo km with me, which hurt and was hot but went by much faster with him than without.
5. Here is a picture of me with SuperDad, who ran the 2XU half. Remember how my parents are my running role models? When I am 58 I want to still be running, too.

6. Unfortunately I am supposed to race a 5K this Saturday (don't know if that's happening, gah) and a half marathon in late April (probably still happening; I have six weeks to train for it).
7. I leave you with a picture of a Trojan Horse.

It was just sitting along the 2XU route, about 2km from the finish. At this point I was running with a friend for the last few Ks, trying to drag her to the finish line in one piece, and I just had to run across the road and take this photo. I didn't want to get too close though, just in case hordes with swords came swarming out of its belly.
I'm pretty sure it's just left over from Chinese New Year though. I hope.

Update: Thanks guys! I ran four tentative km this morning and the foot + leg were fine, if a little tight. I'm going to keep on foam rolling, icing, and stretching prophylactically, and Saturday afternoon 5K will probably be all right. Phew.

After my run, I also did a 'HardCore' class at the gym, which seemed to be a general bootcamp-style sort of fitness class that included lots of agility exercises like box jumps and burpees, and core exercises like planks. Hilariously, the warm-up consisted of running in circles around the studio for five minutes. It wasn't a terrible class - I probably need to be doing some of those things anyway -  but not my cup of tea; I don't really have patience for general fitness classes and I would like to be doing runner-specific things for runner-specific reasons.