Sunday, August 24, 2014

Things I've learned about myself on the run

This year marks the 6th year, pretty much, that I've run with any degree of seriousness. It's true, I've always run. It's been my touchstone, my stress relief, my therapy, my universal balm. But after university when I started work, I had to actively learn how to make time to run (answer: early in the morning, which is the only time I can be certain there is nothing else on my plate). I signed up for the first road race of my adult life and never looked back. I had to choose running, and I chose to run. 

So what have I learned about myself since then? 

- I spent much of my childhood right through university being inside, in dance studios or in sports halls (I also used to play table-tennis and am still absolutely appalling at it). So I'm making up for lost time and always want to play outside instead. That's why I signed up for the outdoor activities club in high school and got to go climb mountains and shit (in the woods...literally...). 

- Doing active things indoors* bores me to the extent that I have to take a class that forces me to lift weights, in order to lift weights. I have to take a spin class that forces me to do hard bike intervals, in order to do hard bike intervals. In order to make myself stretch? Yoga class, bring it on. Some people scoff at Bodypump; to which I say that any lifting (with good form, that goes without saying) is better than zero lifting. Also, I have to be threatened with pain (quad cramps in a marathon), injury, or severe bodily harm (aka my PT would like to smack me) to do my hip and glute strength exercises. There is a certain buzz I get from long endurance cardio things that you just can't replicate. 

* There are some exceptions: like dance classes. 

- What happens when I don't run for five days in a row? EXTREME CRANKINESS. My ankle hasn't been 100% happy with me lately (some sort of mystery tendon? muscle? ligament? issue that produces sharp, shooting pains on the inside of the ankle above the malleolus) so I'm resting it. That means no running, and all of the swimming and cycling I want. Still...extreme crankiness. Guess I'm only a fake triathlete. 
- Speaking of long endurance cardio things. We all know that I can go and go and go at a moderate pace for ages. The other day I quite happily did 50x50m in the pool with a pull buoy (see: grumpy ankle). 
But going fast when it hurts? That's another question altogether. 
So between September 7 and the Great Eastern half on November 9, we're going to play a little game. We're going to make it hurt. 
I dug up this 'run a half in under 2 hours' plan
Check out the first and last weeks of that plan. 15x400 is the hallmark of a Coach Shem training plan, I thought. Lo and behold, it's one of his. 
Anyway, whether it works or not, I'm going to learn to hurt. 
And I'll probably enjoy it. 

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Relentless forward progress

Nothing to see here - just working through some issues. I think best when I type, so this is just going to be me thinking out loud. Writing is my therapy; if all else fails I can just go for a run! 

Picking up from where we left off last week... it's pouring again (thanks, brick Tuesdays) AND I slept clean through my alarm, so here we are instead of playing outside. 

Last night I hit a new milestone. On a day when absolutely nothing went right, my crowning accomplishment was...falling off my bike trainer! I know, I'm a genius. 

How does one fall off a bike trainer, you ask. ('Did you hit a stationary vehicle?' my friend asked...har har.)  I hadn't checked the setup in a while, and the back spoke worked itself loose five minutes after I started riding and the whole thing slid sideways. Fortunately my couch is next to the trainer and I simply slid off onto the couch. I didn't know whether to laugh or to cry. 

I was very tempted to just stay on the couch in a heap, but eventually I scraped myself up and rode for another 50 minutes. (Pro-tip: stick veggies in pan. Put pan in oven. Leave to roast for duration of bike ride. Bike ride done = dinner done. Ta-da! 'Why don't we cook dinner like this more often?' my husband said. 'It's so painless.')  

Input != output 

If not for the swim training, I'd be quitting my tri training group now. Yesterday one of the coaches posted a message congratulating everyone from the group who podiumed at this weekend's Singapore Triathlon events. Everyone else who raced...roundly ignored.  What's sad is that a lot of the mid/back-of-the-pack age-groupers who commented ('Yay!' 'I'm inspired!') are the ones who are most enthusiastic, who work just as hard, who put in just as much time and effort. (Not me - I haven't, in all honesty, been training that hard.) I'd like to think that the equation is hard work in, outcomes out. But life is also not a level playing field and some of us start with our ankles tied together. And we need people to believe in us, too. I'd like to find a training group that believes in us. 

I think part of the frustration is the nagging feeling that I've stalled out, progress-wise. This irrational feeling makes absolutely no sense considering that this is only my 4th triathlon and first OD. But I suppose I'm comparing it with running, where my optimism is directly proportional to the potential progress I *feel* like I can make. With local running the field is enormous and over the past few years I've drifted up through the field, which is a satisfying gauge of some sort of progress. Also, I've been thoroughly spoilt by the massive progress (outcome-wise) I saw shortly after picking up interval training, and have to remind's not every day you get to PR in a marathon by over an hour!

If I'm going to be honest with myself? I haven't been training that hard. I swim a paltry distance twice a week, cycle a couple of times a week, and cannot live without my long run. 

BUT. The sprint triathlons of the past couple of years were done on basically no cycling (for the last one, I literally cycled ONCE before the tri.) No cycling for those versus cycling two to three times a week for this one? I'm comparing me now to me then and I expect results. And I think somewhere deep down I'm scared of putting in the training and then not producing any results. (Editor's note: aha, now we are getting to the root of the matter.)

Hard work in, outcomes out, ankles tied together? 

But it's just stupid to be running scared, or pissed off because no one (even you) believes in you - it makes no one happy, least of all yourself. I don't know what the solution is but I feel better already after writing all this down.  

Things I'm irrationally scared of
Coming in dead last in my AG 
Coming in dead last in my AG despite actually having cycled this time 

Things I ought to remember
New distance = automatic PR!
With triathlons, just like with marathons, I'm playing a long game and every season is just more data. 
In the grand scheme of things none of this matters to the state of the universe. 

tl;dr - training environment doesn't help with self-doubt issues; need to learn to believe in self. how?

Friday, August 15, 2014

Look where you go and go where you look

Tuesday morning, as usual, I ran to the gym for a spin class (the tri training plan has brick workouts on Tuesdays), ran a bit on the treadmill after class, and then as I was running home, the skies opened up and it rained on me sideways. 

As I was miserably sloshing through puddles, wondering whether to take my phone out of its pocket on my waterbottle handheld and put it in a ziploc, I had one of those Moments. 

The Moment went something like this: what the heck am I doing all this FOR? Why am I waking up at 5.45am to do lengthy cardio things to myself, why am I doing my 95th clamshell or leg lift of the day, when I'm obviously not a professional athlete, when I'm never going to make it to the Olympics unless they start a new category for competitive napping? When I'm the least competitive person I know, can talk myself out of pushing hard in a mere 10k, and will most likely never see the right side of a podium?  

This is the sort of Moment that's lasted half a week now. The question nagging at me is not 'why do I run?' but 'why do I work THIS hard to race?' 'Why do I run' is easy. I like being outdoors, I like fresh air, I like the feeling of running. It's like dancing - because it feels good and because it looks beautiful and because adrenaline and endorphins and serotonin and you're having fun while you're at it.  

But racing is different. There's a clear-cut winner, a hierarchy of participants. Someone has to be first. Someone has to be last. I know where I want to be (BQ? really race a tri for once, and place?) and also that I am very, very far off. Why do I work (talentless) this (clumsy) hard (genetically challenged) at something that will give me zero external validation? Give me a few days to think about it and I'm sure my rational brain will come up with a justification. Right now my lizard brain just wants to go back into hibernation. 

Why do you

I had to listen to this talk by triathlete Hillary Biscay to get my head back into the right place.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014


Gosh, you mean it's been ten days since my last post? I seem to have fallen down a rabbit hole. Triathlon is in and of itself a deep enough rabbit hole (an expensive one too, and I need to eat!). Said rabbit hole (are we sure it isn't a black hole? Is this post finding its way out?) also contains a veritable mountain of work, entertaining, etc. Now where is my bunny rabbit? 

Speaking of holes, several giant holes have opened up in the ground in Siberia. Possibly due to permafrost melting up, warming, and releasing the gas stored in them - poof!

Other things in my life have developed holes.

Case in point:

I wore my work shoes to death. Those poor shoes. They've been through monsoon storms, around construction sites and charcoal-dusty recycling plants, down muddy trails... and here I was wondering why the sole was peeling off.

My Kinvaras also recently developed holes in the same places, which, come to think of it, probably means it's time to rethink my swim strategy of having toenails so sharp they can fend off sharks and sprint-tri participants trying to swim over me. Also, any excuse to buy new shoes.

Tri training is...well, it's going. I have a plan and I'm actually vaguely sticking to it this time.

This past weekend I ran the Tri-Factor half marathon as a training run, felt awesome the whole way, took it VERY easy, and emerged at the other end with probably my slowest timed half marathon in years (2:23:06). It was GREAT.

And quite pretty. And surprisingly, for a path along a waterway, not as flat as you might expect.
From this angle you can't see my approximately 500 new friends who also took part in the half marathon. 
It was also very humid. Not pictured: the soggy butt-prints I left while sitting along the path waiting for my friend Lin to come in.

Tri-Factor is very low-key, but does a lot of things right:
- full, searchable lists of results
- starts mostly on time
- very small competitor field (500 half marathoners)
- plenty of water points along the way and plenty of water at the end
- electrolyte freeze pops for purchase at the end this year (!)
- the cutest kids' 1K race on the face of this earth

Which all bodes well for the tri! Don't fail me now...

Speaking of humid, the other day it was raining, but thank goodness for RPM classes or else rainy day brick training would basically never get done. As soon as I wrote that last sentence I heard my coach's voice in my head (an obvious symptom of trizophrenia*): "And if it rains on race day then what? No need to race?"

* - Trizophrenia: The mental condition that spurs a person to sign up for three sports on the same day. As though there are three of you around to do 'em.

I felt Holly's comment about food-shaming on my last post was so much YES that it deserved space up front and centre here all by itself:
Have we really never discussed this food thing? The fact that one I ADORE eating in Singapore, with Singaporeans: It is absolutely and completely expected that I jump in the moment the food hits the table, that I take as much as I want, and that if I'm fast enough to grab the last bite of a tasty dish, I darn well better take the chance and thank the lucky stars for my fast reflexes. [Elder deference at family dinners aside.] Singaporeans, in general, of both genders, positively adore food and don't feel ashamed about that. They will order extra dishes, eat more, and encourage each other to do the same. It's AMAZING.
In the US, among many groups, there's still this female habit of not eating first, not seeming too eager, and DEFINITELY not taking the last bite (in fact, people will let the server clear a tray of even the most delicious dish with one final bit on because no one wants to appear too greedy and take the last bit). Women are more likely to eat salads, nibble around the edges, and steal a french fry here and there. And if you eat a big meal, it's because you had a small breakfast/did a huge workout/won't get dinner until late - and people (women, usually) make that fact clear to their companions when ordering. They will eat, while bemoaning how damaging what they are eating is for their figure/diet. Women feel pressured/expected not to eat too much (usually from each other, but possibly also from men - there is actual discussion over what is/isn't an appropriate amount/item to eat when going out on dates), and too much zeal for eating is "unladylike".
Of course, this isn't the case in every group - and the degree/level varies. But even as someone with almost no food "issues", I have felt the unspoken (and spoken) pressures in the US. And I really, REALLY hope I can carry the devil-may-care attitude I've been able to freely cultivate in Singapore when I'm back in the US. In short, the Singaporean love for/appreciation of food is incredibly refreshing, and I absolutely LOVE to eat with locals. /end rant

When I lived in the US I was largely blind to those pressures - either I was a naive, hungry* little college student and those rules don't totally apply when you are just looking for your next event with free pizza; or I did most of my own cooking anyway; or I really am just oblivious.

* - What? Some things don't change.