Thursday, September 25, 2014


Ankle rehab is dead boring. But necessary. Here's the set of exercises I've been using. 

So instead of running, I've been doing a lot of swimming. 

Luckily, Singapore has fantastic public pools. I realise I'm totally spoilt by the abundance of pools, the cost, the size... $1 on a weekday and $1.30 on a weekend gets you unlimited time in an Olympic-distance, lane-marked, 50m pool with sections marked off for lap swim. Most public pools are open 8am-9pm, with some open at 6am for the folks who want to get a workout in earlier. 

And this fabulous new aquatic centre just opened. (It has a competition pool too, but that's often closed to the public because of, well, competitions.) This is the training pool - $2 gets you in. Best of all? Warm water in the showers. Can you tell swimming is huge in Singapore?   

Photo from Sport Singapore. 

(By the way: Local hometown swimming hero Joseph Schooling also just won a gold and set a games record in the 100m butterfly at the Asian Games. Well done!! Can you believe the kid is just 19?) 
Photo via Jose Raymond. OMG to be his parents and watch all of those races. I would be having constant heart attacks. 

The chain of gyms that I go to has some pools here and there but they are clearly not made for people who actually, you know, swim. For instance, odd distances: one is 25m long so I feel like the aquatic equivalent of a hamster on a wheel (yes yes, I am a spoilt brat - but I'll never take a 50m outdoor pool for granted again). One is 30m long (the distance was not marked; I had to count strokes and estimate). And the one covered pool usable in a thunderstorm is 40m (I ask you: in what tropical country do you require a heated pool?)  

What about pool running, you ask? That just requires more gear, and as someone who has to move continents in a few months, more Stuff is the exact opposite of what I want right now! 

Some waterlogged thoughts: 
- I constantly forget what lap I'm on. Need a better system than my memory or moving my water bottle from one tile to another. (I often count down from 50, for instance.) 
- Most people in the lap-swim lane are pretty good about not swimming in the middle of the lane. 
- Not everyone fully understands the concept of circle swim, which on busy Saturday mornings is CRUCIAL.

As the ankle gets stronger I've been tooling around the neighbourhood or on the treadmill at a super easy pace for 25 or 30 minutes at a time. No pain but I can't say everything feels totally *stable* yet. Like if I put a foot wrong the ankle will just go over again. Time for a dose of patience. 

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Three left feet

True confession: I was a clumsy, clumsy kid.

Once upon a time, when I was about three years old, I waddled up to a coffee-table and yanked on the tablecloth. Unfortunately, sitting on top of that tablecloth was a full pot of hot tea. I still have the burn scar...

When I was 15 we went on a school trip to East Malaysia. It was a geography trip, so there was plenty of hiking through tropical rainforests chock-full of lethal things like rattan:

Yes, those are spines. No, you don't want to walk into them face-first. Image courtesy of

...and speedboat rides across lakes, et.c. And my one injury from that trip? We were sitting down in a nice, air-conditioned, carpeted theatre for a cultural performance. At the end I stood up, tripped over my own shoelaces, and scraped my knee raw on the carpet.

And I bet I'm the only person to have sprained my ankle on a backyard trampoline by landing wrong...that one did my prima donna ballet career in. (Joke.)

Every now and then you think you've managed to outgrow the clumsiness, but life smacks you right in the face.

Yesterday afternoon, after running some errands (the only thing I've run since Sunday, sigh), I slid down some steps, landed wrong, twisted my ankle spectacularly, and fell flat on my face. (Go big or go home.) Luckily or unluckily I was outside a restaurant, and the manager saw this, came out and gave me some water and a bag of ice.

So now my ankle is still massively sore and feels awfully weak. I have a feeling I'll be doing rehab instead of the aquathlon. The one that's 1.5 weeks from now and requires a 1.5km swim followed by a 10K. Under normal circumstances neither of these would be a problem, but I haven't run anything longer than 10K since the triathlon and am feeling exhausted and sluggish.

Fortunately, as SF Road Warrior puts it, a little break from running is survivable with books and wine. I don't drink for medical reasons (that liver disorder I was born with) but you bet I can read, and I can eat all the things.

Reading the first of my library books kind of put me off eating all the things, though.
- Salt Sugar Fat - Michael Moss: The American processed-food industry deliberately adds - and has added more and more - salt, sugar, and fat to processed food over the years. You could condemn them for knowingly using addictive, dependency-promoting substances. But the industry itself has been so precisely engineered to rely on these ingredients to provide the shelf life, stability, texture and taste customers want. So who's manipulating whom? Either way, this book will make you aware of what goes into processed food.  

- Snow Crash - Neal Stephenson: I'm cheating; this is a reread of a childhood favourite. I can't believe it's 22 years old. One of the first cyberpunk novels, about a new plague that's linguistic - or is it biological? Or is it binary code? The ideas in it are better than William Gibson's.

- Dead To Me - Anton Strout: Simon Canderous is psychometric, which doesn't mean that he's really good at psychological measurements, but that he can 'read' an object's history by handling it. Oh, and he's trying to figure out why this cute ghost he met doesn't seem to realise she's dead. This one is a fast, fluffy, forgettable read (this is how I've finished three of my library books since Saturday).

- This slightly wacky but backed-by-science post by the author of The Talent Code, on becoming an adult prodigy: the trick is to learn like a kid, conscious, daily, high-quality, intensive practice.

I finally finished 1Q84 by Haruki Murakami, just in time for his next book to come out. Part of the reason I took so long is the pace of the darn thing just got slower and slower until by the end it was like reading through molasses.

Other things that are on my burgeoning list - if I can't find them I shall have to resort to actually buying the e-books, it's not like my shelves have that much more available space:

- The Magician's Land - Lev Grossman: This is the third book in the oddly compelling Magicians trilogy, which tracks Quentin Coldwater and his friends through their exercise of magic, their stint at Brakebills Preparatory College of Magic, and down some much darker roads, in a series about coming of age, quarter-life crises and facing life head-on.

- How We Learn - Benedict Carey: New York Times science writer Carey explores the how (and when and where and why) we learn.

Monday, September 8, 2014

Tri-Factor Triathlon: a race report

The long and short of it 
Final result: 3:12:19 (22/42 women in the open category, 23/46) - not pi (3.14) as I was hoping (I saw the race clock at 3:44 coming into the finish and was crossing my fingers for a good nerdy number), but much better than my target time of 3:30 for a first standard-distance tri, and faster than nearly a third of the men who finished - I'll take it! 

44:05 swim (1500m)
3:21 T1
1:19:31 bike (36km)
1:43 T2 
1:03:41 run (10km)

There is no 'after' shot, for good reason. 

The scenic route
Pre-race: Painted my nails blue the night before. Had pasta for dinner. All of those little pre-race rituals that I'm so used to by now. And of course, I slept terribly. 

There was a little drama at 5.45am when I thought I'd have to go pick my friend up because her husband hadn't come back from watching tennis. And then again at 6.05am when I had a contact lens malfunction. Fun times. 
Blue nails are my war paint.
At 7 I got to the race site and got everything set up, did a swim warmup, peed in the ocean (hey, fish do it)... and then waited for the race to start. 

Swim (44:05): The swim was two laps long. Alas, it took me 1.5 laps to get into any sort of rhythm. To be fair, the midsections of those laps involved fairly big waves and a strong current that felt like two strokes forward, one stroke back. Somewhere along the line, someone kicked me in the head and my goggles came partway off (thanks for the concussion, mate). 

But when I finally remembered how to swim properly I overtook a bunch of guys. I was fairly dizzy coming out of the water into T1 and the sand had also been chewed up by 5 previous waves of men so the run-in was a bit slow...

Bike(1:19:31): The bike course was 6 laps of twists, turns, and small hills amounting to 36km -- not a fast course at all. The bike was fairly uneventful...thank goodness! I overtook some people and was overtaken by many people, but none of those were women doing the standard distance - and now I know why, there were only 46 of us.

The bike and I don't have such a great relationship, and I am now sore - maybe I just need a proper bike fitting? I am very proud that I managed to eat some shot blocks and actually drink on the bike (pick up water bottle, drink, look down, wobble, replace bottle) without falling off. Go me.

On all of those turns I kept in mind Hillary Biscay's very good practical advice: look where you go, and you'll go where you look. I also had a hamstring cramp coming off the bike. Interesting. (How do I know it's a cramp and not bum bruising? When I sat on the foam roller there was relief instead of yelping.) 

Run(1:03:41): Oh run. Where do I start. I was not tremendously proud of my performance at all. I can push on a 5K but have the magical ability to talk myself out of pushing uncomfortably hard on a 10K, let alone a 10K off the bike, and I'm really only satisfied with the ones I really PUSH myself on. Remember - I can go and go and go for ever but not being able to breathe isn't really my thing. 

The run was two laps of a (hot!) 5K course; I rolled into transition and snagged my sunglasses and previously-frozen water bottle (I'd stuck it in the freezer the night before and retrieved it in the morning; by the time the run leg rolled around it was the perfect temperature for drinking or dousing oneself with). Then I looked around for the 'run out' exit and set off. This is where I first spotted my husband, who'd done 30km from home on a training run for the North Face ultra (!!) - which was a nice boost. Our friend Rachel was doing the run leg of the relay, and he said she was just a short way ahead of me. Short distance, pah! She was perhaps 300m in front of me and it took me a full 5km to catch up to her. 

I just kept plodding on, knowing I had 10km to cover, and somehow still kept overtaking people. I didn't have my Garmin on so had no way of knowing what my exact pace was. I have a pretty good feel for pace normally, but running off the bike feels completely different from just plain old running. I was still breathing and I could definitely still talk, so what was my excuse? I just didn't feel like pushing it. Which is a lousy excuse for anything if you ask me. 

There were at least three water stations on the run leg, which is pretty great for a 5k loop, so I would drink from my handheld and douse myself in their little cups of cold water.  Coming around the curve on the second lap, I spotted a fellow tri-nerd friend who was there cheering his teammates on, and he ran with me for most of the second lap till the turn-off into the finish chute - thanks for the encouragement! 

One small sticking-point: the run leg volunteers were so dumb, they told my poor husband the run leg was 3 loops. He figured it out when he got to the far end and discovered the turnaround point was at 2.5km, but by that time he'd missed me coming into the finish. 

End point: Electrolyte freezepops for sale. Unlimited, ice-cold electrolyte drink at the finish. Well done Trifactor.

I hadn't measured anything (time or distance) and had to estimate my time by the race clock, my estimated start time, and the time stamp on the text message I sent my husband ("hey I'm done and in transition!") after I'd been wandering around for a few minutes. Type A, I am not. This morning they put up the official results so that's what I've got. 

And now I have all the chafes. A heel chafe from my ankle strap; a boob chafe from a bra that doesn't chafe the other 364 days of the year; and let's just say that if I happen to do another tri I WILL be getting those nice seam-free tri shorts I've been drooling over. 

For fellow triathletes and tryathletes - here's my full tri checklist, in order of item usage:
Pre-race Larabar 
Tri kit: top, sports bra (Moving Comfort Alexis fans, unite), tri-shorts
Swim goggles
Swim cap
Wrist tag 
Ankle strap with timing chip 
2 towels - one for transition, one to sit on in the car home
Bib on belt, to be put on in T1
Helmet, to be put on in T1
Socks and running shoes, to be put on in T1 (yeah I don't clip in; one of these days I'll learn to do that but I felt trying a totally new distance was scary enough. One new scary thing at a time!) 
Water bottle on bike 
Shot blocks for during the bike leg
Sunglasses (didn't need them in T1, put them on in T2 so I could look cool on the run and have the sun out of my eyes)
Pre-frozen water bottle in handheld 

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Obligatory pre-tri check-in

So, the last couple of weeks have been immensely hectic. I left my newsroom job at the end of last week, but am still working for a number of outlets - I'm now a full-time independent journalist and am juggling several work projects at one go. (I've always thought freelancing is a very important survival skill. Especially when one is about to move continents without a specific date or job lined up.)

It's now three days out from my first OD tri. I don't count chickens before they hatch so ask me again in three days what I thought of it!

Some things that have kept me entertained this week:

1. I went to a green-building conference, partly because I am a nerd and partly because I was covering it for work, but anyway the point of this was to say I now get off work at a time when I can still see the sun set.

Overlooking Marina Bay. I took a walk across the bridge to meet a friend for dinner. (Meeting friends for dinner on a worknight! Another thing I can now do!)

2. These ads for SkinnyMint tea have been popping up in my Facebook a lot lately and I can't figure out why. I guess that means Facebook doesn't know me as well as it thinks. Or, it's doing this purely for my entertainment.

Here is one gem.

Her feet! Her arms! Her poor neck! That isn't a yoga pose! Jeez, this stuff needs to stop before they hurt somebody.

Also, never mind the complete pseudoscience of a 'detox' (nb. that is what kidneys are for, you should try using them sometime, it's great) --  I understand, via a friend, that this stuff has a laxative effect. I'm a runner. I don't want farts I can't trust.

Why do people keep getting correlation mixed up with causation? Changing your weight does not lead to good health; heck, your weight is not always even a reliable symptom of good health. Your weight, however, may change while your body is in the process of becoming healthy. Weight gain, or weight loss, is a side effect of the underlying changes you are making - eating less processed food, taking up new gym classes, entering road races, etc - to get healthy. (I gained a little weight during marathon training because I was also strength training a little bit. Which, fine by me.) Weight loss by pooping? Will definitely not make you any healthier than you were before. Unless you used to be constipated.

Here, read this one instead.
To everyone who's told women they 'shouldn't get too muscular'

3. In my email inbox this week: the Great Eastern Women's Run has an all-female pacer team!

See, Shape, it's not that hard to find women willing to pace, you just have to ask them. It is not 'more entertaining' for women to be trailing along after male pacers. It is inspiring for us to see other women where we want to be, and maybe talk to them about how they got there.

Just another example of Great Eastern apparently reading my mind. Or my blog. Whichever. You are my heroes and I'm looking forward to this half.

4. As a sort of Florence hangover, I've been reading this book by popular historian Christopher Hibbert, on the House of the Medici. I'm not even normally a big history buff, but this book is written like a popular thriller.

The next few weeks are going to be packed race-wise: this weekend is the tri; next weekend is the Yellow Ribbon Prison Run which I swore up and down last year I'd be on time for this year (doing it as a fun run, I swear); the following weekend I'm volunteering at another ultra; and there's an aquathlon (swim 1500m, run 10k) in the last week of September. Why does all the fun stuff have to happen this month?