Saturday, November 29, 2014

Race report: the Great Eastern Women's 5K

So way back when in a fit of post-marathon enthusiasm, I signed up for the Great Eastern Women's Run half marathon, hoping to train really hard towards a sub-2-hour half (finally). 

I love love LOVE this race. I've done it every year since 2008, starting with the 10K, and then doing the half marathon in 2012 when it was first offered. I turn up my nose at many all-women's races because of crappy marketing, but this one explicitly does NOT 'shrink it and pink it'. You won't find pink here, or sparkles, or stereotypes, or 'I run for chocolate' messages that just reinforce a dysfunctional relationship between exercise and food - just messages of health and strength and fun and family. You run for your own reasons and no one forces you into any little boxes about running while female. 

AND it's really solidly well-organised every year. (How well-organised? There were about a bajillion runners, but my bag drop and pre-race porta-potty stop took me a grand total of five minutes...combined.) Those are the main reasons I love this race and I keep on coming back. 

And then we all know what happened, gestating a human, etc etc. So I was pretty heartbroken about missing this year's half. I thought I'd either have to run this half as a fun run, or give away my race entry altogether. 

At that point, the thought of being on my feet for two and a half hours was sounding less and less appealing, and the thought of handing over my precious, seriously coveted race slot to someone else who really wanted it was more and more appealing, only a) all my friends who wanted to do the half had already signed up, and b) I have mild qualms about under-the-table bib transfers. 

But amazing things can also happen if you ask nicely. 

So I wrote in to the organisers. I'm signed up for the half, I said, but will be 13 weeks pregnant by the time it rolls around. Can I swap to the 5K? I know the rules say you don't normally let people switch categories, but these are pretty unusual circumstances. And your title sponsor - the Great Eastern insurance company - has a strong emphasis on getting women to stay active and healthy. 

Lo and behold - they replied and said YES, please! We are happy to note you're staying active while pregnant! You're signed up for the 5K! 

A few weeks later, I stood in the race pack pickup line and looked around. Noticed I probably wasn't the only person running for two. And there were other women there with small children. Secondary-school girls. Women who looked like they might be my mom's age. (The variety you get in this race is enormous and wonderful.) 

And holy race swag: a gym bag, a tank top, a blessedly large water bottle, even more samples of stuff, and coupons for everything ranging from a Nando's quarter chicken to discount vitamins. 

A few weeks after that, on the lovely cool morning of November 9, I toed the start line - or rather, I was in the middle of the crowd in the second 5K wave, the farthest back from any Singapore race start line I've been in a looooong time. I snuck over to the side to watch the 10K winners coming in, cheered them on, and then boom - we were off. 

The race route goes around the curve of the Singapore Flyer and F1 pit building, down towards Nicoll Highway, and loops back around, a pretty straightforward and scenic out-and-back along the Kallang River. I felt great the whole way, kept chugging along, and finished in a net time of 32:10...not bad for a poky old pregnant lady. (I was explicitly trying NOT to look at my time. Wasn't wearing my Garmin. Barely glanced at my watch. But in a race atmosphere it's hard to resist the temptation to hustle. Which is why I'm fine running up to 10K on my own for fun, but think I'll lay off the racing - unless it's purely social with friends - till next year. Sometimes my competitive instincts are rather bad for me...) 

And you know what? I had just as great an experience being in the middle of the pack as I usually have being a little farther in front. If your back of the pack folks, who pay the same amount to register, cover the same distance, and often work just as hard, have as fun a time as the folks in front, that is the true test of a really well-organised race. 

To cap off a great morning I ran into a whole bunch of former colleagues who'd done the various race distances (5K, 10K, or half). Impromptu reunion! Sweaty hugs all round! (Also, every single female runner in Singapore apparently does this race - I spotted three other running friends.) 

Photo from Rachel. Sorry we're all squinting! It got hot.

After meandering around the finish site for a longer time than it'd taken me to actually run the 5K, I finally made it home for second breakfast. 

Good race? asked the husband. Great one, I said. 

Monday, November 10, 2014

Training To Grow A Human

As you *may* have guessed from my relative slackage and completely falling off the face of the planet when it came to chronicling my now totally theoretical sub-2-half attempt, I'm gestating a human and thus all racing has gone out the window. 

Obviously this is a big deal in my regular life but I'm not really going to make a big deal out of it here because I'm not the first runner to get pregnant and won't be the last. (Also, we do not use inane abbreviations - although pregnant, I remain capable of typing complete words.) Not everyone is in the same place in life that I am - I WILL forgive you if you tune out and your eyes glaze over for the next year.

We'd begun thinking about starting a family this year. Running is great for my stress relief and I decided it was better to just keep running than to not-run while trying to conceive (and then I'd be out of shape cardio-wise AND also stressed out). Sure, we were trying to produce a baby, but I still have a life to live. Three months in, nothing had happened, so I signed up for a marathon. 

During marathon training we put plans on hold for a few months because the whole baby timeline didn't quite fit with the whole moving-continents timeline, so I did a triathlon. Then I had all these great plans to train with Coach Shem for a sub-2 half... and then had to take it all back about a week before training was supposed to start. Oops! I *am* a tiny bit sad that my sub-2 half goal is on hold for another year, especially as I really felt it was totally and absolutely within reach this year if I trained very hard and very smart. But honestly, I will have many more years in which to run half marathons, so I'm fine with that.

This young'un did an olympic-distance triathlon in utero when he or she was just a tiny ball of cells, and before I knew any better. It is obviously destined for great things. 

Me: I hope this child inherits YOUR athletic ability. 
Husband: And your obstinacy. 
Me: Yes...although that's probably a dangerous combination for its health and our sanity.

The week after the tri, I felt far more breathless on my recovery runs than I should have; finally, I figured out something was up when a friend said his bunny rabbit had died and I started weeping. (Seriously? I hadn't even met the rabbit in question.) At that point I went and peed on a stick thrice (always replicate your results). 

Growing a human is hard work. I am exhausted and overheated a lot of the time - thanks, progesterone. But from all accounts it is worth it. And I hear getting to the start line is the easy part. 

Anyway, the next six months should be rather entertaining for me - if not for you...Think lots of easy runs, #teamgluteusmedius, new sports bra reviews (my ribcage seems to have expanded along with my boobs), all the other nonsense adventures that I get up to when I'm not training singlemindedly for one thing, and maybe I'll finally fit into all my oversized race shirts.

So far:  
- I have been rolling out of bed and running however much my body will let me, without the GPS, for about 40-50 minutes at a time and usually somewhere between 5km and 10km. (I've slowed down so much, I should get a heart rate monitor and take advantage of it.) 
- I'm following an approximate tri-training schedule - swim, spin, run - but without the speedwork, hill sprints or anything too high-intensity. I've also been taking a spin class because it's entertaining, but because I can still breathe while cycling I don't trust myself to limit the intensity on the hardest track, so I kind of sit back and ride easy during that track. 
- If any of you have ever done any run-specific strength training through pregnancy (my goal is to build stability, not to push myself), I would love to hear what you did and get some suggestions for exercises and modifications. One site I saw recommended not using any weight heavier than 10 pounds - I'm pretty sure this is BS for otherwise healthy women, as pregnant women who already have toddlers presumably lift those toddlers. Unfortunately I've let my paltry Bodypump class schedule and weight training in general lapse for a few weeks while I felt too gross to do much of anything, so I will be starting over from scratch. I'm particularly liking the TRX suspension exercises I've been doing - they're easily modified for whatever intensity I want. 
- I am really, really glad I am experienced enough to know what intensity levels I can work with at this point, as well as what's normal and what's not. 

Training log: 

There are some weeks/ days I've been unable to eat three bites of chicken soup and other days where I've bounded out of bed and gone for a...well, a shuffle. It's listen to your body day, every day, as I figure my body knows precisely what it needs. (Although, evolution? Listen up, it's 2014 and I live in a developed country where the risk of food poisoning is fairly low. Can we make a deal with the nausea, please?) 

Week 5 - Extremely late period, shortness of breath during recovery runs. At first I think I'm sick, but with none of the other usual flu symptoms like sore throat and runny nose. Wonder what is up. Pee on a stick. 
Runs: 3. Swims: 2. Yoga: 1. All exhausted. Growing a new human is hard work. 

Week 6 - Awkwardly give away some of my race registrations and withdraw from the track group I'd said yes to. Good thing I'm good at verbal contortions. 
Runs: Oh yeah, I sprained my ankle in spectacular fashion this week and was rehabbing it so, um, 0. Swims: 3.

Week 7 - Inform a couple of people (both sets of parents, tri group swim coach) on a need-to-know basis (generally, professionals who might be able to give professional advice). Swim coach says: "Bask in the fact that you have complete licence to NOT improve. Think of it as a limited-time promotional offer." Coach also says to keep things at RPE 3 (out of 5) or below. Sure, I can do that. 
Supposed to do standard-distance aquathlon this weekend. I feel fine but decide the risk of getting kicked during the swim is a little bit too great (waves are designed such that the fastest men's wave will swim right over me halfway through my first lap and their second). Got kicked in the face last tri. Decide to avoid that. 
Runs: 3. Swims: 3. Yoga: 1. Nausea: intensifying. Exhaustion: Resistance is futile. One night after work I simply retired to bed with a book and some herb tea - and passed out before 8pm.

Week 8 - ultrasound this week. See a heartbeat. Cool! Doctor gives the green light to keep running ('running'). Runs (erm, or walks): 3. Swims: 1. Nausea: 7. One no-good, very-bad, cannot-keep-anything-down, horrible day in which I simply take the day off work. Still breathless when I run, but I can run about 2km, stop and walk for a bit, then run another couple of km. 

Week 9 - Ran/ walked/ trundled a couple of times. Very low-intensity spin class: 1. Walks on treadmill for duration of one TV episode: 2. Naps: 5. 
Husband did his first ultra, a trail 50k (80% humidity, 27-30 deg C temps) this weekend, but I was terribly pukey so there are no photos of that. Pffbbt. 

Week 10 - I begin to feel much more human again in appetite and energy, and have resumed something that is actually recognisable as running. Runs: several, including the #runtweetupSG. Yoga: 1. Spin class: 1. 

Week 11 - Work went a bit insane this week because of a major conference and another major work project so I wasn't terribly active; I also spent the weekend at a data bootcamp for journalists, which was the most time I've ever spent on dedicated hands-on data practice (fantastic) but also the most time I've spent sitting continuously on my bum (not so fantastic, and I must be getting old because I needed a serious backrub after that - this is when I decided I needed a standing desk). My niece was born this week. Exciting times all round! Runs: 2. Swims: 1 

Week 12 - The nausea is easing at most times except late in the afternoon/ early evening, when I suddenly develop a tension headache (often caused by a combination of hormones and increased blood volume), queasiness, and the overwhelming desire to take a nap. Runs: 5.

Week 13 - Another doctor's appointment. Runs so far: 2 including the Great Eastern Women's 5K (race report later)! 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Altitude changes

This is the best thing I did for myself this weekend*: clean my desk and set it up as a standing desk.

My desk, in the 50 sq ft room that is our apartment's storeroom/ laundry-basket-room/ my study (everything has to multitask in our apartment; the guestroom is the movie room is the husband's study is the outdoor-gear shed) also doubles as a dressing table of sorts,where my moisturiser and sunscreen live - that's on the right-hand side. My jewellery and various other baubles also live there - that silver sculpture-like doodad you see on the top shelf is really one of those flexible bracelet/ necklace thingies.

Prior to this weekend I hadn't cleaned it for (ahem) months and the whole desk was buried under several strata of notebooks, bills, bank statements, invoices, sample-size bottles of mysterious quackery fluids each claiming to do ever more impressive things for my skin (seriously, every time I go to the store for more sunscreen, someone hands me one of those, or I get sachets of stuff in race swag), etc..

But this weekend I decided enough was enough. Also, my bad habit of slumping on the couch to do work had been doing a number on my's like I'm getting older or something. So I set to work, and this was the result. If I want to sit down in a proper chair, it's easily converted to a regular desk by pushing the boxes back towards the window. Today's Day 2 of working at the standing desk and it's great - now I just have to remember to maintain good posture while standing! Anyone else use a standing desk? Tips?

* Among the other terrific things I did this weekend were: attend a couple of panels at the annual literary festival, hang out with my family, go to a Halloween party, and look up the NYC Marathon results after sleeping through it (wrong time zone). (I do wish Desiree Linden got more love - one day I hope it'll be her turn to shine. She works hard and smart and has come a very long way - I'm a huge fan).

Speaking of altitude changes, I discovered the other day that if my niece is squalling, she can be calmed down if you hold her and do little mini squats, bouncing up and down a little. I don't recall how I discovered this, but I think the usual side-to-side motion just wasn't working and we were all a bit desperate.

Anyway, I spent half of the afternoon doing mini squats with the kiddo. It's an excellent workout. Then I went to do a strength workout with my tri group and what did we start off with? SQUATS. I must've done a couple hundred of them today. My next and final altitude change today will be to go horizontal, I think. Goodnight!

Saturday, November 1, 2014

What I've been up to

Between work, and packing, and life, and an assortment of stuff that includes running (see also: brand-new niece...I think she's a pretty good excuse, don't you?), it's now been more than a week since my last post. 

So what have I been doing? 

Baby snuggles  
How can I possibly say no to this face? 


A week or two ago, I met up with some friends and some total strangers from the Internet for a nice evening run - the only thing we had in common for sure was running, but we all know running is a great equaliser and even where two runners have absolutely nothing else in common, we can certainly TALK about running for at least several hours.  

I met up with Holly, Isaac, @MikeH71a, @wallflowergrace, and a few other folks at the Stadium MRT station in Kallang. Singapore is usually a fairly punctual place (give or take five minutes - we're not Switzerland here) but folks were held up for various good reasons and we ended up starting out half an hour later than planned. 

We ran (walked, jogged, recovery-ran, shuffled) for half an hour along the river. (The best time to run in Singapore is when it's dark out and all the city lights are twinkling.) 
And then we had beers and dinner at Brewerkz by the river. 

Photo via Isaac's blog

I'd been thinking about chili cheese fries since midafternoon that day. 

CHILI CHEESE FRIES. (Are really only good when they're piping hot.) 
Would I do this again? But of course! (I would love to start on time next round... :) ) 

The lazy off-season

As I'm not training for anything in particular right now and have no current long-term goals (that visa stuff is still up in the air; I don't have a visa interview or flight date yet; I don't even know if I'm doing my annual marathon next year or when or where), I've been trundling round the neighbourhood, the Botanic Gardens, the Green Corridor, you name it... between 5 and 10K at a go, which is pretty much my happy place that keeps me sane and destressed.

Lots of books (edited to add synopses) 

- How We Learn, by Benedict Carey: If you are at all interested in learning, and learning about some very counterintuitive study findings about how we learn best, READ THIS BOOK. 

- Annihilation and Authority, by Jeff Vandermeer - books 1 and 2 of the eerie Southern Reach trilogy. (A good Halloween read!) Area X is a spot where some unnamed and cryptic ecological disaster has occurred sometime in the past, and the Southern Reach agency is in charge of investigating it. But for the agency staff and expedition members, all is not as it seems...

- Station Eleven, by Emily St John Mandel - tells the stories of Arthur Leander, a famous actor who drops dead during a production of King Lear; Jeevan Chaudhary, the paramedic who tries to rescue him; and Kirsten Raymonde, the child actress who is on stage as Leander dies. The novel skips backward and forward in time to weave together post-apocalyptic narrative (the same night Leander dies, most of the world is wiped out in the grip of a flu pandemic), mid-apocalypse and pre-apocalypse tales.

- Being Dead, by Jim Crace - Celice and Joseph, two doctors of zoology, are murdered in the sand dunes where they first met. Like Station Eleven (quite coincidentally) this book switches backward and forward in time to tell the stories of their lives and deaths. Jim Crace is one of those writers who...I feel like he verges just on the edge of being precious, but doesn't tip over. In worse hands this book could so easily fall flat. It doesn't. 

And podcasts

- I've been listening to the Hardcore History series by Dan Carlin for Audible. I don't think of myself as a serious history buff, but I've been entertained by the drama and narration of these history podcasts (and at up to four hours long they are hardcore; I tend to split one up over several runs). Most recently I listened to Prophets of Doom, about the Anabaptist cult in Reformation-era Germany - gripping stuff! 

Upcoming stuff:

Great Eastern Women's Run - I'm doing the 5K for fun
A wedding anniversary staycation! at the W! 
A birthday (yikes)
A media hackathon (on my birthday weekend; suffice it to say I will NOT be hacking overnight, because the thing about birthdays is you get older and the thing about getting older is that YOU APPRECIATE SLEEP MORE).