Monday, December 29, 2014

Venus Run 2015 - a public service announcement

A public service announcement for my female Singapore readers (like...both of you).

This landed in my inbox recently: registration is now open for the Venus Run on March 8 2015.

There aren't a lot of dedicated, competitive 5Ks - at least not for grown-ups - in this neck of the woods. If you want a good hard time trial and the chance to pit yourself against some of Singapore's speediest women, the Venus Run is for you.

And if you're just getting into running and want to stretch your limits or test your progress with a 5K, the Venus Run is for you too. (Seriously. I have seen women of all ages, all sizes and all speeds happily complete this run.)

Early bird rate is S$38 till January 25, after which it's $45 till February 15, and the swag is usually fairly decent. So is the food and beverage spread before and after the race! The event tee is still blindingly pink though. You've been warned.

Venue: It's at Gardens by the Bay again, which suggests the route will be similar - watch out for those short sharp hills up Marina Barrage! Alas, no route map yet. That's par for the course for SG races, but this is an SAA certified race so you generally know the distance is correct. Again, it starts promptly at 5pm in the middle of March, which is usually hot and dry with 30C temps. Not for the heat-averse or faint of heart!

I don't get paid or compensated, to say this. I'm not sure I'll even be in Singapore to do the race next year! But I enjoyed this year's Venus Run (ok fine...was tempted by the ice cream, entertained by the Coach Holly Cheer Squad, chased a Singapore national rower, and set a PR) and they do take participant feedback into account. Go have fun. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Looking forward

Hello again! I've been AWOL...let's see: 

- Making all the cookies and treats. (When you decide to stay up late and make four large boxes of jam thumbprint cookies, batch by batch, mixed by hand, you suddenly become very thankful for your TRX workouts.) I decided to bake most of my Christmas gifts this year. You get cookies! And you get cookies! Everyone gets cookies! 

- Down with a mystery illness that may have been a mild case of HFMD (a nasty coxsackievirus that mainly affects small children). I had a dreadful fever one day, a sore throat with myriad little ulcers the next, and a bunch of mystery blisters on my fingers and toes appearing on the second/ third day, which was what eventually tipped me off. I was never formally diagnosed but I self-quarantined for a few days anyway just to be a responsible human being. (My sister and niece had the exact same symptoms, so I don't know who got it from whom.) I didn't even think adults could get it. My immune system disagreed. 

- Catching up on Coursera data science coursework and wrapping up some work projects for the year. There was a minor emergency on Saturday as my laptop decided to go on holiday as well and have some cooling problems; with several deadlines looming I had to go out and get a new one. The weekend before Christmas is not the most wonderful time of the year to go and brave shopping crowds. 

- Running in the second trimester has been interesting. Much better than the first trimester, in that I'm not as fatigued or breathless all the time. 

I'm not supremely motivated though so I've been plugging into a podcast or two and running a few miles, or going for an hour's walk around the neighbourhood, or hooking up with friends for the occasional social trail run. For the first time in about three years I haven't got any sort of running schedule, which is quite liberating. And then I spent the first half of last week being sick so I'm just getting back to it.

I've put on about 8 to 10 (?) pounds at this point (20 weeks this week. I don't own a scale; the only time I get weighed is at my doctor's, as I consistently forget to get on the scale at the gym), and can distinctly feel it as extra burning/ fatigue in my legs when I run. The breathlessness is still there a bit but I'm chalking that up to being out of cardio shape - nowhere as bad as first trimester. My occasional 'speed' work on the treadmill in the nice air-conditioned gym is 10 min/ mile! 10 minutes at a time and then I walk or jog for five minutes - rinse and repeat. On the up side this works to my advantage during body weight exercises. 

Also, I am now getting kicked from the inside, which is kind of cool. There is definitely a very active, spirited small person in there (along with a tiny post-it that says 'kick me'?). Prior to this I had merely felt like I was smuggling a pumpkin - now it's a pumpkin with sharp knees.

* * * 

Now that we're getting to the end of the year, I thought I'd have a think about the year to come. So here are a few (deceptively) simple goals for 2015:

1. Produce, love, and look after a healthy, happy baby.
2. Keep up my work projects and find a job in our new city.
3. Reconnect with friends there.
4. Slowly ease back into running by the end of the year; do at least one postpartum race of any distance.
5. Complete my Coursera data science specialisation work, and actually practice it. 
6. Learn to make something that isn't food. (Actually - food too. I've been watching a lot of Masterchef Australia reruns...) I was the kind of child who would fail the craft portion of arts and crafts by gluing my fingertips together instead of the ice-cream sticks. Pinterest was apparently created to torment people like me. Fortunately the good people at One Maker Group have agreed to take pity on me and teach me things like how to use a CNC machine and do interesting things with Arduino.

* * * 

When I tell people we're expecting I frequently get asked: are you having a boy or a girl? Well, we know what we're having, and it's a...surprise. I've recently realised that a LOT of my high school classmates are starting families around the same time. We went to a magnet girls' school whose alumni are known for being strong, intelligent, professional women. And to a woman we all share at least one concern: oh god, gender stereotypes! That start even before a kid is born and then get reinforced by toys! The world is so effed up! 

Regardless of whether you share this concern to the same level we do, there is so much stuff to worry about when you're a parent. Infancy: don't drop the baby. Crawling: towards the electrical socket of doom, the wastebasket of inevitable cholera, the shelf of imminent collapse. Learning to read. School and all its attendant social and conformist pressures. And that's not even accounting for a child's own personality and preferences. 

Now, I'm generally a fairly laid-back person - I will plan and plan, but I'm not a massive worrier about things beyond my control. And of course we all know what happens to the best-laid plans. So I'll just roll with it, I guess. It'll be an adventure to look forward to. 

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Here we go again - the Stanchart cheating accusation kerfuffle

Remember last year, when some dodo actually cheated during the flagship Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon and found himself in first place? 

This year's 'cheating' 'scandal' is a little different. Blogger and race photographer Tekko, who is himself also a runner, posted this. (Yes, it's the same dude whom I wrote about in this post last year, but this time it goes a little beyond glam race shots.) The long and short of it:
- He was shooting photos near the 35km mark and noticed some people who didn't look like they belonged there that early. 
"As a regular runner and active photographer for the past years, I can recognise a fair number of the local runners who can do sub-4 and there aren't really a lot of them here in Singapore. And even if I don't recognise them, I can tell by the way they run that they are seasoned runners and used to that type of timing. But what was interesting this time was that I could see many unfamiliar faces and people who pardoned my saying so, do not look like runners who are capable of doing this type of timing. Now I know looks can be deceiving but it is kinda difficult to believe that these following people can run sub 4 marathon."
- So he posted their photos and split/ finish times and basically accused them of cheating.
- The post got a massive amount of attention from the local running community, which after last year is already aggrieved enough about runners who cheat. (I mean, lord knows I am. @#%(& cheaterbugs.) 
- HOWEVER, it turns out that the runners he internet-shamed were actually redirected by race organisers through no fault of their own, after they'd failed to meet a cutoff time along the route. 
- Yesterday he retracted the accusation and apologised in a subsequent post.

A couple of thoughts about this whole situation: 

1. Yes, it's cyberbullying. Sure, he retracted it later and apologised. Still cyberbullying. In professional journalism, if you say someone is cheating you better be damn sure of your sources and check-doublecheck-confirm-doubleconfirm. A lot of bloggers and internet armchair critics, of whom I am one, could stand to be more responsible before they point fingers.  

2. This is why we need multiple marathons in Singapore. Not so you can do all of them. So you can enter the one that best suits your needs. Let's say 5 hours, maybe 5.5, is the differentiating factor. It's true - the average finishing time for a Singapore marathon is around 6 hours. (NB: Rachel Toor's hilarious Running Times column on running a marathon here remains one of my favourite pieces on Singapore running ever. But don't ask me WHY the average finishing time is 6 hours - that is the subject of a whole nother rant.) I'm not going to say that's fast or slow because that is a pretty subjective judgement; some people can be walking a marathon on crutches or having recovered from a heart attack and they will take 6 or 7 hours. And other people can sign up a month before and roll out of bed and it's no sweat for them to come in under 3:30 (the universe is unfair).

But yeah, we need several marathons that are differentiated by relative speed/ cut-off times. People who want to finish in say 5 hours or less can do marathon A. People who think they will take 5 hours or more can do marathon B. Problem solved, ta-da! Except of course there are people who want to sign up for ALL THE THINGS.
3. One assumption unspoken but implicit in Tekko's decision to post people's photos and bib numbers is "You don't look like a runner". Never assume. I already got pissed off about this once with Shape last year. This person over at Runner's World did, too
4. Race rules should be clearly spelled out in information booklets - the intermediate cut-off times and points were just not clearly stated anywhere, even though a vague policy was. In contrast, for example, the Perth City to Surf marathon spells out the intermediate cut-off points.

Here's the policy from the Stanchart race website:
For Participants who are unlikely to finish the race within eight hours from the first flag off, race officials will divert the aforesaid Participants, at designated diversion points along the race route, to a shorter race route towards the finish gantry. For their own safety and to avoid being caught in between live traffic, Participants must obey as instructed, or else they will be pulled off the race course immediately. Finisher’s T-shirts (only applicable for the Marathon and Ekiden categories), medals and official race timings will still be issued to the aforesaid Participants. However they will NOT be issued their e-Certificate of Participation as they will be deemed disqualified.
In order to meet the requirements from the authorities to reopen the roads to public at designated times, we will divert runners to take a shorter running route if they do not cover the distance within a certain time.

WTF. This is totally baffling. There should be a CRYSTAL CLEAR cut-off policy: first, state where the cut-off points and times are! If you are stopped you should be able to ride a sweeper bus to get back to the finish line so you can pick up your bag and whatever food/ drink you need. Runners who don't make the time should NOT be rerouted to take a shorter route to the finish line - it sends the wrong message. 

And, uh, am I alone in thinking that a *finisher* shirt is totally different from a *participant* shirt? If you are a legit non-finisher, you still get a participant shirt because you paid, but you shouldn't get to take a finisher shirt and medal, and that should be stated clearly. I've DNFed a couple of races here and while I never even thought of taking a finisher shirt/ medal, I worry about what would happen if I tried. 

A Gold Label race should be held to international standards, not be a clusterf*(k every year, okay? It's getting kind of embarrassing. First you allow a guy who is a KNOWN cheat and was disqualified two years in a row to sign up again, now this. I give up, Stanchart. I give up. 

5. FINALLY, I am all for back-of-the-pack runners (after all, they're already doing better than people who never got off their couch), and I believe the back of the pack should have as good a race experience as the front of the pack, and I know some days it just isn't your day, but I also believe the runner has an obligation to train properly and do his best on race day, especially for something the length of a marathon. And on this one lone point I agree with Tekko completely. 

Am I just a grouchy curmudgeon? Do I get my curmudgeonly-old-lady badge now?