Thursday, November 17, 2011

Sitting in an airplane

Sitting in a crowded airplane is like being huddled in a community. We’re in this together, whether we like it or not, whether we like each other or not. You may look different from me, hail from a different part of the world from me, behave differently; you may take up more space than I’m comfortable making room for you for, but then I’ll watch a couple of movies, slip into a quick nap at the boring bits, then slowly fall into a slumber, and by the time I’m awaken by the discomfort of sleeping in a semi-upright seat, I would have forgotten the discomfort at the start of the flight. Now, I just want to catch some reasonable rest, because I’m so very deprived of a solid one.

I see a red jacketed elderly woman walking up and down the aisle the couple of times my eyes open involuntarily, my arm brushed briefly by passengers or cabin crew squeezing along the narrow aisle. I try to avoid looking into my watch because whenever I do, I’m aghast to find that what seemed like a four-hour deep sleep turns out to be only an hour of flight time! Well, after a time or two of checking my watch, I grow accustom to this unnerving truth.

I walk to the lavatory and spot the red-jacked woman. She is working out her sore legs from the inundating hours of sitting.

“Good to stretch a little, isn’t it?” I quip.

She smiles and nods. And we get a conversation in Mandarin going.

Originating from Guangdong in southeastern China, she moved to San Francisco with her husband and four young children over 30 years ago. Her children are grown up now, she’s a grandmother of two, and babysits her own grandchildren as well as that of others for a small fee. I noticed how pleasant her breath smells – she was chewing gum! At over 60! Gracefully, she offered me one, which I gratefully took one in view of my bad breath from the hours of flight and incapable oral hygiene.

Back in my seat, I'm thinking - sitting in a filled-to-capacity airplane is like paying (big bucks!) and voluntarily surrendering to physical confinement, albeit in supposed style and luxury. But really, what luxury is there strapped in a 0.5 x 1m seat?

The issue I realize is space. Confinement to a small space limits, frustrates and retards any living being.

Take nature for example. I remember my dad, an ardent gardener by pure interest, used to tell me that we can grow a square watermelon, instead of a regular round one, simply by planting the seed and soil in a small square crate.

The Japanese koi, I was told, grows as large as the pond in which it is put in.

The coastal redwood trees in western California (the tallest living things on our planet) grow to an astounding 100m because they have so much land space horizontally and hey, the sky’s the limit, that’s why they grow so tall!

Humans, confined, either retard; or get creative - retard to immobility; or creative to break the limitation.

It’s easy to travel around the world these days; it’s hard not to do so for global expansion. Concord planes at the speed of lightning are not yet possible for regional and global commute, in view of its devastating destruction to the eco-system every time if zaps into the sky, thus we have to content to fly the planes we do today, flight times as short as an hour or as long as over 23 hours.

What do we do onboard a constrained space for over 10 hours averagely, when the freedom to move out of the 0.5 x 1m seat is further restricted by the reluctance to disturb the passenger next to us when we need to move out of our seat to get to the washroom or simply to walk down the aisle for a quick stretch for the legs?     

I realized that I enjoy multi tasking, especially when watching a movie. I experience a deep sense of joy when I’m not just sitting immobile in my seat and being sucked in the melodrama of whatever I’m watching, but to be actively engaging myself, either physically on an indoor bike trainer or mentally, writing in an airplane as I am now. I must be doing something right – at this very instant, a lady in her mid forties, from Guangzhou, sitting next to me in the middle section, who speaks very little English but extremely fluent in Cantonese, who keeps to herself, was marathon-watching movies on the in-flight entertainment and on her iPad, suddenly concluded her movies and started typing on her iPad. I take a quick glance. She’s typing some notes or journal of sorts. I smile. I’m glad to inspire you to turn the entertainment off and start writing, madam.

The sense of joy arises from the fact that I am being a good steward of the time entrusted to me, to make good and be fruitful, for the day is near.


For you movie buffs, here are 3 movies and a documentary I watched onboard Cathay Pacific Airways from Singapore to San Francisco:

Larry Crowne - starring Tom Hanks and Julia Roberts, about a man's quest for self progress after being laid off from his job - he enrolled in college, increased his knowledge and confidence, made good friends, and with his relentlessly good attitude, turned his life around.

Everything must go - starring funny man Will Ferrell as an down and out guy who lost his job and wife in one single day, stubbornly stuck to his guts, only to give in to his dead lock circumstances, learned to clean up his act (alcohol addiction) and move on.

Oranges and Sunshine - starring Emily Watson, who played the real life character of Margaret Humphreys, a a social worker in Great Britain who dug into the nationally covered-up child migrant scheme from Great Britain to Australia in the 1940s (over 140,000 children were deported to Australia in that period) and devoted her time to reuniting the children involved, now adults in Australia, to their parents still alive and living in Great Britain. My take from this true account is not to be afraid to dig for and confront the truth; and in doing so, you may be doing more for others than you ever think you could.

Page One: Inside the New York Times – a documentary that accesses The New York Times newsroom and exposes the inner workings of the media desk

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Strapped Iron

What is life?

What is a life worth pursuing?

What is life, and life more abundantly?

Have I been sold by the idea of capitalism and strapped by its system?

The need to have more, if not the best. The need for distinguished branding, looking crisp and sharp, the need for prestige and status, the need to be noticed and looked upon with respect with the acquisition of wealth, status and power.

No, back track a little. Wealth, status and power come as a result of BEING IN the system, and playing by its game, its rules. The fastest, fittest, sly-est survive and climb to the top of the chain. As it is in the animal kingdom.

The beasts of the field - hunt for survival. Trees and plants - grow for survival.

People strive for achievement, fame, even for 15 minutes. What is the value after? The feel-good feeling lasts only a little while, but consider, does the time, effort and resources put into the achievement bring lasting value than mere fame and recognition that fleet as speedily as the whiff of the wind?

Schools are built for education. Sports are implemented to better the physical, mental and social well being of students.

But why are competition implemented? To test if the physical system and training work to make the human body achieve outstanding results in the midst of competition and pressure. And the reward for such time, effort and training is the medal. The feel-good feeling lasts for a moment on the podium, and after, with celebratory meals and salutary claps and slaps on the back. The medal that adorns the living room glass cabinet is looked upon from time to time while watching TV and its visible shine catches your eye. But the real deal is this - you know you are capable of more. You know that if you put your heart and soul into training for something, if you train under  the right coach, under the right circumstances, you can do better and achieve greater feats. You can break your own limits. You learn that nothing is ever achieved on your own accord. You learn that you need others to hep you in your pursuit - because we are born into a world made up of families, communities and societies. Just as it takes 2 individuals to produce another, it takes more than one person; it takes more than just you to make it out here on earth. But while here, don’t just work to survive. Work to live life. Work to enjoy all life has to offer. But do so, within your means. Do not buy into commercialism. Do not buy into systems that trap and enslave you. Always consider what moves you to a greater cause, take time to consider, reject and walk away from pure capitalism that distracts with the loudest sound horn of nothingness but pure financial gain for its creators. 

What lies beneath the Iron facade? 

The bottom line, in my humble opinion, should never be purely about money. The bottom line of any community and organization and system has to be about people. What makes the world go round isn’t money, but people. Yes, there is money to be made from people, with a smart system, but if money is the ultimate goal, the system is not sustainable and is likely to head for self destruction without a right motive to steer its course for sustainable growth.

Thus in my personal pursuit, if my motive is not right, if I’m not pursuing my Iron dream for people, I am merely a slave and tool of the system that has bought my soul, without paying me a single dime, but have me paying it lots in return. If I am not succeeding in touching lives, helping another, bettering someone else’s life through my pursuit, let me reconsider my next move.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Journey to Ironhood II: Week 24

Week 24: 10-16 Oct

A humbling experience in my first North Face trail race on 15 Oct, where   I encountered the first of many incidences never before experienced in previous races:

I started out strong and fast on a lovely Saturday morn, but barely 8km into the run, I threw up by the side path, emptying my stomach of fuel necessary for my run.

10km into the run, an excruciating pain shot through my right knee. Unwilling to give up and walk, I limped and hobbled the remaining 15km to the finish line, despite the pain that refused to subside.

Weaknesses humble us. It humbled me for sure. I hobbled in dejection as runner after runner overtook me on the trail - some looked back in sympathy and asked if I was alright; some zoomed past in a flash.

Still, I kept moving, focused on putting one foot in front of the other, fueled by a fire that wouldn't stop burning in my heart.

In the midst of my personal struggle,  a guy struggling with both cramped legs dropped onto the side path and asked for help. I stopped to massaged his legs; before long another runner came along and gave aid. We didn't care much about lost time; in moments of struggle, human compassion overtakes it all.

As I ran/limped/hobbled along to the finish, I greatly appreciated the camaraderie among runners that day - the ones who kept moving forward despite their bodily struggle and pain, the encouragement from fellow runners to keep on keeping on, those who share of their supplies with others,  and those who stopped to help others in need.

As my pain increased and my pace decreased, a group of guys ran alongside me and encouraged me to keep pushing - "only 1km to go" - they shouted. Like a turn of a switch, I ignored my legs, opened up my stride and increased pace.

I must have looked comical attempting to run with a limping right leg, and was half piqued that it wasn't 1 km to the finish line - it was about 2.5km. But I was thankful for those guys nonetheless - had it not been for them, I wouldn't have pushed myself to sprint to the end, and finished in a decent time, considering all the mishaps and stops during the run.

As I complete my first North Face 50km Duo Trail Race, I learnt that it's not always about winning or running the fastest split, but a humility in loving the sport and building camaraderie between fellow runners to overcome each of our own weaknesses and achieve our personal goals.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Journey to Ironhood II: Week 25

Week 25: 3-9 Oct

I like staying in hotel rooms, not because of the comfort it offers, but because it is sparse, save for the essentials of a bed, table, hot shower and air con (nope, I don't care much for TV). Hotel rooms are bare and simple, unlike the clutter at home - furnitures, stacks of stuff, piles of items, layers of dust.

I dislike having and owning many things; things frustrate me. They appear as clutter that cramps my world and agitate the spatial part of me. I'd love to give away and dispose of many things that I own. I've even contemplated listing down all the brand new and charming things that I have; tucked away, forgotten and neglected; that I would like to put into hands that have better use of them.

In the same vein, I like triathlons because it takes me away from clutter; from the limitations that plague the mind and body. Triathlons demand so much from the athlete that it leaves little room for attachment to other matters while you're at it - be it during training or on the course on race day. I love waking up in the stillness of the morn at 4am to run or bike, and inflicting pain and discipline onto a tired but keen body, while most people are still fast asleep.

I love long runs where I'm alone by myself, my thoughts and aspirations. Running is my meditation time. I set goals for myself, visualize myself working at it and achieving it, overcoming obstacles and locking the door to can't dos and limitations.

I love long bikes because it takes me far away, speedily, from things that tie me down - the worries of each day, housework that I dread, bills to pay. On my bike, things are simple - I have only one goal - to go as fast for as long as possible and aim to complete 180km in under 6 hours. It takes a lot of me to accomplish that - I haven't quite gotten near, so I'm always chasing the wind and pushing the speed, and in the process, distancing myself even more from anything that I wanna detach myself from. It's the perfect, healthy escape!

I love swimming because it forces me to face my fear of not getting it right and fight the unseen force that limits my ability to swim efficiently and speedily. Of all the 3 disciplines, I perform the least satisfactory in the swim, and even more so, I am determined to hold a tight rein and master my weakness.

In a nutshell, tri-ing demands so much of me I have learnt to live with little, particularly possessions. And because it demands so much of me, it makes me appreciate, even more, things that really matter - my loved ones, family, my Master. The more I tri, the more I'm aware of my mortality, and the need to fully cherish life for its short breath.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Journey to Ironhood II: Week 26

Week 26: 26 Sep - 2 Oct

I tri because it makes me feel heroic. It's a magnificent feeling to be doing what's uncomfortable and painful to the general masses. I'm easily inspired and spurred, and seeing people attempting and accomplishing extraordinary feat on TV or reading about them in books, the news - well, that always leave me with a grinding feeling in my guts that I too, wanna attempt something bigger than myself. Attempting the IronMan with little base training under my belt is my way of spreading my wings and fly when I haven't quite learnt how.

I tri because I hope it would bring me places - so when I travel, it's not just all eating and sight seeing, but seeing the landscape the hard, grueling, challenging and sweaty way - swimming, biking and running. I dislike overt comfort, and the idea of a nice holiday. My idea of a holiday is to earn it - I gotta first sweat it out before I deserve that good meal; and I gotta explore the place not in a cushy vehicle, but in as natural a way as possible - on foot, on two wheels, with no carbon emission...

So back to tri-ing because it makes me feel heroic. Saturday morning saw me running my second ever trail run - an agonizing 29k. I ran my first trail just 3 weeks ago, and was over the moon to find myself accomplishing 21k feeling strong. Now 3 weeks later, I'm not feeling altogether that great. It was painful and I wanted to stop in my tracks over a hundred times. But pride got the better of me, and I kept up with the pace of the group (which was rather fast). I've always considered running as my stronger discipline, and have never quite injured myself on a run. But I did this time round. My legs were hurting all over but I kept pushing on, because I didn't wanna quit on myself.

During training, when the going gets tough and often times I feel like stopping and cutting short my work out, I keep going because that, for me, is mental training - in the real race, the desire to quit would come knocking too many a times. If I don't learn to persist through my agony in training, how would I grit my teeth and bash through the wall on race day? Of course, I have to be careful not to over push myself to the point of injury - it's a fine line between persisting and injuring.

Well, all's good - my legs are fine after a good rub and stretch, and boy, am I excited to train through Week 25!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Journey to Ironhood II: Week 27

Week 27: 19-25 Sep 

A tree cannot grow without first a seed that dies, falls to the ground, and re-planted back into the earth. That, would be a visual parallel to what I'm about to undertake in 27 weeks' time. 

Following the misadventure of an Iron pursuit last month in the beautiful, historic city of Regensburg, Germany, and a broken heart quickly nursed back to health by a team of amazingly supportive spouse, family, friends and triathletes, I am back with a vengeance of training and preparing for a redemption race to take place in March 2012... the inaugural IronMan Melbourne Championships. 

We never quite stop learning in this lifetime. Some of us never stop TRI-ing. So here I am, laying down my life once again on the line, and undertake to train the best I can, to find myself Down Under on 25 March 2012, amongst some of the best triathletes in the world, for a piece of the Iron pie. 

I will, as I did previously, be posting weekly updates on the progress of my training, to share an intimate part of my sporting pursuit with those that care to join me in my adventure by reading and experiencing the thrills and kills, the highs and lows of my second attempt at attaining Ironhood. 

Thanks for lending your eyes. Here's pressing on to Melbourne!

Monday, August 22, 2011

Reflections on Germany & London

Why do we travel? For a number of reasons, one of which is to search for happiness.

Are we happy after our travels?
Sometimes we are, sometimes we're not. Sometimes we're elated at new experiences, sometimes we despair at bad encounters. Sometimes we find the joy contagious, sometimes we find the gloom a threat.

Why else do we travel? To see what's outside our box.

Do we see what we think we're missing? Sometimes.

Sometimes we're enlightened, sometimes we're disillusioned. Sometimes we're grateful for our good fortune, sometimes we envy the better well-being of others.

Why did I travel this time round? To race in IM in Germany and to reconnect with my sister in London.

And what have I learned from this trip? Lots. Below are some brief observations:

Every city has its beauty and flaws. London has its historical charm, but generally appears dark and grey with its old brick buildings and grimy streets. Munich, on the other hand, is covered with vast green farm land, trees, shrubs and the occasional flock of sheep grazing. The countryside of Munich is breathtakingly beautiful, and inspires afresh each time.

Yet, in every place, it ain't so much the physical manifestation of the geography & architecture that attract, but its people and culture that beckon a deep longing and etch a memory deeper than mere images in well-taken photographs.

I've spent too short a time, yet imprinted too deep a memory in both places, simply because of the people I've connected with, many of whom are strangers that turned into friends.

In somewhat a chronological order of my meeting them, here are the wonderful encounters I've had:

(1) A group of middle-aged cyclists from France, touring Germany on mountain bikes and heavy pannier bags. Cyclists in Europe are a dime and a dozen, but this group of French cyclists made an impression because they had very kind and friendly faces - in fact, if I may be permitted to say this without being stoned - I didn't find the Germans too friendly (at least not those I came across), so when a group of men and women in cycling attire and hardy bikes in the middle of a small German city (Regensburg) smiled at me, I smiled back and got a conversation going. In fact, I like them so much we took a photo together and I have one of the men as a friend on Facebook. Ah, the power of social media - connecting people across the globe. Simply awesome.

(2) An Israeli triathlete who has raced in Israman Eilat, ranked among one of the toughest long distance triathlons races, and IM Austria, before attempting his third in IM Regensburg. He did well - clocking just 12 hours in Regensburg.

(3) A French chef with a cheerful disposition who runs an all-day breakfast cafe in Regensburg with his long time friend, a lovely Spanish lady. A special mention of my chef friend, Marc Legras - he cheered me up when I walked into his cafe after completing my 3.8k swim and 180k bike ride, but disqualified from completing my 42k run, totally down and shattered - he sat down at my table with my husband and I, looked me in the eye and said: "It is better to lose a well fought battle than to win an easy one." An ardent rugby player and coach, Marc has an amazingly good heart - he runs a program that takes in children with attention deficit disorder and once a week, provides an outlet for these kids to channel their abundant energy by playing rugby and make some good friends in their team mates.

(4) A group of middle-aged German cyclists who handed me the news sports coverage of IM Regensburg (upon learning of my participation in the race) and posed for my camera on the train platform in Munich.

(5) An elderly woman sitting in an outdoor cafe all by herself at Tegernsee, a lake 46km southwest of Munich. I couldn't help but notice how alone she was, so I turned to her and gestured for her to come join us at our table. Despite her conversing only in German and we in English, we spent a lovely afternoon enjoying coffee, beer and cakes, relying on Google Translator to keep our conversation understandable. Marianne Behn is without kin - her husband has passed away and she has no children. Formerly a waitress, she is now retired and travels to vacation spots on the outskirts of Munich by train and bus. But that's as far as the travelling she has done - she has never flew on a plane before. I wished there and then I could put her on a plane and fly her to a destination of her desire - maybe Singapore, as she has never heard of Singapore until she met us.

(6) An Iraqi marine captain, Saud, on his way home after his job assignment across the Arabian Gulf, whom Jason and I conversed at length with while in transit in Dubai. His first hand account of the messy situation in Iraq and neighbouring Middle Eastern countries are sobering and a reminder to cherish the good and security we have in Singapore.

(7) Most of all, I'm missing the extreme kindness my Sis extended to Jason and I during our stay in her apartment in London - her extravagant hospitality and going the countless extra miles out of her way to ensure we are comfortable in every way. A special mention of thanks too to my brother-in-law who took leave, drove for hours and miles to fetch us from the airport, and forked an expensive city tour in our honor. I don't think I've felt more privileged than having an elder Sis who loves me this much. Indeed, there's no place like home, and no love like that of loved ones. I'm glad I focused my energy and attention at cherishing every single moment with my Sis and her family during our visit, and wish to be reunited sometime in the near future.

What more can I say? I’m just plain thankful for this amazing season in my life where I’ve had the ultimate privilege of preparing for a very tough race in Regensburg, and though I didn’t fare as well as I set my heart and soul to, I gained a lot more from the defeat than an easy victory; I’ve had the richest privilege of visiting Germany and partake of its splendid scenes, people and food and above all, I’ve had the most intimate, quality, bonding time with my dear family in London - I learn what it’s like to give, and give some more, because children make it all worthwhile.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Regensburg 7 Aug 2011

While riots broke out in London on 7 Aug, the chilly wind, relentless rain and steep bike climbs, plus my initial slow swim, wrecked an awfully painful riot within my system in Regensburg.

I was thoroughly ill prepared for all that lay ahead of me as I stood at the starting line that cold Sunday morning. I was anticipating a 1.45 swim, as I felt strong and good in the water, but came to shore at 2.07.

Onto the bike, I was wrecked physically and mentally by the furiously cold wind and merciless rain; even more so, the steep bike climbs between 10-30k burnt my muscles and killed a little of my spirit with each slow ascend.

No, this wasn't what I envisioned my inaugural IM race to be.

Thus, despite being officially disqualified from continuing the race at the halfway mark of the bike leg at 90k (I missed the cut off time by 10 minutes) I refused to concede defeat and rode the remaining 90k unaided, without any supporters or aid stations along the long, rolling, hilly and lonely course. All I had were tears and the pouring rain for company as I struggled to keep myself going mentally, hoping to make it back to Transition 2 and perhaps my persistence could move the referee to allow me to carry on with my marathon.

The remaining 90k was an intense battle between the discouraged heart that wanted time and again to give up, raise a thumb and hitch a ride from passing vehicles, and a relentless mind that wanted to keep pedaling to Transition 2. The emotional me lost pieces of my heart out there on the bike course.

Unaided and running low on water supply (thankfully I had sufficient energy bars with me), I had to stop strangers on two occasions and asked for water to refill my bottle.

At 150k, with only 30k to go, I was stopped by 2 policemen on motorbikes. My violation - riding despite being officially ruled out of the race. I was asked my name and where I'm from. After some time, I was permitted to go, but not without first being warned that I was out of the race and would not be able to carry on with the run after the bike. I nodded and pedaled off. If I had carried even a flicker of hope of being able to run despite the cut off time, the policemen sealed my fate with an absolute No.

Finally, after having swum 2 hours and rode 8.5 hours, I rolled into Transition 2, surrendered my timing chip and proceeded slowly to collect my belongings.

I would have given anything to run 42k, but realized my disqualification from running doesn't make me a loser; it gave me perspective to learn and grow.

This defeat has taught me more than if it had been an easy day. It was a really tough day, but that didn't kill me. Instead, it toughened me and made me wanna come back stronger to conquer what defeated me once.

But more than that, it taught me that IronMan is not everything... love is. I chanced upon my husband at the finishing line (amongst thousands of people and with no prior arrangement on time), he gave me a hug and I cried in his arms. His love and assurance are steadfast. And with his full support, I'm setting my sight on the next race in the coming months.

So, finally, here's a great big thank you - to all of you - my family, friends, fellow triathletes, training buddies - I thought of you while I was riding, tearing and shivering in the cold. Your encouragement and believe in me kept me going on the course in Regensburg, and will continue to bring me to the finish line in my next race.

3 cheers to my Lord, family, my husband and to all of you - hip hip hooray! ;)

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Journey to Ironhood: Week 28

Week 28 (18-24 Jul):

Turning points in life aren't always earth-stopping miracles. Often, they happen subtlely, and we may even scoff at its prospect. For me, it happened 3 years ago while repeating monotonous 3k laps in the pool (yes, even as a non-competitive athlete, I had so much unchanneled energy I expanded them all in the pool on a daily-weekly basis).

"You should be an IronMan!" the lifeguard at the pool pointed a finger me while I took a quick breather at the end of a lap. I had no idea what an IronMan was, but vaguely recalled it as a super human, unachievable sport, at least not for someone as mediocre as me.

Little did I (or that lifeguard) know, that 3 years later I would be chasing the IronMan and badgering myself to train for 7 months to get to the starting line of an IronMan race.

Oh how very bizarre and how very wonderful the events that color and vary our lives that we can't help but smile to ourselves at miracles that show up on an ordinary day.

With 2 weeks to go to race day (which coincidentally falls on my birthday.. how cool, right??) I thought it appropriate to dedicate my log for this week to the man who had no idea what seed he had planted in a girl's mind when he said "You should be an IronMan". To him, a great big thank you for taking time to wait by the end of the pool for me to finish my splash and utter those magic words.

When I cross the finish line on 7 Aug, I'll make it a point to savor that moment in tribute to you, Mr Lifeguard, for turning words into reality.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Journey to Ironhood: Week 27

Week 27 (11-17 Jul):

I hate to admit this close to race day, but I'm stretched beyond my means to carry on, and I'm in desperate need of grace.

I've cut down my training by half for the past 2 months and it still hasn't help to get me strong on my feet again.

Sometimes I do it right, but most times I do it wrong by relying on my know-how, strength and resources.

Now with only 3 weeks to go, I'm hanging by a thin thread of faith. At this point I have to stop momentarily and recalibrate all that I am, or I doubt I'll make it well and strong till race day.

Journey to Ironhood: Week 26

Week 26 (4-10 Jul):

A week of slow recovery from a big time downer from stomach flu last week.

Continued training throughout the week, though at a lesser intensity and volume.

Come Saturday morning, I still wasn't sure if I was fit enough to train with the guys, but decided to take the plunge.

In total, we accomplished a mini triathlon feat: 3.2k swim + 80k bike + 10k run, at a huge struggle though.

Swimming in a full body wetsuit in Singapore's tropical weather drained me substantially. By the time I hoped onto my bike, I was breaking out in cold sweat and in desperate need of food and water.

The bike leg proved a major challenge. Riding conditions were stacked against the 3 of us. Traffic was chaotic, intensified by long stretches of road works along West Coast Highway, and we had to keep absolute focus and a tight grip on our handle bars for fear of being blown off course by the zooming trucks and strong head wind. The guys had to make a number of stops to drink and recover because I was running dangerously low on energy.

Running in the heat proved to be the greatest obstacle, and I contemplated many a times during the one-hour run to stop in my tracks and just give up.

Throughout the entire session, I struggled with self doubt and frustration. Here I was, doing a mini triathlon that is merely a fraction of the actual race distance, and I wasn't feeling like a million bucks, but oh so human and vulnerable against the forces of environment - the traffic, pollution, noise, wind, tiredness, scorching heat.

Now I'm thinking, in nervous anticipation of 7 Aug: Do I? Will I? Can I?

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Journey to Ironhood: Week 25

Week 25 (27 Jun - 3 Jul):

It's fascinating how much of a microcycle the past 7 months have been. I've shot up to the moon, danced on cloud nine, sizzled among stars, and slapped hi-five with the sun.. figuratively speaking, of course. What I meant to say is I've been training hard, enjoyed every session of it, experienced peak performances, and relished in the gratifying reward of intense training and the adrenaline it brought.

Alas, life is a cycle we can't alter its course, and all things that go up must come down.

I have my fair, large share of diving into an empty well, scrapping at the bottom of the barrel, sprawled on a thirsty, dry land, in search for water, nourishment and any form of life. Translate this to my training: I have had a couple of bike crashes, bruised my body from lack of rest, fell terribly ill and subjected myself to my own sanctioned iron prison.

Sometimes I'm confident of getting to my dream, sometimes I doubt my own ability, simply because the journey there has been a tumultuous one.

"Do not be anxious, for the battle belongs not to you, but to the Lord."

That which matters most to you, lift it up and leave it into the hands of someone who won't screw up - your Creator.

So into Your hands, Lord, I commit the remaining 5 weeks.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Journey to Ironhood: Week 24

Week 24 (20-26 Jun):

I've been asked a lot if my husband mind that I spend many an hour training, away from him and with other men.

So just the other day, after a long 188km bike ride and almost an entire day of absence, I turned to my husband and popped him the question.

With a smile, he shook his head.

Why not, I asked. I mean, the long hours apart, the company of men I keep, etc.

You set my heart at ease, he said.

In other words trust.

Besides, I get to do my own work too, he added.

He's a man of intense focus, and when he works on his projects, he does so unflinchingly.

Your temper has improved too, he concluded.

That came as a surprise. An improved temper with sports? As I thought about it, it made sense.

You see, I've always had trouble channeling my abundant energy to good use.

From the day I learnt to walk, I've been zipping in and out of the house, doing anything and everything perceivable to put my limbs to constructive use. Apart from an extremely varied sporting involvement in school, I frequently found myself at a loss for activities to engage in, sometimes getting into trouble; often times restless and listless.

Thus with a newfound devotion and commitment to a single sporting event that demands all the energy I could offer, my husband saw the good triathlon is doing me, and our marriage. Both he and I could focus our strengths and energy on things that matter to us; projects out of which we derive our greatest fulfillment. And with that, we have lesser opportunities for conflicts and argument, given that whatever time we have between us is valuable.

So there, for the many things I've been blessed with: a great nice big playground in Malaysia to grow up in, many a spanking lessons from my parents for getting into trouble, many a medals and trophies for putting my energy to effective sporting use throughout my schooling years, great and supportive friends and athletes that form a gregarious community to train and laugh with; above all these, I'm blessed with perhaps the largest hearted, most understanding, encouraging, edifying and visionary husband... thank you Larling!!

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Journey to Ironhood: Week 23

Week 23 (13-19 Jun):

First mistake: Riding against the traffic of a one-way street.
Second mistake: Speeding.

With these 2 mistakes set up against me, it was inevitable the obvious happened - an oncoming car approached my speeding bike, and in a state of panic, I squeezed my brakes and crashed to the ground, landing on my back and hitting my head hard against the road.

As I lay on the road, I was more angry than in pain. A second fall in just 3 weeks! How could I be so careless? Why do I keep crashing when I've only weeks to race day?

Questions, questions, questions. I'm not sure what cracked my helmet - the impact of the fall, or the bursting questions in my head.

Soon, help came - my riding friends, the driver and her passengers. I was helped up, my bike laid on the grass next to an ant-infested area, and I was made sure I hadn't broken any bones. All I sustained was some abrasions on my back and elbow.

A trained nurse on the way to a family day event, the driver brought a fully packed first aid kit, and very quickly got round to dressing my wounds. She was so very kind and friendly, I was overwhelmed with gratitude.

Now, what are falls if not to learn lessons from? Here are the lessons learnt:

1. Can any man be an island? No way. We live and grow in a community; we struggle and shrivel alone.

2. Falling makes me human; and realized I am no almighty speeding demon. Not that I attempt to be one, but in my bid to improve my speed and ride faster, I lose the sense of clarity and focus sometimes - and what a price I have to pay for that!

3. Be thankful, always, every time. Our lives are wrapped in a bubble of protection because we have a destiny ahead of us, awaiting fulfillment. I know I am preserved from harm and danger for a cause, a very big cause.

4. IronMan training is more than just physical; it's also mental and emotional. I'm only just beginning to grasp this fact, 7 weeks into race day.

Apart from the agonizing fact that I have to endure long periods away from the family and a familiar weekend routine of breakfast and pockets of quality time, it's absolutely essential to train up a strong mind and heart - sometimes we fumble and tumble, sometimes we crash and burn; but which journey to greatness isn't filled with frequent obstacles and the occasional road blocks?

So, 'nuff said - failure is not fatal; giving up is. With that, I'll keep going, keep training; and keep TRI-ing.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Journey to Ironhood: Week 22

Week 22 (6-12 Jun):

One of the beauty of training for an IronMan race is that you keep learning... because you're never quite there. Even if you're a pro triathlete, there are always better participants striving to outdo you, other competitors, or simply, themselves.

I'm appreciating this season of being down, down, down. No, I don't mean emotionally, but physically and mentally. I'm in a state of flux. Learning, applying, persevering, striving, overcoming, bettering. Acquiring physical and mental muscles to get me up, up, up for race day. Even then, I can't guarantee that I'll indeed be fully up come August when I stand nervously at the shore of the lake, as I behold over a thousand super fit and ripped triathletes about to lunge into the lake as I would, and battle out our bodies and hearts on the course for some 8-16 hours.

All I can say is, as long as I make it to race day, and stick the course, come what may, whether I cross the finishing line or not, I stand a champ for having worked hard and given my very best.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

Journey to Ironhood: Week 21

Week 21 (30 May - 5 Jun):

What goes up must come down. This applies also to fitness. In sports, it's commonly understood that training + rest = improvement, and while athletes typically train 3 weeks and rest a week, we're expected to bounce back stronger in week 4.

Unfortunately, this isn't the case for me. After a week's hiatus following my fall while riding, my body spiraled into an all-time low. This shouldn't normally happen to one who has been training consistently the past many months, and fitness is not something that is lost overnight, or a week. But it happened alright, and I'm forced to evaluate my training regime. Planning a training regime for maximum results is an art, as any craft that desires to tune something as complex as the human body into precision, conditioning and performance would.

I'm on a continuous learning process. Even after 5 months of training, I still haven't gotten all of my training right. What can I say? I'm a work I'm progress, or more precisely, iron in the making. ;)

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Journey to Ironhood: Week 20

Week 20 (23-29 May):

Ultra hyped up during the week. Swam on Monday despite it being a designated rest day. Ran intervals, stairs and tempo the next 3 consecutive mornings despite it being an unadvisable thing to do - that's too much stress on the leg muscles and insufficient time to recover. Will I ever learn my lesson?

Apparently not, because I was taught another lesson on Sunday. Riding on a flat road at just 30 kph, I was resting my arms comfortably on the aero bars, charting my training regime while smiling to myself at the prospect of increased mileage and training sessions on a week long holiday, when I veered off the road onto the pebbled area by the side and in a desperate attempt to steer my bike back onto the road, I lost control and crashed superman-style, with my hands stretched out front; scrapping my chest, hands and knees as I landed with a great big thud that alarmed my two friends riding ahead of me who quickly turned around to my rescue.

Lying face down in the middle of the road, unable to move with Scotty on top of me, I peered up at two oncoming cars that screeched to a halt. Out came a big man who quickly ran towards me and lifted my bike off me. I got up unattended, relieved that I have not broken any bones, and sustained only superficial injuries.

My two friends quickly sat me down and took care of my injury, washing it with water and fixing my bike, joking and taking pictures of my wounds.

Through this experience, I'm further convinced never to ride alone, because there is safety and rescue in numbers.

But more so, I'm convinced by the value of my friendship with them who takes tremendous care of me at all times, whether I'm at my strongest at the peak of my training or I'm at my weakest, when I crash and tumble.

I'm thankful for men - for the capability and security they provide, and for the responsibility they take upon themselves, to look out and care for friends and fellow triathletes alike.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Motivation leads; determination drives

Motivation leads me to dream;
determination drives me to strategize an action plan.

Motivation leads me out of bed;
determination drives me out the door.

Motivation leads me to the starting line;
determination drives me to excel.

Motivation leads me to lofty aspirations;
determination drives me to conquer mountains.

Motivation leads me to where I am now;
determination drives me to finish what I set out to do.

To IM Regensburg come August! ;)

Monday, May 23, 2011

24 hours to running your first marathon

I jotted down these pointers for a friend running the Adidas Sundown Marathon this Sat, 28 May 2011, and thought I'll just open this and share it with anyone preparing to run your first or subsequent marathons. Of course, do take note of the difference in the race starting time - Sundown starts its race at 12 midnight; other races typically start at 5am; so adjust your sleep timings accordingly. Otherwise, all other pointers remain the same.

Basic principle
Our bodies are like cars. In order for a car to travel fast and far, especially to last the distance, it has to be fueled up. Likewise, our bodies need to be fueled up to keep running for a long time. Knowledge of sufficient nutrition and hydration is critical. If we prepare our bodies with this in mind, we'll have no problem completing a seemingly daunting 42km marathon (of course, training is the even more critical component here, but that will be covered separately). So here goes...

The Adidas Sundown Marathon begins at Sat midnight/Sun dawn. You need to rest the whole of Sat, enjoy the day, do things that you like, eat well, eat happy, and get sufficient sleep. I know it’s hard, especially when we’re not used to napping, but try to sleep a couple of hours on Sat evening leading up to your race at midnight.

What I did was to sleep from 5-9pm on Sat and get up to make it to the race site by 11pm.

Carbo load on Friday. Eat a little more than you usually do, loading in more carbs – rice, pasta, bread, potato, etc.

Happy breakfast on Sat. Indulge in pancakes, waffles, wholegrain bread, peanut butter toast, etc. Refrain from milk or dairy products as they are likely to make you wanna go to the loo.

Have a hearty lunch – pasta is always a good and a preferred choice by most athletes prior to their race. Pasta is good carbs for a long race.

Have a peanut butter sandwich 2 hours before the race. Or any sandwich you like. Peanut butter is also good carbs.

Take a power gel an hour or half an hour before the race, i.e. 11pm or 11.30pm. Gels usually kick in 15-30mins, depending on individuals. Take the gel to give you that boost to start your first few kilometers of run.

Take a gel every hour. Be religious about this, even if you don't like it. A lot of people dislike taking gel after a few, coz it’s not exactly the tastiest thing in the world, but it is essential to fuel you through the distance and hours.

Make sure you drink sufficient water to wash down each gel you take. Otherwise you might have stomach bloatedness from indigestion of gels.

Water and 100Plus are provided at hydration stations (100Plus at every alternate hydration station). My general advice is to hydrate yourself at every station. Take whatever is offered. If it’s water, drink it. If it’s 100Plus, drink it. If it’s 100Plus plus water, drink both. It’s extremely important to keep your body hydrated during the race – your body is going through a lot of stress and needs to be frequently hydrated. Remember that 100Plus is also extremely important to provide sodium to avoid your muscles from cramping. So if you can only down so much water and have to choose one, between choosing 100Plus and water, always choose 100Plus. You need sodium, otherwise cramps are inevitable. Why? Because your muscles are working extra hard during a long race.

Attire, socks & shoes – do not try anything new on race day. Stick to the attire, socks and shoes that you have been wearing while training, or risk abrasion or discomfort which can be magnified manifold on a long run on race day.

Run light – avoid carrying items with you, except your gels. Wear a fuel belt if possible, to carry your gels with you on the run.

Keep a consistent pace - don't go too fast nor too slowly. The key is a sustainable pace to get you to the finish line.

Set mini goals along the way, for example, “I’m going to run to the next street lamp”. Or “I’m gonna overtake this guy in front of me”. Or I’m gonna make it to the turn around point at 21km and increase my pace a little.”

Enjoy every step, even the painful ones. It's a great privilege to run a marathon. You are blessed with a healthy & strong body to undertake this challenge, so enjoy the process.

And finally, come what may, please, please, please do enjoy the run. Run strong, run well, and beat the sunrise! ;)

Journey to Ironhood: Week 19

Week 19 (16-22 May):

Be ambitious, but also be realistic.

Faith is a strong leader, but she must be carried on the hands and legs of hard work.

Life's journey is one of work (growing up, learning, getting educated, building a career, family, social network) - what makes an IronMan journey any different?

Week 12 has been a week of re-strategizing my training regime for the A-race in Regensburg come August.

An overly ambitious me need to push my body to the limits, while considering my time and commitment limitations, and avoiding the risk of injury.

With extremely experienced and helpful fellow triathletes I have the privilege of calling friends and mentors, I'm ready for the next 11 weeks of focused training and push to Ironhood! ;)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

I have... a vision

I want a vision that I can pursue my entire life; no brakes, no full stops.

I want a vision that I can lay my life on the line for, and having fought a good fight, I stand victorious, satisfied at steps taken closer.

A journey that I relish every moment of, and not desiring the finishing line to come close.

A vision that I wake up excited to every morning, and makes me see life differently - in bright HD colors and 3D intensity.

A vision that so sparkles in my eyes it jumps out at people I talk to and draw their interest and support for mine.

I want a vision equipped with hands and legs to touch many, to give flight to those crippled by their circumstances; a vision that benefits and better others while I move along mine.

I want a vision that keeps my progress in check; one that makes me put one foot in front of the other, and moves me forward every time.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Journey to Ironhood: Week 18

Week 18 (9-15 May):

What was supposed to have been a 20-week journey to IronMan China has now become a 32-week journey to IronMan Regensburg.

As one plan foils and another emerges, I take steps to put things in place. Yet through this time, new issues arise, particularly my many character flaws.

In my bid to pull out of China and register for a fresh race in Regensburg, Germany, I did so swiftly, brashly and selfishly. I did so, afraid of slots being sold out, and did not first discuss the matter over with my husband. I acted like my life was my own and I wasn't married. My husband, calm and composed, made me see the light and how my single-minded pursuit of the IronMan was potentially affecting our relationship. We ironed this issue out over breakfast, and now sorted, I'm thankful for timely interventions like this that burst my self-inflated bubble and keep me in check every time I dangerously steer out of course.

With 3 months to go till race day on 7 Aug, I'm glad for a longer training time to better prepare myself for this race. I'm ready to give my best shot in the remaining days and bring myself strong both to the starting line and finishing tape.