Wednesday, July 23, 2014

KM Duathlon

The KM Duathlon was held on 20 July, 7.00am, at the Changi Exhibition Centre. It attracted a few hundred endurance athletes to this boutique-race comprising a run-ride-run. We had not enjoyed a Duathlon for a few years, so this was a surprising treat. The format included a relay event, 5km-20km-5km (30km), or 10km-40km-10km formats. I elected to completed the 10-40-10 (60km) category, as a prelude to Ironman 70.3 Cebu (on 3 August). 

Sante sets off - fast! (I was just behind - see my finger?)
The calm before the storm...(I am wearing the official Compressport tri-top).
The 60km race was flagged off at 7.02am, and the 30km field of athletes followed up five minutes after. It was already daylight, so visibility was assured and the fast runners tore off hurriedly. The first 10km was dominated by the strong runners, as the fastest registered a 34-minute performance. I paced myself near the front, focused on my friend, Sante Scartozzi - a recent Ironman New Zealand finisher, and respectable age-grouper. With his strong run, I knew if I stuck close to him, I would be close to my race-goal of a sub-3 hour finish. My expected timing splits would have been around 48minutes, 1:15, and 52 minutes respectively, excluding transition.
 With the cheeky Peter Yap.
 With swim Coach David 'Yellowfish' Lim
With Cebu-bound buddy, Winston Wong.
On the run: Too fast, you Wally! I followed Sante and the faster runners ahead of me, and braced for a pace that would be both comfortable and still not lose my ground. Coming into the Transition Area, I was mildly laboured however pleased that I almost did a PB in my 10km. Seriously, it was equal to my best time for a 10km, in both training or racing. I briefly basked in the moment of my achievement, and took 1:11 minutes for a quick-change. The only challenges for me were my new Shimano riding shoes/cleats, new fork (ENVE), new seat (ISM), and new bar-tape. As expected, my ride as stable and smooth and I could focus on the relevant factors. 'Focus on what you can manage' has always been my mantra. Note to self: Do more intervals for the run. Run like Sante.
Out of Transition Area in a minute: Sloppily slow, though.
A new ISM Adamo Racing seat, sits well.
On the ride: I took the first lap easy as I needed to find my pacing and familiarise myself with the course. Once I locked that in, I was able to focus on my pace, cadence and breathing. I did not check my timing, and chose to go by my 'mental-ticks' of over-taking fellow participants on the flat course (that ran parallel to the airport runway). I was pleased with the way my bike performed, and I think I kept to my planned timing of 1:15 closely. I believe I lost some time when I spun in (more relaxed) into Transition. From experience, I wanted to run on less-depleted legs. Thus, I drank my bidon of Hammer Nutrition 'Perpeteum' which fueled me for both then ride and subsequent run. Another two bottles of water accompanied me, as you were expected to be self-sufficient on the ride leg (in this race). Nutrition is, invariably, the Fourth Discipline in triathlons and the vital link to success or disappointment in a race.
With the imitable, Funny-Man, Marathon Mohan (with more than 250 marathons under his belt)
A cruel second, 10km run placated by the rising heat and fatigue.
On the second run: After a 2-minute transition, which included the consumption of two salt-capsules (CrampFix) and water, and a mild interaction (with David, Ser Luck and Jeffrey) I trundled off. The first kilometre was hard to run. In retrospect (wisdom of hindsight), I think I hit the gas too hard on the first 10km (44:04) which may have burnt up one extra match. You have a finite number of matches in your 'box' (body), and if these are consumed too soon, the remainder of the race becomes harsh. Pacing is a critical part of racing, so training your body to consume both fat and sugar is a key goal of training. I managed a slower (by exactly eight minutes) second lap with 52:04, which was still within my goal. It was a struggle for the first 5km, I assure you.
The winners in my category did very well with timings of 2:28, 2:30, and 2:36. I dragged my sorry behind just behind the top women (60km) who did 2:50, and I assured myself with a 2:53 finish. I was happily switching places with her for most of the 4-lap ride. She was a strong and competent competitor! Race emcee 'Voice of Triathlon' Ross Sarpani enthusiastically called me, and I acknowledge gratefully my sub-3 hour entry into the finisher-chute. He kept the energy positive and high from start to end.

The Recovery Tent proved to be more fun and cooling, and finishers were pampered with a plethora of cooling delights such as cold Heineken and Asahi beer, fruity slurpee from two dispensing-machines, cold Gatorade, cold wet-towels, fruit, and a buffet-spread. There were cold-shower units to partake in, if one wished. I talked to a few finishers, including two who fell off their bikes earlier, and yet completed their respective races. Such true grit is admirable as the pain and discomfort is factored into an already grueling race.

Other highlights for me included seeing my triathlon and marathon friends, such as Marathon Mohan on his first duathlon (still motivating runners on with his whistle, verbal encouragement, and ever-ready camera); Adrian Mok, Teo Ser Luck (Guest-of-Honour and participant), Jeffrey Foo (organiser), Winston Wong, and David 'Yellowfish' Lim. I stayed on until the prize-giving ceremony was over. It was also satisfying to see a cheque of $6,200.00 presented to the charity known as CARE. I appreciate it when charity and sports mix, and both sides benefit as synergistic collaborators.

In summary, the race was well-organised by Infinitus Productions, with a clear route, adequate feed-stations, friendly volunteers, and a desirable recovery-tent. The participants' positive attitude added to the air of friendly (but intense) competition. I look forward to next year's edition. Such races, when timed properly provide useful evaluations that can be used to chart one's progress. I am glad my CrossFit/strength sessions have translated into actual muscular power and speed. Final assessment: On-track and on-target for a (hopeful) PB in Cebu.
Photo-credits: Mohan Marathon; Running Shots;

Sunday, July 13, 2014

The Benefits of Training Solo (Part 1)

I have been training, predominantly, alone for the last two years. My race performance has been mixed, yet I have ticked off a few boxes on my Bucket List. Here are some salient advantages of training solo:

1) You respect other people's time, by not wasting their time waiting for you to arrive.
2) You save time, as you can start/stop at your own will and decision.
3) You enjoy greater flexibility of activities and duration.
4) You can integrate a workout at any time of your waking hours.
5) You decide on your routes, pathways and course of action.
6) You determine your own pace and speed.
7) You are not pressured or influenced by another person.
8) You will not be 'dropped' for your slowness.
9) You simulate race-day conditions, which is to race at a non-draft distance.
10) You can sleep in, if the weather is inclement and you need more rest.
Photo-credit: Paul

A First Time For New Experiences

I tested my first aero-helmet this morning: the Rudy Project Wing 57, complete with snap-on visor. Perhaps, due to poor mounting on my part, my visor popped out halfway during my ride.

I have not used an aero-helmet as I never thought I was fast enough to use it. In recent weeks, while preparing for my A-races, I decided to use this 'advantage'. I felt that my head was tighter, warmer, and I could hear the wind whistling in my ear (against the head-winds). I am reminded of the cliche of 'There's a first time for everything'. I must admit that I perceived i had a raised self-esteem. This was evident by my enthusiasm to lead my small squad of riders, Kenneth and Paul on the flat sections and on the slopes.
After my short ride (about 45km comprising some sustained velocities), I did a 10km run. This was my second 'ride-run brick' in a week. Last Sunday, I ran until the 8km mark when I started to fade, and walked/jogged the remainder. Today, I completed the full 10km in about 48:50, which was a sub-4:55min/km pace. I was pleased with myself as it was a hot morning, and I managed to hold my tempo pace.

I look forward to the next few workouts before next Sunday's KM Duathlon, which comprises a format of 10km run-40km ride-10km run. My new helmet will accompany me on this race, as well as in the Ironman 70.3 Cebu.

Leadership Lessons: When was your last 'new experience'? How was that like for you? What did you enjoy about it?

Monday, June 16, 2014

Racing Season Has Begun

Racing has begun!

In recent weeks, I have resumed racing with a 60km riding race and 21km run.
With a schedule of races in July through September, I will be participating in a duathlon, Olympic Distance triathlon, half-Ironman, 10km and 21km races.
It is assessment time, and I will be building up to Ironman 70.3 Cebu; I hope to earn a PB. My main goal in 2015 is to earn a sub-3-hour marathon, or somewhere near that time. A Boston Marathon slot in 2016 will be my main goal. Next year, I may attempt my third Ironman Lanzarote and aim for my best time there.

Much to do, but happy work, nonetheless.
*Photo-credit (TRI-Factor Ride): Richard Leong*

From Less Functional To More Functional

During the years 1990-1993, I was national-level bodybuilder (also known as a 'muscle-head') on its B-team. In my first competition, I spent eight weeks to prepare and packed on 7kg of lean muscle. I won third placing in the Middleweight division, and that was the start of a frustrating and tumultuous relationship with barbells, dumb-bells and weight-satck machines. I experienced strength, fatigue, stretch-marks, stinky gym-clothes, hyper-nutrition (over-nutrition by pissing out expensive urine) and revelations.

Having won three 3rd placings, and one runner-up award I retired completely from the quaint sport with unnaturally-developed behemoths. I thought I was fit, but I was not. Even though I was flexible and strong, I lacked balance, core strength (I hated doing abdominal exercises) and functionality.

Muscular functionality is about how our skeletal-muscular (skeleton and muscles) system work effectively and efficiently. I could not apply myself fully in sports like racket-games and swimming. Even though I used to teach-exercise ('aerobic classes'), I lost a fair amount of muscular coordination. I was fit enough to pass my IPPT (annual physical fitness assessment) in my annual reserves military service, but I was not testing myself in enough ways.

Photo-credit & design: Richard Leong
Circa 2014, after a decade of training and racing in multi-sport endurance races I have redefined my muscle functionality. My core strength is much developed. I have better coordination of my body especially in then swim. I am a much stronger runner with far-developed endurance for the 10km, 21km and marathon. I can ride long, often in excess of 100km.

How are you developing your functionality? How comprehensive is your training process? How much do you factor in the testing and evaluation of your fitness?  
Take then time to measure these, and convert this into actual racing performance.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Recent Race Roundup & Reality Checks

It has been a while since I have posted. I have resumed preparation for my next A-races, with a few B-races under my belt. I enjoyed two recent assessments on my ride and run, and I have a stronger sense of direction on how to enhance my fitness, focus and decisiveness-in-action.

After completing my Big-3 Races (Boston Marathon, AP Ironman Championships, Ironman NZ) in March and April, I have recovered from my fatigue and mild injuries. No major injuries, I assure you, but signs and indicators of athlete's wear-and-tear. I suspect muscle imbalance, and I will be testing this; and joint issues, mainly in my knees (sounds, and mild soreness after long training or racing sessions). Testing and assessment will be my priority these coming weeks, with rehabilitation (strengthening and correct muscle activation/firing sequence) the order of the day.
I completed the 21km section of the Sundown Marathon. It was a new route, with a challenging climb up the famous Benjamin Sheares Bridge (named after our second President of Singapore) in the latter part of the race. I arrived in 1:45 (a far cry from my 1:33 best), and in 44th place in the Male category, and about 51st overall (including the Female category). I was pleased with it as I still kept an consistent moving-average pace. I had mild preparation with about three, 10km-runs, weekly. So, with more endurance-based runs I hope to lock in  a good timing in the Ironman 70.3 triathlon in Cebu in early-August.  Also, on the cards, is a major goal of cracking the my 21km PB, and a bonus of a sub-1:30 at the AHM 21km Run in September.
I also completed the TRI-Factor 60km ride, part of the complete series I have been sponsored for. In my current shape, I cracked my personal time on this fairly hairy 6-loop course. I placed in the top-33 percent, which means I have to continue focusing on speed work, and achieve a consistent pace for the full 90km in Cebu. I am taking a big crack on my half-Ironman PB with my renewed fitness, so this achievement was satisfying.

I am exploring a few more, short-course races - my main goal for the rest of this year will be racing and assessment. I am curious about what kind of speed I am capable of doing in the Olympic Distance triathlon, the half-Ironman, and the half-marathon. My A-goals for next year are to meet a career-best timing of near-3-hours for a marathon, and qualify for Boston Marathon in 2016. And, perhaps another two Ironman across two continents.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Resuscitate Yourself From Your 'Dead Years'

Have you experienced 'The Dead Years'?

I describe this period, lasting from months to years, as time away from your passions and interests. For instance, you may experience dead years from your pursuits like exercise or novel writing due to a busy work schedule, family obligations, or prolonged study. I learnt of this term from talented and clever magician, Allan Ackerman in his book 'Las Vegas Kardma'.

I experienced my dead years in magic - electing not to perform for three years, and occasionally in public (to my students). However, I did continue to practise my Art from time to time. Having said that, when I practised, I fully committed myself to my task of learning or revising my material.

We do experience 'down time' in our lives, and when cleverly planned and integrated, we recover  from fatigue and potential burnout. If unplanned and unaware about it, it can rob us of precious time, resources and connectivity with others.

It is fine to take the occasional break (away from the mundane and predictable), however be mindful of the imminent and immediate future. How can we turn our restful period into the next restless period? This is merely a 'punctuated moment' in our schedule (called 'life'), and we need to string the 'words into a sentence', or we will be sentenced into stasis and inertia. Explore new ways to do the same thing. Find new joy or discipline in our habits. Or, better still, create new patterns of behavior and live life in fruitful ways. Creativity can be described as new perspectives or new ways of looking at the same thing.

Leadership Lessons: Recall your dead years. How long did it last? How did move past them, and moved forwards? When do you decide to slow things down and re-prioritise? What did you learn from periods of forced rest or hiatus?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Boston Marathon 2014: Boston Strong Race Report

Boston, Massachusetts, 21 April 2014: Today, I achieved a new milestone in my athletic career having completed the prestigious Boston Marathon. It was a culmination of 10 years of training, and three years of visioning. I crossed the line, in high spirits, fatigued legs, and diminished speed in 3:48. For three hours and over-48 minutes, I ran past one million spectators, more than a dozen towns and locales, and major landmarks.
In 2011, I missed earning an entry in the 2012 edition (116th year) because I had a fallow margin of one minute. I earned my first Boston Qualifying (BQ) time of 3:29:59 in the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon in February. Interestingly, many well-intentioned friends suggested that the hilly course in Hong Kong would forbid me from earning a Personal Best (PB) easily. I prevailed, and it was not easy but I gratefully received my BQ timing (less than 3:30) in July 2013. This time, I ran it at 3:16 (how apt for a biblical passage), which was far better than what I fared in 2011, with 3:32. In 2012, I raced the Berlin Marathon in September in a dismal 4:00, after recuperating from a hairline toe fracture incurred before Ironman Switzerland (which I hobbled painfully to completion). I learnt abject lessons from my two months of a forced diet of no-running, and only riding and swimming. 

I arrived on Thursday in Boston, after passing through Frankfurt and New York City. I had taught two workshops over-3 days before so I was pleased to travel the extended distance on Singapore Airlines. My lounge privileges allowed me to shower, and enjoy warm food and beverages (and a wine/beer) during transit. During that time, I was contemplating whether to race as a celebration, or to run a hard race. My friend, Celene Loo suggested that I enjoy the race thoroughly since I had suitably qualified, and to immerse myself in the Boston Experience. I laid that plan latently, electing to 'go with the flow' of my intuition, and pace of fellow runners around me.
The race-fair was three-days long, highlighted by my early-arrival in an already long, snake-like queue for race-kit collection. I treasured my Runner's Passport, which included race-information, entry coupons for Pre-Race Dinner and Post-Race Party. There was much to see, and collect (insoles, organic muesli, the special race-only Samuel Adams Boston Lager '26.2', energy drinks, and much more) from the exhibitor booths - and I returned on Day 2 to attend the touching talk by The Hoyts. Never have I seen so many standing ovations and enthusiastic applause for two of endurance sports most-enduring father-son teams. This was their swan-song for the Boston Marathon, as it is taking its toll and toil on the senior of the pair. 
Race Morning: I was up at 4.30pm and out the door by 6.00pm. We took the crowded (but orderly) train to Cropley Square, whereby (after a comfort-stop) we were ushered up into buses to be ferried to the start-point at Hopkinton. The emotion in the bus was mainly apprehension, excitement and a sense of pride. We had arrived, and time to complete the race, collect our medals, and bask in the afterglow of accomplishment.
It took an hour, and we arrived at the car-park whereby we were led by the friendly volunteers into the gathering-area. Runners were assigned specific pen-numbers and wave-numbers (based on our qualification times). The elite runners were flagged off first, followed by the fastest qualifiers.
I must say that the race was a bit of a blur, after the usual pre-race preamble and scramble. There was no rush to jockey for a good start position. The race-bib with the integrated-chip determined our final time. When I was flagged off, it was boisterous and rowdy in a good way, ushered by residents of Hopkinton. It was cheerful, happy and hopeful. Along the way, I smiled (abundantly), gave high-five slaps to children (I felt bad I missed a few of them), got kissed (and kissed - on the cheek, of course) the Wellesley College Girls (an all-girl, liberal arts, college) who were a pleasant distraction and utter attraction at Mile 13 (before Heartbreak Hill met us), Heartbreak Hill (more a series of undulating roads stretching for five miles until Boston College), and the spectator-lined streets for all of 42 kilometres. Between these scenic and jubilant accounts, were the well-manned aid-stations that were highly considerate and caring to all (including I, who tended to stand beside them to consume my water, CrampFix salt-tablets and Hammer Nutrition Perpeteum/gels) runners. We were well taken care of, and I would not fault anyone. The residents in the towns were also extensions of the volunteers, offering wet-sponges, refreshments, and encouragement. 
To summarise my experience: Boston was strong, and its spirit was Stronger! 
I raced, I suffered, as I approached the finish-line. The last one kilometre was tough as 'my mind was willing, but my legs were weak'. However, my meek jog strengthened to a plausible gallop as I increased my stride-length. For one fleeting moment, I was reminded of the vicious act of violence last year, as I approached the grandstand, packed readily with officials, first-responders, spectators, families and VIPs. 
It was merely a shadow of past that would not be repeated today, or on any other day. This was a day that runners united, a city braved its grief and losses, and emerged victorious. The most poignant line I recall somebody tell me was: 'Thank you for saving our city!' I was dumbfounded to hear that, as I stifled my emotions, but honoured for playing a small part in a bigger piece of the cosmic equation. I was compelled to thank everyone I met (who seem to revel in congratulating us finishers) and reciprocate their hospitality. I felt like a celebrity racing the half-Ironman in Cebu!
I crossed the line at Boylston Street in about 3:48. As I crossed the line, it felt like my first marathon and Ironman triathlon completions. One's sense of fatigue was erased by the sense of euphoria, achievement and accomplishment. A heady concoction of emotions mixed with realisation that I had achieved large and empowering, alongside 32,000 of my fellow brothers/sisters in marathon.
I was led in, by enthusiastic and congratulating volunteers to receive my thermal sheet, race-medal, and post-race refreshments. My face felt flushed with excitement, although technically, my race was over. I walked besides many participants (now christened by the Boston Strong Experience) who, now, were my friends-for-life, united by one unique experience cherished only by this peculiar fondness for this distance and activity.
I connected with two journalists from Channel NewsAsia; Dr Derek Li (who did 2:42 at this race) arranged for this opportunity, which I coordinated with editor in Singapore, and ended up doing the interview alone. Although I enjoyed the post-race recognition, I felt my experience would have been enhanced with the presence of team-mates, Derek, Jenny Huang (who did 3:30) and Blade Runner Shariff. Nevertheless, it was what it was and I ddi my best - in one, take - to capture the essence of the Boston Strong Experience. I received much positive response from this piece when it was broadcasted a day after. I cringed at my post-race attire, as I felt chilly in the windy 16 degrees Celcius conditions. It was my virgin foray into compression-socks, encouraged by the cold.
Overall, I enjoyed my first Boston Marathon/Boston Strong tremendously. I was pleased with my approach, enjoyed most aspects of my experience and promised to return in 2016. I hope to earn it through a more-challenging PB of 3 hours, and less. I have a grand plan ahead of me, and I hope to achieve it within a year, so as to attend the 120th edition of this historical race.
*Photo-credits: Melina Chan & Marathon Photos*
*Sponsors: CrampFix, On Shoes, Jabra*

Friday, May 16, 2014

Switching Trains of Thoughts

It has been three weeks worth of recovery and recuperation. Racing three major races (two Ironman-distance triathlons and one marathon) was a test and assessment in capability and limitations. So, that chapter is completed and I have chalked up new achievements, ticked off a few things from my Bucket List, and added to my resume of accomplishments.

Now, I have switched gears and sense of purpose back to my other passionate pursuit: designing and performing magic. I was a semi-professional magician (magical entertainer) up to two years ago, where I focused on my endurance, multi-sports journey. After a hiatus of a few years, where I did not actively perform magic (but still studied it), I have returned. Few people knew that my project after I left full-employment were two performing assignments in a hotel Japan. I realised that I could earn a decent livelihood as a performer, however it would be, nonetheless, challenging of I treated it as a lucrative hobby. To do well, I realised, I had to commit to my profession fully and completely. There was little compromise to personal and professional excellence.

This evening, I was the first performer in my magic club - International Brotherhood of Magicians Ring 115 (IBM 115, Singapore) and I performed a version of an mind-reading illusion I have thought about recently. The last time I performed it, was about three years ago.  The nice thing about entertaining fellow magicians is that we can keep our mistakes behind closed doors. However, when we perform for a paying audience, we cannot afford to make mistakes that are noticeable. Professional performers are paid healthy remunerations for our skills, performing abilities, and entertainment abilities. When we are not performing, the performer is studying, practising, rehearsing and improving on his acts.

To paraphrase a successful magician, 'You are paying for 20 years of preparation!'

As Colin Key, a finalist in America's Got Talent said: 'We practise all these difficult sleight of hand magic, but you don't get to see it!' If only audiences can appreciate the hundreds of hours put into designing an act, routine or trick we may be valued more than 'tricksters'. Ironically, magic survives on preserving these 'secret's, because once revealed the value of the illusion becomes diminished.

However, we practise magic not because it is fun (it is), but because we thrive on being artists. An artist lives to express himself through his Art, so that the Art emerges through this symbiosis of performer and impact of the act. Art may involve a degree of suffering, but as most artist can attest, the suffering is part of the journey and worth getting there. 

I am looking forward to sharing these moments of astonishment with you. If you meet me, ask me, and I may share my moments that may take our breath away. 

Enjoy the magical moments in your life.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Behind An Interview (Boston Strong)

What goes on behind an interview? I am interviewed here by Channel NewsAsia (CNA) after my completion of 118th Boston Marathon (Boston Strong). I was among 16 Singaporeans who attended this edition, with about 32,000 runners and over-1 million spectators who lined from Hopkinton to Cropley Square. The interview was featured the following evening on the 10.00pm news highlights. The two journalists, Nick and Patrice, worked as a team - one in front of the camera; the other, behind it. Essentially, I was interviewed as to why I decided to attend Boston Strong. My responses were thus: Firstly, the Boston Marathon is the world's oldest marathon, and the 'holy grail' of marathons. Secondly, we had assurance and reassurances months before the event. Lastly, the support by the city and first-responders were overwhelmingly strong.
Given another attainment of a personal best (PR) timing, I would surely return for another shot in a future edition of the 42.195km race.