Sunday, November 25, 2012

Cutting A New Look (Pre-SCSM 2012)

Thanks to Run Society for capturing my sprint towards the end-point at this morning's Salomon X-Trail Run. Eustaquio Santimano brought this picture to my attention.

Photo-credit: Run Society
You can see that I am leaner now, thus my heart-rate strap/monitor began slipping downwards in my last three kilometres. My last three weeks saw my personal run mileage hit in excess of 60K per week. In fact, I ran three 21K easy runs last week. This week, I ran 2X10K tempo runs, one 21K easy run, one deep sports-massage, another 21K (yesterday) and the 10K trail race this morning. My overall fitness is improving, and there are no distinct injuries of discomfort. What has improved, up to this tapering week, are an sturdy gait, lower footfall, and a heightened ability to tap on my aerobic system (working at not more than Zone 3). My long runs are done at 145-150bpm. I wanted to enhance my ability to metabolise my fat-burning system, so a disciplined approach to not exceeding my intended heart-rate, was in order.

One more week to go before the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon. I hope to do near 3:30, and a decision will be  made at the 21K mark to determine if I will go for broke. I am hopeful and optimistic. I will have Melvin How as my pacer until such time he feels, intuitively and tactically, to gun his BQ timing. I have two attempts for a BQ: in Singapore next weekend, or at the Gold Coast Marathon in July.

Salomon X-Trails Run 2012

Sunday 25 November, 2012: Held at the Mountain Bike Park & Trail in Tampines, this 10K off-road race promised more than distance and irregular terrain for the 2,500 runners comprising newbies and experienced cross-country runners.
After some mile circumnavigation on my taxi, I finally found schools of runners (with the same attire) walking, or waiting to cross the road. I met Charles Teng and his pregnant wife (who ran in the race), Rynette when I arrived. At the start-line, I met Ironman finishers and seasoned trail-runners such as Wilson Ang, KK Chin and Melvin How. I was, somewhat, apprehensive as I rarely ran trails or cross-country except for my MR25 qualification/time-trial and annual Ultra-Marathon, as well as the NorthFace 50K. Most cross-country races occur at the routes on Macritchie Reservoir, so this race course was different. Since my recovery of a 2-month long stress fracture, I was warned to stay off hills and intervals. Thus, I had a disadvantage with these two variables at this morning's race.

The route was hilly, by my standards, with enough water-hazards and natural obstacles (these were distinctly marked and manned by volunteers). A fatigued runner, bashing through the course would be met with an untimely smack on the face, head or shin. I appreciated these active warning signs. 
Too often, you will observe inexperienced runners go ‘too hard, too soon’. Unsurprisingly, I overtook those in front who were less tactically-sound. I also watched how seasoned, veteran runners attack the course. They are so graceful to watch, with varying strides and a honed sense of alertness. Trail-running is akin to fartlek or 'speedplay', and it reminded me of the book I am reading now - 'Running With Kenyans'; fast sprints interspersed with recovery jogs. I assisted a few runners across the final ditch of mud. A lady runner seemed to have twisted her ankle at the 2km mark, while others had their feet or shoes sucked by the muddy pools. Using my Garmin 310XT, I was able to assess my pace and distance left in the course. My watched indicated 10.2km when I crossed the line, and the estimated race distance was about 9km.
The two water-points were adequate for my needs. I believe I coursed through the route in about 56 minutes, about 100m behind KK Chin. Seasoned runner and Ironman, Melvin How agreed with me that the course was ‘technical’ in nature, with wicked turns, sharp turns, fast descents and cruel ascents. Designed by adventure-coach, Wilson Low the course is new, challenging and fun. I sprinted the last 300m strong, with enough gas-in-my-tank. Other than a, distinctly, sore left thigh (because of the numerous left turns, and my unconscious, asymmetrical, landings on that leg) I crossed enervated. The finishing-point offered runners isotonic drinks, water and bananas.
Many runners stayed on for the prize-giving ceremony, cleverly scheduled before the Lucky Draw (10 prizes). The top-10 winners won prizes, with the top-3 in the Open, Veteran, and Male/Female categories bringing home $500, $250 or $125 in cash. We then left the former-competition venue for the Singapore Youth Olympic Games (SYOG) in lengthy trails of muddied footprints.

I was pleased that my legs held on, after yesterday’s 21K easy morning run. Subsisting on a bad diet of four hours of sleep was not optimal racing preparation, but I was pleased for the results. I found the physically challenging, however fun.

Photo-credits: Charles & Rynette Teng

Saturday, November 17, 2012


11) Cut down the amount of starches/simple carbohydrates consumed (rice, bread, cakes, fruit, soft-drinks, candy). Carbohydrate reduction leads to the greatest loss of weight loss in a short duration. However, zero carbohydrates to adverse effects (cranky, irritability, mood swings and fatigue). You MUST have some carbohydrates in your meals.
12) If you must run a lot, still do some cross-training. Vary the distance of each session. Long, slow, distance (LSD) is useful however don't make too easy. Neither should you pant. Panting is non-aerobic or anaerobic, and it means working at 80-90 percent of your maximum heart rate. You may want to stay out of this zone, unless you are building fitness for speed/racing.

Losing up to 1-2kg per week is possible. 1 kg/week is more rational and realistic. Reducing foods with hidden sugar is a major factor to rapid weight loss, HOWEVER it may lead to a REBOUND EFFECT if you aim for zero carbohydrates. Instead, reduce your intake of overall calories, since most calories come from carbohydrates. My friend lost 16kg in a few months through carbohydrate-reduction, however gained some back since his body craved it and caved into its old patterns of eating. You need some carbohydrate to be able do your endurance training.
Run at slower speeds (jogging) to teach your body to burn fat efficiently. Speed burns more sugar. You will get back the speed eventually. Run at conversational pace - that's the guide. Panting means too hard and burning sugar.


1) There are two ways to attack the excess fat (not bodyweight) issue. Muscles weigh more than fat, and are denser in structure. The strategy is to build/maintain muscle while losing fat. Most faddish diets tend to end up with loss of BOTH muscle/lean tissue (bone/connective tissues) and fat.
2) Nutrition + Exercise = Body composition.
3) You can increase lean muscle and lose fat = same weight.
4) You can increase aerobic activity (continuous, activity, done at Zone 1-3) for at least 30-60 minutes per session. Aim for heart rate of 50-60 percent of Maximum Heart Rate/MHR (220-Age). As you get fitter, work to not more than 70 percent of MHR.
5) More exercise sessions = more calories burnt.
6) More muscles/lean tissue = more calories consumed at rest (called Metabolism).
7) Aim to work at least 5 sessions per week (30-60 minutes of activity such as fast walking, jogging, swimming, cycling).
8) The key to successful fat loss is consistency and continuity.
9) Rest is important. Sleep at least 7.5/9 hours a night when you are exercising regularly. Thankfully you should sleep naturally and well.
10) I recommend 2 days on/1 day off, or 3 days on/1 day rest.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Lessons Learnt From A Stress Fracture

I am fully healed. My recovery from my stress fracture to one of my toes has taught me some invaluable lessons as an endurance athlete and leader. These are:
1) Listen to expert advice. My sports doctor, Roger Tien diagnosed my case well and made some recommendations. From opting for an MRI scan (costly) instead of X-ray (less likely to pick up hair-line cracks), he diagnosed, correctly, I had a stress fracture on my left toe. I experienced my first MRI and saw what a stress fracture looked like from the scanned photographs.
2) A battery of tests conducted on me, led to the earlier prognosis of a stress fracture. Specific-muscle testing leads us to appreciate the situation better. Pain and discomfort is a good indicator of injury.
3) My clear description of my symptoms gave more context to my physical condition. I noticed crippling pain on my left foot one week before Ironman Switzerland. I also noticed that I could not put much weight on that foot during the marathon. My post-race limping was validation of a serious condition.

4) Learning to rest completely was a tough call, but the call needed to be made.
5) Cross-training was allowed, so I could still maintain some degree of residual fitness after the Ironman triathlon. I could still swim or ride, but no running was advised.
6) I learnt how to manage my frustration and impatience (a trait I thought I had developed well) through the trial and tribulation of convalescence. Talking to friends (online) and face-to-face, who had experienced similar injuries gave me a sense of assurance that I would recover rapidly and surely, to return to running even stronger than ever.
7) Having completed the Berlin Marathon (on 30 September) successfully (although in a dismal time of 4:00 hours) gave me a clear direction of my progress. No more pain, and enough residual fitness to allow me a reasonably healthy finish. I raced on no run-specific training.
8) The Berlin Marathon and two shorter tune-up races, recently (last Sunday and two weekends ago), provided me adequate data and confidence to race. The 16.8K and 12K races assured me that my racing 'mojo' was back! I lost an enormous and inordinate amount of running fitness and speed, and I had to recall it (the so-called muscle memory effect).
9) Three more weeks to go, and I think I can nail the Singapore Marathon in a reasonable time of 3:40-3:50. A BQ of 3:24 would be more realistic for the Gold Coast Airport Marathon next July.  
10) With another 10K trail run next weekend, I would be in a clearer position to strategise my marathon. I should be able to hold a 5:05-5:15 minutes/km pace. Meanwhile, I will run 4-5 sessions per week (1-2 21K sessions; 2-3 10-12K sessions). Less is more. Less can be faster, as evident from last year's running performance.
Toes crossed!

No Such Thing As Muscle Memory

I have been speaking to students of Sports Science, and the prevailing belief is that 'muscle memory' is a misnomer. Muscles do not have memory, in that learnt physical skills are born of practice, repetition and long-term memory. Our nerve cells/neurons establish these muscle-mind connections, which allow us to play a musical instrument, dance, or ride a bicycle despite a mild hiatus.

The more we practise, or use the same muscles for physical-based skills the more refined these moments become. General, large movements are described as 'gross' movements. The finer, delicate, movements are developed through persistent, specific, practice that allows for more 'automatic' responses. Cognitive skills are just as relevant as are kinesthetic skills.

Having said all these, 'Perfect practice makes perfect'. Wrong practice makes for permanent. It is vital that we learn the correct methods and techniques early in our commitment to a new skill. Getting a coach to observe, assess and correct your strokes and movements is crucial to learning smoothly and significantly. Anyone can play the violin - badly.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

Pointers Towards Preparing For Your Virgin Ironman (Part 1)

Here is, yet, another 'pre-travel' list for preparing for your first Ironman.
1) Test-drive all your race attire. Never race in brand-new, unwashed, race-kit. Race in the same attire you trained or raced in (bring two: one-piece, or two-piece choice). This minimises the incidence of chaffing (abrasion). Bring warm clothing, especially on race-morning, and after-the-race. It can get cold in the morning and late-evening. Slippers are great to walk, with less trepidation to the swim-course. Pass it to your Iron-Mate before you dive off. Slippers are great after the marathon.
2) From your training experience, identify the sweet spots that are vulnerable to chaffing. Lubricate with the venerable Body Glide, or silicon-based lubricants. Worst-case scenario: use baby-oil or petroleum jelly (Vaseline), however synthetic oils can damage your wetsuit and tri-suit.
3) Send your bike in early (about 2-3 weeks before the race). Apply for a queue ticket, as last-minute servicing from nervous first-timers can hold your bike idle for a longer time. You need to ride as part of your tapering.
4) Replace worn-out parts like tyres or tubes, brake-cables, and bar-tape. Check with your mechanic for cracks to your frame and seat-post. Replace rusty screws with new ones. Check your helmet for suspicious cracks, and condition of your straps. Bring additional O-rings to tighten your chin-straps. Bring two sets of used goggles.
5) Bring parts that you cannot get easily (at the bike-fair), such as spare (used) tyres, duct-tape/electrical-tape, large rubber-band (for your aero-bottle), velcro-straps, and Ziploc bags. Purchase new carbon-dioxide canisters/cylinders at the race-fair (due to stringent flight regulations on aerosols). Bring your set of allen-keys that fit your key screws. Bring a small bottle of chain-lube to grease your bone-dry chain. It would be ideal to bring your own bicycle-pump; share it with your racing buddies.
6) Bring your own race-day nutrition. Stick to what you are used to consuming, during training. Gastro-intestinal (GI) issues will ruin your performance. Avoid testing new nutrition purchased at the race-fair (keep them for after your race). Bring your own electrolytes (up to 2-4 tablets per hour), race-fuel (maltodextrin-based or with protein: 2-3 packs per hour, based on your personal observation), solid food (sandwich, low-fibre bars) and 'motivators' (confectionary treats).
7) Check your bike-shoes/cleats (bring extra cleats and screws); running-shoes (bring two); bike-case for cracks and defective-locks/fasteners; sun-glasses (ensure that lenses do not pop out easily); race-belt/elasticity of fuel-loops. Bring at least 3 empty bidons (water-bottles) that you are ready to dispose of during/after the race. You will switch these for those served at the aid-stations. Two of these go on your bike, and one in your Special Needs bag.
8) Ensure that you have your visa (apply Australian visa online), or it will cost much more at the airport; or it will delay your flight. Have all electronic, soft-copies/hard copies of documents available within easy reach (e-ticket, accommodation and car-rental details). Bring enough cold, hard cash for purchasing fuel and food supplies (especially large bottles of water). If using GPS, ensure that your android-phones are fully charged.
9) Ensure that you bring all connectors (wires and international adaptor) to charge your phone, digital camera AND sports-watch (e.g. Garmin or Polar watch).
10) Travel with a buddy. Bring your Iron-Mate* or Iron-Crew**. They will actively remind you about pre-race preparations. Use a Check-List*** and share it with them.