Monday, December 31, 2012

Train Every Part of Your Body

'Then, you better train every part of your body...' ~ Bruce Lee, late-great martial artist.

In recent weeks, I have sought rehabilitation and physical training from indoor-riding. Yes, I have been facing the wall. Well, sort of. I do watch television, at times, while riding indoors on my road-bike. It does take the mind off, occasionally, the mundaneness of pedaling to static scenery.

My endurance-racing community know that I tend to spend dizzying spells of time riding indoors. On average, I spend about two hours in each session, with my longest ride meeting the three-hour mark. How do I do it? Isn't it all mental? It certainly is. However, it is also physical and emotional.

In an Ironman triathlon, the ride is about 180km far and long. Thus, in training we are encouraged to ride at least, once, the distance, or a duration of at least six hours. This is both physically and mentally taxing. Riding is a fun activity that takes it toll when it exceeds our attention span, and our energy reserves. When the scenery changes, or the terrain shifts, we can move our focus to other points of interests or discomfort. 

My friend, Melvin How (multiple-Ironman finisher and age-grouper elite runner) commented that since 'I face the wall, then I am prepared to hit the wall'. I laughed at his sense of humour, as we know fully well in endurance-sports that when we 'run out of gas' or 'bonk', we are 'hitting the wall'. This state can be both physical and mental. The anecdotal and scientific research strongly points to a defeat of the mind before the body does.

Riding indoors is an accompaniment to actual road-riding, especially when the we face inclement weather. It has been described that one hour of indoor-riding feels like 1.5 hours of riding outdoors. Having ridden for a few weeks on my indoor set-up (rim-roller system), I am unable to tell the difference. Perhaps, it is because I subscribe to Dr Phil Maffetone's precepts of 'aerobic training' that I keep my heart-rate monitored within my range (180-my age). This allows my body to tap more on the fatty-acid system as my main source of energy. Watching DVDs of the Ironman World Championships gives me a relevant and pleasant distraction from doing my own 'mind-games' (more on this shortly). What is important is to teach my body to be disciplined in purposeful and structured training, with whatever time I can invest in my racing development.

Two more months to Ironman New Zealand, and I will keep you posted on my training preparations. What is critical, is to accustom (train) your body to reach its goals of being race-fit on race-day. Happy New Year!

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Collectively Supporting A Larger Dream

Imagine this: Suspending your own medical career for three years, training very hard, taking a pay cut, and staying fit and fast for the next Olympic Games. Would you do it if your are a residence doctor and one of the fastest marathoner in the country?

Dr Mok Ying Ren, 24 (gold medalist in triathlon in the SEA Games), hopes to achieve this personal challenge, and I daresay, a quiet dream of Singaporeans. To be the best, to race with the best, and set a new milestone and paradigm. Read more about the ambassador of local distance-running and his vision for 2016.

Monday, December 24, 2012

Challenge Yourself, Hard!

Challenges are a way of bringing out the best and worst in us. When issued a challenge, we can approach it, or walk away from it, especially if it is confrontational. 

A personal challenge is a different proposition. It is one that is self-directed, self-motivated, and personal. It draws upon one's courage and resourcefulness. Challenges can be based on your profession and career, and it can be personal, like completing a physical challenge, attaining personal mastery (learn a new language, play a musical instrument) or earning entry into a club, society or qualification.

The biggest challenge to challenges are measuring it, before and after. As you assess the challenge as part of or decision-making process, ask yourself: What is the value of this challenge? How would I benefit by doing this? What happens if I do not attain the results I seek? What else can I learn from this process?

My friends in the endurance sports community challenge themselves regularly by showing up for training (early-hours), racing, and attaining new personal bests. Outside of their athletic achievements, they excel in their vocation, advocation and recreation.

Challenges provide us with direction, focus, perspective, motivation, sense of quality and excellence. Raise your standards and raise the bar of excelling.

Reviewing Results

It is almost the end of 2013. We seemed to have survived the End-of-Days as predicted by the Mayans, and await other trials and tribulations from economic, cultural, social, educational, and psychological onslaughts and assaults. It is a great time to do a positive audit of our year.

What went well? What were your highlights of the year? What did you learn? What were your achievements and accomplishments? What were the new things you did? How did you increase your value? Which part of your relationships did you enhance?

What could have been better? Which were your disappointments? Which were the near-misses? What could you have been regretful of? Who could you have spent more with?

How you do it differently? Based on the wisdom of hindsight and tacit experience, how would you engineer next year to be? What would you aspire to do? What would your ambitions be? Which would be those things on your Bucket-List you would cross off, and enjoy doing? Who will you invest the most time in?

Give these questions a think-through. The more you consider them, the more clarity, perspective and confidence you can make of your situation and position. Have a great 2013!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Less Is More, Even With Information

We were raised to believe that more is better than less, especially when education, culture, skills and knowledge are concerned. However, the reality could not be further from the truth.

With the avalanche of new information, research results, scientific evidence and advice from credible (this includes celebrities) sources, do we get more informed or confused. Interestingly, most people get confused with more information than less. Plus, our reliance on credibility of information may be misdirected by our choice of who we perceive and believe to be credible sources: the said, experts, authority, academics, scientific proof and anecdotal evidence (and testimonials).

So, who do we trust matters? Which sources we seek is also important. Our mindsets and attitudes towards people and things also factor into our actions and opinions. Think of your favourite things? How did you arrive at your informed buying choices?

Influential people do help us formulate our thinking. Who we trust can influence our thinking, and thus, our actions. Ignorance may be bliss, yet being over-educated places us in a place of limited potential. Do you think an academic is more broad-minded or less? Who are the most accommodating with regards to information, education and learning?

Having said all this: forewarned is forearmed. When all is said an done, being widely and well-read (and engaging in conversations and dialogue, thereafter) becomes our means of making balanced decisions.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Let the Servants Audit Their Criteria of Leadership

Leader should be about appointing, not disappointing.

In recent years, corporate leadership has failed us and delivered us into deep black holes. To translate the books 'From Good to Great' and 'From Good to Gone' into contemporary use, leadership has been shameful and shamed us. As visionaries and moral compasses, leaders have, consistently, let us down. Instead of giving us clarity, a sense of certainty, and hopefulness for the future, leaders have been misleading us along other 'garden paths'.

We need to audit our leaders' values. No MBA programs can do that, exclusively. Lead by example. Lead with consistency. Lead with your head, heart and hands. Lead as a servant to your staff. Stop promoting the 'cause of the boss'. Bosses are bossy and boss others around! As we were taught family and social values, we have conveniently replaced them with others that reduced our overall value as people. We have replaced ambition for greed, and optimism for pessimism. Leaders have failed us on delivering values that truly matter, the rest are theatrical embellishments and showpieces of grandeur and grandiosity. Large is not necessarily better; what with complexity and confusion of means/ends. Small may be manageable and assuring for its simplicity.

I await the day when leaders review their values, and deliver us from all trepidation, trials and tribulations. Lead gracefully, not disgracefully.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Go Slow To Go Faster, and Fresher

I have, over the last two months, been focused on training within my aerobic zone. My aerobic-zone limit is (180-age) 133, with a possible 5 more beats when I am injury-free and illness-free. The last two weeks after my last marathon has yielded the following observations:
1) I am less fatigued, between and after workouts.
2) I can train twice a day, without sleeping between.
3) I sleep better, with less disruptive sleep.
4) I can last longer on my rides and runs, without having to resort to elaborate re-fuelling.
5) My swim fitness is improving, with better body posture and endurance.
6) I have the choice of resting on any day, when my body intuitively 'tells' me. 
7) Theoretically, I can train with a larger mileage and volume of training. 
8) My recovery is much improved, which is useful as I approach the weeks with a larger work volume.
I am looking forward to the next two weeks. I can indulge in the year-end festivities with more gusto and enthusiasm. I am enjoying my longer sessions on my indoor-rides and swims. Will keep you posted!

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Aging Gracefully Or Disgracefully

As one ages as an athlete, our physical, mental and psychological aspects of our being become suitably tested from sports as well as daily activities. Here are areas to be mindful of and, perhaps, be actively addressed both holistically and medically.
1) Our joints and muscles become more liable to inflammation. Swelling of tendons, ligaments, muscles and skin are common after racing or intense training. 
2) Thus, we need to consume proper nutrition to reduce this occurrence of inflammation. Use of ginger, antioxidants, good fats (including Medium-Chain Triglycerides, MCTs) and physiotherapy. Whey protein is the gold-label standard for tissue repair.
3) Some anaerobic activity benefits endurance athletes. It can be done, at intervals, throughout the day. It need not be a specific strength session.
4) Strength and weight-bearing activity is crucial to maintaining lean muscle, bone density, and a heightened metabolism.
5) We need to be be vigilant about excessive aerobic activity, as it invites the formation of free radicals (that scavenge our cells and its longevity/youthfulness). Use antioxidant-laden foods to reduce the build up of such destructive ions. These include asthaxantin, krill oil, phytophenols (rich, pigment-loaded fruits and vegetables), tart-cherry juice, pomegranate juice, and other nutrients.  
6) Performance = training + rest. Never cheat the rest/sleep portion. Sleep adequately, awake refreshed, and then train.
7) Never train on minimal sleep. Your training is already compromised. Plus, riding or running while sleep-deprived can be hazardous to your health and life.
8) Like it, or like it more, never train when you are injured. Yes, it is frustrating yet it saves you further damage when you rest. The weeks of recovery and recuperation will provide a healthier structure to rebuild your fitness.

Systems Thinking Via Aerobics

In the last two months, I have focused on lower heart-rate training, mainly within the aerobic zone. The aerobic zone is the intensity of activity placed on your body, which works on the aerobic ('with oxygen') system, as versus the anaerobic ('less oxygen') system. In those two months, I recovered from a full marathon (Berlin) to slash 28 minutes off my time.

What did I do differently?

Firstly, I started to regain my fitness - lost after recuperating from a two-month hiatus from running. Two months is inadequate to earn a PB, let alone run a BQ, however, I enjoyed that return-on-my-investment (ROI).

Secondly, I focused on training at a heart-rate range of less than 150bpm (beats per minute). I applied the contrarian thinking and recommendation of Dr Philip Maffetone, author of 'The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing'. In fact, I violated part of his prescription when I should have spent at least 6-12 months on building my aerobic system at (180 minus my age) of not more than 133bpm. Thus, I was able to hit 4:40-4:50minutes/kilometre for up to 32K of the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon 2012, until I faded. 

Lastly, I alluded my grand performance (up till the 32K mark) to my developing aerobic system, and also for not observing a disciplined race-pace. Interestingly, Maffetone believes that sticking to the aerobic heart-rate zone can boost one's aerobic capacity and system. 

In a nutshell, as I continue to swim, ride or run at 133bpm (up to 138bpm if I were healthy; meaning injury-free or sickness-free) or less, I would be able to run faster, and cover more distance in my aerobic zone. The only paradigm most have is, that you tend to compromise your existing racing/training speed while attempting to enhance your aerobic capacity. Most athletes have a distinct imbalance between the aerobic and anaerobic systems. I intend to address this discrepancy I have, and will keep you posted of my progress.   

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Developing A Strong Aerobic Base

Developing a strong aerobic base is key to longevity in an endurance race, as well as being fast.

Photo-credit: Lifestyle1881,
Often considered 'junk miles', these are aimless, mindless, purpose-less, efforts that deliver on the distance but not at the target heart-rate. When you place a limit to your aerobic-zone training, you convert it into a relevant workout that translates into a useful bank of endurance fitness over the next few days. Learning how to tap on the powerful energy process, known as the Kreb's Cycle, is tantamount on how well you can exert yourself for as long as you desire. Fat metabolism is the most reliable and sustainable source of energy you can leverage on. Fat metabolism (digestion of fat into fatty acids and triglycerides), or the ability to tap on this perpetual source of energy demands adequate oxygen supply. So, learning to hold your heart-rate at a lower level than your fastest pace, is key to sustaining your muscular efforts. Thus, it is easier to walk a marathon than run it fast. That is why many marathoners, eventually, succumb to walking as a response to fatigue (of the anaerobic system).

You can still run at a fast (but not faster) pace in a long race, even if you trained mainly on your aerobic system. Since my zero-workout preparation for the Berlin Marathon (where I managed a 4:00 finish), I focused entirely on aerobic-threshold training (140-155bpm) training sessions, about 4-5 sessions per week, with total mileage amounting to 60-80km per week. In two short months, I regained my marathon fitness and scored a 3:38 finish last Sunday at the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon. A 22-minute reduction with purely aerobic-level training is a high return-on-investment (ROI) than an anaerobic workout. My reasons for avoiding anaerobic sessions were: to avoid full healing from my stress fracture (toe), doctor's advice, and a steadfast belief in aerobic-base development (as taught by Dr Philip Maffetone: THE BIG BOOK OF ENDURANCE TRAINING AND RACING). 

Although I missed a BQ of 3:24, and beating my PB of 3:29, my learning points from last weekend's race were:  
1) I held good splits for 10km, 21km and 30km.
2) I lost steam and speed after the 30km mark.
3) I did not have any long sessions over 21km.
4) I went out a little too hard, too soon. My pacing was over-enthusiastic.
5) I did not fuel adequately, and I think I over-spent on my aerobic system and went anaerobic, thus drawing on the need for muscle glycogen.
6) My pre-marathon races (10-miler, 12km, and 10km trail run) were adequate for stimulating my anaerobic system.

Congratulations Ironman Finishers (IMWA 2012)!

120 Singaporeans participated in Ironman Western Australia today. As I write this, there is about two more hours before the midnight deadline. Congratulations go out to early finishers including Triathlon Family buddies including Teo Hui Koon, Robert Chan, Tan Sin Guan, John Cooke, Apple and Han Low. Team Animiles's Lieu returned another sub-11:00 hours, a bar he has not exceeded since his foray into Ironman. First-timer Han Low cracked the 11:30 limit with a 11:27 finish - a fast time for the 45-49 age grouper. Perth-based Kevin Siah narrowly missed his PB by one minute, and returned with a blistering 10:15.

I recall my first time through the finishing-chute of Busselton: it was an amazing experience to return before sundown, where the daylight saving extended sunshine till 9.00pm. It gets chilly after 6.00pm, yet it warms your cockles to see so many Busseltonites and family members support the event. It is almost a cliche to say that 'The pain is temporary, but the memories are endless', yet this is what each Ironman triathlon is all about. It is etched in one's long-term memory as a marvelous milestone. 226K of personal suffering and public support buoys one's confidence and self-esteem for a long time.

It is a great event to express one's recognition of others. Celebration is about the sharing of joy and jubilation. Today, we celebrate the personal achievements of all finishers and those who attempted. There is no failure in making the attempt to race, as are the many tough months of training invested. Congratulations, Ironman finishers! You put many smiles on my face today.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Race Report: Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon 2012

I started my race-day at 2.15am. I had my quota of sleep on Friday, as my experience taught me that I tend to sleep, interruptedly, due to mild pre-race anxiety. After my pre-race ritual and a simple breakfast (mug of black coffee, and a generous mug of Hammer Nutrition ‘Perpeteum’), I took a cab to Raffles City to meet Charles Teng, and loaded my fresh change of clothes in his car. Both us opted for tri-suits as we believed in racing as if we were in a triathlon. I had a new set of sports tri-gear, thanks to Swim, Bike, Run SG.
We took the MRT/subway, and alighted two stations away. At the entrance, we bumped into a bare-bodied, Caucasian runner (dressed in runner’s shorts and his bib/race-belt. He would post a good timing later that morning, as a leading amateur marathoner. After a bathroom break at a nice shopping mall, we made our way into the runners-pen. I edged as close as I could to the band of official race-pacers (BMW Pacers); some of whom were in full festive make-up, and their obvious helium-filled balloons. My plan was to stay slightly ahead of the 3:45 pacer.

I shook hands with Adam 'One-Armed Runner', and saw Singapore Blade Runner (Shariff) near me. These are two of the most inspirational, physically-challenged, endurance athletes around. After 30 minutes of prolonged preamble, and a noticeably inflated bladder, I was glad for the opening dance item (four dancers prancing to a choreographed rendition of ‘Gangnam Style’) to end, and the Minister of State to flag the race off. I was only about 10 seconds from the Start-Line. It was a scenic route from start-to-end, littered with major tourist and historical landmarks.
With massive amounts of adrenaline drenched in my muscles, I took off briskly, and set my Garmin watch just before the line. The pacesetters were fast, and I followed suit. After a fast, first, 2K I decided to make my mark at the infamous Speaker’s Corner. It was the best 90 seconds I lost, and which I was relieved to recover several kilometres later. I met many familiar faces, which gave me an intuitive indication of how fast I was going. I referred to my watch, deliberately dropping my pace, if I went more than 13kph. I took a cup or two of water at every aid-station, whilst running, opting to funnel the contents in my mouth, while in flight: The coolest thing I have ever done, next to giving spectators the 'High-5'.

After hitting the 21K-mark at about 1:41, I was pleased I was on-track for a possible BQ (3:24). That was the plan, and it was reinforced by the fact that I was ahead of a few, usually, stronger runners. To earn a negative split was a pure bonus, yet staying to the same pace could yield me a surprisingly good time. Along the way, I said hello (or bade goodbye) to runner-friends. Some encouraged me on, for which I am thankful for. Every psychological tool or edge I used or found, was necessary for my 'quest-to-be-my-best'.

I assure you, I did experience the ‘suck’ as Macca put it. It sucked, I sucked, and I embraced the suck. The discomfort in a marathon is a blend of poignant pain, determined discomfort, and evil boredom. I envied the runners with their iPods and musical accompaniment. I was operating on my mental algorithms of ‘pain control’ and ‘internal self-dialogue’, and I assure you, my head was a little noisy with the mental arithmetic and, unnecessary, self-pity.

Interestingly, my split times were reasonably faster, as I kept to a sub-5:00 pace for the first 30K. It went south from there. Most of the runners I spoke to, shared that their performance dipped after the 30-34K mark. It could be a psychological factor at play; ‘Hitting the Wall’ is a belief shared by runners, where our energy reserves (within our muscles) are spent.
Professional photographer, Richard Leong caught me in a ‘com-posed’ moment; it sucked being me.
Photo-credit: LIm Yanglyn
At this point on the Marina Barrage, I was activating ‘damage control’. My race-pace nosed over the 5:00-mark. Intuitively, and sensibly, I knew I was going down. In my mind, I committed fiercely to my 'All or Nothing' mantra. If I go down, I'm going down in flames - like the pilot episode of 'LOST'. Simply put, I decided to 'go as fast as I could for as long'. Bugger of a plan, as far as I deeply knew. No retreat, no surrender.

If you can’t beat them, join them! I succumbed to the ‘dark side’ and walked up the slope (37K mark), deciding that I would do a quicker descent. However, I did not realize that I would merge with a humungous crowd of 10K and 21K runners. True to last year, the prophecy of a congested last 3K came true. I jogged through the mass, without regard for dodging through the human traffic. At this point, I knew I would just improve on last year’s time, and call it a day!

I called it, albeit with an uneventful jog to through the finishing chute. There was no drama, no pomp and pageantry – just me wanting to rest my weary bones. I raised my arms high up, with each index-finger pointed to the heavens as a sign of personal achievement. I loved this pose, having learnt it from Macca. I hope that this will be my posture/gesture one day when I cross the finisher’s chute in Kona, Hawaii. You can’t fault an amateur athlete from dreaming, can you?

I headed straight for the pens, and received my finisher’s medal, t-shirt, isotonic drinks and water. With the shoal of runners congregated on The Padang (field), I was unsure about my potential ranking. To still be one of the top-1 percent of the nation’s marathoner would have been nice. After two months recovering from a stress fracture on one of my left toes, a 4:00 finish at Berlin Marathon (with no run training), I was grateful I was injury-free (hopefully, this was ascertained after all the adrenaline and endorphins wore off). I learnt, later, I was ahead of my friends who beat me by minutes in Berlin.

Charles returned shortly; we looked for his wife and located her. Before that, I queued and surrender to my attempt for free PayPal slippers and wet-towels. No privileges were accorded to marathon-finishers. It was a ‘free for all’ with the runners of the shorter-distance persuasion. We took several photographs with friends of AniMiles, and the headed back. We heard that Ashley Liew beat Dr Mok Ying Ren into third, and Anne Hui retained her throne as queen of the local marathon scene. Congratulations to all the podium winners!
One of the middle-two AniMiles runners did a 3:06!
The unofficial results were posted within a day, so that was a massive plus-point for fatigued runners. There was mention of a delay in the Women’s Open (Singapore) results; that was a bit of suspense. As it turned out, one of the runner-up runners used somebody else’s bib, so was penalized for this error. The true winner was reinstated, so all ended well. Lesson learnt: Never win a podium placing, if you are not who you say you are. This is a violation of the rules, and an unspoken rule.
My official timing: 2 minutes better than 2011, and 8 minutes off my PB/BQ. No PBs on this course on this day. Most runners had truncated run timings, so we surmised that it was the combination of heavy humidity, faster pacing, and final congestion that compromised their timings. Yet, this is merely speculative and I am reviewing my running performance for Ironman New Zealand in March. I believe that my ‘running legs’ have returned and I am assured and pleased. Thanks to my sports-doctor, Roger Tien and his colleagues (including Baoying, one of our leading national women runners) for guiding me through my first major injury. I enjoyed holding my own with the faster runners for once, and am determined to score better next year at the local races.
Due to her honeymoon, under-trained, uber-runner Baoying encouraged me on ahead of her. I am in contention for top-10 Women (Local) again. Hoo-Ah!
I had NO marathon photographs as I displaced my race-bib during my run. I preferred my bib to wrap around the side of my hips. Nevertheless, I have my memories to incubate for a while. Congratulations to all first-time marathoners, those who earned PBs, and to all who completed/attempted the race despite the inherent challenges!
My only Finisher photograph, thanks to Sasha Farina!

Monday, December 3, 2012

Reflections on the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon 2012

While it is still fresh in mind, I summarise my key personal leadership lessons from yesterday’s run. My post-race conversation with runners yielded the salient fact that most did not improve on previous times, and most ‘hit the wall’ at about the 30-34km mark.
Photo-credit: Sasha Farina
1)    Having my bladder fill up 30 minutes before the flag-off was uncomfortable. I ‘made my mark’ at Speaker’s Corner about 2km into then race. Although I lost about 90 minutes (which I recovered later into the race), I felt so much better.
2)    I thought my body was more efficient in metabolizing fat, however I may have under-estimated the amount of energy-gels I used. Instead of one sticky pack per 45-minutes intervals, I should have adhered to one packet every 30 minutes [I need to refine this nutritional plan].
3)    I could have benefitted from longer, race-pace sessions. I had longer weekly mileage (60-70km) however a noticeable absence of interval- and hill-training. As per doctor’s orders, I did not indulge in such speed-generating insanity before the race.
4)    Above all, my foot feels healed. My running gait is, generally, more mid-sole contact. I do go on forefoot style when I get fatigued, and a heel-roll-forward style when I stride. Two blood blisters on my smallest toes means my shoe was a little snug. Time to review my shoe fit.
5)    This year, I stuck closely to runners with similar pace. I believe that this strategy worked well as I was able to hold my race-pace until the 30-32km mark. I was grateful for the company of better runner-friends, who provided the extra mental stimulus for doing a better race this year.
Photo-credit: Richard Leong/Tri-suit: Swim Bike Run SG
6)    I fast-walked up the bridge, although I chided myself for it. I reckoned that I would save my legs for the faster descent. It may have been a smart decision, for I had to resort to damage control for the last 4km. Once I realized my BQ timing was compromised (3:24 to qualify), I had to focus on a PB and improved Singapore Marathon timing. In the end, I merely improved on last year’s time by two minutes (with a healthier attitude).
7)    There is not much I/we could do when the other runners merged with us (10km/21km) at the last 3km-mark. All I could do was choose to enjoy the company, slower pace (recovery), and look for pockets of space to squeeze into.
8)    I did not do a PB-enhanced sprint to the end, and this jog through allowed me to immerse in the joy of finishing. I can still live with a 3:38 finish for an intensely humid morning. [Check me out on Sasha Farina’s photograph].

9)    Changing into clean clothes is an under-rated personal and social pleasure. Bringing these along (and wearing the finisher’s tee-shirt) was a smart choice. My mistake was not to bring slippers along as wet-feet and wet shoes do not great bedfellows make.
10) I loaded up on nutrients and food (isotonic drinks, water, muesli-bar and a healthy-burger meal) immediately after the race, so I am not as crippled today, as I ought to be. A 3-hour nap, thereafter, helped heaps. Thanks to Mom’s home-cooked meal yesterday (rice with curry chicken and stir-fried vegetables), I feel much better. I almost feel the need for speed!

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.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

From Ironman to Open-Water Swimming: Tobias Frenz & His New Challenges (Part 2)

EV: This question came from my swim group: How do you last so long out there in the water and weather?

TF: Physically, I find it much easier than, say, an Ironman or ultra-marathon. But ‘heavy shoulders’ are certainly part of the challenge. Mentally, it is more challenging as you are on your own for a long time, with only a short distraction when you have a quick feed every 30-40 minutes. The elements are certainly an additional challenge, in particular, in saltwater. You get burning sensations in your nose and tongue that can become quite unpleasant. Other swimmers suffer from chafing and sunburns. Then you might have choppy water that doesn't allow you to settle in any kind of rhythm, tides/currents working against you, or jellyfish.

An issue you don't read much about is peeing in cold waters. On my 25km swim in Spain, a swimmer had to be pulled after four hours, because he simply couldn't let go. The problem is that it can affect your kidneys. Some swimmers use a warm-water bladder to overcome this problem.

EV: How do you stay in peak performance for the duration of the event?

TF: The training isn't much different to other long-distance events. You do long (weekend) swims of 3-4-plus hours to get used to it, complemented by shorter, faster sessions during the week.  The nutrition is quite important. Many swimmers, including myself, take a carbohydrate-drink every 30 minutes, and a PowerGel (or the like) every full hour.

EV: How is the mindset of a long-distance OWS different from other sports?

TF: Besides being able to cope with physical discomfort or shoulder pain over long hours, you need to be mentally able to cope with long hours where you have little distraction. This is different to land-based sports like triathlon, running or cycling, where you have spectators cheering you on, and you have a changing environment. None of that in the open-waters! Although, there are some swims that are indeed scenic (like river swims or swimming along the coast). But, it is difficult to fully enjoy that as you can only take a peak every few seconds when your head comes up for a breath.

Then, you need to be prepared to deal with things that can go wrong. In the sea you might run into jellyfish, driftwood or other rubbish. Changing current/tides are a challenge where you aren't making any, or only little progress. This can be rather frustrating, which you need to be able to cope with.
With Daniel Projansky from Chicago, better know as Mr Butterfly - he'll swim butterfly. All the way. Unbelievable. I wouldn't last 50m. — with Daniel Projansky in Grand Forks, ND.

EV: How often do you train?

TF: When preparing for an OWS, I do two long swims on the weekends and 2-4 during the week. I complement these with 2-4 rowing sessions and some running, when I feel like it. But I'm keeping it easy, as my competitive days are long gone. I'm in for the fun of it.

EV: Which other sports/activities do you supplement your swimming with?

TF: I love rowing on my C2 Concept indoor-rower: it is the greatest thing on Earth since the invention of the wheel. Other than that, running and an occasional ride.

EV: Which are the next events on your ‘to accomplish’ list?

TF: As of now, I have only two more swims planned for for 2012 and a few confirmed for 2013 already: a 15km CleanHalf swim in HK (in October) and now, a 20km Geobay swim in Perth, WA.

2013: 10km swim in Perth (January); BEST FEST:  6 swims of 5, 4, 7, 2.5, 7.5 and 25km in 7 days on Mallorca (June); 40km Menorca-Mallorca channel (in July, and this is my A-race for 2013); 27km Rose Pitonof swim, Manhattan, USA (in August).

EV: As the Boston Marathon and Kona Ironman World Championships are the holy grail events to marathoners and triathletes respectively, which is the One for OWS?

TF: Hands-down, the English Channel wins. No swim can compare to this, in terms of history. But the bigger lifetime challenge is the Ocean 7 (which Darren is currently attempting) - pendant to the well-known 7 Summits mountaineering challenge. This is a different league of OWS that only few people can achieve.  

EV: How do you truly feel after a long swim event?

TF: As in any other race: happy and somewhat relieved that it is over. Physically quite good, except for heavy shoulders.  

EV: Which are your personal methods for easing sore arms and shoulders?

TF: During the swim, switching into backstroke is a common technique to loosen your muscles. I also do, occasionally, a few strokes of breaststroke after a feed. After the swim, nothing beats a good massage.

EV: Which are your major concerns when swimming in the sea, river or lake?

TF: I'm quite naïve about this and don't really think about it. I'm not afraid of anything in particular, but I need to qualify that I've not yet encountered any real problems, other than strong currents or debris or tree trunks I have swam into. Poisonous jellyfishes are every swimmer's nightmare, and something I would certainly worry about.
EV: Which are the common comments you get when people around you hear that you do OWS, and at such unimaginable distances and duration in the water?

TF: Not unsurprisingly most people cannot really relate to the distance or effort. It is such a niche sports that has yet to get any wider public attention.  Only friends that have done a triathlon or are swimmer can put that somehow into perspective.

EV: Care to relate any incidences that affected your swim?

TF: Cold waters.

EV: Martin Strel, risked life and body, and swam across the Amazon River to make his two statements about deforestation and river pollution. What is your personal message when you swim across vast bodies of water?

TF: It would be a stretch to say that I've a message to relate. For now, I'm just in for the fun and challenge.

Swimmer Profile
Name: Tobias Frenz
Nickname: Tobi
Profession: CEO, Reinsurance
Age group: Exact age, or age-group range, 43
Years in OWS: One
Favourite swim-stroke: Front Crawl
Favourite piece of equipment for swimming/training: Medium-sized paddles
Supplementary exercises/activity for training your swim: Indoor-rowing.
Key races completed: 4 this year
Number of OWS (of at least 10km) races completed: 7