Thursday, June 27, 2013

Pre-GCAM 2013

It is about a week from the Gold Coast Airport Marathon 2013. On 7 July, I will join thousands of marathoners (running-mates), and dozens of Singaporeans to take on the cool and flat course on Surfer's Paradise.

The week-long haze assault has done its nefarious damage, distressing runners with this 'wrench in the cogs'. It has affected tapering plans, however, runners being who they uniquely are will find a way through the obstacles. I decided to train indoors, focused on riding on trainer and core strength development. With windows shut, and air-conditioning and ioniser on, I paid my dues. My longest ride was 3 hours and shortest about 75 minutes, however I made time for up to two such sessions a day. I completed the workout with a CrossFit-type session with basic exercises with my bodyweight, kettle-bell and balance-board. Already, I feel my core muscles are stronger and running gait more confident and activated.

With a mild improvement of the ambient air, I have run almost everyday (since Monday) with short 10km bursts. My first run after a week was a promising sub-50 minutes for the 10km. Other than mild puffing (I suspect the micro-particle count was still dangerously high), I managed a comfortable race-pace. My target is a sub-3:30, with a 3:24 my BQ goal9Boston 2014), and following the 3:15 pacers. The pacers at GCAM are very accurate and highly encouraging. I still have pleasant memories of my 2011 attempt running behind them; I completed that race in 3:32 as I was affected by hamstring cramps at the last six kilometres. This time, I am more patient with my pacing and will warm up well before I attempt a negative split on my return 21km.

It is what it is. After yesterday's sports massage, I will do a 21km this evening. One more assessment before I taper for the race. So far, my training for Kona is on-track, and on-target. Small gains, and committed efforts may spell a reasonably good performance on 12 October. Aloha!

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Being Competitive & The Competitive Spirit

'Martial arts is about expressing oneself.' ~ Bruce Lee

Is being competitive a bad thing?

Competitive people are driven to do better. Some are strongly driven to win. The classic Type-A personality is usually described as the more ambitious, self-driven, and competitive style. Elite age-groupers in sporting races can be described as competitive; they race to win or be podium-placers. However, this is usual as they seek better performance by expressing themselves through their sporting abilities.

It is when elite athletes breed an air of eliticism, that they may create social distance from others. If they prefer to train with better athletes, it is their choice. Train with the best, and you may ascend to a higher level of performance and athletic excellence. That is why this shift form amateur to serious amateur defines the point of athletic excellence. To excel requires heightened awareness, refined skills, tough mental attitude, and an ability to train hard (and bear physical distress).

However, when life revolves about winning and winning is everything, then this sense of competition needs to be reviewed. There will always be competition around us. It can be outwardly or inwardly expressed. One need not be nasty or exhibit 'bad sportsmanship' after a poor showing, or harass slower and less-driven competitors for blocking your way.

Comparing one's results with others is part of benchmarking. However, if it is persistent and it embeds itself in an obsessive 'search and destroy' sense of purpose, then it is a destructive process. Besting oneself is better than beating oneself up for not beating another competitor/participant. The joy and passion of racing can be diluted by an overwhelming desire to win. Feeling disappointed and depressed are not useful emotional outcomes to gain from the act of competition or racing.

A sense of achievement and personal fulfillment may exceed athletic prowess and winning. Neophytes enjoy the socialising that comes with participating. Improvements on timing and strength are bonuses that reflect progression and alignment to goals. 

Leadership Lessons: Be competitive, however be clear about when you do, and why. If your sense of competition riles others, then slow down. Competing and being competitive have mild distinctions. Perform at your best, do your best, and live with it. You can always compete by improving your abilities, and enhancing your capabilities. Enjoy your next race.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

Upping The Ante On Fitness

My noticeably, bulkier, upper body (honed from recent strength sessions). Photo-credit: Running Kaki
Here is an update on my learning, while preparing for a marathon, half-Ironman triathlon, and a full Ironman race in the next four months. Yesterday morning, at an early-breakfast I shared with ultra-marathoner/Ironman finisher, Danny Wan about my progress in running and triathlons. Yesterday's 21km race at Sundown Marathon 2013 was a culmination (thus far) of 8-9 months of preparation. These are some salient observations:
1) Training consistency: Sounds cliched, but regular practice makes for better fitness. I trained about 5-6 days per week, with a compulsory rest day. Recently, I trained twice a day, however with shorter sessions. I may cycle for 60 minutes (AM) and swim (PM: 75-90 minutes class); cycle 2 hours (AM) and run and easy 10km (PM).
2) Rest is training! Rest and sleep are different. You need a day off from physical activity related to your sport. You may do some stretching or balance work, however keep these session short. Sleep at least 7-8 peaceful hours per night.
3) Limit anaerobic sessions to 1-2 per week. Anaerobic sessions - through interval training, hill-work and fartlek - eat into your reserves. Racing is considered anaerobic, so if you race that weekend, it is an anaerobic workout. If you feel knackered, you are probably doing too much high-HR work.
4) Do at least 1-2 session each of aerobic workout for each discipline. Your aerobic heart-rate range should not exceed this formula (180-Age), as prescribed by Dr Phl Maffetone. Maffetone trained Mark Allen to his landmark 1989 Ironman win against Dave Scott. I spent the past 7-8 months on slow runs and rides. This has translated into a leaner and defined body, and speediness on the course. Aerobic sessions teach your body to burn fats better, is less stressful to the body, and reduces injuries. A trained aerobic system supports and sustains your anaerobic efforts; I have experienced this on my last few races.
5) Pace smartly. Keeping near your aerobic pace during racing means your body relies less on sugars (and sports-gels). Yesterday, I raced only on water and electrolytes offered at the aid-stations. If you huff and puff like the Big Bad Wolf, you are probably going too fast for your fitness. Slowing down slightly can help ward off the inevitable fatigue. Go too fast (above your maximum aerobic HR range), and you will pay it back on the back-end.
6) Consume more good fats. I use deep-sea fish oils (Omega-3), coconut oil (extra-virgin) and butter (occasionally) for my energy and recovery needs. I have also begun taking some lard and animal fat (visible) from red meat. Coconut oil is fragrant but has almost no taste, and although it is a saturated fat, it is stable under the high heat of cooking (like extra virgin oil). I consume two teaspoons with my breakfast or whey-protein drink.
7) Breakfast is a critical staple meal. Never train on an empty stomach as it does not spare your glycogen reserves. You need some carbohydrates to activate fat metabolism during training. Reduce your reliance of refined carbohydrates and high-Glycemic Index (GI) foods. Aim to consume low-GI foods, and foods from natural form and sources.
8) Strength training is a must. Do weight-training, Cross-Fit, balance-work and core stability training. These are essential to your success as an endurance athlete or weekend athlete. I do two sessions per week, focused on proper form, controlled speed, and the major muscles/muscle groups. I, currently, use a 12kg kettle-bell as my main weight source, although my home-gym set is my back-up for more variety of exercises. I use a Balance-Disc for my balancing, as well as modified Planks, and ankle-conditioning.
9) Proper Warm-Up & Cool-Down. Although I do not stretch very much, I focus on maintaining muscle balance through specific movements and activities. Your core/strength workouts teach you to activate potentially weak muscles. These include the hamstrings, lower-back, and shoulders.

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Show Your True Colours: Sundown Marathon 2013

Last night, I raced in the 21km category of the Sundown Marathon 2013. It was a carnival atmosphere, with sponsors-tents lining up the start-pens. The 10km/21km races were held on 12.30am and 11.30pm on Friday. The 42.195km race was held this evening at 11.30pm.

Ross 'Ros Man' Sarpani was one of the two new emcees for the first nocturnal road marathon in the world. He kept the energy even when they were requested to keep the music  level lower than preferred. Instructors from the Health Promotion Board warmed up the runners in the pens with limbering exercises.
Marathon Mohan (extreme right) has completed over-200 marathons! Photo-credit: Ho Chor Yin
I parked myself nearest the start-line, within eye-shot of the 2:00 pacers. I jogged in place 15 minutes before the flag-off, as I wanted my heart-rate to be near the higher aerobic zone when I set off. My target was 1:35, better than last year's 1:38. A 1:32 would have been a PB, although I missed it by more than a minute. Nevertheless, I was pleased for holding an average of 4:30min/km, or 13.3km/h in a very humid evening. It rained heavily five hours before the race, causing worry to runners of the race being cancelled. Author and sports-medicine specialist, Dr Ben Tan is not a fan of night races as he believes the hours between 1.00-5.00am is too humid and hot.
Dancing in the dark and humid course. Photo-credit: Eye-See-Eye-Shoot
The highlight of the race for me included being ahead of some of the top female runners in the country, as well as schools of younger runners. Anne Hui won again (in 1:27), and she reigns as top-runner in the country. A Kenyan runner won in about 1:13.
 I may look like Mr Bean, however I was transiting from a sprinting gait to a celebratory gesture. Photo-credit: Run Society
My final sprint after a hard last kilometre; enough in the tank. Photo-credit: Gis Tay
I experienced a moment that was close to Iron Wars of 1989, where Mark Allen and Dave Scott went side-by-side, step-by-step, throughout the entire marathon. I enjoyed this hard but exciting segment for about 4km with a young runner, Ryan (friend of professional female triathlete, Ling Er). We did, accidentally, mildly knock elbows during some sections but we kept our pace hard without anyone relinquishing our position. I overtook him tactically, and eventually, at some water-points where I grabbed-and-run my cups of water.  

I worked hard from the start, but mindful of keeping to a low anaerobic pace/high aerobic pace. I noticed many runners huff and puff their ways to exhaustion and premature fatigue. I had to remind myself regularly to stick to a sensible pace, or risk fatigue. I did not take any sports-gels with me, except the electrolyte drinks and water. I had to rely solely on my bodyfat and muscle glycogen for sustaining my pace. I did not check my time, but occasionally checked my race-pace.
I missed my PB, but I was glad that I kept to a strong gait with wider strides and stronger arm-swings. The day preceding the race I ran 10km at easy pace, and I rode for an hour on my indoor-trainer yesterday. I am glad my training is paying off, mainly my aerobic conditioning over the past 8-9 months. I look forward to the Gold Coast Airport Marathon on 7 July where I hope to get a good shot and another Boston Qualifying (BQ) time.