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ITU Triathlon Premium Cup 2013, 31 March 2013.

I am privileged to have represented Singapore in the ITU Triathlon Premium Cup 2013. This was held on 31 March 2013 in Palembang, the capital of South Sumatra, Indonesia. Here is my little narrative, and some thoughts.

On race day I woke at 4 am to face the day. When I left the hotel about an hour later, I thought I was running a little late for the 6 am race; thankfully I was operating on Singaporean time whereas Indonesian time was one hour slower. Imagine my surprise when I reached a quiet and empty race site. That not only gave me ample time to do my warm up (running drills and strides; and a swim) but also presented me with a few precious moments to simply breathe and feel an almost magical sense of peace. 

Then the race neared and with that the pre-race jitters. The race was to begin with a plunge off a two-metre tall pontoon into my weakest leg at ITU races (they all swim like fishes; me perhaps a whale). The anticipation of both the plunge (what if my goggles come off?) and getting dropped on the swim filled me with something that neared fear. At that moment I thought that this was what the race meant – the courage to take that plunge and do my best no matter how the race played out. This was the culmination three months of the best training I have done in the last 1 or 2 years; to the best of my ability, I was as ready as can be and there was no backing down now or holding back – it was time for me to push on and go.

And when the whistle went, I dived in and you know what, it was beautiful. In my heart, I love the water where this whole love affair with endurance and competitive sports started and that moment encapsulated it all. I felt strong and kept with the pack which I rarely do. Well, almost and for all of 200 metres. Before I could finish thinking “wow, maybe today is my day”, they left me to swim alone in the South China Sea. I can’t say that was the most fun, and the course was curvy, strange and confusing. I fell back on my pre-race mantra, pushed on no matter what, and soon exited the water and headed to T1.

The bike portion consisted of 3 loops of 12 km plus two 2-km rides between the loop and T1. Here I attacked as much as I could throughout. I was alone, it was painful and there was no draft; I just kept my legs churning the way I would during those painful threshold and hill intervals in Athlete Lab. To some extent, I felt like that hard work paid off as I slowly closed the distance between myself and the next person.

Mishap 1 happened: I made a wrong left turn and wasted 30 s; this one may have been my bad.

Mishap 2 then came: The previously closed roads were opened by mistake before I finished my ride and I was introduced to the classic Indonesian traffic (jam) – which does not move. All the drivers and motorcyclists who for the past three hours had been deprived of use of the roads attacked them with vengeance. The officials made a laudable attempt to arrange for me to have space to ride and I was simply stuck there for a while in the meantime. I have always wanted to commute by bike when travelling, alongside with the local traffic to truly experience local life; but not in a race!

That was eventually resolved and I finally headed back to T2. At T2, I saw my Malaysian counterpart Irene Chong (whom I have raced with several times and am friends with) head off for her run. I made a quick transition and dedicated the next 1 km to catching Irene. That was done (yay) and thereafter I was largely alone; the deal was to race myself and keep pushing on. 

Then came mishap 3: As the course was a little confusing for me, I had to ask for directions from time to time and at one point, the road marshals gave me a wrong direction and had me running down a particular path in a random corner of Palembang for about 500 m, before one of the race crew came by on a motor bike and told me I needed to head back on course. To my surprise he next asked me to get on his bike and ferried me back onto the course, after which I was back on my own two trusty feet. Riding pillion on foreign land is yet another item on my to-do list. But at that point, when I was exhausted after 2 hours of racing in the hot sun, running 500 m more and losing more than 2 minutes did not amuse me. By the time I got back on course, Irene had passed me. It felt a little like a cat-and-mouse game. It was tiring but I managed to pass her again. (She told me afterwards she felt a little confused why I kept passing her, haha.)

I kept my fingers crossed throughout the run that there would be no more mishaps, and also hoped for strength to complete the race to the best of my ability. With that, I plodded along and finished strong.

And that was my experience of the race, complete with the little escapades. I did a total time of 2:29:29. I can’t say the time was the best; I am still nowhere close to my previous personal best of 2:19:48 done at the Valencia World University Triathlon Championships in 2010 – which incidentally was done in almost perfect conditions with draft and very good weather. But I know what needs doing and will work hard on it.

 To me, a race is only meaningful because of what it represents. For me, this race represents the past 3 months of hard work and more. I remember how at the end of January, I first got back to Athlete Lab after 2 months of complete non-riding and struggled with every ride. I simply could not meet the power requirements (based on my target rather than real functional threshold power) but simply had to mash and trudge through each ride. At some points, I asked if I was kidding myself in thinking that I could ever meet those loads. And every round island ride with the AL boys was like jumping into the high sea without knowing if I could make it back to shore. Then that day came, when suddenly, I completed my first lab ride without dying on the week of Lake Kenyir Triathlon (a very special race for me, which I thankfully went on to win; perhaps I will write about that another day) and from then my season fell into place. Likewise on the swim and run, almost every day was painful and we made small steps forward every day. There were spanners thrown in. One was a loved one falling ill and finding myself in the role of a care giver day and night; starting work (which has been very good so far – another story for another day) also made keeping up with training so much more difficult. I leave my house at 5 every day and return at 10 (if I am lucky) but sometimes still feel like I have not done enough. Bit by bit we moved and still move along. 

Back to the race, the race week was a little difficult – I was in a nervous wreck; work was busy/engaging. The race trip in Palembang was not the most cushy of the ones I have had. The race was painful both physically and mentally – I am barely a competitor at ITU races and being at the back is so much more difficult than being in front. When the Indonesian traffic descended upon me, I wondered whether that was it and we were done for the day. I answered my own question negatively. After the extra 500 m run and having to chase Irene again, I thought to myself that if the organisers directed me wrongly and I had to chase again, maybe that was it for the day. But before I even completed that thought, I knew that if it really happened, I would chase again, and again.

Here is one of my all-time favourite excerpts, that somewhat encapsulates what all these mean to me: 

“Que lindo es sonar despierto, Gil says. How lovely it is to dream while you are awake. Dream while you’re awake, Andre. Anybody can dream while they’re asleep, but you need to dream all the time, and say your dreams out loud, and believe in them. In other words, when in the final of a slam I must dream. I must play to win. But dreams, I tell Gil, are so damned tiring. He laughs. I can’t promise you that you won’t be tired, he says. But please know this. There’s a lot of good waiting for you on the other side of tired. Get yourself tired, Andre. Thats when you’re going to know yourself. On the other side of tired.” Adapted from Open, An Autobiography by Andre Agassi

What the Palembang race, the season, and the past 3 months mean to me, is the ability to dream when awake; to put my heart, soul, blood, sweat, tears in; to get tired; to get on that other side of tired. It is a constant work in progress and I have just had one of my best attempts. I am also humbled by the race and season and reminded that there is much more work to do and I need to keep making better attempts.

Last but not least, I am thankful for the support I have. My dad keeps the same hours I do, sending me to training before 6 am in the morning, and picking me up as late as training or work requires. The support of Athlete Lab, which is located one secret stairway (Ann Siang Hill Park, haha) 5 minutes away from my office has been instrumental in me being able to maintain quality workouts almost daily before work, not to mention the camaderie of the squad I swim, bike and run with whenever I can and the understanding of Athlete Lab and Eduardo with this rather difficult athlete. Thanks all, and I hope to do more in the rest of 2013.

Before I go, here is my first paycheck from an elite ITU race which, quite apart from the money, means a lot to me!

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Humpty Dumpty Diaries – the fundamental things apply

I watched Casablanca over the weekend and the song keeps singing in my head. “We’ll always have Paris” is the classic, but my favourite line is:-

“[I]t doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world. Someday you’ll understand that.”

Slightly over two weeks ago, I had a double running day that ended with intervals I have never kept before; the next day I was feeling rather smug and chummy at having completed most (100km) of my round-island ride with the Athlete Lab guys, during which a teammate commented how much my endurance had improved since he first rode with me a few months back (yes, indeed). The next thing I knew, “SMACK” and I was sprawled on the opposite side East Coast Service Road.

No incoming cars at that moment, and no broken bones; thank the stars, moon and perhaps God. There were many cranks in the body – an abrasion here, a muscle strain there – and very little exercise in the last two weeks, which called for a good deal of adjustment on my part. I was (and still am) determined to adjust well and more, to take something away from the down time. Because wisdom is injury proof and I want to live and practise wisdom, to the best I can.

The reduced training output forced with to deal head on with my relationship with food. The fat kid with a sweet/salty/oily tooth still resides in me, juxtaposed beside the sort of wholesome eating and living I aspire towards. The lapses of the fat kid are usually brushed under the carpet of the caloric output from training;  during an injury they cannot.

I went for my first swim training since the crash this morning. Notwithstanding that the sets were easy, my hands ached so terribly it was laughable. As I bemoaned how that crawl I was effecting would have been easy on a normal day, I came to appreciate what my “normal” body was capable of and the difference that consistent hard work makes so that just 2 weeks off made such a great difference – things I usually take for granted as I wished I were improving faster, wished to be as fast as X, Y and Z, etc.

Happy Deepavali! (:

I am sure someone somewhere once said, “Go out there and be inspired” (2nd S’pore U23 Open C’ships 2012, Women’s 1500m)

I am sure someone somewhere once said, “Go out there and be inspired”. (Thoughts from the 2nd Singapore Under 23 Open Championships 2012, Women’s 1500m)

“Let yourself be in awe of another person, and you’ll feel strong and weak simultaneously.”

(http://www.forbes.com/sites/jessicahagy/2012/10/04/40-things-to-say-before-you-die/2/)

My main takeaway from taking part in the Singapore Open 1500m race last Sunday was inspiration, thanks to my encounter with Xin Qi in the course of it.

As a prelude, I fell sick last Friday. I pulled myself to MR for a 15km run with Pam on Sunday morning and felt happy to make much more out of my Sunday morning than I would have if I had stayed in bed. At MR, I met Sarah who kindly told me that I had a race that day. It turned out that E signed me up for the said 1500m race, which we both completely forgot about. As it was, my cranky system had been overtaxed by the morning run; it was tempting to skip it but that would not be satisfying. And just as the morning’s run had inspired me, I hoped that an attempt at the 1500m race would too. So I headed down to Bishan stadium to make the most of the race and of myself, and really to run and have a little bit of fun.

In the end, the best part of the race was the warm up with Xin Qi. I was amazed by how meticulously she planned the routine (the timing of the warm up, the drills and strides, reporting etc) and how she simply got down to carrying all those out without any hems and hahs. Surely, it is that sort of meticulous planning and square execution daily, that makes a champion as she is.

I warmed down with her as well. I commented that 1500m track training must be painful. She replied that it was “mental”, and she at times went for training feeling scared; because you knew that the sets were do-able, but the temptation to give up and take it easy would always come to you while you were going through them; and at the end of the day, you can give up and be comfortable, but then you will never do a good timing.

Thank you for the inspiration. (:

The race itself was so-so for me. It was a great run – 1500s are difficult; your legs burn and you run out of air – it is quite a lovely (erm, yes) feeling. But I thought that I let myself off a little too easy on the account of being sick and not wanting to push my body out of the edge; races are more meaningful when you leave everything out there.

Here is Xin Qi:

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And here am I (hurhur):

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And here is the link to the race: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fT3UuXakVMc&feature=plcp
Don’t laugh at my awful running!

Right; wrong.

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At Queenstown swimming complex for the morning’s training. It reminds of the swimming lessons the parents brought us to as kids, and the fried chicken drumsticks thereafter.

I attended the Singapore Meditation Lecture yesterday, delivered by ex president SR Nathan. He said that meditation used to be a way of life in Asia, but as societies and people became more money and pressure driven, people shifted to a more fault based perspective and the adversarial legal process became the norm by which disputes are resolved. I recalled that back in school  we used to think of the Asian countries who still resort mainly to “guan xi” and private settlement as a little lawless in a bad way. But it may not be. But yet, as pointed out by one of the panelists, the sense of justice should still be present – right and wrong does exist. Perhaps we can mediate successfully within our “self” and with life as well.

On another note, when the speaker and panelists were introduced and their accolades read, I thought how it was beyond me to be a speaker or panelist one day. Then I thought about what it took and how I would like to be both passionate and excellent at something one day.

Hopping into the fish tank now. (:

love/hate tim tams; life gone by.

Another bag of tim tams,

Gone by like another day;

They make me think of my dear friend Pam;

But make the waistline and tomorrow pay.

To morning spins with love.

Many morning spins in my training programme this week; I love them. The wind, just keeping the cadence going and not thinking of speed, time or anything, singing to myself and screaming when I feel like it. It reminds me of the many morning rides I used to do on my own back in school, and makes me fall in love with cycling and my sport all over again (I do that-fall in love with my sport-every other day, hur).

I’ve been waking up a bit later (say, 515am instead of 4am) and sometimes I spend a bit of time with my loved ones before I head out of the house, so I end up riding in the peak period traffic towards the end of my ride. And I am starting to enjoy racing with the traffic – maybe because it is the only time I have a chance of winning.

Starting work now; another form of training, another fight which I chose in life. Ta!

(tell me) what you want, what you really really want.

I’ll confess to a mental kink of mine – I can’t do tempo runs. I’m happy to run fast and furious over a middle distance (3-5km), better yet if split into intervals in which case I’ll run even harder; I’m happy to go long, slow and let my head and emotions run/simply chill; but long and hard? I hate it/”can’t”. So I’ve always cheated; went that bit too slow but compensated with distance, cut the distance a little and compensated with speed. But it doesn’t work; those bits and a-littles are what that count. I’ve done less than 20 proper tempo runs in my life, and of course it shows and my inability to deal with the overheating that comes only with such sustained threshold efforts is my greatest limiter.

So I’ve confessed to coach, if not the mental kink, the said physical limiter and the lack of solid tempo runs due to bad execution. The result, of course, is the sensible addition of many tempo and long sustained efforts in my program.

Today’s program was a 12km run at between half marathon and 10k pace. I set my own target at a conservative 4:50 but which I thought would still stretch me. As life had it, by the time work ended the most sensible place to run was in the gym on the treadmill, and E was stuck at work so I ran alone. It felt easy when I started; I felt on top of the world. Midway, the heat came in but it was still bearable. When it got mentally difficult, I thought to myself how if I was someone who could complete such a set alone all along, I would never had started to lose; if I can constantly be such a someone, perhaps the day will come when I won’t lose.

I finished; boy, the elation. I know it isn’t much; most of you can run faster or further. But it is my own little personal victory today. I think the point isn’t even about winning; its about that strength. I only dream to win, because I think a person who does things right on all counts has little reason to lose. I dream of being that person I want to be, the best I can be.

In other news, the London olympics is the best I’ve experienced so far. My increased interest in sports was a factor, and the easy access was a great plus. I recall someone questioning whether Beijing’s well run games, not to mention the magnificent and expensive opening and closing,   placed pressure on London. The reply went along the line of “London is good at partying, maybe we’ll do that” and I loved the reply. It isn’t about money and perfection; we can each deliver in our own ways. And thank you for the one great party! I mean, when was the last time anyone saw the Spice Girls? (I was a fan in primary 6.)

Goodnight world. (:

Two: Many wantons and one coffee.

I woke up at 5am this morning, watched videos of good running (amongst others, Mo Farah!) and drills in preparation for my morning session, and proceeded to work on my form and leg turnover along the little (mole)hill near Marina Bay Sands with E. Apart from other (hopefully) good things, I wanted to practise that mental focus and pro-activeness that I need if I want to inspire myself. On to trying to do the same through the work day.

Breakfast after! (:

Prologues

So of late I’ve been feeling deflated, at work (especially) and what not. After the race at Port Dickson two weeks ago, even my confidence in sport dipped to a low.

And so I swam this morning. As I watched a mate cruise ahead, I noted with dismay that to date I still have not been able to improve my technique – I still don’t know how to swim. Perhaps it is time to let it go – that crossed my head an umpteenth time. Then there was a whisper, soft and indiscernible at first, before it got clearer.

Don’t give up yet, I said.

Life as-is and the passage of time

I went for yoga class last evening. At the end of the class the instructor said, “pause and note how you feel after the practice”. I paused, felt and noted this:-

“Much better than before the practice, but still like crap.”

But well we keep moving and trying.

Today is a new day; morning detox.

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Had these in Malaysia and was disappointed; I thought Wrigley’s gum was supposed to be white, flat, wrapped in that good old silver foil and perfectly impractical.

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A&W on our way back from PD; I classify it as something we didn’t treasure until it was gone or perhaps like only because it is gone.Image

E and I saw these at Bras Brasah; E says they are called “new old stock”, I call them a piece of my childhood.

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The first photo below was how I was looking for a while, and then on a whim one day I chopped the hair off. I think I wanted to feel young and free again. In the aftermath, I think I realised (with some regret and ugliness) that hair, like time, once gone will never come back. But yet, new hair grows and freedom and happiness still lies somewhere and can be sought, with time.

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Toodles and have a good weekend folks! (: