Thursday, November 22, 2012

Murphy, His Antics & Brotherly Respect

One of the common features of my company's annual dinner is the lucky draws. It is almost like our annual dinner would be incomplete without the lucky draws. I haven't been able to attend all of the annual dinners throughout the over 20 years I've been attached to this company, but I've attended most of them. In some of those dinners, we have had so many prizes to give away that perhaps up to 60%-70% of those who attended could win something. I guess the respective organizing committees were just trying to make the majority happy.

However, throughout all those years, I can't remember ever winning the lucky draws in any of those dinners. I sometimes found myself wondering what's the odds of not winning from so many, many chances; and when will be the day I would actually win something. 

Actually, except for the very few grand prizes at the end, most of the other prizes are usually cheap items, nothing to shout about. And I'm not so overly desperate to win a RM10 KFC coupon. But winning something—anything at all—is exciting. It's not about the value of that something, really. It's just that "feel-good" thrill that is hard to explain.

I have since long given up hope on my luck when it comes to lucky draws—I suppose it's just not my thing! As far as I am concerned, perhaps winning a lucky draw at an event where there's a 60% chance of winning, is still comparable to getting struck by lightning! I marvel at how some people keep winning lucky draws year after year at our annual dinners.

A few weeks ago my brother, Harry, and his wife, Buddy, became a daddy and mommy for the first time. But for some reason I couldn't find the time to visit them and the dragon baby, at the hospital. Then recently, Harry and Buddy invited me to a dinner party to mark one-month old of the baby's arrival, and I said that I would attend.

Then about a week or two ago, my partner asked me if I could attend a dinner invitation on his behalf. Forgetting that I've already committed to attend Harry's party, I said yes to my partner. It wasn't till the last minute that I was reminded of Harry's party. By then it was too late for me to find a replacement for the other dinner. In the end, to compromise, I decided to attend both!

What I did was to attend the other dinner first. It was a formal dinner, and I had to appear in a black suit. The Guest of Honour was the Chief Minister of Sabah. Halfway through, however, I sneaked out and went to Harry's party.

Little did I know that while I was at Harry's party, a lucky draw was conducted at the other dinner; and of all those years, and many, many lucky draws that I've been at where I failed to win anything, this had to be the lucky draw that I would win a Samsung digital camera! According to 3 friends who texted me, my name was called out several times, but because I was not personally present to receive the prize, it had to be forfeited! 

That's Murphy's Law, I guess, but what's the odds of it happening? So that's a digital camera down the drain for being at the wrong place at the wrong time. And it's kinda frustrating that it had to be a camera, especially at a time when my own Sony camera went dead recently and I'm up to buy another soon.

But here's the thing about brotherly respect. My siblings don't necessarily like me as a brother, but I'd like to think that they respect me. And respect has to be earned; it doesn't come automatically. I have committed to Harry and buddy that I would come, and no amount of digital camera would prevent me from coming. If I have to do it all over again, I wouldn't change a thing.

But dammit!... I could sure use a new digital camera for free!

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Hillwork Reboot—Love At First Sight

It's been a couple of weeks since The Most Beautiful Thing (TMBT) in mid-September, and we haven't done much of a decent hill training. Several of us have registered for the Vibram HK 100km in January next year. And unfortunately, January is not very far away. So it's time to kick-start our hill training again.

Mia, Hana and I found ourselves at the now famous starting point at Jalan Kipouvo-Madsiang a few kilometres from Penampang last Sunday morning for a scheduled 7-hour hill training. It was a mere 30km workout which would take us from Kipouvo up the hills, and then down to Inanam on the other side. We would then turn back at Jalan Kionsom; but would then make a detour of about 4.5km (return trip of 9km) at the fork, up to the hanging bridge.

Hana was probably still half asleep that morning and had trouble locating the junction to Jalan Kipouvo-Madsiang. I had to wait for her at the main road to guide her in to the spot where we eventually parked our cars. It was a lovely morning that promised a bright sunny day.

The start was a good 2km of undulating and winding asphalt road before breaking off to a sharp uphill climb on a narrow concrete driveway. At first Mia was ahead by several metres. Hana and I were talking; or rather, I was doing most of the talking, and Hana was mainly listening. However, about halfway up the hill, Mia became increasingly slower, and both Hana and I eventually overtook her. Hana went ahead while I waited for Mia.

When I reached the top of the hill, Hana was already seated on a shaded resting place waiting for us. Moments later, Mia arrived and together we took a few more minutes resting. The view from that point was awesome—we could see KK from afar; rolling hills of green on a beautiful sunny day.

The next section of the workout was a pleasant downhill trek of gravel road all the way to Jalan Kionsom. Mia took the opportunity to run ahead of us again. But when we hit the flat asphalt road at the bottom of the hill, I started my brisk-walking routine and surged ahead, though still keeping both the ladies within sight.

We finally arrived at the tuck shop just at the junction at Jalan Kionsom where we had planned to refill our bottles. We decided to treat ourselves to fresh coconut water. Then Mia went to use the toilet; and while Hana and I were talking to each other, a handsome chap named Billy came along.

I was kinda hurt that Hana was obviously attracted to Billy. I suspect it must have been the awesome beard that did the trick; or perhaps it's those pleading eyes, but whatever it was, Hana was moved to take out her phone to take a photo of Billy.

As if sensing that Hana was obviously charmed by his dashing looks, Billy drew closer to Hana...

That's the thing about relationships—sometimes if the chemistry is right, you just know it clicks right away! I'm not sure if it's because of Hana's sexy outfit or pretty face, but immediately after she took the photo, Billy was eager to know if it's a good shot. See for yourself what happened next...

All the while, my frustration and jealousy grew steadily until I lost it. I had to break them up so that we could continue with our training. And maybe because I was too upset seeing Hana and Billy flirting with each other, I forgot all about having to pay for our drinks! We were already several metres away, when the nice young woman shyly reminded us that we haven't paid yet! It was an awkward moment, but I had to turn back and duly paid up before making our return leg to the hills. I could see the sadness in Hana's eyes (don't worry Hana dear, we will be coming back here again, and you will meet Billy again, I promise).

The sun was already up high in the sky by the time we passed that same stretch of gravel road again. Hana, perhaps because of her frustration, charged up the hill in her famous turbo briskwalk fashion, and left Mia and I behind. I had to stop many times to wait for Mia; she was obviously struggling up the hill.

The walk to the top of the hill took about an hour. By the time I reached there, Hana had already spent quite some minutes waiting for us under the open-sided shed. I joined her and together we waited for Mia who arrived shortly later. From that point, the plan was to make that 4.5km detour to the hanging bridge. But Mia said that she felt tired and didn't think she had the energy to make that detour. I could see the quick spark in Hana's eyes as she quickly agreed to abandon that detour plan, and go straight back to our cars instead. So all of us duly made our way down the hill, stopping briefly on the way to take this photo.

Well, we made it back to our cars for a total workout of about 5 hours only, instead of the intended 7 hours. In the end we only did 21km. Obviously it didn't go according to plan, but it's probably a blessing in disguise—maybe we shouldn't push it too far after a long break; I guess it's good to allow the body to build up the momentum again.

We then drove to Wan Wan for lunch where I tried my best to cheer Hana up, as it was obvious that she was still missing Billy heaps. But after a bowl of (ka-liao, ka-mien) kon-lau mien, Hana was all smiles again. 

In the coming weeks, we will be back again a few more times to these hills, gradually building up the distance to include the Kasih Sayang leg in Kokol. I can almost feel Hana's excitement...

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Searching For Hybrid Running Tights

It's been a little over 2 years ago when I bought my first pair of running tights—a 2XU compression tights. Before that I've always been running races in ordinary running shorts. But I had some issues running in shorts. Firstly, whenever I run any distance longer than a half marathon (21km), I'd become increasingly vulnerable to developing blisters between my inner thighs. Secondly, I'd also fall victim to severe cramps which would typically start around 30km into the race. 

It wasn't until much later, after discussing my problem with some experienced runners, when I was introduced to the running tights. Although there were several brands in the market, I was somehow drawn to the 2XU. And so in September 2010 I finally became a proud first-time owner of a 2XU Compression tights. The circumstances surrounding the discovery of the running tights were fairly exciting and amusing as reported here

To be very honest, I wasn't really convinced that the compression tights could do the things it claimed it could, but I reckoned that I had nothing much to lose anyway; there was no harm trying it out. Well, 2 years have since elapsed since that day, and I have since bought another 2 pairs of 2XU compression tights. Whenever I run anything more than 20km—even during training—I'd put on my compression tights. 

You may be wondering if the 2XU compression tights can really do what it says it can. Well, the truth is that after 2 years wearing it, I still can't be sure if it helps in preventing or delaying the onset of fatigue and cramps during a race. Neither am I sure that it helps in speeding up muscle recovery after a race. It's true that I rarely suffer severe cramps these days, but that could be because I'm better able to pace my run, or my legs are more conditioned for long-distance running now. However, one benefit that I can't deny is that I no longer get blisters between my inner thighs. I will only get the blister problem again when I run far beyond the 42km, such as the 100km ultra marathon. Nevertheless, I try to refrain from wearing the tights whenever I run shorter distances, not because I'm trying to make it last longer, but mainly because I'm not a big fan of men in tights!

I wore the 2XU compression tights in all 3 of the 100km ultra trail marathons I've done so far. And I'm planning to wear it again when I return to Hong Kong for the Vibram ultra trail marathon 100km in January next year. Last February, I've done the Vibram as reported here.

I'm not one who'd easily be intimidated by the challenge of the distance or terrains of a race course. I may be worried about the torture, of course, but as I have said to some friends many times before, whenever I join these races, I enter with the mindset that "failure is just not an option". Come rain or shine, I will see to it that I cross the finish line in the end!

But Hong Kong is a bit different—there is the cold temperature I have to reckon with; and cold temperature is my major weakness. I can train for the rolling hills; I can train for the ridiculous distance; I can come up with proper hydration and nutrition plan. But my body just can't deal with the cold temperature.

I'm expecting an even colder Vibram next year when compared to the one I had done last February, so I'm making early preparations to survive the cold. I'm trying to search for a running tights that is a compression type, but also a thermal type—a kind of hybrid tights, if you like. So far my search hasn't been fruitful. I'm wondering if any of my readers know of such tights in the market and could perhaps guide me to an online source where I can find out more, and maybe eventually buy a pair or two.

Monday, November 5, 2012

The Malakoff Powerman Duathlon Asian Championships 2012

I've heard about the Powerman, a duathlon event, since 2 years ago, and have been keen to try it someday, but somehow could never find the right time to do it. You see, apart from running marathons and some other shorter races, I've also been joining ultra trail marathons and just last month, a triathlon in Miri. 

There were a few events scheduled for the first weekend of November. Some of my friends have opted to run the Taroko Gorge Marathon. Another friend, Teo Chen Lung, was lucky enough to secure a place in the New York City Marathon—well, lucky, that is, until last Friday when the event was cancelled when Teo was already there in New York. Then, of course, there's the Powerman. But I've planned to do the Powerman since a few months ago; so last Saturday I arrived at the Marriott Hotel in Putrajaya on the eve of the event.

I took a bus to the race venue (arranged by the organiser) at about 5am the next morning. When I arrived there, I was surprised to see the transition area; it must have been about 100m long of 6 lanes bike racks. By about 6:30am, the sea of bicycles was just amazing. I met John Chin and together we walked to the starting line for the run leg. As we were chatting, we saw Tey Eng Tiong walking with his intimidating cameras. I called out to him and he took this photo of us (Thanks Tey).

 Now I'm not sure why, but I'm not a very lucky person when it comes to photos. You see, in most of these events, there will be bound to be many cameramen around taking random photos of the participants. Out of the many thousands of photos taken, I'd be lucky if I could find one or two of mine in action during the race. Sometimes, some of my friends would bring along their own cameras, and I would have my photos taken either before or after the race, but I very rarely get my photos taken during the race. And even if I did get my photo taken, they won't be good shots anyway!

It was still kinda dark then; the sun was just about to rise, and it seemed like it was gonna be a hot sunny day. Shortly after that, Anslem, Amy and Veron also arrived at the starting line. We waited for a few minutes and then we were duly flagged off.

I started with a 6 minutes' pace and gradually worked my way to a nice 5.5 minutes' pace. I felt quite good throughout that run. We had to make two of the 5.7km loop. And when I came passing by the checkpoint after the first loop, I had this photo taken of me.

 It's not really a great shot, as I'd like a shot of the whole body. But then again, considering my luck—or rather the lack of it—I guess I should be thankful that at least I have my photo taken (Thanks Janice Chan)!

I completed that run leg in just a little over an hour, and I was quite happy with that time. I felt I could have done it faster, but decided against it, as the bike leg was next, and cycling is not my strong discipline. I spent a minute or two changing my shoes, putting on my helmet, and then drinking my electrolyte concoction. Then I was off with my bike.

Once I was on my bike, my legs felt awkward. I have never trained the transition from running to cycling. But I built up my speed gradually. And then about 15km into the bike leg, while I was climbing a slope, suddenly both my calves seized up. I panicked for a bit. I slowed down to relax. I was thinking that if I couldn't overcome the cramps, that could be the end of my race. Fortunately, the cramps passed after a few kilometres, and I was again able to build up my pace.

The bike leg comprised undulating terrains. It was along a highway, and although I don't particularly like rolling hills, I thought this was a good course, as it would have been a boring ride if it were flat surface throughout.

I'm not very experienced when it comes to bicycles. I've often been asked specific questions about my bike, and almost inevitably bombastic technical words would be used—such as "group set" (which has nothing to do with any groups of cyclists) and cleats (which sounds a little obscene)—and I would have to reluctantly say that I have no idea what they're talking about! As far as I'm concerned, I pedal and the wheels turn, I move forward, and that's all that matters!

For this event, the bike leg was supposed to be a "non-drafting" race. I wasn't really well-versed about the definition of that rule, but apparently a cyclist is not allowed to be within 10m behind another cyclist in front of him. I was kinda worried about that rule. But I found that it's not so easy to ride and abide by that rule religiously since there were so many cyclists during the bike leg. But I played safe by trying my best to keep my distance checked all the time. Two cyclists crashed into each other behind me as evidenced by the loud noise, but I didn't stop to investigate what actually happened. I merely made a quick turn and saw them sprawled on the ground with the bikes flung a few metres away.

Well, it took me a little over 2 hours to finish the 64km ride, and by the time I arrived at the transition area again, my quads were already totally spent. I spent a little longer, taking my time to change my shoes once again, taking off  my helmet and putting on a cap. Both legs were stiff. There were many people in the transition area, but I wasn't paying attention on them. I merely started running.

That final 11.4km run was extremely tough, and I had to slow down to a walk many times in between slow jogs. Along the way, I could see many photographers, and I was hoping that someone would take my photo, but maybe that's just wishful thinking.

As I reached the halfway point, passing the checkpoint again, I saw Tey from afar with his bunch of cameras. I was thinking this would be a good opportunity to get my photo taken. Although in pain and exhaustion, I somehow found the courage to appear strong. Tey was busily clicking his cameras, but as I was approaching nearer, suddenly Tey's camera changed direction as if pulled by a strong magnetic force beyond his control. And as I got into perfect view and perfect distance for a good shot with my most handsome pose, his camera was already clicking on a different object. I turned my head, following the direction of Tey's camera and saw the source of that magnetic was stronger than the force of the dark side of Star Wars' fame...

Well, I guess I shouldn't be complaining, because she's obviously much prettier than me! I abandoned my brave running posture and continued my torture for a final 5.7km lap. I lost count of how many times I doused water over my head, but as I got closer and closer to the finish line, my excitement grew. I ran the entire 500m or so to the finish line. And as I was approaching the finish line, I saw Tey once again. By then I could hardly keep my body straight, but what the heck; all I could think of then was to cross that finish line!

That's me on the left—the one who appears to have no back bone to keep the body straight. I looked much more presentable and macho at the starting line, I swear!

According to my Garmin, I finished in 4 hours 33 minutes. And this is the medal that I've added into my collection. 

I'm not sure yet what on earth I wanna do with all those medals I have collected up to now, but I suppose I'll worry about them when I'm 60 years old.

After the race, and while waiting for my transport to the airport, I had the opportunity to chit chat with the Race Director, Melody Tan.

She did a very good job organising this event. I was given to understand that last year the Powerman had about 1,000 participants in Sri Manjung, but this year it had attracted over 1,800 participants. I must congratulate Melody for an awesome event! It's a different flavour from the usual marathons and ultra marathons that I've joined before. I enjoyed it very much. If I can find the time, I'd like to come back for another attempt to achieve a faster finishing time next year.