Sunday, July 28, 2013

Mental Skill

I ran a long slow distance (LSD) of 31km this morning starting at 4am together with my running buddy, Dr Peter. I have run this distance many, many times in the past, and I see such a workout as just another ordinary workout. But this morning was somewhat different. You see, yesterday, I went cycling for a distance of 88km, and my legs were pretty tired when I started running this morning. In fact, I felt so tired to the extent that I wasn't even sure that I could finish the intended 31km. 

Actually, I've been cycling on Saturdays and running LSD on Sundays for a couple of weeks now, each week steadily increasing the distances. All this is within my modified training programme in preparation for the Sundown Ultra 100km in mid September.

Well, as I was saying, I felt so tired that I thought I would not be able to finish the 31km. I told Peter that I would try to run at least 25km. It was a bit of a concern that I began to suffer as early as just a few kilometres into the workout, but I somehow kept going. And by the time we reached Orange where we stopped to buy our drinks, my legs were getting "immune" from the exhaustion. Come to think of it, I surprised myself when I was able to keep going, even running the undulating UMS loop to complete the entire 31km. I felt like I have conquered a full marathon!

To be honest, I'm not sure how I was able to run the 31km with my exhausted legs. Possibly, it's because I was chit-chatting with Peter throughout the run and that helped to take my mind off thinking about my exhausted legs. Maybe it had something to do with the energy gels that I consumed every 45 to 60 mins intervals. Or perhaps the pleasant gloomy weather helped a bit too. Hell, maybe it's because of this underwear which I wore during the run?

Now, before you get the wrong idea, let me hasten to say that I did not get it from this fellow!

I have no idea what happened to his. If indeed he gave his away to somebody, I hope at least he'd wash it first.

Anyway, it has been said that as the distance for an endurance event increases, it will become increasingly about mental strength and less about physical strength and fitness. But I sometimes wonder, are we born with mental strength? Is there anything we can do to develop it? For a while now, I've been thinking that this thing about mental strength has a lot to do with mental skill too. And because it is a skill, it follows that it could be learned and developed.

I have the habit of counting my steps when I'm really tired to run. For example at the later stages of a marathon. At some points no amount of strength—mental nor physical—can help to make me continue running. But it is strange that when I tell myself to keep going, say, for another 500 steps before rewarding myself with a 15 seconds walk, I can then focus on counting those steps, and only on counting those steps one by one. It works well for me as I'm somehow able to "shut" my mind off from my exhaustion. I use this same approach in all the other endurance events too such as the ultra trail and cycling events. It is in that sense that I see it more as a mental skill, rather than strength. Of course this can't go on and on forever, but it's amazing how much more you can squeeze out of your tired legs!

So the next time you think you've reached your limits, try counting in your head by setting a fixed target of say 100 or 200 steps; and it's a good idea to count with a rhythm too. The number of counts can gradually be raised as you train yourself more and more. Just make sure you won't use this trick to beat me if we're racing against each other!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Training Advice

A fair number of athletes who've googled up for "The Most Beautiful Thing (TMBT)" have found their way to this blog because of my race reports for TMBT 2011 as posted here (Part 1) and here (Part 2); and TMBT 2012 as posted here. Some of them, especially the first-timer ultra trail runners, have asked me for training advice not only because I've experienced the TMBTs, but also because I'm a Sabahan and presumed to know a bit more about our local terrains. But after a while, their questions have begun to sound very similar to one another, and I've decided perhaps it's a good idea to share whatever little that I know here in this post.

Let me hasten to say, however, that I'm not an expert in trail running. In fact, I don't even have a proper training schedule for the ultra 100km. I am for the most part a road runner, and I hardly ever run trails unless if I've signed up for a trail-running event.

Unfortunately, I have signed up, and now training for, the Sundown Ultra 100km in Singapore scheduled for 14/15 September, and will therefore have to give TMBT 2013 a miss since the latter falls on the same dates. And that is quite a shame, because it appears that TMBT will be even more challenging this year!

Now a standard training programme for an ultra trail is very punishing to say the least. Apart from the weekday runs of not less than 10km each and often rising to 15km each, there are the so-called back-to-back (B2B) long runs on Saturdays and Sundays; and when I say long, I really mean long! But you see, I just don't have it in me to follow that "standard" training programme, so I have modified it a bit to suit my own (limited) ability as well as the amount of time I have for training. Therefore, I can never dream of finishing among the top finishers. But it is still possible to target a "decent" finishing time.

I still continue my weekday runs, usually 3 days on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays, and each not less than 10km. Then my weekend B2B comes in a slightly modified form, i.e. cycling on Saturdays and LSD run on Sundays. By doing so, I'm hoping to spare my knee for a bit. I rest on Mondays and Fridays, although this recently, I also swim on those days. On alternate Sundays, I did hill training on village paths (we have plenty of those), and I would peak about 3 weeks before the race with an approximate 12-13 hours of hillwork on Sunday. After that I would begin to taper for the race.

There isn't much more to share except that for those not used to the Sabah terrains, I would recommend a good dose of hillwork, especially those of you who are used to running only on flat roads. So if you haven't already done any hillwork up to now, it's a good idea to start soon. Hills, hills, and more hills. And after you have done those hill trainings, do some more hill trainings—it's almost like it can never be enough! You just have to trust me on this—we have ridiculous hills here in Sabah, and I'm only talking about the foothills around Mount Kinabalu!

So there you go, quite a simple training advice. Good luck to you!

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Keluhan Jiwa

Khas ditujukan kepada Awang Md Jumat Md Tahir.

Alkisah nasib malang ditimpa kedukaan yang teramat sangat—kesedihan menyayat hati... 

Namun apakan daya, insan yang lemah ini, bagaikan dilamun cinta asmara—makan tak kenyang; tidur tak lena; mandi tak basah! Benci tapi rindu! Walau sehari tak tak ketemu, dunia bagaikan tak bererti lagi. Tidur malam terbayang-bayang dalam ingatan!

Demikianlah peritnya mangsa dibelenggu ketagihan yang tak terhingga. Hidup penuh kesiksaan, menjadi hamba si dia; manis-manisan yang tentunya dicipta di neraka. Saban hari, siang dan malam menghantui jiwa!

Buai tinggi tinggi, sampai kasau atap
Capai level tinggi, sampai tidur tak lelap

Wahai teman-teman kalian yang masih belum terjerat dibelenggu manisan yang teramat sangat; ataupun yang baru nak berjinak-jinak dengan si dia, dengarkanlah nasihat ikhlas dari insan yang sudah tiada harapan lagi untuk melepaskan diri—jangan dijangkau permainan Candy Crush Saga. Masih belum terlambat... kembalilah ke pangkal jalan. Percayalah...jarakkan diri dari benda durjana ini!

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Swim Session—Stroke Correction

Almost 3 years ago, during a dinner party, someone brought up the idea of attempting the triathlon. I have to say that triathlon sounds like an interesting sport, but the thing that made me doubtful about attempting it was the swimming discipline. I can swim the distance, but I can only do the breaststroke. I've never been any good at the freestyle. After that dinner party, I did try to swim again after about 15 years, but I haven't really been very successful in the freestyle.

Well, I have since conquered the sprint distance triathlon as well as the so-called modified distance (which was slightly longer than the Olympic distance), and both times in Miri. However, at both these events, I used the breaststroke. I think that style is good enough for shorter triathlon events, but it would be ideal if I could use the freestyle, especially when attempting longer triathlon distances. 

I heard that there will be a half Ironman distance in Nusajaya later this year. That would be a good event to explore, so it is now even  more important that I learn the freestyle. In fact, I have been trying to learn that style over the last few months, but although I have slight improvement, it is still very slow.

Therefore, when Judy suggested that we invite Stephanie Chok, the former state swimmer and national triathlete, to conduct a stroke correction swim workshop, I told myself that I must attend. It was held at the Likas swimming pool at 9:30am today. But before that I went for my weekly cycling. I had to cut short my ride to 50km to make it back in time for the swim workshop. Judy was supposed to ride with us too, but she texted me in the wee hours of the morning to say that she did not know how to assemble her bike! You see, she had just returned from Port Dickson last weekend for the triathlon. So there you go—a triathlete who doesn't know how to assemble back her own bike!

Anyway, I was surprised to see quite a big turnout at the pool when I arrived. Stephanie was already there in her grand swimming outfit.

And by the way, those of you who are still doubtful or unsure, let me hasten to confirm that Stephanie does have a pair of breasts, thank you.

Judy was also there, and just as I was approaching the pool, she was just about to start her warm-up lap.

But of course before that, the ladies simply had to take some photos first; it wouldn't have been them if they hadn't, if you know what I mean?

Even Alex, whom I haven't seen for ages since he broke his arm last year, was also there!

It wasn't meant to be a swimming lesson; rather an opportunity to be seen swimming by Stephanie, so that she can perhaps identify our weaknesses and suggest possible remedies. The session was quite an eye-opener, but I'm beginning to get very tired of hearing that my strokes are too stiff. I've been trying very hard to deal with that problem for a long time now, in fact since 3 years ago as reported here!

To make her point, Stephanie told us to observe her strokes from underwater. Oh! she can really swim, that woman; she made it look so easy! From underwater angle, I struggled for a bit to watch her arms in action, because the XY genes in my DNA kept shifting my focus to the lower half of her body instead of her arms. But I was able to concentrate on her arms anyway (it wasn't easy to fight instinct, you know).

One by one we swam a short distance, and Stephanie gave her assessments and suggestions for remedial steps to improve. Douglas Chong was the most special swimmer of the day—we were all either swimming breaststroke or freestyle, but he would not have any of it; he swam the backstroke instead! I can understand what he's going through as I was just like him some years ago. Upon encouragement from Stephanie, however, he eventually ventured out a few metres with the freestyle; and gave me quite a scare, he did too! We were all clinging onto the side wall watching him approach. And because of the design of the pool with ridiculously high side wall, Douglas had to struggle to reach up to rest. He behaved like he was about to drown, while Stephanie was still calmly giving him compliments!

The session was just for an hour, and I didn't realise the time had slipped away so quickly. We all swam back to the other side of the pool where one by one we had to pull ourselves up the ridiculously high side wall. But when it was Judy's turn, she made it look like it's a complicated wall-climbing endeavour, thus provoking Stephanie to comment absently-mindedly that Judy needs to build up her upper body strength! I'm sure even Spider-Man would have cringed seeing her climb that wall. Unfortunately, our official cameraman had already gone home by then (where are the cameramen when we really need them?!).

So now that I know that I'm still stiff, I guess I will have to spend more time to focus on how to solve that particular problem! I will work on it again, hopefully beginning from next week, and then if there is an opportunity, get Stephanie to see me swim again in a few weeks' time. 

I'll be back!

Monday, July 1, 2013

30 June 2013—Ideal For Marathon In Kuala Lumpur

A few days before the Borneo International Marathon (BIM) last month, as all the participants were getting excited about the race, it was suddenly announced that the event had to be postponed on advice from the police on grounds of safety of the participants. It was a difficult decision by the organiser, but it was the right call. What followed next was something akin to a tsunami of negative comments from many participants who felt that the announcement should have been made much earlier, although admittedly there were also many who agreed with the postponement.

Despite the postponement of the event, however, a sizable number of participants ran their respective race categories anyway on the day the marathon was supposed to have taken place. In the end, no security issues arose during the run, and later it was mentioned that the race should not have been postponed!

A few weeks later, the Standard Chartered KL Marathon (SCKLM) suffered an almost similar fate—the haze situation began to worsen in KL beginning from about 2 weeks before the event, and it reached an unhealthy level. The organiser kept everybody in suspense while they waited for things to improve, but it did not seem to get any better. By Wednesday, just a few days before the race, the organiser had to reluctantly announce that the race had been postponed to 29 September. Again there was an avalanche of negative comments from many participants who felt cheated, having trained for months, and having paid for flights and hotel rooms.

The funny thing was that almost as soon as the postponement announcement was made, perhaps with the help of rains and change of wind direction, the haze situation very quickly improved in KL; so much so that by Saturday the city was enjoying a bright blue sky, with practically no trace of the haze!

Then came a second wave of grumbling from the participants, saying that the organiser should have delayed their announcement until much later; at least till Friday or even Saturday

And today, the supposed day of the race, a bunch of hardcore runners ran the marathon course; and it's kinda annoying to hear comments like the weather condition this morning was "ideal to achieve a personal best"!

Observing these people and their antics from the sideline, I can't help but smile to myself. You see, when something like this happens, almost anything the organiser decides to do would never be satisfactory—making the announcement early or late—either way, they are screwed! 

Hindsight is twenty-twenty

When seeing something as an accomplished event, it is very easy to say something like "the organiser should have known that the haze was clearing up; that it was obvious that the weather on the race day would be perfect for the race". 

Unfortunately, the reality is that the organiser, while deliberating the postponement at the time when the haze situation seemed hopeless, did not have a crystal ball which can confirm with 100% certainty a perfect weather for a race. The only thing that's certain at that point of time was that if it were to proceed with the race, and then the haze situation did not improve, resulting in the participants becoming ill, it would get into big-time trouble! So many things could go wrong, such as people suffering respiratory complications and a host of other health issues; even deaths.

Too many of the participants have no idea whatsoever of the kind of responsibility shouldered by the organiser as far as the well-being of the 33,000 participants is concerned. It's decision, whatever that may be, can have far-reaching consequences upon the participants. Whenever in doubt, the only possible decision is to err on the side of caution—there should be absolutely no compromise for the safety of the participants.

I was supposed to run the full marathon this morning in KL. I've been preparing for the race for some weeks now. Because of the postponement, I decided there's not much point to go to KL if it's just for a matter of a "fun run". In the end, I had to forgo flight and hotel expenses which are non-refundable. It's not amusing—that! I can't say that I'm not disappointed. But I have faith in the organiser; I'm confident that whatever decision it arrived at, it must have been made in the best interest of the participants.