Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Strength In Unity

About three years ago, I watched the movie, Rise of the Planet of the Apes on a Sunday afternoon. Of course the movie was famous because of its special effects, which were mainly achieved with the help of modern movie-making technology—mostly computer and all those digital stuff. I mentioned briefly about the awesome special effects in a post here. But even without the special effects, it was still a good story in itself. In all the excitement, there was actually a very powerful message for the audience. 

The movie tells the story of Caesar, a male chimpanzee born with a high IQ, which eventually united a bunch of unruly apes from the confines of a primate shelter, from a zoo, and from a lab, for the sake of seeking freedom. 

There was a scene when Caesar was in the primate shelter, sitting on a rocky ledge with his orangutan friend. Caesar was sad looking at some apes fighting with each other down below. He wanted the apes to unite, and the orangutan asked him why. Here is a video clip from youtube; you can see for yourself how Caesar explains himself.

As I was walking out of the cinema that day, I knew that there would be a sequel to the movie. After all, most successful movies these days would almost automatically have sequels. True enough, its sequel, Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, arrived at the cinemas about 2 weeks ago. I took the earliest opportunity to watch it; and again I was happy with what I saw. 

Of course Dawn is the continuation of Rise, and the story has developed up to 10 years apart. But again there is that same message to the audience—this time uttered by an ape named Koba. A short sentence consisting of just 2 powerful words: Together Strong!

It suddenly occurred to me that perhaps it would be beneficial if all Malaysians could be convinced—even forced—to watch Rise (and Dawn) of the Planet of the Apes. I think it's gonna be worth the few hours watching apes, and hopefully at the end of it, learn something about Strength In Unity.

Monday, July 28, 2014

Cycling With Mia & Pam

A few months ago, Mia and her friend, Pamela, registered for a half Ironman distance triathlon race to be held in Desaru around mid-August. For those of you who're not familiar with the sport, a "half Ironman distance triathlon" means an open-water swim of about 1.9km, followed by 90km bike, and then finally a 21km (half marathon) run. I was given to understand that the cut off time for the Desaru event is 8:30.

I think an average person who can swim, bike and run, and has been regularly active in sports for at least half a year, would find the half Ironman distance quite doable within the 8 hours 30 minutes, provided that he invests a bit of time training for the event. "Doable" here means able to finish within the cut off time—not "doable" as in to win the race. There is actually no need to be a fast swimmer, nor a fast cyclist, nor a fast runner—just average (or even slightly below average) speed in all those sports would do just fine.

But the trouble with Mia is that although she can swim and run, she's not a very good cyclist. She bought a road bike a little over a year ago; and then recently she surprised me when she bought a tribike too. That's when she told me that she's gonna attempt the half Ironman distance in August. If it were any other cyclist, I wouldn't have been surprised in the least. In fact, it is almost expected that after riding a road bike for a while, it's just a matter of time before one upgrades to a tribike. However, Mia has never really figured out her road bike yet up to now. Yes, she did finish an Olympic Distance triathlon, but she still can't ride steadily up to now.

To give you a better idea of Mia as a cyclist, she can pedal of course, but she's not very good in balancing on her bike. She must have both her hands on the handlebar at all times, except for the fraction of a second when she needs to shift her gear, or try to reach for her water bottle. Whenever she wants to drink or consume food (such as energy gels) she has to stop her bike. Otherwise she risks losing her balance. It's even more challenging for her to get into the so-called aero-position, that is to say to rest her elbows on the handlebar while gripping the aerobars. She also bought a pair of cycling shoes—the type that can be engaged to matching pedals on the bike. I told her that she's not ready for cycling shoes, but, y'know, she's an ex-St. Franciscan girl, so of course she went ahead with the shoes anyway. But after several falls, resulting in nasty bruises that took several weeks to disappear, scratches on her new bike, as well as damaging her shifters, she eventually abandoned the cycling shoes for now. But only for now, mind you!

Things were not looking well for Desaru, and she's fast running out of time to deal with the bike leg of the race. She went for short rides with her friend, Pam, on several occasions, but as you probably already know, riding 30km to 40km isn't really good enough in anticipation of a 90km ride in the race. So 2 weeks ago, I decided that I should accompany her for a longer ride with the view of addressing some of the issues about her cycling skills. I told her that she didn't really need to ride 70km, and she probably couldn't ride that far anyway. So I got the desired response—she said she wanted to go for that 70km ride because she needed the training. Sometimes, you need to know how to deal with ex-St. Franciscans, you see.

So off we went for that 70km ride. Soon, it was obvious that she wasn't comfortable on her bike. She had it set up at the shop where she bought it from, but it's only when one rides beyond 40km-50km before one is able to know if the setup is really good. We exchanged bikes. Once she got on my bike, she could immediately feel the difference; the setup was almost perfect, except that the seat was a little too high for her. It was then that she decided she'd use my bike for Desaru. I spent no less than an hour repeating myself like a million times before she got so sick of my instructions; in the end, she realised that I wouldn't stop unless she force herself to try the aero position. At first she did it for a few seconds, and I expressed a soothing "Goooood!". Eventually, she spent longer and longer in the aero position, and each time she was rewarded with "Goooood!" from me.

So both the coach and the ex-St. Franciscan were very pleased at the end of that workout, but I felt like the latter walked around with her eyes on her forehead that day. I seized the opportunity to set another bike workout, this time much closer to the 90km distance of the race. Well, that workout happened this morning, and her friend, Pam came along too.

About 20 minutes into the ride, however, I had a puncture. I suspect it must have been God's idea to include that as a learning process for the ladies. Changing the tube isn't very difficult once you get the hang of it, but it can be quite tricky if you haven't tried it on your own. It reminded me of the time when I first started cycling some years ago, and I was trying so damn hard to impress a young woman with impossibly sexy legs who went cycling with me. It was an epic failure of course, as reported here, but I swear I've learned quite a lot about bikes since then. 

Now, at this juncture, I just wanna share a strange mystery about many women—but I'd rather not mention names here, or I may end up getting shot!—they would spend time and efforts to train for cycling. Perhaps spend a big chunk of their savings to buy a dream bike; apart from spending a bit on air travels and hotel expenses when joining races out of town. But the one thing that they simply refuse to do is to learn how to fix a puncture. They'd rather DNF upon getting a puncture! Makes no sense to me, but then again women are not meant to be understood!

Anyway, Mia and Pam had a so-called intensive tube-change clinic at the roadside this morning, although Pam had apparently decided to be one of those girls within the same category as those in the preceding paragraph above, at least for the Desaru mission. Who knows, with any luck, she may decide to want to learn how to change a tube in the future.

Well, Pam went on to finish (albeit barely) 82km; and Mia and I did about 88km today. Mia spent a good deal of the workout in aero position; and she also made the breakthrough of drinking and eating energy gels without stopping her bike. Now I'd be much happier if she would only ride in a straight line, as opposed to a zig-zag fashion, while she's drinking or eating, but I guess I should be happy with whatever improvement she's making on each ride.

Well, in 3 weeks from now, I'm going to Kuching to run a marathon, while Mia and Pam will be heading to Desaru for the half Ironman distance race. Before this I was excited for the Kuching marathon, but over the last few weeks, I'm becoming increasingly excited for Mia and Pam too. It does seem like an uphill task for both of them, but after all you never know if you're able to do it until you try it!

I shall be keeping my fingers crossed.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Sense of Proportion

I learned a painful lesson in the recent Gold Coast Airport Marathon 2014—despite months of careful planning and hard training for a modest goal of achieving a PB in the race, I threw the game plan out of the window barely 10km into the 42km race because of greed. I allowed myself to indulge in the romantic idea of not only beating 3:52 for a PB, but also achieving 3:45. In the heat of the moment, and the blazing excitement of the race, I crumbled and abandoned my own game plan. 

To be honest, I was confident that I could beat the 3:52 PB based on my training; I felt it’s almost an assured conclusion. That’s why the disappointment factor was extra large for this race. From about 30km of the race to the finish line, I hated myself, because it was at that stage when both my quads suddenly seized up, I knew that I’ve done myself in. I crossed the finish line in a decent 3:56:51, and a few years ago, I would have been thrilled with that result. But not in this race.

Then a strange thing happened to me. After receiving my finisher T-shirt and medal, I waited for my friend, Lim Young Peing, at the finish arch. One by one the runners crossed the finish line; and just within a window of about an hour, my disappointment in myself subsided and then turned into quite the opposite. 

It’s amazing what one can see and learn at the finish line of a marathon race; it can be something of an eye opener. People from all walks of life, in many sizes and colours, challenging themselves to conquer the distance of 42km. Standing there at the finish line, I saw people becoming very emotional—crying as they cross the finish line, into the waiting arms of their loved ones, time regardless. 

Suddenly, I felt like a total idiot! I have forgotten my own principles in life; and sometimes I need to be reminded too. We all have the tendency to forget to count our blessings; we lose the sense of proportion. We become greedy; and then end up miserable.

At the age of 49, I should be happy with a sub-4 hour finish in a marathon; I’m healthy and can still indulge in the things I enjoy doing. I guess it would have been “perfect” had I been able to achieve a PB while enjoying the race too, but sometimes things don’t always pan out the way one would like them to. As I’ve always said, actually, all the little imperfections in life are the very things that make life perfect!

In the hotel room a few hours later, Lim reflected on his fortune of achieving his PB in Gold Coast—a 3-minute improvement from 4:50 to 4:47. He said it’s just a small improvement, but I hastened to assure him that it’s still a significant improvement anyway. He should be thrilled and excited all the same. After all, he has conquered a new frontier; and that is a major achievement

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


"This is because should a woman menteri besar suffer from 'uzur syarie' (period), there will be a number of obstacles for her to accompany the Sultan at several religious functions."

—Constitutional Expert, Datuk Mohd Hafarizam Harun, in explaining why Datuk Seri Wan Azizah Wan Ismail can't be the Selangor Menteri Besar. [Link]

I'm thinking that it must be extremely tough to earn a living in Malaysia as a clown. We have too many of them; in fact, we see them around on a daily basis, so much so that we become immune to them. We no longer find clowns very amusing; they are no longer entertaining.

By the way, those of you who don't already know it, Wan Azizah was born in December 1952. It means that she's now in her sixties. I'm no gynae, but y'know, I seriously doubt that she's still having periods, but I may be wrong.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Gold Coast Airport Marathon 2014

I research and experiment extensively on running, and way too many people have approached me to seek the magical formula to improve their performance in running. In fact, I’m a mentor to many of these people; which is quite an irony, because I have no formal training as a coach, and neither am I a fast runner!

The one thing that puzzles me about most of them is that the vast majority have no clue whatsoever about racing strategy. In my opinion, many of them can do much better than their current PBs, but the main stumbling block that prevents them from achieving better results is that they almost always run way too fast at the beginning of their races. I’m seeing some of these people run race after race, repeating the same mistake, and they just don’t know what’s hitting them!

Armed with knowledge and a keen sense of racing strategy, one would expect me—of all the people in the world—not to fall for the same mistake, but that’s exactly what happened in the Gold Coast Airport Marathon. But it’s not the kind of mistake of not knowing the significance of racing strategy; rather, the mistake of putting at stake my chance of a PB for the sake of greed.

Earlier this year, I was training for the New Zealand Ironman, an ill-perceived move on my part. I had insufficient training, and then my friend who was supposed to race with me had a bike accident and had to withdraw. In the end I went alone, with whatever little training that I had, and had to struggle to finish the race in a miserable 15:32. One could almost say that it was a “successful failure”!

Anyway, because of the limited time I had during the Ironman training, my focus was mainly on endurance, and hardly on speed. After the Ironman in early March, I began to work on my speed around mid March, and I reckoned that I should have enough time to gradually build up speed to the Gold Coast Airport Marathon on the first Sunday of July. I was hopeful that I would achieve a PB in that race. As the weeks and months went by, I could feel my speed improving. I could run 10km-15km at 5:30min/km pace fairly comfortably. And by June, I could run 5:00-5:15 mins pace for 10km-15km comfortably. Things were looking very good indeed. I was very confident and I felt that I had a good shot at improving on the 3:52 I set in Hong Kong last year.

My friend, Lim Young Peing, went to Gold Coast with me, and he was also hoping to achieve a PB. We arrived on Friday morning, and then went to collect our race packs together. It was such a grand event, and so many people at the expo. We each received our bib and a goodie bag, but without any goodie in it!

I was walking around in the crowd after collecting my race pack, and then Karen Loh of the MWM’s fame greeted me. The truth is that I seriously doubt that she knew me, but was merely being friendly. I guess “Malaysian” was written too plainly all over my face, you see. I did not let it go to waste though—it’s not always that a pretty and sexy young woman would greet a nerd like me. I turned to Lim and told him that that was Karen, as if we’ve been buddies for a long time! I can’t remember if I had walked with my eyes on my forehead after that. I must ask Lim about that later.

I ran about 3km on Saturday morning and felt very good. I was ready for a great race. The next morning saw me at the start line of the Gold Coast Airport Marathon. I found my place in section B meant for sub-4hour runners. Temperature then was about 10C, but it wasn’t as biting cold as I had initially thought. At the flag off, I started cautiously—I ran the first 5km at a very conservative average pace of 5:20min/km. In fact, it was so comfortable that I hardly broke a sweat. I was thinking that I would surely achieve my PB if I could maintain that pace; and it almost felt like it was too easy to maintain that pace too! I continued running more or less at that pace up to 10km, and I was still feeling very fresh.

Then the tragedy—the evil that has always been the culprit that had destroyed many strong men of this world—I was overwhelmed by greed . Seeing the red balloon depicting the 3:45 pacer coming back from the turning point, I began to wonder if instead of just beating the 3:52 PB, maybe I might even have a shot at 3:45? That would be a fantastic icing of the cake. After all, even before reaching Gold Coast, I've been contemplating that 3:45 all the while. Could it be possible? I was feeling fresh running the 5:20min pace for 10km; I had all my nutrition and hydration schedules executed according to plan. It was a flat course. The 3:45 finish seemed like something too sinful to miss at that stage!

And that was the turning point of the race for me; I fell victim to greed and began to chase after the forsaken red balloon. I maintained a pleasant 5:10min average pace up to 15km, 20km and even up to 25km, still feeling good. Was it something that I had eaten the day before? Did some magical bio-chemical reaction happen in my body? It just seemed too good to be true!

Well, you know what? It was indeed too good to be true! At about 28km into the race, I suddenly felt my left quads seizing up, followed just a few seconds later by the right quads. I knew then I was in big trouble. I was forced to slow down a bit. I arrived at the 30km point in about 2:38, but although that was a decent timing, I realized that the remaining journey to the finish line would be hell for me. The cramps in both quads were hell. Suddenly the race turned into a nightmare.

Well, what remained of the race was not a pleasant experience. I ran with plenty of walks in between. A lot of torture. It’s been such a long time since the last time I experienced such a torture during a marathon. It kinda reminded me of the first few marathons that I had run. In the end, not only did I fail in achieving 3:45, but not even the 3:52. Instead, I finished in 3:56:51. Although that is still a decent finish, I must admit that I’m disappointed. My disappointment is not really because of the failure of achieving a PB. I have long accepted that I can’t possibly achieve a PB in every race that I join. Rather, I’m disappointed because I allowed myself to become overwhelmed by greed. But then again, I’m walking away from the Gold Coast Airport Marathon with a lesson learned the hard way. I will be back again; and I will achieve my PB one way or another!

In all this, at least my friend Lim achieved his PB. He improved from 4:50 to 4:47. A small improvement, but still nothing short of spectacular all the same!