Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Ironman Western Australia 2016—Mission Possible

The last few months have been very exhausting as I was training for the Ironman Western Australia (IMWA). I have done an Ironman race at Lake Taupo, New Zealand, in March last year which I finished in about 15:32. That was a lonely trip for me. I was supposed to have raced together with my friend, Teo Chen Lung. But a bike crash a few weeks before the race forced Teo to withdraw from the race. I felt like I owed Teo another shot to race against me, and so both of us registered for the IMWA.

Going into the IMWA, I trained an average of about 10-12 hours per week, and then up to about 13-14 hours per week during the last 6 weeks before the race. However, if I had the time, I would have liked to train at least 15 hours per week, and possibly up to 20 hours peak before tapering for the race. Teo was able to log more training hours as he was training mornings and evenings.

We had a bet between us—whoever lost the race would have to buy the winner dinner. Now if you had known Teo, you would know that he only bets when he is at least 90% sure that he would win. I think he was confident because of several factors. He swam several 4km sessions in the pool in his wetsuit before the race; he logged more training hours; and I have a shrewd suspicion that he knew that he would be able to finish the IMWA in under 15 hours. That is of course at least half an hour faster than my 15:32 finish in New Zealand.

But a few months ago, I had a plan. I wasn't sure if it was a sound plan, but I felt like it was worth the gamble. Because of time constraints, I knew that I couldn't train all 3 sports fully, so I would have to prioritize. I decided to focus on the bike, because to me the bike leg is the key for the long triathlon. That is a little strange because swimming is my weakest sport. Logically, I should have spent more time in the pool, but I decided otherwise because not only is the swim the shortest of the 3 disciplines, but I reckoned that although I was gonna be slower than Teo, it would be just a matter of 5-10 minutes. If my bike is strong enough, I can very easily gain back the time in that leg of the race. The mission at IMWA shall be, first and foremost, to achieve a personal best (PB), and secondly, to prevent Teo from beating me.

And so Teo and I found ourselves at the Busselton Jetty on 6th December on a cold windy morning. That was the start of a day-long torture. Teo reminded me one last time that we had dinner at stake for the race, and we even shook hands on it.

At first, I had intended to swim leisurely and conserve energy for the bike and run legs. But that was wishful thinking. The sea was so rough that morning, I struggled almost throughout, perhaps consuming several litres of sea water in the process. Before the race, Teo said he would expect to finish the swim in about 1:30-1:35, but I said I'd probably take at least 1:40. Well, I was still struggling at 1:40 into the race, and I felt like I was hardly moving forward at all. In the end I took about 1:55 to finish the swim; that must have been the longest 4km swim for me, ever.

In my mind, I was thinking Teo might have finished his swim in about 1:40, and the thought that I was behind by a margin of 15 mins was quite heart-breaking. I got into Transition 1 (T1) and spent some minutes struggling out of my wetsuit and then changed into my bike outfit. Then a quick visit to the toilet. I spent a total of about 10 minutes at T1.

As I started the bike leg, the thought of the hard work catching up with Teo began to sink into my head. I remained calm, however, and stuck to my game plan. In terms of cycling abilities, I can ride at an average of 33kph on flat roads these days, but because this was an Ironman race, I had to conserve energy. But still, I had to make up on lost time during the swim. Thankfully, we had tailwind for the first 20km or so of the bike leg, and I took advantage to ride a little faster. And then shortly after an hour later, I had a pleasant surprise. "Is that Teo up ahead? Well, what d'you know, that is him!"

After I overtook Teo, I began to ease back on the pedals. There were several turning points, and at each turning point, I could judge how far ahead I was. Things went as I had planned, I was increasing the gap between Teo and I. I could have easily declared that the bike leg was perfect, except that it's a little boring, and the headwinds at several sections were quite punishing. At the last turning point, I saw Teo again, and I estimated that I was about half an hour ahead of him. I merely maintained my speed for the remaining 20km or so. I was so happy that the puncture god decided to be kind to me!

At T2, I spent another 10 minutes. At that point of the race, I knew that I had achieved my PB even though I still had a full marathon to run. The abrupt shift of focus to ensure that Teo won't make a comeback. Half an hour's buffer against him may seem comfortable, but things can change quickly in an Ironman race! I kept a cool head and was down to a slow jog. I was tired, of course, but all I had to do was to be ahead of Teo!

The run leg of the race was made up of 4 loops along the beach. Very simple, but can be boring. Teo had said that he expected to finish his run in about 6.5 hours, but of course that was rubbish. That kind of trick from him can no longer work on me these days! As I made the first turning point, I saw Teo on the other side of the road. We were both walking by then, and he tried so very hard to show that he's in trouble. He said he could no longer run, felt like vomiting, suffering pains all over. I played along and said I felt exactly the same way too. After about 50metres, when I turned back, I saw him running, of course, and I started running again too.

However, during the second turning point in the second loop, I realised that Teo had gained back about 10 minutes, thus indicating that he had been running a fair bit. So much for 6.5 hours marathon! I knew that he had wanted to make an impressive strong finish in the run leg, so I started to run again to maintain the gap between us.

Then a moment of panic during the third loop. Looking at my GPS watch, I had expected to see Teo on the other side of the road, but he was nowhere to be seen! A little further later, still no Teo! Did he manage to overtake me somehow, and I didn't see him in the crowd? Anxiety...

I ran and ran until it dawned upon me that Teo must have overtaken me. It was such an unsatisfactory way to finish the race. So much hard work, and I lost it all in the end! I slowed down to a walk...feeling disappointed. It was then that I saw Dennis Tan, my friend who took up the role as the photographer for the event. I asked him if he had seen Teo ahead of me, but he said he did not. I still couldn't believe that I've lost the race to him. Dennis said would I like to run? I said there wasn't much point in running. I had already achieved my PB, but no amount of running then would make me win back dinner!

Then the second big surprise of the day. Teo emerged from the opposite direction! Speaking of the devil! At that point, he was perhaps a little over 2km behind me, which must have meant he had been working really hard to catch up, but the good news was that he was still behind me! About 8km to go to the finish line, and if I wasn't careful, things can still go the wrong way! Dennis must have found it a little amusing; suddenly I sprang back into action; I started running and was gone in a jiffy!

I ran and walked for the next 6km, and with just 2km remaining to the finish line, I decided I should not even allow Teo any chance at all. I just gave all that I had left in my legs, and crossed the finish line in about 14:37. Teo arrived about 15-16 minutes later.

A case of a narrow escape from losing dinner to Teo. But now Teo thinks he has it all figured out for revenge in the 113 Sabah Triathlon in March 2016. Will have to come up with another plan soon!

Sunday, November 29, 2015

The Phobia of Failure

I wasn't a top achiever when I was in school. At best, I was just an average student. Well, OK, maybe just a little above average. I did realise the importance of education quite early in my life, of course, and how the number of "A"s I get in the exams would make my parents happy. I was basically a lazy bum for the most part of the primary school years, before I somehow developed a sense of wanting to do well in school in my early teens. Suddenly, failure became a dreadful thing.

But then different people had different definitions for that word "failure". For me, a score of anything below 50% is a failure. I reckon, perhaps the Malaysian education system considers that anything above 30% is a pass and anything below that is a fail. However, for some of my friends in school many years ago, even a "B" fell within the definition of "failure"!

I come from an era when the education system in Malaysia wasn't as ridiculous as it is today. Back then, only the cream of the cream got to score straight-"A"s. Today, an average student can fairly easily score straight-"A"s, or at least very near to it. If I were to randomly throw a stone to a group of students today, there is a high chance that I'd hit one who's a straight-"A"s achiever.

I can still remember when I was sitting for my SPM exams all those years ago. In the weeks and days leading up to the exams, I was overwhelmed by the fear of failure. Thankfully, however, as I said above, my definition of "failure" was a score of anything below 50%. So although I was quite confident of passing the exams, I had to make sure that things won't go the wrong way! I studied late into the night. In fact, I studied well past midnight for the physics papers. As fate would have it, my alarm failed to go off the next morning, and by the time I woke up from my beauty sleep, the physics exam was long over! A bit of an adrenaline surge; and then panic ensued. It felt like one horrible dream; except that it wasn't a dream at all! In the end, I was the only joker in my class that failed the subject!

Whenever I set my mind to achieve something, I practically put my heart and soul into it. Meaning that I'm willing to invest my time and efforts, perhaps making big sacrifices. I make proper plans to account for all the ingredients required to achieve my goal. In many, many instances, I'm bound to achieve what I set out to achieve sooner or later. But unfortunately there will be times when I can't control everything; and some things are bound to go wrong at the last minute. It is then that I will have to rise to the occasion; perhaps come up with a Plan B—a bit of a modification of the original plan; or maybe an improvisation. Damage control is a skill in itself. 

But not everybody is a born crisis manager; not everybody can think of an alternative plan on an ad hoc basis. For some people, they plan for things so perfectly all the time, and have all the factors well covered. In fact, so well-planned that there is no room for things to go wrong. But when things do go wrong somehow, they will crumble.

I read with interest about the kid who committed suicide when he felt that he didn't do too well in his math exam. When things didn't go as planned, he gave up just like that. Now I have said before that failure is not an option whenever I race marathons; but my requirement for a "pass" is quite lenient. Apparently, this kid's requirement is much higher—maybe even a "B" is a failure to him.

I think in a strange way, sometimes failure can be a good thing too. Most, if not all, great successful people in the world have had their shares of failures on the way to become successful. Very few, if any, would get it absolutely right on the first try; and keep getting it right all the time. Dealing with failures and then coming out of them stronger and wiser is an important skill to be learned, because nobody's perfect; it's impossible to escape from making mistakes once in a while. All we can do is to learn from those mistakes, and then try not to repeat them in the future. Hopefully we can become stronger and wiser from the experience. There is always hope as long as we keep trying!

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Ignorance Of The Law

A young Murut man had recently ventured out from his village in the interior part of Tenom to seek job opportunities in the hope of improving his family's life. He had very little education—as a boy he went to school irregularly in his village, but he dropped out when he was in primary 4. Education did not seem to be that important for people who lived in the interior.

Now in Tenom, he has found a job as a manual labourer, i.e. every day he's occupied in loading and unloading stuff from delivery trucks at a supermarket. After a few months, he found a girlfriend, and to make the long story short, he ended up having sex with her. Little did he know that that girl was just 15 years old, and he has landed in hot soup and charged for the crime of statutory rape. It came as a shock to him because he did not even realise that consensual sex was a crime on account of age. As far as he was concerned he had committed no crime whatsoever.

Imagine what would happen if people could be let off the hook on grounds of ignorance of the law. Anyone of us can then commit a crime, and then pleads ignorance of the law. We can just kill someone we dislike because he has an ugly hairstyle, and then use the excuse that we're not even aware that murder is a crime in Malaysia.

The fact is that pleading ignorance of the law is never a good defense. It is an excuse that can't stand in court. In fact, it is not even a good way to try to mitigate one's alleged wrong-doing. That is why I find the statement by Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob—that he wasn't aware of the law that prohibits the possession and consumption of turtle eggs in Sabah—rather laughable. One has to wonder why he made that statement at all. If it was meant to soften the blow, then I would say it does nothing of the such. In fact, it gives a negative impression of a minister who's not so well-versed of the law of his own country; a law that is quite common to many ordinary Malaysians.

Monday, November 16, 2015

Road To IMWA—Story Of My Swim

It is now about 3 weeks to the Ironman Western Australia (IMWA), and the excitement is mounting. This coming Saturday and Sunday will be my final monster workouts—about 6 hours cycling on Saturday, and between 3.5 to 4 hours run on Sunday. After that I will begin to taper for the race.

I have said in the past that I don't have the time to train fully according to the standard Ironman training programme, not even the beginner's programme. So I had to prioritize. This time I'm putting a bit more focus on the bike, followed by the run. The swim is my weakest discipline, but I've been neglecting it throughout my preparation for the race. Of course if I had the time and energy, I would have liked to spend the time that swimming deserved, but because of time constraints, I'll have to be satisfied with whatever that I've done for the first leg of the race.

About 5 years ago, some of my regular readers would remember how bad my freestyle was as reported here. Well, I'm still not a great swimmer today. Although I have finished an Ironman race at the Ironman New Zealand, I swam a mixture of freestyle and and breaststrokes for the approximate 4km swim. The swim is the shortest discipline in the Ironman race. But although one can hardly win the race on account of the swim, he can surely lose it!

Throughout the months of training for the IMWA, I've been researching on swim techniques. Unlike the good old days, today the internet is a rich source of information on practically anything, and swimming is no exception. A big hindrance to me is the lack of upper body strength. That problem could be addressed by doing some weight training at the gym, of course. But I just don't have the luxury of time.

I'd like to believe that I've improved quite a lot since 5 years ago when nonstop swimming even 50m in the pool at Likas Sports Complex seemed like an impossible task. But there is still a lot of work to be done to become a fairly good freestyler. I have tried out several different approaches in the freestyle, and I have come to a point where I can safely say that a great deal of time had been wasted because for a long time I tried very hard to swim based on the principles of Total Immersion. It looks very elegant, very smooth, and effortless; but it just doesn't work for me! Check out this youtube clip of a beautifully-executed Total Immersion swim by a famous coach.

A friend tried to convince me to swim the length of the pool with the least number of strokes. He said that the lesser is the number of strokes, the more efficient is the swim. It sounded like a romantic idea of energy-saving way to swim, i.e. less work for more distance. For a while I was taken in; that's why I spent a lot of time trying to swim the Total Immersion (TI) way.

Characteristics of the TI is the long glide in each stroke and the 2-beat kicks, thus the purported "energy-saving". But after a while, I realised something very interesting about the TI; if I can compare it to cycling, it is a lot like pedaling once, and let the momentum move the bike, and then when the bike slows down, pedal once again and let the momentum move the bike forward again. Thus the movements of fast-slow-fast-slow. The cadence or amount of pedaling may be reduced substantially over a given distance, but I don't think that is a more efficient way to ride a bike! Although I can gain a slightly longer distance per stroke with a glide, what I realised was that it takes more energy for the arms to launch the body forward again to build up the momentum in each stroke; and it is that snapping action of the arm that I disfavour so much because of the energy requirement.

In the end, I reverted back to the almost continuous strokes, i.e. with minimal glide so as to prevent losing the forward-moving momentum. In this way, I can use slightly lesser energy in each stroke because I can ride on the momentum. But the downside is that I may eventually have to endure more strokes per given distance. It's a trade-off between number of strokes vs energy requirement that I'm happy to take. I don't mind the few extra strokes for a more consistent (lower) energy requirement in the arms. I'm not saying that the TI is not a good technique. I dare say that it may work wonderfully well for some people. Just not for me.

The only thing that I have maintained about the TI up to now is the 2-beat kicks, i.e. just one kick per arm pull. I'm convinced that that can help a lot in saving my legs for the bike and run legs of the race.

Someone asked me if it's entirely necessary to learn the freestyle for triathlon races. My answer is that it's not. My view is that for shorter races, i.e. Sprint and Olympic Distance triathlon, the breaststrokes is good enough. But what I've realised is that for longer distances such as Half Ironman or Ironman, the freestyle if done properly can have huge benefits in the later stages of the race. That's why I'm forcing myself to learn the freestyle. In the end, even if I finish the swim leg within the same time with a breaststrokes swimmer, I'm quite happy because I'm gonna start the bike leg with much fresher legs.

Those are the theories, of course, but now let's see if I can make it work at IMWA in 3 weeks' time!

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Road To Busselton

A little over one-and-a-half years ago, I was out cycling with my friend, Teo Chen Lung, on a weekend as part of my training for the Ironman New Zealand (IMNZ). We were supposed to race the IMNZ together, but on that fateful day, we had a nasty bike crash as reported here. Although I sustained some bruises, I nevertheless escaped serious injuries. However, Teo broke his collar bone. He had to undergo an operation to install a titanium brace to realign his bone into place. In the end he had to withdraw from the race, and I eventually went ahead for the challenge alone.

It was a sad and lonely trip, and even during the race, I kept thinking about Teo whom I knew was tracking me online from the start to the end. Being my first ever Ironman, I was determined to finish the race, not taking any chances of getting cramps etc. Accordingly, I stopped at every water station during the bike leg (15km apart) to grab drinks, bananas as well as make visits to the toilet. But although I took my time, when I finally got to the run leg of the race, I was exhausted anyway. I can still remember the epic exhaustion towards the end of the race. This was how I finished the final few metres towards the finish arch. 

It's amazing how the body can suddenly spring into action after it ran out of energy hours before that, just because of the cheers from the crowd as well as hearing the announcement through the loudspeaker: "CORNELIUS, YOU - ARE - AN - IRONMAN!"

I was exchanging private messages with a facebook friend just a few days ago, and I said to her that even if I've conquered an Ironman before, I would still have that fear when attempting another Ironman. It seems like no amount of training can guarantee that one will definitely finish the race.

Teo had of course recovered from his broken collar bone and had since registered for the Ironman Western Australia (IMWA). Although I said IMNZ was to be my first and last Ironman, I decided to register for IMWA too, not just because I felt I owe it to Teo for a chance to race together with me, but also because I wanted to achieve better than what I did in New Zealand. 

Registering for the race is the easiest part of the game. Then came the painful part, which was the training for the challenge. In the last couple of months, I've been gradually building up mileage in my training, and right now I'm feeling very tired. I haven't reached the peak of my training yet, and already I'm feeling like my body can't handle very much more. I wake up on Monday mornings feeling like wanting to stay in bed for the rest of the day. This old body of mine can't handle a full Ironman training programme, so I guess I will just do what I can. While Teo is training two sessions per day, I'm limiting my workouts to just once a day, and if I'm feeling tired on some days, I'd give it a miss altogether. I try very hard not to cheat on the long workouts over the weekends, because I feel that the long workouts are the key elements to the whole challenge.

The swim is still my biggest weakness up to now. On an average session at the pool, I'd probably swim a total of 1km. Sometimes I would swim a bit more than that, but always with lots of breaks in between. I'm not overly worried about drowning, as I have the breast strokes to fall back to if emergency arises. But although I'm still not very good in swimming, I feel like I've improved quite a lot since IMNZ.

I swam so slow during IMNZ, I think I did it in 1:43, and it felt like forever! But I'm not too worried about my swim as far as IMWA is concerned, at least not as worried about the great white sharks which Australia is famous for. I'm not even sure if I could swim the whole course with the freestyle. If not, then I will pretend to have misunderstood the term "freestyle"; I can always say that I thought "freestyle" means free to use any style to swim, including the breast strokes.

As for my bike, I've upgraded my wheels from the no-brand China-made 60mm carbon aero wheels to Zipp 404/303 combination. I have worked on my strength and endurance, but perhaps still lacking midweek bike workouts. It would be ideal, I think, if I could have at least 3 bike sessions per week like Teo, but I just don't have the time to do it. In the end, I can only afford a midweek "spinning" session of about 45mins-60mins, plus a long bike ride of over 100km each on Saturdays. On a flat surface, I can maintain 33-35kph fairly easily without burning my quads these days, but when including slopes and slowing down (or even stopping) at junctions, it usually goes down to about 30-31kph average. I reckon that my average would be around 28kph at IMWA this December, because I was told that they'd be strong head winds at some sections, especially when taking into account the total bike distance of 180km.

As for the run, I only have 2 sessions per week; once usually on Tuesdays at approximately 10km each, and on Sunday morning a minimum of 21km each. Because there is not enough time for full training, my focus is on endurance, and not so much on speed.

In the next couple of weeks, the weekend workouts will be increased rather substantially, although this coming weekend is my "stepback" week. But even on a stepback week, I will need to bike at least 120km and run 21km. Teo is also planning an open water swim on Saturday afternoon. As I said, my training is hardly enough for the preparation of the Ironman, but this is all that I can do. The madness continues...

So roughly another month to go before the ultimate challenge of 2015. I'm sure the Ironman this time will be much more fun because Teo will be there with me. I know he can't wait to finally give this old man a good kick in the butt, and looking at the way he trains, I think he will certainly achieve it in this race. But of course I will try my best to prevent it!

Both Teo and I are getting increasingly paranoid as we get closer to the date. Although we use the same training ground for cycling, we make sure that we don't get within 50 metres of each other, just in case we would provoke the collarbone-breaking jinx. So we would occasionally see each other cycling from a distance, acknowledge each other by waving of hands, but we always make sure that we keep our distance! Let me tell you that paranoia is a terrible disease!

A few more weeks to go of self-imposed tortures before finally tapering for the race. Excitement is mounting, as is the fear of the race! Keeping my fingers crossed...

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

First Impression

I once knew a man who's down on his luck. He dropped out of secondary school and was jobless for some years. Then one day there was a job vacancy at a KFC outlet, inviting applicants for a "walk-in" interview. He went for the interview, but his application was rejected. He came home grumbling. 

Some people are like that—they lack common sense, and have a hard time progressing beyond the first chapter in the book of life. You see, he attended the interview at KFC wearing a shabby T-shirt and in flip-flops, unruly long hair and had multiple earrings in both earlobes. I remember thinking that if I were the interviewer at KFC, I would have done exactly the same thing too. The harsh reality is that the first impression does count.

Quite often we meet and get to know people for the first time, and how they appear during that first encounter is the impression that remains in the mind. That may be a good thing, or it may also be a bad thing. If say a person is seen as a fatherly figure, that impression has the tendency to stick in the mind until perhaps such time when one gets to know him a little better. He may turn out to be a totally different person than that of the first few encounters.

I'm a member of a running group in Kota Kinabalu on facebook, and I have come to be known for my tendency to post articles that include topics other than running; in fact they are like an old man rambling aloud. For example, this is one of the many articles that I've posted in that group. It is written in Malay, and what's more, it is in the style of Sabahan Malay. That, then, is the general impression of the members of this old man, or Angkol (uncle). Many of the members of the group have never met me in person although some of them have since been accepted as my friends on facebook.

Yesterday, I attended a formal meeting at the Dewan Bandaraya Kota Kinabalu (DBKK), and in the course of that meeting, I had to fill up an attendance list, providing details including my email address. Of course I dressed differently than how I would usually dress for running, and I dare say that for those who only know me as that Angkol who's famous for his ramblings on facebook and in this blog, I may appear like a totally different person.

Not surprisingly, therefore, I received an email after the meeting yesterday afternoon from a DBKK staff, entitled "Confirmation Enquiries". She said:

"Hi Sir, I just need to confirm...hehe...Are you the "angkol" Cornelious Koh? The Great Marathoner?"

That email made my day, because now I know that there is at least one person out there who has the impression that I am a "Great Marathoner". The truth is that I'm not that great a marathoner, of course. I'm not sure how she got that impression of me, but I could live with it. However, I would have been even happier if she had been able to spell my name correctly.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Striving To Become Connor MacLeod

My daughter, JJ, loves to eat chicken sausages. She loves chocolate-flavoured ice cream and Kit Kat too. I bet if I take the trouble to research a bit more about the foods that JJ loves to eat, I'm bound to discover a lot of dangerous stuff in them; in fact, dangerous enough to cause very serious illnesses such as cancer.

JJ sometimes eat instant noodles and chicken sausages. Perhaps she's overdoing it with ice cream and Kit Kat. Heck! maybe some dreadful diseases are developing in her body as I'm typing this! I guess I will never know until it's too late. I bought some chicken sausages last Sunday, and last night my maid served them for dinner. As I had expected, Mia commented that it's not good to eat sausages too frequently. The last time we had chicken sausages was perhaps a few weeks ago. Yet that still satisfied Mia's definition of "frequently".

The truth is that if one were to think of it, the best way to avoid ingesting "dangerous chemicals" is to not eat anything at all. All too often there is a lot of emphasis on the danger of chemicals contained in ordinary foods; so much so that it's almost impossible to avoid consuming those chemicals.

I find it interesting that a recent study has found that processed meat causes cancer. Smoking has been found to cause cancer too. Some vegetables are also dangerous because of the effects of pesticides. Water may contain contaminants. So almost everything around us can be credited, one way or another, with some sort of dangerous chemicals that can cause a lot of harm to the body. But it is very easy to forget that these foods contain some good things for our bodies too.

Unfortunately, humans are mortal beings. We all have a beginning, and sooner or later, we will all die. Whatever happens between the beginning and ending is entirely up to personal preferences. But make no mistake about it, we will all die in the end. Maybe some people are trying too hard to become Connor MacLeod, but it's not gonna happen—I'm so sorry for that.

I happen to know some doctors who are heavy smokers; and some of them are obese people too. These are people who are well aware of the dangers of smoking and obesity, yet they choose to indulge in those very things that can harm their bodies. Strange, isn't it?

The thing about life is that in the end it's all about striking a balance. You win some, and you lose some; sometimes you win a bit more, or you may lose a bit more. But you can't have it all! People who love smoking so much are willing to trade a few years of their lives for the enjoyment of smoking. The same goes to people who love eating, or love sitting idle on the couch just watching TV. You do more of something that you love so much that the satisfaction you get out of doing it is worth the risk of losing a few years of your life! Every single one of us is constantly striking a balance between the good and bad things for our health, and each one of us has his or her own equilibrium.

I suppose I can have a healthier body if I become a vegetarian, consume no simple sugar, drink just plain water, sleep at least 8 hours per day, do a minimum of 30 minutes of physical exercise daily, and refrain from all the things I like to eat and do because of their harmful effects. Maybe that way I can squeeze a few more years of my life and live to be 100. Yes, that might be possible, but it's gonna be a miserable 100 years! I will have to forego most, if not all, of the things I enjoy in life!

Way too many people are telling me to drink Kangen alkaline water, consume spirulina "grade AAA", vitamins that can protect my liver and heart. The list goes on and on. But actually, if one really wants to be healthy, there is never enough things that he can do to achieve it. So I say I'm quite happy with my equilibrium. I'm sure they have their respective equilibriums too. I will continue eating red meat and chicken sausages moderately. I shall try to live with the consequences.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Sarawak International Triathlon 2015

Just a few years ago, I would never have imagined racing a triathlon. It seemed such a far-fetched thing for me. I've never been any good at swimming, and it doesn't seem like I will ever become any better than how I swim now. It's a long story, but I eventually did my first Sprint Triathlon in Miri anyway in late 2011 as reported here.

I then went back to Miri again the following year as reported here, with the intention of racing an Olympic Distance (OD), but the organiser changed it to a so-called "modified-distance triathlon", which was a little longer than the OD. After that, I made up my mind to never again return to Miri for the triathlon. I found the event wasn't well-organised. Even seemingly simple things like providing a proper shower for triathletes to pass through after the swim was just awful.

I had bad experiences—particularly in the bike legs—in both the Putrajaya 70.3 as well as the 113 Triathlon Bukit Merah in recent months, so I was desperate to find an event to redeem myself. But I would prefer to do at least a half Ironman distance. I could find no such distance within Malaysia before December, and I had to narrow down my choices to either the Port Dickson International Triathlon or the Sarawak International Triathlon, which were just a week apart. In the end, I decided to do Miri. Who knows, maybe I would do Port Dickson next year.

It turned out that there was quite a big group of us from Sabah doing the Miri triathlon, and it was quite exciting to see some of the big names in the sport fighting it out in Miri. Famous names in the sport such as Ahmadul Tahir and Stephanie Chok from Sabah were also in the fray. Not to forget big names from the west such as Richard Tang and Chris Ka Krang (even the names rhyme, don't they?), although I can't quite decide in the case of Chris Ka Krang, whether it's her excellence in sports that I admire or her wickedly sexy figure that most men can just spend the whole day drooling and fantasizing about. I had the pleasure of sitting at the same table as hers during dinner on Saturday night, but I had to refrain from staring for fear of being labelled a dirty old man!

Anyway, I joined the race this year for the sake of training, and wasn't really thinking about prizes, let alone fighting for the win, because after all I did not think that I had it in me to win even if I tried! I wasn't planning on very sophisticated transition technique; I merely took my time changing shoes etc at the transitions. I just wanted a decent finish to redeem my pride and gain back my confidence after disastrous races in Putrajaya and Bukit Merah this year.

Before I proceed with the report though, let's quickly deal with the customary "safety nets" first. I will just mention some of the more significant ones here. Stephanie Chok was of course tired from the Royal Belum Ironbound Challenge the week before (which her team won), so she wasn't having very high hopes for the race in Miri. Yet she decided to race Miri anyway "for training". Amelia, of course was still exhausted (probably still suffering from jetleg) from the long flight from Melbourne. Claire had a fever coming into this race, and Teo was exhausted—"gone case", according to him—having driven from KK to Miri up to over 12 hours the day before the race, Sandi did not really prepare for this race. I suppose if I had asked the rest of them, everyone would have some sort of safety net nicely prepared for the Sarawak International Triathlon! In other words, we had an exciting race of which everybody was totally unprepared for!

Apparently, there was a race briefing on Saturday evening, which I did not attend, though I was in time for dinner after that briefing was over. I was unaware that the swim leg had been cancelled due to rough sea and replaced with an approximate 2km run instead. I prepared for the swim as usual and made my way to the transition area to set up my bike. On the way there, however, I stumbled upon Sandi at the hotel lobby, and she informed me—with a disappointed face—about the cancellation of the swim leg. The supposed triathlon had become a duathlon. So anyway, there was nothing I could do about it.

After setting up our bikes, all of us walked to the sea shore where we were flagged off a few minutes after 8am. I felt somewhat sluggish, and took a bit of time to fire up my legs. I was amazed seeing the front pack running like this was just a 100-metre sprint event. I ran at perhaps a little under 5:30mins/km pace, and by the time I finished that 2km run, many of the bikes at the transition had disappeared. Teo had trained for a quick transition; as soon as he took off his running shoes and putting on his helmet, he was off to the bike mount line where he started cycling, putting on his bike shoes while in motion. I took my time at the transition, drinking some sport concoction, and changed from my running to bike shoes. All in all, perhaps 2 minutes behind Teo by the time I started cycling.

As I hit the main road, I started worrying about punctures. My rear tyre wasn't cooperative in Putrajaya and Bukit Merah, and by this race, I've developed a kind of phobia of punctures! After making the U-turn, I started to build up my speed. I knew that there's a steep hill to climb shortly later. I took my time climbing that hill, and once I went down the other side, I started getting into my rhythm, and building up my speed to about 36-37 kph. Although this was a drafting bike leg, I was too slow for the fast cyclists, and too fast for the slow cyclists, so I just kept going at my comfortable speed on my own. 

After making the final U-turn, on  my way back, I saw Amelia, Sandi, Claire, Aldillah, Symus and Mia on the opposite side of the raod. They were all spread quite well apart. As I was approaching the last few km of the bike leg, it started to pour; I mean really pour tigers and wolves! The wind was blowing, and thunder in the sky. Visibility became a little poor, and I had to slow down to about 32kph. Then I came to the massive traffic jam because there was a fallen cable post across the road. I slowly made my way in between the long stretch of vehicles until I passed the fallen post. Then a few more km before reaching the hill again. Climbing that hill, I was worried of the going down on the other side. As I was descending the hill, I hit my brakes, as I was a little scared of losing control of my bike in the wet condition. My bad experience in Bukit Merah a few weeks ago was still fresh in my mind. But eventually I arrived at T2 safely, and I could breathe a big sigh of relief.

I took my time once again at T2, and changed back to my running shoes. At the start of the final run leg I just maintained a slow pace to fire up my running muscles. But after a few hundred metres, I began to build up my pace to a comfortable 5:30mins/km. It was perhaps 4 or 5km into the run leg when I felt a little exhausted, so I slowed down my pace to about 5:45mins/km. By then the rain had stopped, though the roads were still wet. In the end I crossed the finish line in about 2:07. Actually, if the swim leg was in play, I had expected to finish between 2:30-2:45, but I guess I will only find out if I can really achieve that timing in Port Dickson next year.

One by one the rest of my friends crossed the finish line. Amelia, Sandi and the rest. Then the surprise—I'm not sure how, but I somehow got 4th in my category worth RM300 in cash. Of course it's never been about the cash prize, and it's not even close to covering the cost of the trip. But the thrill of winning cash felt a lot like a child winning a bag of candies. Come to think of it now, I bet I would have felt exactly the same had I won just RM30. I fancy that my 4th place finish probably had a lot to do with the small number of participants in my category, but I'm not complaining! Stephanie Chok was declared champion in her category, as was Amelia in her category. Ahmadul and Sandi both achieved podium finishes; and the rest from Sabah all did well to finish the race. Mia wasn't happy though, as the organiser ran out of finisher medals, and she was left with none!

The finisher medal has improved by leaps and bounds when compared to a few years ago, which is a good thing. Of the organisation of the race as a whole, however, I'd say there is a huge room for improvement still! Perhaps next year, I will finally join the Port Dickson International Triathlon, but I will only think about that after the Ironman race this December.

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

Old Flame

A friend shared an interesting question on her facebook wall; she had heard the question on the radio this morning:

"If your friend's other half is hitting on you, would you tell your friend?"

I responded to her post like this:

"The answer depends on circumstances. My guess is that when answering that question on radio, or any public forum, one would say YES, he would tell the friend, simply because that is "expected" of a friend, and that's the "decent" thing to do. Anything other than a "YES" would most probably be in danger of inviting criticisms.

Then there is the other side of the story—the story of REALITY. In some cases, believe it or not, one is also interested in the person hitting on him or her. And the harsh reality is that SOMETIMES, one responds with encouragement, just to see how far it would go; and he or she may then decide to delay telling the friend, until it's too late. When feelings develop too far, it becomes too late. Overpowering passion ensues, and one becomes all the terrible things that one can imagine. It's so easy to criticize him or her as a traitor, but truth be told, one will only know what it's really like if he or she experiences it for him- or herself!"

I know what you must be thinking right now, but to respond to your thoughts even before you raise them here, let me just say that it's my habit to be long-winded when I comment. I'm cursed with this habit! It is very rare that I'd comment with just one sentence!

Anyway, it's almost human nature to judge others. A fit and sexy person, for example, may find it impossible to understand obese people who seem to have no control over their appetite. It's very easy to judge them for being lazy, or have no discipline and will power to deal with their weight issues. But actually, one will never understand until—and only until— he himself is obese and faced with an overwhelming craving for food. Only then will he be able to appreciate the struggle that these obese people have to go through on a daily basis.

In a similar way, it is very easy to criticize people who fall in love with their own friends' spouses, until they themselves experience the same predicament. Always, the tendency to judge overrides the tendency to understand.

Having read my comment on the facebook post above, another friend replied that my comment seemed to have come from my personal experience. I responded that, unfortunately, my life has been rather dull and devoid of the excitement of falling in love with my friend's wife. I was just commenting from the general point of view about people's behavior. But the whole thing did remind me of a different kind of experience.

I was once in love with a girl about a hundred years ago when I was as poor as a church mouse; I had practically nothing to my name, I was not a highly-educated man, and seemed to have no future. I went steady with her for about three years of my life. But fate would have it that we were not meant to last forever. Never mind the details of how it ended, but the experience did make me a stronger and more determined person; it made me reassess my life. When you come to think of it, I guess there is always something positive that can come from what is seemingly the worst of life experiences.

It was perhaps some ten years (or slightly more than that) when I heard from her again. I was by then already married for some years, and one fine day I received a letter from her. Gave me quite a shock it did. It wasn't a very long letter, and I can summarize its contents into 3 main points. The first was that she went through a lot of troubles to get my postal address. The second was that she had been haunted by guilt all those years and wanted to seek my forgiveness. The third was that she wanted us to be friends again.

It was funny, really, because as far as I'm concerned I have long ago closed that chapter of my life. I took whatever lesson(s) I could draw from that relationship and then built on it for, hopefully, a better future. There is really nothing to forgive—if it's not meant to be, it's just not meant to be. Nobody was at fault, we were just too young and naive at the time. Life is short and it can become too stressful to shoulder the burdens of all the bad experiences from the past.

I showed the letter to my wife, and I got another shock when I saw her reaction! To the men out there, let this be a lesson to you all. Sometimes being honest and too transparent may lead to troubles! Women are not always easy to understand—they demand unconditional love, loyalty and honesty, but when you give them those, you may be surprised by their reaction!

Anyway, to make the long story short, I replied the letter and again I can summarize it into 3 main points. The first was to assure her that there's no forgiveness due; and even if there were, I would have long ago forgiven her. The second was that she's always been my friend. The third was that despite the first two points, I would have to make this one letter the first and last from me, because of my unconditional loyalty to my wife. I don't always concede to whatever my wife wants, but I understand why she had reacted in the way she did; and in this special case, I shall oblige her wishes.

So there you go, a bit of my life experience. In all probability, knowing human nature, I will be judged by my readers. The only question is whether that judgement is positive or negative. Let me hasten to say that I'm not perfect; and I just take comfort in knowing that it's impossible to please everybody. That's life I guess.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Language Barrier & Suicidal Determination

The Star reports on "Malay fireman talks man out of suicide in Mandarin". I fancy that if this had happened in other countries, the emphasis of the news would have been on the man attempting the suicide, rather than on the man knowing Mandarin. 

This lately, we've been seeing a number of news articles about Malay folks sending their kids to Chinese schools. Actually, the bumiputeras in Sabah, as opposed to just Malays, have been sending their kids to Chinese schools for a long time now. In fact, it's so common that it's no longer surprising these days. But in the national context, especially in West Malaysia, perhaps it is still rare for Malays to know how to speak Mandarin, so much so that it deserves the emphasis in the news.

I'm reminded of the time when I witnessed a suicide attempt near my office a few years ago, and posted an account in this blog entitled "Survival Instinct & Mattresses". It's interesting to note that there are a few similarities between that incidence and this recent one above. Both cases involved suicide attempts by jumping off a tall building; and in both cases, firemen were sought for help. 

Come to think of it, I have no idea if the fireman in the earlier case spoke Mandarin too, since the person attempting the suicide was also a Chinese. If he did, there was certainly no mention of it in the news that followed the day after that incidence.

Language barrier can be a complicated matter in an emergency; but in Malaysia, it can also be a sensitive issue. All the other races learn to speak Malay, English and Chinese, if they can get the opportunities to do so, without their loyalty or pride of their country and race being called into question. But that is not necessarily the case for the Malays. I saw a facebook posting by a Malay woman recently in English, pleading for help relating to documents lost in a car break-in. The surprising reaction to her post was that she was criticized for not posting in Malay. I'm not sure if that was a bogus facebook account, and the whole thing was just a set-up to create trouble. But I hope even if it's true, it doesn't reflect the mentality of the majority in Malaysia.

My view is that there is absolutely no harm to learn a second or even third language. Having the ability to converse in other languages—other than one's own language—can be useful in many ways; not just in the context of earning a living. I consider myself very well-versed in Malay even though I'm not a Malay, and my pride of being a Chinese is not shaken in the least!

Anyway, coming back to the suicide attempt near my office, although the man was prevented from killing himself on that day, he eventually killed himself anyway a few months later. Which brings to mind that if one is determined to take his own life, there is really not much that others can do to prevent that from happening. At best, they can delay it for a bit, but not prevent it altogether.

While giving due credit for the good job by the Mandarin-speaking fireman, perhaps it's a good idea to follow that up with some sort of counseling for the poor chap, because suicidal determination shouldn't be underestimated. Preventing the suicide now, doesn't mean that it's not gonna happen tomorrow. We need people to get to the bottom of the problem and try to fix it once and for all. Otherwise, the Mandarin-speaking fireman's good job will be in vain; when there is a will, there is always a way—the man will keep trying to kill himself, and what's more, he will most probably succeed sooner or later.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

A Marathon, A Kidney Transplant & Busted Knees

I was once a member of the Borneo International Marathon Organising Committee and was mainly responsible on matters relating to the marathon route. I dealt with the ins and outs of measuring the route, distance and direction markers, road barriers, deployments of volunteers etc. In the months leading up to the event itself, we had plenty of brain-storming sessions; meeting upon meeting, not only among the committee members, but also with other relevant parties such as the police, folks from the City Hall etc. Approximately 2 days prior to the event, there was practically no time to sleep. It happened that we were operating on a shoestring budget, and in the dying hours as we approached the flag off, everything was in a havoc. Tension ran high. and it was quite a challenge to remain calm.

Here's the thing about organising a big event such as a marathon—it is almost impossible to control everything. There are so many unforeseen circumstances that can arise, quite often at a moment's notice, and it takes a competent event organiser to rise to the occasion in dealing with the problems.

I can imagine the amount of time and effort involved in organising the Standard Chartered KL Marathon (SCKLM). The flag off was supposed to have been this morning. But last year it made the headlines when it had to be cancelled at the last minute because of the haze situation which has now become an annual phenomenon in Malaysia.

I have run the Standard Chartered KL Marathon before, and I'm not in a big hurry to join it again. Just about a year or two ago, upon my encouragement, my niece, Ramona Jane took up running. I think she started joining 10km runs, and then gradually built up the distance to the half marathon. She's not always able to train properly as she's pursuing a medical degree, so has to give priority to her studies first. She's not a fast runner, I think her best finishing time for the half marathon was just a little over 2:20, but I've been encouraging her to try hard to beat that 2:20 mark.

Fate would have it that she registered for the half marathon in the Standard Chartered KL Marathon today. On Friday afternoon, shortly after lunch hour, she embarked on a journey from Johor to KL to collect her race pack. 

Earlier that day, I received a message through Whatsapp from a friend working in Quick-Sport, informing me that there's now a special promotion for the Garmin Forerunner 15, a GPS sports watch, going at RM475 a piece (normal price is over RM700). It's quite a good deal, and knowing that Mona had been wanting to buy a sports watch for a while now, but couldn't afford it, I thought it would be a good surprise for her. Accordingly, I made arrangements with my friend at Quick-Sport for a red-colour Garmin Forerunner 15 for Mona. I then told Mona to meet my friend at the Expo.

Shortly after collecting the watch, I received a message from Mona, "Uncle thank you so much" she said, "You're so nice" 

I was glad that she liked the surprise. But then she probably thought that she did not make quite sufficient impression of her appreciation. So she added, "One day when you're old and when you need kidney I'll settle it"

Then, perhaps still not satisfied with herself, she went one step further, "I'm going to be a rheumatologist so when you bust your knees with osteoarthritis I'll be there too", she said.

As you can see, doctors have unorthodox way of expressing their "thank yous"; and they're not big fans of using punctuation marks such as commas and fullstops in the sentences too.

She then went on to collect her race pack; and here's the happy face of a half marathon runner with her race pack and her new GPS watch (still in the box).

That was Friday evening. And then yesterday, things began to go wrong. The marathon gods brought the haze back to KL with a vengeance. The air quality changed so fast and visibility dropped dramatically. The API readings went from low, to high, to unhealthy levels within hours. The organiser was left with no choice but to announce the cancellation of the race. Mona was devastated, as were thousands and thousands of runners from all over the region. I can just imagine a fully-charged Garmin Forerunner 15, running gears all set to go, but no race to run!

I pity the organiser and the participants alike. But after all, there was nothing more that could be done. Maybe for future SCKLM it would be worth considering to move the event to the rainy months when it's unlikely that the Indonesians would burn their forests then. I say this because I don't believe they will ever stop burning their forests any time soon.

There will be many more opportunities for Mona to improve her timing; many more opportunities to upgrade to the full marathon, and who knows, maybe even the ultras. But as far as the SCKLM 2015 is concerned, this is the sad conclusion of the event—the inevitable cancellation.

Looking at the bright side, however, I'm thinking maybe the marathon gods are trying to send me a message; maybe they're trying to tell me that my kidneys are safe; that my knees will remain intact for many, many more years to come!

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Weight-Loss Programmes

We've had a couple of very inspiring stories in a facebook group of which I'm a member, about people who've loss a great deal of weight through numerous weight-loss programmes. These are people who've been struggling with weight issues for a long time, and now reaping the benefits after spending months and years shedding the pounds. It's very reassuring for fat and obese people to know that it's not impossible to lose weight if they really want to.

We've all seen reality TV shows like The Biggest Loser in which seemingly hopeless cases of obesity are proven to be not so hopeless after all. People can in fact lose weight—a great deal of weight—if they really want to. However, I notice that even from among the participants of The Biggest Loser, many of them would regain all those weight that they've lost.

I say without shame that I come from a fat family—most of my family members are fat and obese. Let me tell you that it's very tempting to blame it on genetics; and I dare say that there is probably some truth in the genetic factor too. When you love food, you just love food; it's not so simple to suddenly wake up one fine day and decide to refrain from eating for the rest of your life! I think this is where most weight-loss programmes fail to deal with the actual problem. 

My view is that a sure-bet method to lose weight is by setting short-term realistic targets. Say to lose just half a pound in a week, something like that. Never mind about what happens next week, or in a month or half a year. Just focus on that week, and that week alone. And then the next week is a brandnew start. One step at a time is the way to go. From my own experience, that approach very rarely will fail. Sooner or later—it may by months or years later—one is bound to reach the target weight. 

But what happens beyond that?

Most fat and obese people see the destination towards a healthy body weight as a fixed target, much the same way they set their mind on the finish line of a marathon race. But very few of them would actually see what lies beyond that finish line.

Truth be told, the journey of weight management doesn't end at that "finish line". Far from it, it has no finish line at all. I think if a weight-loss programme doesn't account for this particular detail, it is bound to end up a failure in the long run. For after losing the unwanted excess weight, it is much harder to maintain the resulting weight.

I read with interest what was shared in the so-called "weight-loss success stories", and I found something common in most of them. Among the most popular ones are to abstain from eating rice or carbohydrates in general, avoid sugar and salt, avoid snacks, tidbits and ice creams, avoid carbonated drinks and any other foods high in calories. No fast foods like KFC and McDonald's. In fact, to sum it all up, avoid all the tasty stuff in life!

I have witnessed close friends losing tons of weight by adopting the above approach, and while I congratulated them for their achievement, I told them that it won't last. And true enough, in most cases, their "success stories" did not last.

Maybe some people can suppress their cravings for the rest of their lives. But I believe that the vast majority can't. May I repeat, if you love food, you just love food; there is almost nothing you can do about it. You can only pretend to dislike food for a limited time. Yes, you can control your cravings for a few weeks, maybe a few months, maybe even a year or two. But sooner or later, the real you would emerge to re-take the driver's seat.

That is why in my efforts to maintain my body weight, I have never adopted the approach of depriving myself from the foods that I like to eat. I'd adopt a more realistic approach, which is to allow myself to indulge in the foods that I like, but to control the portions. I have "cheat days" or "diet holidays" too. I give myself a break every now and then, because I know that if I deprive myself for far too long, I would become like a time bomb. Sooner or later I will explode with severe consequences. At the same time, I keep myself active in sports. I readily admit that I don't have it in me to abstain from the foods that I enjoy; at least not for a very long time. If that is seen as a weakness, then so be it—I am weak!

Losing and then maintaining healthy body weight is doable. But it's not as simple as just telling fat people not to eat fatty stuff; or to exercise frequently. They probably know that already anyway. Instead, tell them the realistic approach of how to deal with the problem. Don't expect to drop weights like in The Biggest Loser. It could be done, yes, but that's not realistic, even though it's reality TV show.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Compression—The Review

It's been about 5 years since I bought my first pair of 2XU compression running tights. I shared my experience here in this blog in an article entitled Compression. I meant to follow that up with a review a few weeks later. But somehow the "few weeks" became a "few months", and then the "few months" became a "few years". Since then, I have gone on the buy several more pairs of compression tights—both long and short ones—and been wearing them in my races. But because I never did post a review on that original article, I thought I might as well do so now.

Before writing this article, however, I have also sought the views of fellow runners, and although this is nothing like a formal scientific research on "compression apparels", I feel that it's still worth reading for those who're new to running or sports in general, and are now considering buying compression apparels.

Having been running numerous long distance races ranging from half marathons to full marathons to ultra marathons up to 100km long, I can say that as far as I'm concerned—and apparently quite a fair number of other runners agree with me—that there is hardly any benefits from compression apparels as far as improving the performance of the athlete in races. I have gone into races when I'm fit and when I'm not fully prepared, and especially in the latter cases, no amount of compression could prevent or delay of the onset of cramps and fatigue. If one is not up for the challenge, he is just not up to it!

This seems to support my contention that the majority of world elite long distance runners do not run in compression apparels because there is nothing in the compression technology that can help to boost performance.

In my original article, I did mention something about the tightness of the tights. That is no longer my concern now. I can very quickly get into my running tights without any fear of tearing it. I have long forgotten my concern about getting my testicles crushed, until I read the earlier article again recently.

Apart from experimenting with running, I have also tried sleeping in my running tights on several occasions. It's been widely publicized that that can help speed up the recovery process. If that is true, then I must say that I'm one of those unlucky athletes whom are not born to enjoy such benefits. Besides, I feel a little uncomfortable sleeping in something that tight. I read an article that says sleeping in tight clothings can result in infertility, but since I'm done with baby-making, I'm not too overly concerned about this particular problem.

In that case, you may wonder why did I continue to buy more running tights after that first pair 5 years ago. Well, my reason—which I won't be surprised if it's not a popular reason—is that I feel comfortable running in them. I can still remember the old days when I ran marathons in the common running shorts. I would get blisters in my inner thighs due to the rubbing with the fabric, especially when drenched in sweat. But no such issues with the 2XU running tights. 

So I guess I will continue running in tights for long races, not because of wanting to improve my performance; rather to prevent blisters. The only thing that I still can't get over with up to now is that Judy once said that my legs looked small in tights. Perhaps I should seriously consider doing squats in the gym to solve that problem.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Fruits of Labour

I read an interesting article about how squirrels have the habit of searching for, and then hiding the nuts that they find, but later are only able to find an approximate 10% of those hidden nuts from their respective hiding places. It seems like a waste of all those hard work in accumulating one's wealth just to not enjoy the benefits of the labour in the end. Maybe if squirrels could be taught or trained to save only some of the nuts that they find, and enjoy the rest while they still can, that would be best?

I have on several occasions spoken to friends and even family members about saving for old age. And this recently, a friend has forwarded a so-called advice about old age through Whatsapp; it got me thinking once again.

I think people in general are quite in agreement that there is a lot of virtues of saving for old age. But not everybody can agree on how best to consume that savings upon retirement. I notice that a popular view is that once one has retired, one should start tapping into his retirement fund, not only just for survival, but also for all the enjoyments in life. The reason, of course, is that one can't bring all his money and possessions to his grave—when he dies, whatever wealth he has would pass on to the next of kin.

I guess I can't fault anybody for wanting to enjoy his fruits of labour. After all, that is the main idea of savings for old age anyway. We try to set aside as much as we can in anticipation of old age when we are no longer strong, either physically or mentally, to earn. And then when that time comes, we start consuming whatever that's been set aside. That seems straightforward. The only problem with that plan is the unpredictable nature of the human lifespan. What could potentially happen in reality is that one is so afraid of missing out on reaping the benefits of his fruits of labour, goes on to consume his savings to pursue the things he likes or enjoys, thus quickly depleting his savings.

I happen to know firsthand of the story of a woman whom inherited a huge amount of money upon her husband's death. The amount of money could have sustained a rather comfortable life for her for many years to come. But she had a gambling habit, and she started liquidating on her inheritance at the casinos. She won some, and she lost some. But on the whole, it's always a net loss. When questioned, she said she's already old and won't live forever, and that she won't be able to bring her money to the grave anyway. She'd rather spend her money on the things that she enjoys while she can still enjoy!

That sounds fair enough, except that she finished all her money within 3 years or so, and now she's still not dead! Now at the age of about 70, she is struggling to make ends meet, and constantly worrying about money. Obviously she's achieved her aim of having nothing to bring to her grave, but one has to wonder how many more years she'll have to survive in constant financial difficulties.

There is a lesson to be learnt here. It's OK to tap into the retirement savings when one goes into retirement, but it's wise not to slam the accelerator all the way to the floor. And if somewhere in between he suddenly drops dead and his savings—or whatever's left of it—goes to his next of kin, that is still not really a total loss. It's OK to leave something behind to the loved ones. At least he won't have to live a stressful life in poverty during his old age. At least I would gladly choose this second approach anytime!

Thursday, September 10, 2015

St Anthony—Class 1977

I had a strange childhood in that I changed school way too many times to the extent that I've lost count of how many schools exactly did I go to. It's a long story, but it had a lot to do with my dad never having a steady job throughout his life. Let's just say that I was never in one school for more then 2 years. 

I think I started in a kindergarten in Beaufort, and I'm not even sure if I was there when I was in Primary 1. Somehow I moved to KK between Primary 2 or 3 and went to Stella Maris in Tanjung Aru. After that I kept changing school to St Anthony, and then to St Agnes. Later on, I went to All Saints' before going to SMK Sultan Abdul Samad in Petaling Jaya. Then I came back to KK again and ended up in Sabah College. I'm not sure if I missed a school or two somewhere in between those.

Among all those schools, I can remember quite a lot about St Anthony, because those were the ugliest years of my life. I was living with my grandparents at the time, and my life was a living hell. I've written something about my life around that time in a post here. I can still remember some of my ex-classmates in St Anthony, even though I've long forgotten the exact year(s) I was there. Occasionally, I would stumble upon a few of my ex-classmates in the streets of KK. It's been about forty years; such a long time ago!

Just a day or two ago, I was included in a Whatsapp chatroom named "ST ANTHONY—CLASS 1977", and then one by one the contacts of my ex-classmates were added into the chat group. To my horror, I could only remember some of them! The rest were total strangers!

I observed the exciting forum in the chatroom, and some of the topics that were raised sort of jogged my memory a bit. Those were the days when I was a very unhappy kid. I missed out on so many of the things that little boys were enjoying those good old days. Those days boys went fishing for karuk and sapat after school; they rode buffaloes in the paddy fields; they played sapok and rubber seeds; they got to go the the village tuckshops to play tikam-tikam at 5 sen per try in the hope of winning a plastic top. They got to play a lot. But I was for the most part prevented from doing all those. I could only watch all those fun enviously from afar!

Almost 4 decades later, I'm getting to know some of my long-lost ex-classmates once again. It's funny how things would go full circle and come back to the beginning. It all started with a brilliant idea to create a chatroom in connection with a fund-raising drive for St Anthony, and then now we have gained much more than just the benefits of the fund-raising. Plans have also been put in motion for a grand reunion this coming December.

They have all had 4 decades of experience to share during that reunion, I'm sure, and some have become grandparents too. But I bet we will also be reminiscing about riding the karabau, playing the lastik, sapok and all the mischievousness that were so much fun while we were in school.

I'm looking forward to the reunion of Class 1977.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

113 Triathlon Bukit Merah Perak 2015

The 113 Triathlon Bukit Merah Perak 2015 promised to be yet another exciting race in my build-up to the Ironman Western Australia (IMWA) this coming December. Normally, I have a phobia of the swim leg of any triathlon event, because I'm not a very good swimmer. Arriving at the venue on the eve of the race, I wasted no time to check out the lake wherein the swim was to take place, and it was rather intimidating. Seeing the positions of the buoys, it seemed like the swim was gonna be longer than the supposed 2km, but I guess that was perhaps due to my fear of swimming.

On the way to the Bukit Merah Laketown Resort, we went through the ridiculous hill which was going to be a part of the bike route. I knew there and then that that hill was gonna be big-time trouble for me during the race. You see, I'm using racing tyres which are thin and had no thread on them. Certainly a no-no for hilly terrain. But I remained positive. And then it rained that afternoon, and I had to cancel my plan to test-ride on that hill. That night it rained again. The next morning, I was glad to see that the rain had stopped, but I knew that the roads would take longer to dry up.

Photo credit: Ashley Uhen-Tan

I found my way to the lake, and just as I had expected, the flag off was delayed by more than half an hour. It was initially intended that participants would be flagged off in waves, but because of the delays, only the elites were flagged off separately, and then the rest of the participants were flagged off together.

Needless to say, it was chaotic during the start—there was the customary kicking and slapping and climbing all over each other, and I had a fair share of kicks all over my body. But I remained calm and swam as best as I could. We had to swim 2 loops and it was fairly congested during the entire first loop. As I made the first loop, I had a quick glance at my Garmin 920XT, and noted that I had spent a little over 25 mins, way too slow than expected. On the second loop, however, the swimmers had thinned out a bit, and I was able to make up some lost time. However, after arriving at the last buoy, we had to swim a little further to the swim exit which added to the distance. In the end, it was about 2.2kms, although some friends said their watches recorded up to 2.4kms.

The swim exit was a little tricky, and not for the faint-hearted. It was just a tiny piece of ramp where marshals stood to assist participants to climb up. Those with weak upper body would have had some trouble pulling themselves up that tiny ramp. I think this is one aspect that the organiser should look into for future triathlons. I completed the swim in about 55mins. As I ran to the transition area, I paused for a moment under the shower to rinse off the murky water. Then off to my bike in a jiffy. There, I saw Anslem who was in the midst of transitioning for his bike leg. The first thing I did after almost an hour's swim was to guzzle 500ml of sports drink. Then helmet on; followed by the shade. Then the socks, and the cycling shoes. Bike off the rack and off I went. Once I reached the bike-mount line, I got onto my bike and started what I knew was gonna be a torture!

I was still gasping for air when I arrived at the foot of the steep hill. It was an approximate 1km climb of ridiculous steepness. I shifted to the lightest gear and started spinning up the slope. Well, actually the spinning part was just for a short moment. I slowed down to 15kph, then to 10kph, to 5-6kph. Halfway up the hill, I decided it's not worth the energy investment to continue cycling uphill. I thought the amount of energy spent for that 5-6kph was just not worth it. I'd rather push my bike uphill at 3kph. I was conscious of the precious time ticking away though, but as soon as I reached the top of the hill, I mounted my bike again and carefully negotiated the steep downward slope on the other side. Unfortunately, my thread-less tyres had very little grip onto the wet road, and I started to slide down the slope. I applied both brakes, but it was no good—I kept sliding down, and as I was building up speed, I could feel the impending crash.

Let me tell you that when you are on your bike, and it is building up speed down a steep hill, and there is nothing you can do about it, you tend to feel that "this is it for me, my life may just end here this moment!"...

As it was obvious that a big crash was going to happen, I undid my cleat shoes to prepare for the impact. The only thing to do was to remain calm in the face of trouble, and then hope for the best. As I reached a sharp corner, it happened...

A fraction of a second later, I was down on the hard asphalt road. My left hand which took most of the impact hurt like hell. My left elbow and knee (which was slightly twisted during the fall) were also hurting. I wasted no time though, I had to pull myself and my bike to the side of the road, as there were other riders coming down that hill. I sat there for a few minutes in pain, and watching other participants passing by. It was frustrating that I had to work so hard during the swim leg to be ahead of them, and then they're overtaking me now!

I contemplated withdrawing from the race at that point. My left hand was throbbing. My main concern was not to suffer further injuries. I tested my arm, hip and knee to ensure that I didn't break any bone. All still intact. That was just about 1.5km into the bike leg; I was aching, but the fighter in me refused to surrender. Accordingly, I picked myself up and continued with the race. The pain in my knee wasn't that bad. And since my left hand could hardly grip, I had to use my right hand to help with gear-shifting job on the left side. I reckoned that if things became worse, I could always throw in the towel later during the bike leg.

Now the problem with the hydration. I had on my bike 2 water bottles—one in front, and another one containing a concentrated cocktail at the back of my seat. The plan was to refill the front bottle up to about a third of its capacity from the back bottle when approaching a water station, and then I would grab a bottle of water at the station to fill up (thus diluting the concentrated cocktail). These chores are to be done while the bike is in motion, of course. But little did I know, as I was filling that front bottle, its cap dropped off and I had to ride with a bottle without a cap. I drank from that bottle like drinking from a cup! What more could go wrong?

Well, I survived the main portion of the bike leg and was able to overtake back many participants along the way. OK, so at least that's something to redeem my pride a bit. But now I had to go trough the hill for one final time. Pushing my bike up the steep hill after riding over 80km and aching knee from the fall wasn't amusing at all, but there was no time to complain; as far as I'm concerned, failure is not an option!

Soon, I reached the top of that hill and was happy to make one final down hill ride to approach the transition. But just a few metres later, as I hit my brake, my rear tyre burst! God dammit!...with just approximately 1km to go to the transition, this had to happen to me! So there I was, pushing my bike down the slope in my cleat shoes, and for the second time in the race, those that I've worked so damn hard to leave behind came passing by one by one. It was so frustrating.

Trotting my way downhill in the hard cleat shoes
Photo credit: Ashley Uhen-Tan

There are times in life when you are down on your luck, no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, nothing seems to help. You just keep losing it all. Well, that's how I felt as I was pushing my bike down the hill in the hot blistering sun. So much pain, so much time wasted. The feeling of wanting to give up was so overwhelming. It seemed like this race was just not meant to be. But, you see, life is like that—you win some, you lose some; but for the most part, you determine the outcomes. If you give up halfway through, there is only one possible outcome—failure. If you fight on, there is still always the possibility of conquering the challenge in the end!

I reached Transition 2 frustrated, exhausted and heart-broken. I spent a moment to calm myself down. I took my time to rack up my bike, drink a little, and then change into my running gear. And then I set out for the final torture of the 21km run. I was pretty beat up at that point, and I felt there was hardly an ounce of energy left in my legs. Under the hot blistering sun, I was sure that I wouldn't be able to finish that 21km. But for as long as I have not gone beyond the cut off time, I would keep going. It's not really about winning the race; it's about wanting to conquer the challenge. I did not come all the way to Bukit Merah to give up—not at the last leg of the race!

But oh boy!...what a long 21km—I ran and walked for almost 3.5hours for a miserable 21km! In the end, the distance proved to be a little over 22km. But it's OK, I would have fought on even if it was longer than that. There were enough water stations for the run leg of the race, but some stations ran out of water. Perhaps the organiser did not take into account that many participants would use the drinking water to douse themsleves with in light of the hot afternoon sun. Ice sponges were provided, of course, just that they ran out all too soon.

Exhausted, frustrated, dejected...walking...

A half Ironman distance race, and I took almost 8 hours to finish. I'm so, so, so humbled by the 113 Triathlon Bukit Merah. So embarrassingly slow and so much pain, but I'm so proud of crossing that forsaken finish line; it felt a lot like a victory anyway!

So would I recommend the 113 Triathlon Bukit Merah? You bet I would! Except that I'd strongly suggest that you train hard on hilly terrains. Otherwise, be prepared to push your bike up that long ridiculous hill!

Monday, August 24, 2015


I was invited to deliver a talk on the property market recently, and during that talk, we had inter alia a brief look at the trend for the income of the population per capita in recent years. Although I have included that topic in my talk, I mentioned to the audience that I'm not a big fan of this sort of statistics. To me, taking the total income of the population, and then dividing that with the size of the population can give a general view, but not necessarily an accurate impression of what's really happening in reality. We may have say 100 people earning RM10,000 per annum, and just one person earning RM1,000,000 per annum. But when the average of those is calculated, we will arrive at RM19,801.98 per annum.

I suppose statistics can be a useful guide to formulate some national policies, but sometimes there is the tendency to dwell too much on the figures on paper while missing the mark by a mile in reality. That is why I'm not such a big fan of statistics. But even so if we're dealing with human lives.

I think in some cases, such as when talking about human lives lost in a plane crash; or space craft failures during the launch resulting in the loss of astronauts shouldn't be compared by statistics. Every single life is precious, and no amount of statistics, no matter how good they look on paper, can justify the severity of the loss of lives. I don't care if the statistics show that there is a very small percentage of lives lost from air travel, because even if that is true, the bottom line is that lives have been lost. 

When human lives are at stake, there is just no room for mistakes. But after all we are just  humans, and we can't escape from the curse of making mistakes no matter how careful we are. The only thing to do is to admit those mistakes and then find ways not to repeat them in future.

That is why I am a little disgusted when I read the article on the "very small" number of deaths in police custody cases, as explained by Datuk Nur Jazlan Mohamed. He said, "...we have to work on statistics."

One of these days, if ever Nur Jazlan is arrested on accusation of something that he did not commit, and then is beaten to the brink of death while in police custody, I bet no amount of statistics can convince him that he is just one of the "very small" number of cases of police brutality, as if his predicament is of no consequence. I dare say he would then be demanding for his right to be given the opportunity to defend himself in the court of law, instead of being subject to harsh treatment in prison.

That is always the problem with people, you see. It is too easy to say, for example, that being a gay is sinful unless if they are themselves born gays; that it is easy to say being obese is disgusting, unless if they are themselves obese and can't seem to lose weight no matter how hard they try to fight their cravings; that it is easy to say it's just 200 lives lost in police custody against 120,000 police personnel, unless if they themselves are those whose lives are at stake.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Financial Obligations

I read with interest the article in The Star on why PTPTN defaulters are not paying up. There are several reasons quoted in the said article, but two of them stand out from the rest:

"Everything is so pricey nowadays. To add to that, I am a parent and trying to provide a comfortable life for my child."

"I earn so little and my duty is to my daughter and parents first."

Looking at what's happening in Malaysia today, I'm convinced that those are not lame excuses; I dare say these people are working hard to make ends meet. Leaving aside those people who're jobless, I believe the majority of the working population in Malaysia are not earning well enough to satisfy most of their basic needs, let alone luxuries such as expensive cars or huge houses. I think what we have here is a question of priority.

I happen to know some people—even some of my family members—whom are apparently perpetually "tight up" when it comes to money, regardless of how much they're earning. When speaking to family members, I'm known for my favourite line:

"Kalau periuk nasi semakin besar, maka kerak nasi pun semakin besar juga!"

For those who don't know it yet, I consider myself very good in Malay—both written and spoken.

The Malay phrase above says that when the rice pot gets bigger, then the rice crust will also become bigger too, thus reflecting that when one earns more, his appetite tends to grow. Or his obligations will grow too.

I have on several occasions said to my brother that there is nothing wrong to spend on luxury items. By all means, buy an expensive car if you want to. Heck, buy a few if it makes you happy. Shower your children with modern digital gadgets, and let them live like their parents are rich folks. The only proviso is that just make sure you can really afford those luxuries. And of course if you can't afford all those, then don't spend! It's a very simple policy, really.

Don't owe money from other people when you're a little short, but then when you do get a windfall eventually, instead of paying up your debts, you spend to satisfy your other needs first. If it's your intention that the priority is to provide a comfortable life for your child first; or satisfy your other needs, or to your children, or to your parents first, instead of paying your debts, then bloody hell, don't go looking for PTPTN or friends to get a loan when you're in trouble. When you need help, you want the priority to be given that help. But when it's time to pay up, you don't give the priority that your creditors deserve. What the hell?! 

The money that should have been paid back to PTPTN could be used to help others in desperate need for a loan. If you're not paying your debts, that is like depriving others from getting help from PTPTN.

Don't blame others if they refuse to help you, because you don't deserve their help. The  next time you're in trouble and need help again, don't grumble if you are not given the priority for help. In other words, don't be an asshole!