Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Tokyo Marathon 2015

I ran the Tokyo Marathon last Sunday, and although I failed to achieve a personal best (PB), I must say that I enjoyed the trip a lot. I went with my family and some friends, and we arrived about a week before the race. In the days leading up to the race, we visited Mt Fuji which was quite a long drive from the city. The tour included a visit to Hakone and we spent the whole day touring by means of a bus, cable car, a boat and finally the bullet train.

We also visited Tokyo Disneyland which was quite an experience for me. It was a rainy day and I could hardly endure the freezing temperature despite having 3 layers of clothing, a beanie, scarf and a pair of woolen gloves. I walked around for perhaps half an hour and then had to leave Mia and JJ on their own while I took refuge in a cozy confectionery shop. There, I found a godsend bench. I sat there and supported my chin with my hand; I watched the people buying an assortment of chocolates of numerous sizes, shapes and colours...

The next thing I knew was a commotion outside the window where some kids were swarming around Mr Smee, the character from the Captain Hook's ship in Peter Pan. Little did I know that I've been sleeping on that bench for about an hour! It's the kind of experience you get to remember for the rest of your life for all the wrong reasons, if you know what I mean. Figure it to yourself—I spent 6,500 Yen for the entrance ticket, and then spent almost the entire time sleeping on a cold hard bench. Mia and JJ, however, went around and JJ was quite excited that she had the chance to see Princesses Elsa and Anna as well as Olaf.

We visited a few other places and on Thursday evening, Doctors Peter and Liaw arrived from KK. It was kinda fun to be reunited once again for a race. It's been quite a while since the last time we ran together. The last one was the Sundown Ultra Marathon in Singapore. The next day we went to collect our race packs together, and there was such a huge crowd at the Expo. The venue itself was very big and one could easily get confused with one's location in the building. After a while, I said to Peter that I've lost my bearing and wasn't sure how to exit the building. Peter replied thoughtfully, asking me which bearing, the left one or right one.

I spent a long time checking out the booths and the many sports merchandise on offer. This booth, that booth, and then we somehow found ourselves at the Mexico Marathon booth. There, we became quite an attraction for the day when we posed for this photo.

I'm not sure what song Peter was singing as I was focusing on the camera. But looking at the photo now, I must admit that his gaping mouth looks very convincing! I dare say that wig suits him too!

We did not stick together all the time though. Peter and Liaw went to tour Mt Fuji on their own on Saturday morning, and I must say that I'm impressed that they actually found their way there too! I would have given them a full score that day, except that they somehow got onto the wrong train and ended up in Haneda Airport. To be fair, however, Yoke Lee and Alex, as well as Mia and JJ took the wrong train to Haneda Airport at different times too!

On race day, it was a torture for me from the beginning. We had to take the subway to the race venue. The race flagged off at 9:10am, but we started from the hotel at about 7am. We reached the race venue before 8am. It was a very cold morning, and the thing about cold morning is that you want to pee waaaay too many times. That morning alone I visited the toilet twice, but when I was depositing my drop bag, I felt the urge to pee again. I queued up for the portable toilet. Let me tell you that it was an extremely long queue. After spending about 45 minutes in the queue, I had to abandon it because they were about to close the entrance to the running blocks. Accordingly, I made my way to the allocated block, which was actually quite a long distance from the starting arch.

Standing there for almost half an hour at near freezing temperature with only a piece of running attire, though "thermal" attire, was quite a torture for me. I was shaking uncontrollably, and let me just say that suffering the cold like that while holding on to my pee wasn't amusing at all!

Then the flag off was in waves. First was the whellchair category. Then the elites followed by all the rest. Runners were let go according to their respective speed, so the faster runners were in the front blocks. It was hard to maneuver through the crowd for at least the first few kilometres. And the crowd never really thinned out because there were so many runners. One would always find that he is running in a crowd.

I ran a decent pace of about 5:30 min/km, thinking that that should be easy enough to maintain. It was a pleasant run except that all the while the thing that bothered me the most was having to hold on to my pee! I was conscious of the several toilets along the way, but each time I get to a toilet stop, I noticed people queuing up. Not wanting to waste time, I kept telling myself to hold a little longer until I get to the next toilet stop. And then the same thing happened at the next stop; always people queuing!

Eventually, I reached the 20km point in about 1:48, which I thought wasn't very fast. I wanted to pace myself well to achieve a PB, but the thing that I found disturbing was that the distance markers seemed too far apart. Somehow, my Garmin recorded at least a few hundred metres more than that shown on the distance markers along the route. I wondered if my Garmin was wrong. I'm not sure if perhaps my Garmin was affected by the cloudy sky.

Anyway, I reached the 30km point in about 2:44, and I thought I was still good for my 3:50 target. And even if I can't make that target, I could at least beat my old PB of almost 3:53. However, much to my horror, I felt the distance between one marker to the next was getting bigger and bigger, and by Km35, it dawned upon me that the 3:50 target was drifting away. To add to that, my legs were also becoming a little tired. I fought on, however, but it was obvious that I was beginning to slow down. Then I came to the climb at about Km37. Looking at my Garmin, I realised that even the 3:53 was already gone. I gave up and walked up the slope, dejected. There were several other short slopes to climb after that. I kept my cool, until I realised that far from achieving a PB, I was at risk of even losing a sub-4hour finish! Suddenly, it became a race to me once again. I started running—by then with cramps all over my legs, eventually finishing just a whisker under 4hours! The official time was 3:59:32. I have to admit that I was a little disappointed, but I'm happy with that result anyway. At one time, I thought it was impossible to achieve a sub-4hour marathon no matter how hard I tried. But I now have a few sub-4hour marathons under my belt. Interestingly, my Garmin recorded a distance of 43.18km. I know of at least 2 other runners recording 43.3km on their GPS watches; and other friends up to over 44km. It would be very interesting to know what's the actual distance of the course.

The highlight of the day was that Dr Liaw achieved a PB with a time of 3:38:56. Dr Peter achieved a PB too in 4:07:21 which was an awesome 15 minutes improvement from his previous PB. Yoke Lee finished with a PB of 4:22:15. Alex and Georgina both finished their marathons too. It was a well organised race, considering the crowd of about 36,000.

There isn't much more to tell, except that I achieved a PB in holding on to my pee for approximately 6 hours! That's an achievement that I don't think I can outdo for the rest of my life; not that I want to!

Monday, February 9, 2015

Living Up To The Standard

I've been on an annual blood screening for some years now, and the latest one was just about 2 weeks ago. The results were out just a few days ago, and I can say that I passed with flying colours, except that I received asterisks for "Total Cholesterol" and "LDL Cholesterol". An asterisk indicates an abnormal reading from what is considered the normal range or standard.

The above is just a portion of the results. Specifically, it's the part under the heading of Lipid Profile. At a glance, although there are asterisks in the results, the above figures are not considered to be alarming, because the readings are just slightly outside of the standard normal range. However, I must point out that I've been on statins for many years now, and when taking into account the kind of sports that I've been doing all these years, it's kinda worrying that I'm still getting asterisks in my lipid profile test.

I've read up quite a bit on this subject, and what I've gathered so far is that there is no clear-cut consensus as to the so-called "safe" range. Some medical scientists are not even looking at cholesterol as an isolated factor for heart disease. Nevertheless, it's still disturbing to have an "abnormal" reading, you see. One would like everything to be perfect; to be within the standard normal/safe range, which would then (hopefully) translate into minimizing the risks of getting a heart attack.

I note with interest, however, that these so-called normal range, at least for lipid profile, have been undergoing some sort of evolution over the years. That word "evolution" usually gives an idea of a process that happens over a very long period, but the evolution that I speak of here is just a duration of a few decades.

As I said, I've been screening my blood for some years now, and if I'm not much mistaken, the normal range for "Total Cholesterol" used to be less than 5.6 mmol/L or thereabout. Somehow, over the years, the figure kept changing—gradually, it became lower and lower. I suppose it's entirely possible that new studies were conducted over the years, and then new findings were found, which in turn resulted in new conclusions, leading to changes in the standard safe range. The above result for "Total Cholesterol" would have been without an asterisk if the test were conducted a few years ago, because the reading of 5.2mmol/L used to be within the standard normal range. But that is no longer the case today.

If I were to look at the trend of the standard normal range, I won't be surprised that one of these days, the standard for "Total Cholesterol" would dip below 5.0 mmol/L. In fact, I foresee the time will come when the standard would be impossibly low that the only way to achieve it is with the help of drugs. And I'm failing the test now even with the help of statin! 

Of course I'm not gonna be overly worried about those asterisks. I've done my part; I'll leave the rest to fate. But it would be interesting to know what would the normal standard be if the studies and experiments were conducted by people who have nothing to do with pharmaceutical companies. I'm guessing maybe the figures would be different?

Friday, February 6, 2015

The Quest For Perfect Health

Way too many people have approached me to promote vitamins, and food supplements supposedly containing ingredients not only able to improve health, but also cure dreaded diseases such as cancer, heart problems and diabetes. I fancy that if I were to stand in the street right now and toss a stone randomly, there's a good chance that I'd hit a promoter for a direct-selling company. There are many such companies in Malaysia; all with big claims on the potency of their products. These are usually made of "pure" ingredients of the highest quality—typically of herbal origins—and prepared through very sophisticated processes.

I read with interest that a tiny pill, weighing a mere few grams, contains the same amount of the plant-originated ingredients that would otherwise be found in a few kilograms of that plant in its natural form. I see this as cutting out of an escape route for the would-be consumer; it's like saying that one has no choice but to consume the pill, because to get the same amount of the potent ingredient in its natural form, one has to consume a few kilograms of the plant.

This post is not an attempt to cast doubts on these products. After all, I haven't tried very many of them myself, and am therefore unable to prove, or disprove, whether or not these products actually live up to the manufacturers' claims. Despite reading this recent article about herbal supplements, I'm still convinced that at least some of them can do some of the things that they're supposed to do.

Nevertheless, even if I'm convinced that some of these products can actually help to improve my health, I don't fill up my cabinets with an assortment of vitamins and herbal supplements in pursuit of the perfect health. To be honest, it's not really a question of affordability; and it's not that I don't want to be healthy. Rather, I think as far as health is concerned, there is just no end to it—there is no such thing as "perfect health", and any attempt to achieve it is apt to end in vain. I try to do the things that I can, for however long that I can, to maintain and improve my health, in the hope of preserving the quality of life that I have. The point is that I will try to do just about enough to remain healthy, but without sacrificing too much of the things in life that I enjoy doing. 

So although I'm aware that simple sugars are not so good for my body, I still have my weekly ABC at Tun Fuan Park, Bukit Padang. I still indulge in a bit of KFC and McDonald's occasionally. I drink coca-cola and eat junk food too. But to counter all those, I maintain an active lifestyle—I run, I swim, and I bike a great deal. If I have to refrain from indulging in the things that I enjoy in life for the sake of living a few years longer, I see no point in living longer. For there is really no point to live longer if I can't enjoy living.

It's not that I'm not doing anything to remain healthy. To the herbal supplement promoters, who think that I'm an idiot for not consuming your products when I can afford it, let me hasten to tell you that I am keeping myself healthy by indulging in sports; perhaps not so much in the things that I eat and drink. It is to me, a kind of balance. I realise, of course, that instead of exhausting my body, it's much easier to consume herbal supplements and multi-vitamins. If I die earlier, it's OK, I'm satisfied. Honest, I am satisfied!