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!