Thursday, January 28, 2016

Hindsight is Twenty-Twenty

I used to spend a lot of time having interesting conversations with my running buddy, Dr Peter. You see, we were not what one would describe as runners when we were younger. But as fate would have it, we started running at more or less the same time in 2008 when the first Borneo International Marathon was organised; and within a few months we became running buddies. It was during those many, many running sessions that we've been having our interesting conversations—discussing about topics ranging from life experiences, world issues, the medical profession, and practically anything under the sun.

Alas, throughout the years, I have developed the passion for cycling and swimming, and our paths would cross less frequently these days. It feels like it's been ages ago since the last time I ran together with Peter. But this evening, I met Peter at the Likas Sports Complex, and we were able to indulge in our typical conversation again.

One of the issues that came up was on the recent Vibram HK 100km that had to be aborted due to severe weather condition. Many participants were stranded at Tai Mo San, the tallest mountain in Hong Kong. I have seen video clips, and I was rather surprised. The rescue mission was quite dramatic. 

I've done the Vibram HK 100 twice of course, and it was during my first attempt that I almost gave up at CP8. Those who know me well would know that I almost never give up on anything once I set my mind to do it. I can still remember that I was shaking uncontrollably from the cold, and it seemed like no amount of blanket and hot tea could help me. My fingers were numb and I had little sensation in them. A lady volunteer then gave me her gloves, and after a few minutes, my fingers felt much better. I struggled through the remaining few kilometres and eventually crossed the finish line a few hours later.

Now bear in mind that although it was cold when I almost gave up, there was no ice then. Yet it was horrible for me. So I can just imagine what the participants were going through when ice set in on Tai Mo San. I find it interesting to note that while some people are praising the organiser for aborting the race when the weather turned for the worse, others are saying that the race shouldn't have started at all. 

Actually, what I've learned from my own experience in the many, many races that I've joined before, is that when things go wrong, especially when there are casualties. The blame will be on the organiser no matter what the organiser does. No amount of preparation can help the organiser.

We have our own The Most Beautiful Thing (TMBT) here in Sabah, of course, and the organiser is very strict on the mandatory kit. Some of the items may seem irrelevant, and it's amusing that some participants were ridiculing the organiser for seemingly being paranoid. Some participants have gone on to challenge the organiser's decision.

The truth is that the organiser is also human; it is impossible for him to know what will happen in the course of the race. Things can suddenly go horribly wrong when you least expect them. One can only try to mitigate those by being prepared.

The frosty condition at Tai Mo San was reported to be the worst in 6 decades. What's the odds of ice forming on Tai Mo San at the time of flag off? It would have been  nice if the organiser had a crystal ball. Yeah, that would be good enough for the organiser to abort the race altogether.

The thing is, when seeing an accomplished event, it is so easy to say that the organiser should have done this and that from the very beginning. Hindsight is Twenty-Twenty! Too many of these people would say they would have known so and so would happen. But I bet if they were put in the shoes of the organiser, something would go wrong too. Something almost always would go wrong!

Wouldn't it be nice if we can see the future? There will never be any accidents in this world. Nobody will ever make mistakes. And my step-mother would be a rich woman today because for heaven's sake, I don't know how much money she has burnt on buying 4D TOTO up to now. But no, she is not a rich woman today, having been buying 4D for ages now. Alway the same story on each draw—Kalau saya tau...

Hindsight is Twenty-Twenty!

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Putrajaya Ultra Aquathlon 2016

A friend of mine, Andy Foo, whom I got to know when he organised the 113 Sabah Triathlon 2015, sent me a text message some time towards the end of last year, asking me if I'd like to join his ultra aquathlon in Putrajaya on the 24th this month. I was then about to race the Ironman Western Australia (IMWA) and wasn't even thinking about yet another race so soon in 2016, especially a race that contained the word "ultra" in its title. It wasn't until after the IMWA when I was compiling my racing calendar for 2016, and I ended up revisiting the official website of the Putrajaya Ultra Aquathlon 2016.

I was pleasantly surprised that that word "ultra" was rather misleading after all. Earlier, I had the impression that the race was one that would take perhaps over 5-6 hours to finish. But actually it's much shorter than that. The race comprised a 2.25km swim, followed by a 22km run. However, the run distance was later reduced slightly to 21km. Although I'm not a good swimmer, 2.25km is not such a dreadful distance in the water for me these days. As far as the 21km run, I haven't been training on my speed for ages now, because when preparing for the Ironman, my focus was on endurance, not speed. Still, 21km is the minimum distance that I run on every weekend these days, although I'd run it very slowly.

Photo credit: Rany Tan - Start of race; about to enter lake

And so I was there at the starting line at the lake in Putrajaya last Sunday for my first ever aquathlon. The ultra participants had to swim 3 loops. Standing there at the edge of the lake, and looking out to the buoys, it seemed like such a long distance to swim. But like in any other race, I measure distances in sections, not its total. So I'd worry about the first loop of 750m first. When I have conquered that, then I would worry about the second 750m loop; and when I'm done with that, I will worry about the final loop. Something like that. I find that it's not too intimidating seeing the distance that way.

There are pros and cons about swimming multiple loops of course, but if I had it my way, I'd prefer it to be a single loop. I can still remember swimming a single 1.9km loop in the Putrajaya 70.3 last year. The reason I prefer a single loop is that during the start of the race, it will be chaotic—people are all over each other; there will be lots of kicking and slapping and elbowing. For a lousy swimmer like me, it can be quite a nightmare. But later on the crowd will begin to thin out, and it will be much easier to swim. In this particular event, however, we had to swim 3 loops. And then later on, we were joined by another crowd of a different category; and then again by yet another group later. So we had to go through the chaotic episodes several times in the same event. I suppose this is small matter for good swimmers, but it's a big deal for me.

Anyway, I'm happy to say that I did not swallow a lot of water during this event. I don't know if that could be interpreted as having improved in my swim or because I was extra careful to prevent swallowing the lake water. That in itself was quite an achievement for me. I felt a huge relief as I exited the water, and I took my time jogging up the path to the transition area, passing the shower on the way there.

Photo credit: Eddie Wls - Post-swim, on the way to transition

I had my Garmin 920XT set for the aquathlon. But during the chaotic situation mid-swim, someone kicked my watch, thus switching it into the transition mode. I stopped swimming for a moment while trying to remedy the situation, but it was no good. The transition mode was not reversible. I pressed the button and set it to the running mode anyway, and then continued swimming. Actually, the time-keeping process is of little consequence; after all every participant had the timing chip on, and proper timing will be captured by the respective sensors along the way till the finish line. But many of my friends would know that I'm suffering from a common disease known as KIASUNISIS. These days, most people just can't live without their GPS watches, you see. They just have to keep looking at it every few minutes, all the way to the finish line. But anyway, when I exited the swim, I pressed my watch again, and it registered the end of the race, when actually I haven't even begun the run yet! However, I was still able to get the total time of the workout thus far, i.e. 55 minutes. So at least I knew the time I took for the swim was about 55 mins.

As I was about to start running, I reset my watch again; this time just a plain running workout mode. I had no idea how much time I spent for transition. Perhaps it was a mere 3-4 minutes, but because of the KIASUNISIS disease that I mentioned earlier, it felt like 10 minutes.

Switching from swimming to running was quite a shock to my system. My legs simply refused to fire up. I felt like I had to drag my feet and somehow my quads felt overworked. It probably had a lot to do with the sudden change in position from horizontal (flat) on the surface of the water to upright in the running position. But if I have to go through this whole thing again, perhaps I'd make it a point to switch from the 2-beat kicks to the 6-beat kicks in the last 50m-100m of the swim. That ought to pump more blood into my legs in preparation for the run.

The first half of the 21km run was rather pleasant as the sun was just beginning to show its true colours. But the second half was very hot. In fact, so hot that I must have consumed twice the amount of water than the first half. And the last 5km or so was exceptionally tough for my tired legs. I had to alternate between running and walking. It was rather embarrassing that it became obvious to me by midway that I wasn't even gonna be able to finish the 21km in under 2 hours. But pride was just one part of the story. I was also thinking of finishing among the last few in my category. Oh! let me tell you, KIASUNISIS is a terrible disease!

Photo credit: Eddie Wls - Midway of the 21km run

I came into this race thinking that I was not up to the challenge. I would have preferred to train at least a little bit on my speed. But I reckoned that I would be more than happy if I could finish the race somewhere in the middle of the pack. Of course winning has never even crossed my mind!

When I finally crossed the finish line, I felt a big relief, and after I grabbed a drink, I started queuing up for my finisher T-shirt. Then I noticed that participants were able to get a printout of their respective results on the spot too. Accordingly, I requested for mine. My total racing time was 3:08:46, but I was shocked to note that my category position was shown as 13/15.

Although I felt like I was slow in this race, I thought it was enough to secure at least the top half within my category. That was why I was rather surprised that I finished 13th out of 15 participants in my category. In fact, I was almost the last! It made me think that I had to work really hard if I wanted to do this race again next year. Finally, my curiosity got the better of me. Because I knew the timing consultant personally, today I sent her a text message, asking about my result. She explained that my position was shown as "13/15" because when that result was printed out, only 15 participants in my category had crossed the finish line. But actually there were many other participants in my category. In fact, I was 13th out of 35 participants. Phew!...that was quite a pleasant surprise. That must have helped to bring down my blood pressure to normal level again. May I repeat, KIASUNISIS is a terrible disease!

So anyway, this was the medal I got for all the mental and physical stress!

Mia was also there in this race, but she finished much later; and as usually is the case for this organiser, there was no more size S finisher T-shirt left by the time she crossed the finish line, even though the size of the shirt had been duly stated in the registration details. I think the organiser should make it a point to brief the volunteers to pay close attention to the size of shirt as shown on the bib, and no exchange with other sizes should be allowed, because if no such briefing is done, that's why Mia now has ended up with an XL T-shirt. She will probably wear it as a pyjama. So far, she has collected 2 pyjamas from this organiser. We will be joining the 113 Sabah Triathlon of the same organiser in March. Let's see if Mia will increase her pyjamas to 3!

But anyway, on the whole, the Putrajaya Ultra Aquathlon was well-organised. The water stations for the run leg of the race were well-positioned at appropriate intervals. The volunteers, apart from those handling the T-shirts did an awesome job. In fact, I thought some of those cheering the runners were rather too excited! I would certainly recommend my friends to join this event next year.

Thursday, January 21, 2016

A Fictional Advice Column

An example of how a typical university student these days would answer his exam question:

Dear Cornelius,

I am 44 years old and have an uncontrollable extreme urge for rough sex. Unfortunately, my wife is not agreeable to such sexual habit. She has been complaining to me regularly about it, but I ignored her complaints. Then last night while I was sleeping, my wife used a razor blade to cut off my penis. I woke up in horror and in extreme pain.

I have since been rushed to the hospital and had undergone a surgery to reattach my penis. Now I am recovering. But I don't know if my penis will ever be able to function as it used to before the incident. My wife has been detained by the police. I am lost and don't know what to do. Could you please advise?


Dear Dick,

Razor blades are very sharp objects, and obviously are potential weapons that can cause serious injuries. Gillette razors, in particular, are exceptionally sharp. But there are several other brands in the market these days. I have found that the China-made razors that are commonly available in RM2.00 shops are not as good because they won't give you a satisfactory shave. If Gillette razors are too expensive for you, I would suggest that you buy a mid-range type that can shave well, although it probably won't last as long. I would strongly advise you to ensure that you keep your razor blades in a locked cabinet, away from kids and your wife. Good luck on choosing a perfect razor blade for yourself.


Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Against Motherly Instinct

In the movie Rise of the Planet of the Apes, an experimental viral-drug ALZ-112 was administered to a chimpanzee named Bright Eyes, thus greatly increasing her intelligence. Although she was a tame animal, she suddenly became wild when forced from her cage, and went on a rampage. In the end she was killed. It wasn't until after her death that it was discovered that she had recently given birth, and it could be assumed that her reaction was that of a motherly instinct to protect her baby. 

In the animal kingdom, even very fierce predators such as tigers have the motherly instinct too. That motherly instinct is much more powerful than even the survival instinct. Tigers are not known to eat their own cubs even if they're at the point of starvation. However, they have no qualms in killing the babies of other animals, even if they know that that amounts to taking away the babies from their mothers. 

The motherly instinct of the tigers is only powerful enough to offset the survival instinct as far as dealing with their own cubs. But when dealing with the babies of other animals, the survival instinct reigns supreme, even if the tigers can appreciate that they're destroying the mother-baby bond of their preys. Such is the harsh living condition in the animal kingdom. 

Humans are born with the motherly instinct too; and I find it quite amazing that such instinct can sometimes last a lifetime. Perhaps tigers may protect their young ones for a number of years, but they will eventually let them grow and find their own ways. Some human mothers can also eventually let their children grow too, but I have seen some who just can't let go—their children will remain to be the driving passion of their entire life, and the "letting go" process will just never happen! 

Because we are slightly more intelligent than the animals—at least I hope we are—we can appreciate the motherly instinct not only in the context of us and our own children, but also that of others. When we see a woman—even if she's a stranger to us—ask for help to reunite her with her child, our instinct is to help her achieve just that. 

If ever I'm fated to end up with a failed marriage, let me just say now that I shall never deny my wife the right of custody to my daughter; although if I can help it, I would want to have at least a joint custody. That is because I can't see myself making my wife go through the pain of not having her child with her, regardless of whatever differences between the two of us. 

I think if this world is free of religions, money and social status, we can then see clearly that a woman deserves to be with her child. For deep down in our hearts, I know that none of us would take away a child from his or her mother, unless of course if there is evidence that that mother is a threat to the best interest of the child. Any legal system that prevents her that right is just so wrong. We are not like the tigers that only care for our own love for our own children, but couldn't care less about another woman's craving to be with her child. 

Well, I guess that's just wishful thinking; the reality is that religions, money and social status will always make us blind. How I wish that we can put aside religions, money and social status, and just do the right thing. Obviously not everybody agrees with me, and I respect the opposing opinions. If others are still convinced that the child should NOT be reunited with the mother, then so be it. I just hope that it's not done for the wrong reason.

Monday, January 11, 2016

The NeverEnding Story—The Challenge Continues

Shortly after the Ironman Western Australia (IMWA) last month, my friend, Teo Chen Lung, threw out yet a new challenge to me. He said we should bet on dinner for the 113 Sabah Triathlon on 13 March 2016. I was then still recovering from the torture of IMWA and wasn't quite sure how to react to that challenge. Originally, the IMWA was supposed to have been the ultimate challenge according to Teo, because he said he was going to "retire" after the IMWA. He explained that all future races would be strictly for medal-collection only. I was, like, OK, so yet another challenge, I suppose I could still play along just for one more race against Teo. 

After we were done with the IMWA, we decided to visit Tasmania and Melbourne, and it was in Melbourne when Teo surprised everybody; he bought himself a new tribike—the Cervelo P5. Never mind the price of his new bike; let me just say that it's very expensive. I'm guessing that very few average Malaysian wage earners can save up for the cost of the Cervelo P5 within 3 years, maybe even 5 years. The bike is an awesome piece of modern technology. Here's what it looks like:

Notice that the brake and gear-shifter cables are concealed. I'm afraid I'm not an expert on bikes; I know just enough of the very basic stuff. Of course I know how to fix a puncture reasonably fast these days. When I started cycling a few years ago, I tried to help a friend to fix her puncture, but it was a horrible and embarrassing failure. I blogged about that experience here.

Anyway, one of the main reasons for the concealed cables on the P5 is that that can help to reduce air resistance when the bike is in motion, i.e. the attempt to make the bike as aerodynamic as possible. In fact the whole design of the bike—the frame, the wheels, the fork etc—is in such a way to make it aerodynamic so that, according to Teo, the bike can slice through the air with minimal air resistance.

That word aerodynamic has a kind of magical effect on Teo. I fancy that he spends at least half of his days trying to figure out a way on how to improve the aerodynamics of his bike. For example, for the IMWA, he actually designed his own bike pouch by diligently cutting out a cardboard model and then sending that to the tailor to custom-make the pouch; all for the sake of aerodynamics. Needless to say, even his bike accessories such as water bottles and helmet are all carefully chosen on grounds of aerodynamics.

I'm thinking maybe if he searched hard enough, he would be able to find a size XXXL condom in the market, so that he could wear that over his head when racing since that can surely help to make his head more aerodynamic? Umm... I'm talking about the head on his shoulders, of course. This is on the assumption that he has a convincing explanation for his wife. The only downside of that plan is that he may just die from suffocation, but hey, it's worth it for the sake of aerodynamics, you know! Knowing that he is a professional civil engineer, I carefully refrain from reminding him that the human body is very un-aerodynamic. Come to think of it, I never did pay any attention on his legs. It's entirely possible that he shaved his legs too.

So now the 113 Sabah Triathlon will be yet another epic race between Teo and me. Since this will be a Half Ironman distance triathlon, he said he will go "all out from start to finish". The funny thing is that both of us are not very strong triathletes, and our speed is perhaps just average and nothing to shout about. But we behave like we are pros! And that makes us even more entertaining than the real pros!

I think it will be an uphill task against Teo in the coming 113 Sabah Triathlon, because it's a much shorter race than the IMWA and of course the P5 factor, but I'm sure as hell not gonna let him win without a fight! Win or lose, it doesn't matter much to me; I'm happy with whatever outcome as long as I've given it my best shot. Just that winning will come at a cost—chances are Teo will then delay his "retirement" once again and will challenge me to yet another showdown somehow. This kind of NeverEnding story has been going on for far too long, and physically I'm just getting very tired. I just don't know how much longer I can keep it up! I really need a break!