My first tri race – Wuxi Tai Lake UltraS

691124000141944248

Over the Dragon Boat public holidays, I travelled to Wuxi in Jiangsu province to take part in my first sprint distance triathlon race.

Pre-race shenanigans

323388837020184964
I felt so blessed to do my first triathlon in these surroundings

The race venue was the scenic Ling Mountain and Tai Lake area in Wuxi. After checking into my hotel room, I had a quick lunch and made my way to the race hotel conference centre to go through registration procedures and pick up my race pack. The race hotel conference centre was a hive of activity when I arrived. As this was my first tri, the organisers required that I showed them my most recent health check-up report and do a test swim in the hotel pool to prove that I can actually swim in open water. Imagine my surprise when I bumped into my triathlon club swim coach at the hotel pool who’s just finished her test swim. She was part of a relay team (who eventually finished second). The volunteers manning the test swim desk told me to swim 400 m in the 25-metre long, 1-metre deep indoor pool which was partially filled with families with small children who were guests at the hotel, to ‘prove’ I can swim in open water. After living in China for a long time, I knew better than to question the organisers’ rationale and just got on with it.

After picking up my race pack, I went to the transition zone to pick up and test my rental road bike and familiarise myself with the whole area. I was very happy with the Argon Krypton road bike I was allocated, apparently one of the best rental bikes available for this race.

458497292753724772
(Clockwise from top left) My lovely rental race bike; the red carpet leading to the start of the swim; the Wuxi Taihu triathlon race banner; laying out everything I need for the race.

By the time my Beijing friends and I finished checking out the transition zone, it was time for dinner. After hungrily gobbling down Taiwanese beef noodles, we all made our respective ways back to our hotels to prep and turn in early for the night so we could get up early next morning and meet at the transition area at 5:30 am. I was so exhausted, I fell fast asleep at a quarter to 10 after putting my bib number on my race gear.

Race Day musings

Here’s the official video of the race which shows the actual race course and how the day unfolded. I make a very brief appearance at the 2:45 mark.

I’ve decided to lay out my reflection and thoughts from the race in this way so I can easily refer to it when I prepare for my first Olympic triathlon this coming Saturday. Even after four months of regular training, I still don’t feel ready. I know I should aim higher, but in all honesty, I’d be happy to finish the race before the closing time of four hours.

race stats musings

In hindsight, I’m very glad and grateful that the Wuxi Taihu triathlon was my first race. I gained some much needed experience, tested out my race strategies, mental and physical strength, and watched and learnt from top triathletes. Most importantly, I had a lot of fun. That’s all that matters for now.

40383415324882763
My idea of striking a pose

 

 

My very first cycling race: Beijing Sportive 200 Liuhong Rd race

163065024882605004
One of the participants racing on his city bike

On Saturday 7 May, I took part in my very first cycling race, the Beijing Sportive 200 – Liuhong Road.  I wanted to do the last Sportive race in Pinggu last year but couldn’t get a spot. It turned out that Beijing Sportive races are super popular here and registration spots are gone within a day or two after registration opens. I only managed to sign up this year because Serk secured 30 spots for its members.

I took part in the short course race, which was 118 km with an elevation of 1000 m, with seven others from Serk. The other 20+ cyclists (including two women) from Serk did the long course, which was 186 km with an elevation of 2000 m, in three teams.

My Saturday started at 4:30 am when my alarm went off. I heated up my breakfast of oats, raisins and cashews, packed my bag, changed into my cycling gear and headed to Serk HQ. Bikes were loaded onto vans and we set off for the starting point of the race. Heeding my coaches’ advice, I ate my breakfast at 6 am in the van, two hours before the start of the race.

We arrived at the starting point at around 6:30 am. We then took turns pumping up our tyres, put on sunscreen, loaded our jerseys with energy bars, gels and other essentials, picked up our race numbers and chips and took pictures. We couldn’t have asked for a more glorious day for the race — sunny, blue, cloudless skies with a mild breeze.

851638702669752343
Serk teams getting ready for battle

The long route racers took off right on 7:15 am. S and I thought we had another hour before our race started so we went for a toilet break. On our way back, we saw a queue had formed behind the starting line. By the time we got to the queue, the race had already started. There was no gunshot, no announcement. All we saw was the dust left behind by the other cyclists who had gone before us. I helped S fix her phone to her handlebar so she could follow the course and fired up my Garmin Edge 510 before I started riding. This was to be the first of a number of annoyances I’d experience over the course of the race.

As my sinuses were still clogged up due to my allergy to willow catkins, I rode at a comfortable pace in the beginning, and didn’t stress about keeping up with S and the other riders. I kept my eye on my watch and made sure I ate at least half a muesli bar every 45 minutes or so, regardless if I was hungry. The uphill climb I dreaded turned out to be almost flat. Before I knew it, I’d reached the halfway mark. I was surprised at how quickly and easily I’d completed half the race. The organisers took a reading of my chip and handed me a banana, a bottle of water and three energy bars. I took the banana and the water but turned down the energy bars, as I didn’t recognise the brand and still had my own bars. After a quick chat with one of the Serk riders doing the short route, I went for a quick toilet break and got back on my bike to finish the race.

553731675453338857
Just one of many scenic spots I rode past on Saturday

Over the course of the race, I’d encountered fellow participants on MTBs and hybrids with baskets in the front or back of their bikes. I only worked out they were doing the Sportive when I saw their participant number stickers on their helmets. While I admired their spirits, I also found them a curious sight, especially as the racers on their super fancy roadbikes whizzed past them at double or triple their speed.

At about the 90-km mark, I witnessed the second thing that annoyed me at this race. A heavy-set cyclist, obviously unable to carry on, hired a local villager who took him and his bike on his motorised cart up the hill. As I rode past the tractor, I felt some sympathy for the cyclist, having had to get on a support van or some other vehicle in the past because I couldn’t carry on. I’d initially thought this guy had given up on finishing the race and was sitting in the tractor all the way to the end. Instead, to my horror and disgust, as I was huffing and puffing up the hill at around the 110-km mark, this guy got off the tractor and continued riding! I was so pissed, I was going to stop and take a picture of the guy just so I could show it to the organisers. That’s when I noticed none of the other cyclists seemed to care and I decided it was more important I finish my own race than to do the organisers’ job for them. Others who’s done the Sportive races in the past had told me stories of similar incidents, but it was quite another thing to actually see it with my own eyes.

613540789420400198.jpg
My first cycling race finisher medal

Before I knew it, I rode past the finish line. When I went to hand in my chip and get my time, I was handed a slip of paper with the name ‘Fred’ printed on it and told my time was 4:40. Thankfully, before I pointed out my name wasn’t Fred, the kid told me to write my actual name on the slip of paper and typed it into the computer. By this time, I’d seen enough and was pretty certain whatever time the organisers had me down as finishing the race was probably going to be wrong. When the official times came out on Monday, I was ‘allocated’ another participant number and my official time was 4:57. A few of the other cyclists had the same issues, and some didn’t even have an official record of their time. It’s a good thing almost all of us used either Strava or Garmin to record our rides.

Despite all my misgivings about the race, I’m still super pleased I did it and finished the race half an hour faster than I’d originally anticipated. At the end of the day, it’s about achieving my personal best and experiencing and learning new things in the process. I’d experienced the difference proper fueling at regular intervals made to my riding performance and learnt what my body was capable of even when I’m suffering from allergies and other minor ailments. S finished 50 minutes before me, proof that the extra two to three early-morning weekday 40-km rides with faster cyclists could really do wonders to improve one’s cycling performance. I can see myself sacrificing sleep in the coming weeks to join S on these rides, while training for my next race on 22 May — a half-marathon in the outskirts of Beijing.

prepping for my first Sportive

313154380612081569
The things we do to cope with Beijing’s crazy pollution and blanket of willow catkins

My German cycling buddy, S, and I still don’t quite agree on who initiated the idea of signing up to the second Beijing Sportive race on 7 May. I’m standing by my version of events — she asked me first.

Admittedly, I was already examining closely the long (186 km) and short (116 km) courses, and asking friends who’s done the previous Sportive race about their experience when S’s WeChat message popped up. S and I didn’t take long to convince each other to register for the short course. Before I could change my mind, I’ve filled in and submitted the online registration form and paid the fee.

That was when I realised I’d given myself less than two weeks to prepare and train for the race.  A particularly painful realisation especially when I hadn’t put in many cycling miles due to my overseas trips.

Cue *hair-pulling, nail-biting* anxiety.

Training

I took an extra day off, so I could get four consecutive days off for Labour Day public holidays and rack up some miles on my bike. My original training plan had looked like this:

Friday – Ride 40 km in the city and run 10 km in Chaoyang Park.

Saturday – Ride 130 km to the top of Miaofeng Mountain and back with S and a few others.

Sunday – Rest day (because I had to see The Prodigy at Strawberry Music Festival).

Monday – Join Serk‘s 70 km social ride.

As with all best laid plans, the execution is seldom perfect. I woke up Friday morning determined to ride, even after seeing the AQI was hovering closer to 200 than 150 (which is already three times higher than what’s considered healthy). I rode the short route from my home to Wenyu River and back, and forewent the run in the park after seeing that the AQI remained high. I comforted myself by saying at least I did my ride.

On Friday evening, we were exchanging screenshots of AQI, weather and wind forecasts, discussing if we should still proceed with the 130k-ride. The general consensus was if the AQI was uncomfortably close to 200, then some were definitely not doing the ride.

30aprrideSaturday morning arrived, but the projected wind and rain didn’t come the night before and AQI had shot past 200. Around 10 am, the diehards among us donned our anti-pollution masks and rode the long Wenyu River loop (68 km), determined to get some mileage under our belt. The AQI had dropped to below 200 by then but there was an obnoxious amount of willow catkins the closer we got to the river, and they got into our noses and mouths. We didn’t do any climbing, and this was our last opportunity to train our climbing stamina before the race. Sigh.

I woke up on Monday, looking forward to the Serk ride but was greeted with rain and strong winds instead. I sat on the fence about doing the ride all the way until 15 minutes before the ride started and decided not to do the ride, when it was clear the wind and rain was not stopping any time soon. I had no intention of catching a cold again after just recovering from one.

Nutrition

 

Immediately after the long weekend, I met up with my endocrinologist (for my hyperthyroid) and triathlon coaches. I found out I lost another 3 kg in the last month even after my condition had stabilised. The endocrinologist cautioned me against exercising too much, which left me in a funk for the rest of the day.

Then I met up with my coaches for triathlon prep training and found out I haven’t been eating enough or the right food when I’m cycling. In the past, I’d have a breakfast of a fruit smoothie and a peanut butter jelly sandwich or oats, then take a muesli bar or energy gel halfway through a three- or four-hour ride in the mountains. I told my coaches I’d often push myself to the limit riding uphill, only stopping when I’m out of breath or feel like I’m about to pass out. My coaches, with a look of mild horror, told me I haven’t been eating enough during my rides, that was why I had no energy on my climbs and that I needed to eat at least one energy bar after every hour, or two energy gels after every 30 minutes of exercise. They also advised me to load up on carbs in preparation for the Beijing Sportive this Saturday.

So for this week, I’ve gone against my inclination and eaten more carbs and meat than I normally would, hoping to build up reserves of fuel to burn on Saturday. I’ll know very soon if my last-minute carb loading strategy works.  Watch this space for a write-up of my first cycling race.

Exercising through injuries

1439785018
Assessing the damage after falling from my MTB

I’ve always been a bit of a daredevil (at least in my family) when it comes to adventure and sports. I’ve never done a bungee-jump or sky-dive before but I’ve paraglided a couple of times,  wakeboarded once, rock-climbed once, done over 30 scuba-dives, and snowboarded (badly) for about five winters. And of course I’ve hiked and cycled my fair share of mud trails.

With doing any sports (adventure or otherwise), it’s inevitable that one will get injured at some point in time. I’ve had my share of major and minor injuries in my lifetime, and I’m thankful none of them have stopped me from pursuing or put me off the sports I love.

To exercise or not to exercise post injury?

I’ve heard as many theories as the people I’ve spoken to about exercising through injury/illness. Of course, it’s all a matter of degree, circumstances, pain tolerance, knowledge of what your body can take and wisdom.

A couple of years back, I fell facedown when I skidded on icy snow while snowboarding and bruised my ribs. It hurt when I fell but I managed to snowboard the rest of the way down, albeit slowly and in some pain. I was motivated to continue snowboarding through my injury because the other option was to wait in the freezing cold for the emergency snowmobile to come pick me up and risk catching a nasty cold. That was definitely the last run of the day, because I could barely bend over to take off my snowboard afterwards. My ribs hurt every time I got into and out of bed for the next four weeks. That was the first time in my life I hated the saying, ‘Time heals everything.’

788004837659021639
Sunset view of Xingping — the perfect way to end a long day of cycling

In early February, I fell off my MTB when riding on bumpy mud trails to the pier in Xingping. Before the fall, we’d cycled up and down the hills north of Yangshuo, and hiked up and down a hill pushing our MTBs, so I was most definitely knackered.  I tore my brand new Castelli winter cycling pants and my windbreaker, bruised my left knee, shoulder and arm badly and scraped both kneecaps. My left forearm was thankfully fortified by titanium plates. Even though I wore a helmet, I was momentarily dazed when my head hit the ground. My riding buddy, S, told me afterwards I looked like I’d rolled around on the dust road after I fell. When I finally got up, I felt so shaken that I had to push my bike for the next 1-2 km, only riding when the road was smooth and flattish. Instead of riding a bamboo raft across to the other side and cycling 30 km back to Yangshuo, we ended up taking the raft all the way back as I wasn’t sure if my left knee could cope.

It’s been over six weeks since I bruised my left knee. I’ve been commuting by bike almost everyday since I’ve been back in Beijing, and my left knee gives me no trouble most of the time. But it gets quite sore after 50-70 km rides with climbs in the hills. Thankfully the soreness recedes after stretching, going for a massage and resting for a day or two (read: no cycling).

Psyche

The hardest thing for me after I get injured is not so much dealing with the pain, discomfort and inconvenience, but the frustration of being forced to rest, not exercise and/or miss out on days of training. When I fell off the MTB in February, I was already a third of the way to achieving Serk’s Firecracker 400 Challenge. The pain in my left knee and bad weather in Beijing hindered me from actually riding the remaining 200+ km. I was more upset about this than the fact that I was hobbling around in pain.

After breaking my arm trying on cleat shoes in October and the fall in February, I noticed I haven’t been as gung ho as I used to be when I’m cycling. In the city, I stay as far away from curbs as I possibly can, and I stop and slow down more often than I used to. When riding in the hills, I go downhill as slow as I possibly can. Once I even walked and pushed my bike downhill when I was too scared to ride my road bike down a gravelly downhill concrete road, as it brought back memories of my recent fall. Other cyclists chided me as they flew down the hill at over 50 km/h, but I cared more for my own safety and peace of mind than what they thought. It helped that there were other experienced cyclists who were similarly daunted by the descent and did the same thing as me.

Then there’s the issue of cleats. Will I ever overcome my phobia and cycle with cleats? Right now, my answer to this question is still a firm ‘no’.  As I’m training to do my first triathlon in June, I naturally want to increase my cycling speed, and I’m well aware cycling with cleats will increase my speed by at least 10%. My cycling buddies have been offering all kinds of advice on how I can overcome my phobia of cleats, like getting MTB cleat shoes and using cleats on a trainer. But whenever I exert force on my left forearm and feel strain or stiffness, memories of my accident, operation and recuperation flood back and I park the urge to try on cleats again.

share-imgI’m seriously envious of my athletic friends who can ride 70-80 km in the mountains in the morning and go for a 10+ km run or swim training in the afternoon. My legs are normally so sore after a bike ride in the mountains, I have to stretch and rest for the remainder of the day, maybe get a massage if my finances allow, so I can ride 10 km on my city bike to church the next day. I rode 76 km last Saturday, then went for a 7-km jog in Chaoyang Park yesterday and my legs cramped in the evening. The cramps went away before bedtime after I drank lots of coconut water and took a magnesium supplement. Reminder to self: must get used to taking energy gels/salts/electrolyte supplements when running the Amway Nutrilite Beijing half-marathon on 17 April.

Dear readers, how have you dealt with your sports injuries in the past?

 

 

How cycling changed my life

607525962
Left picture taken in April 2015. Right picture taken last week in Yangshuo (阳朔) in Guangxi province.

While on a cycling holiday in Yangshuo over Chinese New Year, my German cycling buddy, S, told me how her life had changed dramatically after she bought a road bike and took on cycling as a serious hobby. Incidentally I met S on a summer bike ride in the outskirts of Beijing organised by Serk.

Her comment got me thinking about how my life has changed since I took on cycling as a serious hobby about two years ago, riding in the outskirts of Beijing almost every weekend initially on my Merida mountain bike, and later on my Giant road bike.  I’d weighed myself at the hotel a couple of days before and was surprised to discover I lost another 4 kg since last September (i.e. throughout winter when I’d typically pile on the kilos). In total, I’d lost 7 kg over the last 12 months. This explains why my winter pants have all been slipping off my hips.

Being an avid reader of health and fitness blogs, I’m fully aware that sustained weight loss can’t just be attributed to doing one form of exercise. Here’s a list of changes I made to my lifestyle over the last 12 months that, I believe, contributed to me achieving and maintaining my target weight:

Getting a Garmin vivofit

I began wearing a Garmin vivofit activity tracker since last January after hearing several of my friends sing the praises of wearing activity trackers. I was on medication to get my hyperthyroidism under control, and one of its side effects was weight gain. Despite exercising regularly and eating sensibly (or so I thought), I was piling on the kilos.

After the first sync with Garmin Connect, the app suggested I record my food intake on MyFitnessPal (MFP). I was initially resistant to the idea of using MFP, thinking there’s no way an app could accurately calculate my calories intake, especially since I live in Beijing and eat out quite often. How can MFP possibly know the number of calories contained in a a bowl of Malatang (麻辣烫)?

After using the app for a year, I’m still not convinced the calorie count for most foods (especially exotic Chinese dishes) are even vaguely accurate in MFP, but I also learnt that’s not the point of using the app. The point of using MFP is about recording and tracking rather than counting. Before using MFP, I’d never paid much attention to the calories in my daily Starbucks coffee habit, a slice of marble cake, my favourite Kettle chips, an 11-inch Hawaiian pizza or a fruit smoothie. I remember my mind being blown when I saw that my tall soy hazelnut latte contained a whopping 190 calories! I immediately changed my regular order at Starbucks to plain soy latte, and eventually reduced my visits so I’m not tempted to order the sweets as well.

Recording my food intake has kept me mindful of not only how much I was eating but also what I was eating everyday. Over the course of 2015, I’ve cut down on my intake of carbs (especially after 7 pm), alcohol, coffee, junk food, sugary drinks and desserts without specifically setting out to do so and my body has responded well to these innocuous adjustments in my diet.

Exercising with others

678580949
All smiles after a 57-km ride in Changping

Since my university days, I’ve always been quite disciplined when it comes to exercise, making sure I either hit the gym, attend an aerobics or yoga class, swim, cycle or jog. The primary difference between my exercise regime in 2015 and that of previous decades was company. For almost every weekend last year, I rode with other cyclists in the mountains surrounding Beijing, who cheered me on when I was out of breath and contemplating if I should do the next climb. Riding with stronger, seasoned cyclists also motivated me to improve my technique and increase training so I could ride faster and longer. But most importantly, I’d gotten out of bed at ungodly hours on the weekends when I knew my cycling buddies were counting on me to show up for rides.

For someone who enjoys solitude as much as I do, I grudgingly admit that exercising with a community has made a huge difference to my exercise regime. And to make sure I keep at this habit as well as train for the Beijing International Triathlon (BIT), I’ve invested in a Serk ride pass.

Training for a race

Having always been quite average at every sport attempted, I’d never dreamed of signing up to do anything more difficult than a 5k fun run. The idea to do a triathlon was put into my head by a cycling buddy who wanted to try it last year. The Sprint race was already full by the time I checked the BIT website, and there were only spaces left  for the Olympic race, which looked daunting for us novices. I began training, ran the Genghis Khan Grassland half-marathon to get a taste for racing and talked to others who’s done triathlons before. In the end, my buddy and I both chickened out of doing the triathlon last year.

Breaking my arm made me realise life is short and I should fulfil my dreams when I’m still able to do so.

This year, I signed up for the BIT Olympic race once registration commenced and persuaded the guys in a local cycling club to register as well, so I wouldn’t have an excuse to back out. I’d originally planned to sign up for the Sprint which would be well within my comfort zone, but since all my cycling buddies signed up for the Olympic, I followed suit with an awkward mixture of excitement and trepidation. I’m excited by the prospect of going way out of my comfort zone while fearful that I might not have enough time to train and prepare well for the race. Most of all, I’m grateful for the looming deadline, because I no longer have an excuse not to exercise.

Dear readers, did you hit a fitness or life goal you set for yourself in 2015? If you did, I’d love to hear how you did it and be inspired.

 

 

 

 

 

 

living with smog

811901802
the view outside my office window when the AQI was close to 600 (left)  and when it’s a double digit number (right)

As winter comes to Beijing and financially strapped households burn coal 24-7 to heat up their humble homes, Beijing becomes shrouded in smog for days on end every other week until heavy snow or wind clears the air. Beijing made headlines all over the world this week by announcing a Red Alert, closing schools and factories and restricting the number of motor vehicles on the roads for the last three days.

There’s been much written about the causes of the smog and its effects on our health, so I won’t repeat it here. For those interested to read more on this topic, check out these posts:

China’s PM2.5  Priority

CNN: Smog in China closes schools and construction sites

Having lived in Beijing for the last six years, I’ve experienced my fair share of heavy smog and have accumulated some knowledge and survival tips from online research, discussions with friends and my own trials and errors.  It’s time to crystalise it all into a post (especially since I’m sick of repeating myself like a broken tape recorder to China virgins on the topic).

Out and about

453444121
Protecting myself with my trusty RESPRO mask when the AQI was over 500

There’s no hard and fast rules about what the air quality index (AQI) should be before one dons a face mask when venturing outdoors. When I couldn’t ride my bike and was walking and taking public transport a lot last month, I didn’t bother wearing a mask when I was outside, even when the AQI went beyond 150 (already unhealthy according to the US Environmental Protection). Now that I am cycling again, I wear a RESPRO Techno mask so I’m not inhaling dust particles and exhaust fumes.

Many of my local and foreigners friends who don’t wear masks on days when the AQI is above 150 usually complain of a sore throat or irritations in their respiratory tracts.  It’s also important to wear a mask with a filter that can either be washed in water or changed.

For friends who baulk at the price of a RESPRO (about RMB450 from the World Health Store), I recommend they get one of the following masks:

Price around RMB 200, they can be adjusted and cut to fit your face shape. In Beijing, they’re available at all April Gourmet supermarkets and on Taobao.

If you don’t like the look of the usual air pollution masks, then Vogmasks are for you. Price between RMB 180-250, they come in a huge range of colours and designs, so you can buy different ones to go with your outfits. But unfortunately they don’t hide the fact that you’re physically wearing a mask.

Indoors

When I first moved to Beijing six years ago, I didn’t see the point of getting an air purifier for my apartment. I naively believed that as long as I stayed indoors as much as possible when the AQI  was particularly high, I’d be fine. I didn’t suffer from asthma, insomnia or any other condition that made the purchase of an air purifier absolutely necessary. Besides the only models of air purifiers available in Beijing at that time all cost upwards of RMB 10,000, another deterrent as far as I was concerned.

Then the first  Airpocalypse happened in 2013. I still remember that Saturday in January 2013. I was playing boardgames with some friends in a bar when I decided to check the AQI on my mobile. Within a span of a couple of hours, the number had jumped from 100+ to 600+. I made an involuntary remark about it to the other gamers, and the marathon runner in our midst sighed in resignation, as it meant he wouldn’t be going for a run outdoors later that day.

That evening when I travelled to the southwest corner of Beijing to meet some friends for Peking duck, the AQI had climbed to over 800. I ditched my original idea of cycling, and took the metro instead. Even in the metro stations, yellowish brown clouds of smog were suspended in mid air. I wore my face mask while I was outside and during my entire metro journey and only took it off to eat at the restaurant. When I made my way home from the metro station later that evening, visibility on the roads was less than 50 meters. My breathing felt noticeably laboured, even when I slept that night.

1239165190000020
The AQI outside vs in my apartment as shown on BreatheSpace app 22 December

Since that fateful day, I’d acquired three air purifiers. My first air purifier was a cheap and cheerful Smart Air Original which was more than enough for my bedroom when I was sharing an apartment with a flatmate. Since moving to my current 55-sqm place in Dongzhimen and acquiring an Origins Laser Egg which monitors real-time air quality, I’d bought two more air purifiers, in the hopes of getting the AQI in my apartment down to 50 or less when the AQI is over 200. Unfortunately, my apartment is on the first floor of a very old high-rise building, so outside air seeps in one way or another. When the AQI outside went over 250, I’d only managed to get the AQI in my apartment down to 120 at best, even after leaving both air purifiers turned on constantly for over 24 hours.

My friends and colleagues have asked me how I decided which air purifiers to buy for my apartment. I’ve always relied on the research of others. Here’s an English article I’ve been recommending to my friends and colleagues to read before putting their hard earned cash down for an air purifier (or two). Don’t be surprised if many of the affordable air purifiers mentioned in the article (such as the Mi Air Purifier) are sold out. The air pollution situation in Beijing has been that bad.

These are the two air purifiers currently going full blast in my apartment:

Philips-Air-Purifier-AC4025-00-Review-1038x468

Philips AC4025

I bought this brand new during the 11 November sales on Philips online store on Taobao.com for RMB 699. The dials are all in Chinese but are quite easy to work out if you refer to the English instructions on Philips’ Hong Kong website.

Air-O-Swiss (now BONECO)

I recently inherited this from a friend who left Beijing for the US. After learning of Air-O-Swiss’ merger with BONECO while researching for this post, I’m now a little worried about where I can get replacement filters since Boneco doesn’t produce the model I have anymore. I haven’t found any online stores on Taobao that sold the replacement filters and I doubt I’d be able to in the future. Hmm….

My fellow Beijingers, how have you been coping with air pollution? I’d be interested to hear from you.

 

my forearm fracture adventure in Beijing – Day 1

https://www.internationalsos.com/clinicsinchina/en/Beijing.aspx
First X-ray taken of my left forearm fracture – Courtesy of International SOS Clinic

Two Sundays back, while trying on my brand new clip shoes on my road bike in an alley near my apartment, I managed to fall off my bike in such a way that my left forearm hit the edge of a curb. I remember hearing a crack as I went down and screaming in pain afterwards. I’m still not sure how I got up on my own, pushed my bike home with my right hand, found my mobile and called N to come help me get to a clinic. It’s incredible the lengths desperation and adrenaline can drive someone to.

First port of call

While N and I were trying to hail down a cab, N asked me which hospital/clinic I’d like to go to. N and I rattled off the names of a number of nearby major local hospitals, before N convinced me to go to International SOS Clinic. She used to work there and had a high opinion of the foreign doctors who worked there. I decided to go along with her suggestion. In hindsight, it turned out to be a very good decision.

I was allocated to Dr Sonia, a Taihitian who spoke English with a strong French accent and wore the funkiest Desigual dress I’ve ever seen on a medical doctor. I immediately took to her no-nonsense, straightforward, firm yet gentle approach. Before taking an X-ray, she told me there were two possibilities: I either sustained a hairline fracture, which meant I’ll have to wear a cast for three months, or a displaced fracture, which meant I required surgery so plates and screws can be inserted to set my bone/s.

After looking at my X-ray, she informed me that unfortunately I’d sustained the latter fracture and that meant I needed surgery. With the help of a nurse, she put a partial cast on my left forearm and elevated it in an ottobock sling. The nurse then dissolved a sachet of Ibuprofen painkiller in warm water and gave it to me to sip.

Next steps

Since SOS didn’t have inpatient facilities, Dr Sonia offered to refer me to orthopaedic surgeons at either Beijing United Hospital or Oasis International Hospital. Having been to Oasis to visit a friend who delivered her baby there, I had a good impression of the facilities (clean, bright and airy) and the attitudes of nurses (kind and patient), so I asked to for her recommendation at Oasis.  Dr Sonia was obviously pleased with my decision since she used to work at Oasis and personally knew the orthopaedic surgeon there. She went on to list the things I needed to attend to before admitting myself to the hospital the next morning (thank God for N who wrote everything down for me):

  • Send an email to the hospital with a copy of my passport information page and my medical insurance card so they can prepare for my admission the next day.
  • Have a good dinner and take a painkiller before I go to bed. Make sure my left remained in a sling and elevated across my chest while I slept.
  • I was not to eat or drink anything from midnight onwards until I’ve had surgery.

While in the cab back to my place, N said I’d been very brave considering what I was going through. Initially I thought it was shock and adrenaline that blocked my tears from flowing, but they didn’t come even when I was alone at home, packing my bag for hospital, talking to the staff at Oasis on the phone and drifting in and out of sleep as the pain came and went.  Whenever I had difficulty falling asleep, I just prayed and asked God to heal my arm and for help getting back to sleep. I didn’t wake up with an intact left forearm in the morning, but I felt rested and sufficiently energised for the day ahead.

To be continued….

My slightly unusual Aussie holiday

Ever since the birth of my eldest nephew over six years ago, I’ve been visiting my brother’s family in Sydney every year. Typically I’d spend my entire holiday babysitting my nephews (there’s two of them now), and taking occasional breaks to catch up with friends and uni mates who have moved to Sydney over the years. As an ex-gym bunny, a trip to Sydney also meant a break from exercise. What’s the point when I seemed to (still) be the slimmest adult in my family and my parents keep insisting I shouldn’t lose more weight? It’s hardly surprising that boredom typically sets in three days into my previous holidays in Sydney, since all I do is stuff my face with good food, watch (mostly the same) cartoons with my nephews and doing little else besides.

I was rewarded wtih this view after huffing and puffing up a hill in West Ryde, Sydney
I was rewarded wtih this view after huffing and puffing up a hill in West Ryde, Sydney

This year’s trip home was quite different from my previous trips in quite a few aspects. For one, I flew up to Brisbane with the specific purpose to renew my driver’s licence and visited my mother, relatives and friends while I was there. Having known for quite some time my aunt, uncle and cousins in Brisbane were keen cyclists, I decided to bring back my cycling jersey and pants, hoping to borrow one of their bikes and go for a ride while I’m there. While packing my cycling clothes, I decided to throw in my running gear so I’d be motivated to go jogging and put my brand new Nike LunarGlide 7 to the test.

Catching a breath after climbing up a hill on Gowan Rd in Runcorn, Brisbane.
Catching a breath after climbing up a hill on Gowan Rd in Runcorn, Brisbane.

Little did I know that this spur-of-the-moment decision would end up drastically improving the quality of my holiday. Even though I only managed to go jogging once in Brisbane and twice in Sydney, each time for no more than 45 minutes, they made a positive difference not just to my physical body but also my mental and emotional health.  I felt energised, slept much better at night, got some ‘me’ time, and discovered different sides to the suburbs where my family live.  It made me wonder why I hadn’t thought of doing this on my previous trips home.

First up, since April this year, I’ve been training towards a definite goal, namely, to do the Beijing triathlon sprint or Olympic race in 2016. In the past, I used to exercise to maintain general health and fitness without working towards any specific goals. Since I decided to train for the triathlon, I’ve become more purposeful about working out and mindful of how I exercise. I signed up and ran my first half-marathon in July to motivate myself to start running again. With a hard deadline in mind, I stopped making excuses and began making time to go jogging at least once a week to prepare for the race. After completing the half-marathon, I continued jogging regularly, and saw my holiday Down Under as an opportunity to run on different terrains.

Secondly, I had to take a break from cycling after suffering a tendinopathy relapse in my left hamstring during a tough ride in the mountains in mid September. A two-week holiday in Australia away from my road bike was perfect for this purpose and doing other exercises that put less pressure on my hamstring, like swimming and jogging, became a sensible way to maintain my general fitness.

Back in time to see the refurbished Brisbane Riverwalk which reopened 1 September. The lucky runners and cyclists of Brissie!
Back in time to see the refurbished Brisbane Riverwalk which reopened 1 September. The lucky runners and cyclists of Brisvegas!

Last but not least, I admit I used to be a scenic route snob. I was spoilt after jogging along the Vltava River and up to Vysehrad when I lived in Prague six years ago, and subconsciously decided it was only worth my while jogging along scenic routes next to stretches of water, such as the Bondi to Coogee walk and the Brisbane Riverwalk. After making do with jogging along the running track at Beijing’s Workers’ Gymnasium for the past few months, my focus has shifted from the aesthetics of my jogging trail to to the health and fitness aspects of the exercise. The funny thing was, as I jogged along roads I’d previously only driven past, I saw things in the burbs I’d never noticed before, like the swarm of cockatoos, pigeons and other birds who visit the park everyday, the palm trees in a neighbour’s yard and the views of the city when I get to the top of a hill. But the best thing about a good hard jog up and down hills is the rush of endorphins and the great feeling of having done something good for myself.

The running/cycling trail along Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra.
The running/cycling trail along Lake Burley Griffin in Canberra.

It made me wonder: why aren’t there more locals exercising in the burbs and enjoying the blue skies and clean air in Australian cities….?

quitting coffee

sometimes saying ‘no’ can be the hardest thing

After years of being a coffee addict, I made a decision to quit drinking coffee.

The decision process started in late winter when I began getting excruciating cramps in my legs and hips every time I was working out. The pain from the cramps were so severe, I would writhe in pain on the sofa with tears in my eyes for a good five minutes. I’d never experienced anything like it all my life, so I was genuinely freaked out when these episodes repeated themselves for weeks afterwards. Apart from cycling to and from work and light workouts, I didn’t do any other forms of exercise, haunted by memories of the cramps.

As the weather warmed up and the possibility of going on long-distance cycling trips became more apparent, I fell into depression thinking I won’t be able to do another long-distance cycling trip if the leg cramps persisted. I confided in anyone I met about my bouts of pain. Most people had no clue as to why I had these cramps and suggested I should see a doctor about the problem. The one or two who’s had persistent health issues would suggest it was due to a lack of iron or a side effect of my thyroid meds.caffe habitu hk

During my next visit to the endocrinologist, I worked up the courage to ask if I was iron deficient. The endocrinologist glanced at my blood test and said that wasn’t the case. It was only then I decided I could discuss my cramps with the doctor. Without hesitation, she said it sounded like I was calcium deficient. I was taken aback by her answer because I’ve been taking calcium supplements everyday for the good part of a year. How could I be possibly calcium deficient?

Strangely enough, I recalled a conversation with my aunt years ago when she told me how her coffee addiction was making it difficult to retain calcium in her body. Normally I would’ve done research rather than take her word for it. But this time round, I made a snap decision there and then: I’m going to quit coffee and see if the cramps go away.

This was probably one of the biggest decisions I’ve ever made in my life. My family, friends and colleagues were well aware I couldn’t survive on less than 3 cups of coffee a day during the week — an espresso with breakfast, a soy latte late morning and an Americano late afternoon.  Whenever I knew I was travelling to a Chinese town where I had no way of getting a decent cup of joe, I’d pack my own ground coffee and french press to make my own coffee. Even when I made the decision to quit coffee, I wasn’t sure if I’d actually carry through with it.

Since April, I’ve been limiting myself to one cup of coffee a day during the work week, and avoiding coffee altogether on the weekend. The good news is, I no longer get the debilitating leg cramps since I’ve drastically cut down my coffee intake. I’ve survived quite a few long-distance and uphill rides since late March without getting off and pushing my bike. And thankfully, I’ve learnt that I don’t need coffee to stay awake at work after lunch. A short nap on my desk can do wonders no amount of caffeine can. When desperate, drinking black tea works too.

The bad news is, I haven’t exactly quit coffee altogether. I’ve been convincing myself that indulging in the occasional espresso or soy latte during the week is okay as long as I drank none before a ride, ate bananas regularly and drank coconut water after an intense ride.

I often wonder if there’ll ever be enough incentive for me to quit coffee altogether, but these days, I’ve learnt to be content with whatever progress I make when it comes to resolutions, be it ever so small.

a letter to my body

On my first 100+ km ride to and from Pinggu
On my first 100+ km ride to and from Pinggu

To my beloved and recently battered body,

I’m sorry I haven’t been taking good care of you. I’m sorry for not paying attention to your warning signs, instead pushing you over the limit.

When I signed up for the 140-km ride to Huairou with the usual bunch of local cycling fanatics, I should’ve known better than to go out on Friday night, indulge in cocktails, going to bed at 1 am and waking up at 6. You were pleading me for more sleep, but I ignored you because my desire to cycle was stronger.

It’s funny how the brain works sometimes. I remembered you, my body, completing three long-distance rides in July, and for that reason, I was convinced you were able to repeat the same feat. I conveniently forgot that after a three-week break, the endurance and strength you built up in July had seeped away and your muscles needed to warm up. I pushed you hard so you could catch up with the guys going at 30+ km/h, and in the process, I pulled a muscle in your right leg.

You gave me hell from that point on. Initially I thought it was just a cramp that would go away, and I continued cycling like I was completely fine. You kept telling me to stop by increasing the pain I suffered the harder I rode. I only got the message when the ‘cramp’ did not disappear after constant massages and rubbing for an hour.  You forced me to abort the ride and find a taxicab to deliver me and the bike home.

For the whole of Sunday, you decided to totally expunge everything I ate in the last 48 hours (at least that was how I felt). I couldn’t even have a drink of water without feeling the need to go to the loo. The details are too gross for a public blog, but needless to say, you were completely focussed on the one and only task for a day — ridding yourself of everything that’s been clogging you up for however long.

Being apartment-ridden gave me a lot of time to think about you, my body, and how I’ve been treating you over the years. It’s taken me years to accept and love you as you are, even though everyone around me says you’re beautiful. I abuse you daily by sitting for hours in front of a computer, checking my smartphone constantly, walking and sitting with bad posture, wearing high heels too often, eating unhealthy food and drinking too much alcohol.  I’ve subjected you to gruelling diets and insane exercise regimes for the sake of my vanity.  And I’ve never been 100% happy with you.  I always wished you were 5 kg lighter, your proportions were better…..the list goes on. It’s no wonder you revolted last Sunday.

Now I’m so scared of pissing you off, I’ve been ruthlessly choosy about what I put in my mouth, cycling to and from work at a reasonable speed and getting as much sleep as I can. Because I need you, my dear body, to be in tip-top shape for my upcoming trip to Zimbabwe.

Trying to treat you better, 

Me