My first full marathon – Beijing Marathon 17 September

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On the final 2 km.

Winning the lottery

I wasn’t planning on running a full marathon this year, so I haven’t been training specifically for it. I applied for a spot to run the Beijing Marathon without actually believing I’d get one, as it was one of the most popular events in China. The organisers upped the bar this year and only allowed runners who have completed certified full marathons in the last two years and half-marathons in the last 18 months to apply. I was vying one of 30,000 spots with over 60,000 applicants and I could only provide my half marathon result from February this year, so I had serious doubts I’d get a spot.

So imagine my surprise when I received confirmation that I’d won a spot to run the marathon in early August. Many of my local colleagues who loved running more than I did missed out.  I later found out foreign passport-holders were subject to a different quota than the locals (read: it’s easier to get a spot if you’re a foreigner).

I knew the Beijing International Triathlon (BIT) was exactly six days before the Beijing Marathon even before I applied, and there was no way I could devote as much time to training for the marathon as I’d like, as I was doing a 9-day cycling trip around Taiwan in late August. When I told my triathlete friends about this, they warned me about potentially getting injured doing two races almost back-to-back. So I wasn’t even sure if I was pleased about winning the lottery, let alone excited to be running my first full marathon.

Post-tri, pre-marathon

Completing BIT marked the last tri race of 2016 for me. I had so much fun racing with old and new friends, and was very happy to see many of them placed in their age groups. I came in 8th for my age group, having shaved 10 minutes off my run and 8 minutes off my total time, and was pleased with this little improvement I made from the last Olympic distance tri.

I only realised the next day when my inner left thigh felt stiff that I’d forgotten to stretch straight after the race. For the next six days, I foam-rolled, stretched and went on easy runs, testing out day by day if I was up to running 42 km. I’d swing from elation after completing a 14-km run to anxiety when my colleagues and friends noticed I walked with a slight limp. I still wasn’t sure if I was running even after I picked up my race pack.

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Pre-marathon gear check (promptly discovered I was missing sports bra and heart rate monitor)

Marathon day

I woke up bright and early on 17 September, having decided the night before I’d run the marathon for as long as my left leg allowed me to.

The good thing about doing a local race is that I could take the metro and be at the starting point in 20 minutes. There was an air of anticipation as I moved with the throng of other bib-wearing runners towards Tiananmen Square. This is the first time I was taking part in such a huge event, and I wasn’t sure what to expect. Even though I knew people who were also doing the marathon, it was impossible to find them in a sea of 30,000.

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At the starting point

In the general chaos, I managed to find my starting zone, heard the gun go off and began shuffling my feet with the moving crowd. As I’ve already decided  I’d start at a conservative pace, I was happy to follow the 4:30 pace, and speed up later if I felt up to it.

Unfortunately for me, the race didn’t go as I planned, nor did I enjoy it. Even though there were rubbish bins, the locals threw paper cups, sponges and plastic bottles everywhere, so I could only walk when I got to the aid stations, fearing I’d trip and fall.  At the 7-km mark, I saw a middle-aged man shout and throw a 1-litre water bottle at a volunteer for running out of paper cups, even while the volunteer was telling him there were more cups 200 m ahead. That incident left a bad taste in my mouth, and it was at that point I put in my headphones and began listening to podcasts in a vain attempt to alleviate my mood.

At the 27-km, I did trip and fall, scraping my right knee and hands. Some runners kindly helped me up and directed me to the medical aid station to get my wounds cleaned up. My left leg was beginning to feel weak at that point, and now my right knee and left hand were bleeding. Most importantly, I wasn’t having fun. I had every reason to quit and go home. The medical volunteer told me I could continue running but if I didn’t feel like continuing, there was a shuttle just around the corner. It felt like everything was conspiring to make me quit and I’d be lying if I said I didn’t feel tempted to do so. But before I realised, I said to the medical volunteer as I pushed myself up that I’d like to continue for a little while longer. With that, I hobbled/walked/jogged to join the throng of remaining runners.

As I put one foot in front of the other, I kept asking myself why I was doing this, especially when my legs got heavier and heavier. I reminded myself:

  • I’m no quitter, and I always finished what I set out to do, regardless of the end result.
  • If I didn’t finish this race, I’d be put off doing full marathons in the future.
  • I definitely didn’t want to run the Beijing Marathon again after such an unpleasant experience, so why not get it done and over with?

When I finally caught up with the 5:30 pacer, a surge of confidence welled up within me as I realised I could very well finish this race before closing time. I jogged/walked as fast as my legs could take me and crossed the finish line with a time of 5:28.

For days after the race, I nursed conflicting emotions about this whole experience. I was relieved to have completed my first full marathon, but not happy with my time and how things worked out. After talking to several of my friends who’d done marathons and triathlons, it became apparent I’d underestimated the difficulty of running a full marathon, especially so soon after completing the BIT.  I prayed for another chance to redeem myself and God has kindly blessed me with a spot to run next year’s Nagoya Women’s Marathon. Winter marathon training, here I come!

 

My first trail race – Beijing Xishan Cross-Country Running

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Our brief encounter with Jeff Galloway during the Beijing Cross-Country Running race in June

As part of my training for the Beijing International Triathlon, I signed up to do my first trail running race held at Beijing Xishan National Forest Park on the last Sunday of June. It was advertised as an introductory 21-km race for trail running virgins and Runners World‘s staff writer, Olympic 10K legend and the inventor of the Run-Walk-Run method, Jeff Galloway, would be there running with us. It sounded like the perfect way for me to get a taste of trail running. The only minus was, it was one week after the Beijing Sanfo Jinhai Lake Triathlon, and my third race in as many weekends in June. I figured I could always pull out if I was still knackered after the triathlon.

Then I made the unintentional mistake of mentioning this race to my friend, WD, who decided to do the trail run too. She wanted to use the race to motivate herself to restart running training after stopping for upwards of six months. I remembered telling her about elevation and the variety of running terrain, which were the reasons for the generous closing time of seven hours. But being a trail running virgin herself, she was confident about finishing the race by the closing time. As a result, I no longer had the option of not doing this trail run.

Race day turned out to be the hottest summer day in Beijing history, with a maximum temperature of 37 degrees Celsius. Still knackered from the tri, I rocked up reluctantly to Beijing Xishan National Forest Park with WD, pretty certain I was going to get my first DNF.

Things got off to a bad start. When we got to the park entrance about an hour before the start time, there was no race packet pick-up table to be seen.  Our race registration fee was meant to include park entry fee so many of us stood resolutely at the entrance waiting for the organisers to get us into the park, while the impatient ones coughed up the fee to get inside. Someone eventually came to get us into the park. Then the organisers couldn’t find WD’s race bib until 5 minutes before the race started. I began worrying how the rest of the day would pan out.

The runners started in two waves. I managed to go in the first and WD went in the second. I kept up with the middle of the pack, which turned out to be both a blessing and a curse. Due to the poorly marked trails, we all got lost 2 to 3 times over the course of the first 10 km, which meant retracing our steps and spending time finding our way. WD and I met up about 3 km into the run, as WD was catching her breath. I stopped to check up on her and she told me to go ahead and not wait for her, as she’ll need more time for the climb.

When I got to the 15-km mark, I received a call from WD saying she had lost her way as she couldn’t seem to find any trail markers and she couldn’t get through to the organiser’s emergency number. From her description, I worked out she was at the 8-9 km mark where multiple Tibetan prayer flags were strewn over almost every tree. I’d gotten lost with a group of runners at the exact same spot until some of them eventually found the well hidden trail marker. Knowing it was impossible for me to give her directions to get out of the area, I told her to stay where she was while I made my way to the next checkpoint or supply station and get help for her. Ten minutes after getting off the phone with WD, I climbed up the rest of the hill and saw the first aid volunteers. I told them about WD’s situation and stayed until they assured me the organiser was sending someone to go get WD.

By this time, I really believed I wasn’t going to finish the run by closing time since I still had 6 km to go and less than 45 minutes until closing time. I decided to finish what I started and do my best to complete the race anyway. It’s the journey that counts at the end of the day.

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Experiencing relief and joy when I crossed the finish line

It was with great relief and surprise when I crossed the finish line and found out I’d actually made it right on closing time (5:00:35 to be exact) and saw WD waiting for me there in one piece. It turned out the sweepers had removed the trail markers half an hour before she got to the spot where she called me. This made me so angry, I wrote a long complaint message on the race webpage, adding to a long string of complaints by other racers who were frustrated and pissed at the poor organisation of the race. To date, I still haven’t received a response from the organisers, who’s probably busy doing a bad job organising the next trail run.

When I downloaded my final result three days later,  I was pleasantly surprised to find out I came in 23rd among the women. This was a small race, with total registrations limited to 400. The exact number of participants and their genders were not published so there’s no way I’d ever know what my ranking actually meant. But this result gave me confidence to register for the next trail run — the Chongli 100 Ultra Sky Trail Challenge 30-km race.

To be continued….

My first Olympic distance tri – Beijing Sanfo International Triathlon

 

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All lined up, waiting for the race to start. The guys got white caps, gals pink and relays orange.

A week after my first Sprint distance tri, I did my first Olympic distance tri race at the very scenic Jinhai lake in the outskirts of Bejing. With lessons freshly learnt from doing the Wuxi tri, I threw myself into the preparations for the Sanfo tri, which I perceived to be harder not just from the perspective of distance, but also elevation of the ride and run courses.

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Unlike P, I wasn’t looking forward to this much elevation straight after swimming 1.5k.

On Friday evening, my tri girl friends and I drove up to the race venue straight after work to pick up our race bags and check out the race course. My hopes of cutting my swim-bike transition time were dashed when I saw the long transition area and the long flight of steps we had to climb straight after swimming 1500 m.

On Saturday morning, we woke up at 4 am to get ready (while grumbling about why we do this to ourselves) and got to the race venue at 5 am to set up our transition area. I was surprised to see nothing set up around quite a few of the bikes before the transition area closing time of 6 am. I later found out we’d get 5 minutes to go back to the transition area before the start of the race, and that’s when the others will be doing their set-up. I take my hat off to them.

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The organisers required all racers to wear orange buoys for ‘safety’ reasons.

After waiting for what seemed like ages, we were finally sent off in waves for the swim. All the men were sent off in age group waves, then all the women were sent off in one wave (there were only 55 of us in total) and then the relay guys went in. Compared to Wuxi, swimming in Jinhai Lake was a dream. The water was cool and clear, the swim course was a simple out-and-back, and there were practically no waves. I enjoyed the swim so much, I was a little sad when I got to the deck and was pulled out of the water.

I surprised myself by recovering from the swim within 30 seconds of getting out of the water, and jogged at a steady pace up  the steps (past others who could only manage to walk) and along the long transition path to where my bike was parked.

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Helmet – check. Sunnies -check. Shoes – check. Ready to ride.

The cycling route was a 20-km loop that we had to do twice over. It was fun riding up to friends, calling out their names and riding parts of the way with them. I found it even more amusing passing racers with TT bikes on slopes, who obviously thought just riding a fast bike will make up for minimal or no time spent in training. My assumptions were confirmed when I read fellow racers’ WeChat posts about their experience doing this triathlon. More on that later.

After completing my favourite parts of the race, it was time for the run, an activity I neither enjoyed nor looked forward to. For the first 3 km, I ran in the company of a rather loud, talkative American man who kept asking me questions on physics and biochemistry in between huffing and puffing up the slopes. After humouring him with my thoughtless answers, I told him I had to push ahead and did just that, thankful that I could focus all my energy on running.

Sanfo tri finish

The run was the hardest part for me not just because of the elevation but also the relentless heat. Kudos to the organisers who had drinks and cooling stations every 2 km. For such a short distance, I went through my own packet of coconut water, drank water and Pocari at every second station and took a cold sponge at every station I passed. I was thankful for volunteers who sprayed water on us along the way and the organisers who put out an ice bath at the finish line, especially after reading about a 37-year-old female relay runner who collapsed and later died from heatstroke about 50 meters from the finish line. Discussing this incident with my friends who did the race, it made me realise how fortunate I’ve been to have athlete friends who’s generously offered advice on how to prep and survive a triathlon in different weather conditions, and helped me the newbie enjoy the process of racing.

As an added bonus, I came in 8th in my tiny age group, smack bang in the middle of the pack. I’m happy with this result for my first Olympic distance race, but am motivated to work hard on improving my performance for the Beijing International Triathlon in September.

 

My first tri race – Wuxi Tai Lake UltraS

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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

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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.

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(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.

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My idea of striking a pose

 

 

My first half marathon of 2016 – Guishui River Women Half Marathon

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Enjoying the view

After running my first trail half-marathon in Inner Mongolia last year, I’ve been looking forward to running another race for a while. I signed up for the Guishui River Women Half-Marathon while I was in Washington D.C. for work and feeling very sorry for myself that I’d missed out on the Beijing Run. I also needed motivation to work on my running in preparation for two triathlons (one Sprint and one Olympic distance) in June.

I was really looking forward to this race for a number of reasons. Since March this year, I’ve been training with a triathlon club in Beijing, learning new running techniques, and upping my running mileage, so I was keen to put it all to the test. After cycling in the mountains of Yanqing on many previous occasions, I wanted to experience what it’s like to run in a park situated at the foot of these mountains.

On race day, I woke up a little after 5 am and cycled over to the bus stop to take #919 express to the starting point of the race, Xiadu Park. After an hour and a half, I got off the bus and walked for 20 minutes, following the signs to the starting point. The park was awash in various shades of bright pink and other neon colours and there were queues in front of both the fixed and mobile female toilets. The race organisers had set aside a number of spots for male runners accompanying their partners on the race, and they were kept very busy taking pictures and minding bags before the race.

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What is it with Chinese runners and neon pink?

Planning

At 9 am sharp, the gunshot sounded, and we were off! I made a conscious effort to run at a slower pace than usual, heeding the advice of both my running coach and a colleague who’s an avid marathon runner. I had no intention of repeating my mistake last year by running too fast in the beginning and bonking at the 15-km mark, right when I needed to speed up. It took all of my self-control to maintain my pace and let the other participants overtake me. I kept reminding myself to run my own race and trust my training and strategy. I checked my heart rate almost religiously to make sure I wasn’t pushing myself too hard for the first half of the race.

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We were escorted on the race by members of the China Police Marathon Club (yes, they wore those hot pink heart balloons the whole way)

The almost completely flat course turned out to be as pretty and pleasant as I’d expected, with half of it along the river and the other half through the forest. I enjoyed the scenery so much I hardly paid attention to my heart rate or my pace for the first 10 km, as long as I was still breathing comfortably. My plan was to gradually pick up my speed from the 15-km mark and hopefully go as fast as I can for the last 4 km.

Hydration and fueling

As forecast, it was a very warm day with the highest temperature hitting 27 degrees Celsius. Instead of carrying my own water bottle (like I did for my first half marathon), I decided to drink as much water as I could stomach before checking in my water bottle with my bag, and rely on the water stations, the first being at the 5k mark and the latter stations about every 2 km afterwards. The race pamphlet indicated they would provide some beverage in addition to water from 7.5 km onwards, which I’d assumed would be a sports drink. To my dismay, it turned out to be Vitamin Water. I began worrying I might get cramps, and drank at every water station, whether or not I felt thirsty. Fortunately the leg cramps only came after I finished the race. I told myself never again will I run a race without my own bottle and electrolyte powder/tablets.

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Can’t do much about the ugly tan lines on my legs (from the Beijing Sportive)

After seeing Vitamin Water being served, I was relieved I’d made the last-minute decision to bring an energy gel (secured on my race belt) and an Oaty Slice (in the back pocket of my brand new Adidas running shorts) for the race. I’d had my breakfast of a homemade muesli bar and three peanut butter Rice Crispy treats on the bus ride up. Even though I didn’t feel hungry, I decided to heed my coach’s advice and took my energy gel after running for 45 minutes. The first fueling station was at the 10-km mark. The table was laden with trays of cut-up bananas, cucumbers and cherry tomatoes. Not a piece of energy bar or chocolate in sight. *Cue dismay* I took half a banana even though I wasn’t hungry or tired and continued running. As I passed the 15-km mark, I debated briefly whether or not I should take my Oaty Slice. I still felt full from all the liquids I drank but I knew better than to wait til I was hungry to eat something. I took a couple of bites of the Oaty Slice, shoved it into my back pocket and upped my pace, determined to hit my goal of finishing within 2:30.

Finishing well

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The very feminine looking finisher medal


Despite my best intentions, my legs seemed to have a mind of their own after running 15 km. I hunkered down, increased my speed gradually, and ran as fast as my legs would take me for the last 4 km.

After crossing the finish line and picking up my finisher medal, I checked my mobile phone. As I was checking my time on Strava, I received an sms from the race organisers, informing me my chip time was 2:26:38. I finished my second half-marathon 4 minutes within my goal! Yay!  I also achieved a 10k PR of 1:06:06. Later, I was pleasantly surprised when I saw on my certificate I was ranked #560 out of 2019 participants. Not bad for a newbie runner.

It felt good to see that my hard work and prep over the last 4 months had paid off. I felt especially grateful for my running coach’s training and advice on race strategy and fuelling.

Armed with this very positive experience, I feel ready for the next challenge — my first Sprint distance triathlon on 10 June.

 

 

musings from a little jog around DC

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What I saw on my early morning run in DC requires no introduction

Most of April has passed me by in a blur, mostly with work travel, first to Hong Kong then to Washington DC. Incidentally the DC trip was on the weekend I’d registered to the Beijing Run. I was very disappointed that I couldn’t take part in the race as I’d been training for it. On top of that, I came down with a serious cold after getting back from Hong Kong and couldn’t speak for a couple of days before my flight to DC. The day before my flight, I was so sick I could only get out of bed to cough, take medication and drink water. I could barely swallow any food. It was a miracle how I managed to catch my flight the next day.

To say that week was the most miserable I’ve felt since breaking my arm would’ve been a gross understatement.

Purely by the grace of God, my throat miraculously healed on the flight, so much so that I could swallow the (disgusting) meals served on the plane. By the time I landed in DC, I’d regained some energy and people could actually hear what I said. I even felt well enough to sit through dinner at Morten’s The Steakhouse with my colleagues.

Despite sleeping at a relatively decent hour, I was wide awake by 5:30 am the next morning. I contemplated my options for whiling away the early morning hours without waking up my colleague, and decided I’ll go for a short run outside to check out the surroundings.

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This being my second time in DC, I had some inkling of my bearings, having researched the hotel I was staying at and weather forecast for the weekend. It was so cold when I stepped outside of the hotel, I decided to start jogging immediately, instead of walking briskly, to warm up.

From my first trip to DC, I’d noticed there’s a real love for running in this city. So it didn’t surprise me to see other runners out and about on my run. Being a relatively new runner myself, seeing the locals running gave me the extra motivation to run on that very cold Saturday morning, even though I wasn’t feeling 100%.

Running in an unfamiliar city is always a little challenging for me. In DC, I stopped to look at signs, made detours when confronted with road blocks near the White House, and generally accepted whatever terrain I literally ran into. I enjoyed the sense of adventure, not knowing what I’d see as I turned a corner and getting a little lost and using the GPS on my phone to find my way back to the hotel. It wasn’t a particularly strenuous or long workout, but it was definitely memorable. There’s nothing quite like watching the sun rise behind the Lincoln Memorial and seeing the most famous capital city of the world slowly wake up on a beautiful spring morning.

I wasn’t sure if it was such a good idea to go jogging when I was still recovering from the cold but surprisingly I felt much better after the run. I’d tested the limits of my body and learnt that it was capable of much more than I thought was possible. It gave me the guts to cycle, swim and run after I got back to Beijing and was suffering from hayfever symptoms as a result of my allergic reaction to willow catkins. I had to take Zyrtec a couple of days just so I didn’t rub my nose raw but otherwise I’ve felt better each time after I rode, swam and ran.

Last night when I was doing laps in the pool, I began contemplating the reasons behind my recent addiction to exercise. My friends have been asking me how I maintain my motivation to exercise everyday. I realised apart from training towards the races I’ve signed up to do, I was just very grateful for every single day my body allows me to run, swim and ride, and I want to enjoy every bit of it while I can.

Exercising through injuries

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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.’

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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?

 

 

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….?

Running under the Mongolian sky — Genghis Khan Extreme Marathon 2015

This was probably taken early on in the race since I look like I was still running
This was probably taken early on in the race since I look like I was still running

My (almost) non-existent running history

I’ve never been crazy about running.  I only got into jogging when I was living in Prague because it seemed like the best way to enjoy the gorgeous scenery along the Vltava River while burning fat. Unfortunately, I was a heel-striker and ran up one too many cobblestone steps. I developed plantar fasciitis about 6 months later and was advised to take a break from running by my physio friends.

I surprised even myself when I agreed to do the 2015 Genghis Khan Extreme Marathon with L over a mutual friend’s birthday dinner in mid May. Perhaps I agreed so readily because I didn’t think it was physically still possible to register for the race. I’ve heard from friends who’s done it in the past that the race was often booked out months in advance, and that included air tickets and hotels at the race location, Xiwuqi.

So I wasn’t at all surprised to read on the website that the race has been fully booked and my only option was to go on the waiting list and wait for last-minute cancellations. I did just that and promptly forgot all about it.

Mongolian Khan City at sunset
Mongolian Khan City at sunset

Imagine my surprise when I received an email from the organisers in early June, informing me some spots had come up. After some initial difficulties working the online registration system, L and I managed to register for the half-marathon. Considering there’ll be 1800 participants and their families descending upon this small Inner Mongolian town for the weekend, we felt incredibly blessed we were still able to book discounted air tickets and hotel accommodation with less than a month to go.

Running my first half-marathon

As part of training to do a triathlon in the not-too-distant future, I’ve been jogging between five and ten km once or twice a week since mid March. I didn’t think this was adequate training do a half-marathon with uphill trails, and knew I’d probably walk half the time.

On the actual day, L’s and my Vibram Five Fingers attracted the attention of quite a few fellow runners, who commented we were brave (read: stupid) to be running a half-marathon almost barefoot. I’ve found running short distances in my Vibram Five Fingers for the last six months quite comfortable as they’ve fixed my heel-striking issue and didn’t see why I should get another pair of running shoes, especially since we’ll be running mostly on a grassland trail.

I couldn’t have picked a better place to run my first half-marathon. We started at 7 am when it was a cool 18 degrees and ran into the rolling grassland, which looked like it’d never end. Unlike the full marathon trail, the half-marathon trail didn’t bring the runners close to grazing cattle and the galloping horses. But I already felt contented to be running under the azure blue sky and cottony clouds with runners from China, Mongolia and all over the world. I did end up walking up the uphill trails and about 5-6 km towards the end because I felt too sore to run on the uneven ground. The organisers made sure we were hydrated and fed with water and snack stations situated every five km of the trail.

I finished my first half-marathon in 3:25:37, nine minutes behind L who runs regularly. I was so happy to complete it, I didn’t care about my time. But I was pleasantly surprised I wasn’t the last to finish.

It was a treat to watch a Mongolian wrestling match and take part in the celebration feast of lamb and horse intestines in the Hills of Siriguleng and Halagatu.
It was a treat to watch a Mongolian wrestling match and take part in the celebration feast of lamb and horse intestines in the Hills of Siriguleng and Halagatu.

After finishing the half-marathon, L and I got down to the most important part of our trip — sightseeing. Xiwuqi, being deep in the heartland of Inner Mongolia, was an ideal place to witness the traditional Mongolian herding lifestyle, experience local culture and eat lots of delicious lamb dishes. After spending a night in a Mongolian yurt in Mongolian Khan City, we hired the Mongolian owner of the convenience store to show us the sights, which turned out to be an ingenious move as evidenced by the pictures in this post and on my Facebook. Our Mongolian driver explained and showed us how the locals lived on and by the land and believed as they were blessed abundantly by their animals and nature, it is only right to give back by using their resources responsibly with a long-term view to sustainability. I left Xiwuqi feeling there’s still much to learn from my newfound Mongolian friends.

Registration for next year’s Genghis Khan Extreme Marathon is rumoured to start in August. If you’re planning on doing either the MTB or marathon or both, make sure you register early so you don’t miss out.