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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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

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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?

 

 

How cycling changed my life

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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

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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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

2015->2016

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2015 in hindsight

Be careful what you pray for. As I’ve learnt over the course of 2015, God and I had very different ideas about how my prayers should be answered.

Almost everyday in 2015 I prayed and asked God for wisdom, strength and courage to deal with whatever came my way. Over the course of 2015, God has brought into my life people and circumstances that’s brought me exhilaration and pain, comfort and discomfort, love and angst in equal measures. It was only when I listened to Brene Brown’s talk with Tim Ferris that I realised these were all meant to be opportunities for me to grow in precisely the things I asked God for. We need courage to get out of our comfort zone. It’s natural to experience fear when we choose to be vulnerable. Discomfort and courage, fear and vulnerability are meant to co-exist.

Reflecting on how I went with the goals I set for myself for 2015:

  • Think as much about what I don’t say as what I do say

I’ve found keeping this goal a huge challenge in the past year, especially in the context of close relationships. In the process, I’ve learnt that I need to listen to and just accept what’s been said at face value, and not to subsequently over-analyse or colour the words with my own judgement or ideas. I’ve had to eat humble pie and acknowledge I’m not as objective as I believed myself to be.

  • Slow down

God took my word for it and literally forced me to achieve this goal when I fell very sick in late February and later broke my left arm in late October. Being forced to physically rest for the last two months of 2015 had given my body a chance to recuperate from all the sports I’ve been doing in the earlier part of 2015, allowing certain worn body parts to heal and others to reset.

I unwittingly fell into a wee bout of depression in mid to late November, which was probably the cumulative result of a lack of physical exercise, my body missing the familiar regular surge of endorphins and putting up with the smog in Beijing. The cloud lifted on 1 December when I got back on my beloved bike for the first time after six weeks and rode to the office. And it hasn’t returned since.

Being forced to slow down has forced me to confront many of my cherished values and beliefs and reassess my priorities. It’s also taught me to be careful about what I ask God for. He’s usually given me exactly what I needed, not necessarily what I asked for.

  • Regain control of my finances

I could either take the glass-half-full or glass-half-empty view about how I’ve done with this goal. By mid October, I had every occasion to give myself a pat on my back. I’d paid off 40% of my credit card debt, and was on track to pay off a further 20% by the end of the year, leaving 40% to be cleared in 2016.

Then I broke my arm.

Even though my employer’s insurance policy covered 99% of the medical costs (praise the Lord because the hospital bill was a six-figure sum in renminbi), I still had to pay a gap and for scar management medication with my credit card. It’s such an irony that by achieving one goal, I’ve had to take two steps back with another. But it’s silly to put a price tag on one’s health. I’ve been extremely fortunate to have received excellent medical care at Oasis, my employer’s financial support, the care and support of my dear colleagues and friends in Beijing and God’s miraculous healing power.

Looking forward – 2016

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I’ve discovered and listened to a myraid of podcasts since getting an iPhone 6 last February. It’s incredible how much I’ve learnt and how my life has changed just listening to podcasts while cycling to and from work and jogging.

In formulating my goals and resolutions for 2016, I’ve been particularly inspired by these two podcasts:

Considering past events and my track record for 2015, I’ve decided to keep my list short, simple and sweet, broken into actionable and measurable items:

  1. Regain control of my finances

Obviously…. since I didn’t manage to achieve this goal last year, it stays on the list. Nuff said.

2. Improve my physical health and fitness

Specifically:

2.1) Limit coffee intake to one cup a day.

This is something I’ve been consciously working on in 2015. I managed to reduce my daily coffee intake to one cup or none during the summer and autumn months, but increased to two cups when the weather got colder and the days became shorter. After breaking my left arm, I’m again seriously considering quitting coffee altogether as I’m concerned about its effect on my body’s ability to retain calcium.

2.2) Train towards doing my first triathlon (sprint) in September.

I’ve just subscribed to the Beijing International Triathlon e-newsletter, so I can get an email when registration opens.

3. Write something everyday

The aim is to get into a habit of practising my writing regularly. Since I started journalling a couple of months ago, I’ve found it easier to find inspiration for my blog and experience less writer’s block. It has also helped me overcome my perfectionist tendencies, and get something down on paper/computer screen. Self-editing has always been a challenge but it’s a necessary skill if I want to grow as a writer.

3.1) Journal everyday.

3.2) Write a minimum of one blog post a week.

3.3) Finish writing my second novel by end of 2016.

I end this post with a reminder to myself and to all of us who’s set New Year’s resolutions….

“And now you don’t have to be perfect, you can be good.”

– John Steinbeck –

 

 

 

 

 

my forearm fracture adventure in Beijing – Day 1

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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….?

to gym or not to gym

Autumn is here and winter is coming. This reality literally hit me in the face when I was cycling in the mountains of Pinggu last Saturday, where the temperature fluctuated between 10 and 18 degrees Celsius. Even wearing a long-sleeve cycling jersey, a yoga jacket and autumn cycling pants did little to protect me from the cold. The only time I didn’t feel the chill was when I was climbing  (read: huffing and puffing) and when I rode where the sun rays shone.

After enjoying months of cycling and jogging in the great Beijing outdoors, I’m now forced  to consider alternative arrangements for the freezing winter months ahead. It doesn’t help that the cost difference of the two options I’m contemplating is minimal: gym membership and bike trainer. So here’s my reasoning and analysis about the pros and cons of each option.

gym pros cons

Trainer pros & cons

Here’s a video that explains what a bicycle trainer is for the non-cycling enthusiast:

Why do I have this sneaky feeling that I’ve always known all along which option I was going to pick?

the pains of culling

where will you take me next?
where will you take me next?

After nine months of procrastination, I decided to give up my self-storage unit at Koala‘s Sanlitun branch. The significance of my decision is probably only obvious to those who live in Beijing and have been waiting for months (generally in vain) for a unit to become available at Koala’s most popular branch.

In the beginning…

I took a self-storage unit when I first moved to Beijing six years ago because I’d moved from a 3-bedroom unit in Shanghai to a one-bedroom, and hated the sight of boxes stacking against the wall in my apartment, especially since I was running my consulting business from home at that time. After years of hiring professional movers to pack and move my stuff from Shanghai to Prague then to Beijing, I accumulated 50+ boxes of stuff without ever looking at, let alone evaluating, the contents of half of these boxes.

It was only when I lost my job three years ago and was planning on moving back to Vespa Fair at 2 KolegasAustralia that I forced myself to confront my physical baggage. With no clue when and where I’d find a new job, I felt I had no other option. To say I was horrified at the contents of these boxes would be to put it mildly. I couldn’t believe I’d been spending money moving and storing boxes of fake DVDs my friends left me when they left China, clothing and shoes I haven’t worn for years, moldy furniture and magazines, folders of useless documents and stationery, obsolete mobile phone chargers, cables and other electronic/digital knick-knacks. Even after giving away, donating and throwing out as much as I could, I still had about 30 boxes of things I then thought I couldn’t live without.

Through a surprising turn of events, I found gainful employment in Beijing and stayed on. I was already very pleased with how much of my possessions I’d edited by then, and felt it was reasonable to take a self-storage unit to store the remaining boxes of stuff I didn’t immediately need in my new apartment. I remained in this state of satisfaction and contentment for the last two years.

The turning point

Then I read the stories of Graham HillGeoffrey Szuszkiewicz and Julie Phillips and all of a sudden, I didn’t feel so smug about my 3-cubic-metre self-storage unit anymore. I was convicted enough by their stories to start culling my belongings in storage, but a smaller storage unit never became available at Koala and I couldn’t make up my mind about taking up a friend’s offer to store my stuff at his house.

Things all came to a head when I decided to upgrade to a road bike. After saving up enough dough to buy an alloy road bike, Serk mentioned they could possibly build a road bike with a carbon fibre frame for a price that would exceed my budget by about a third.  The idea of getting a custom built carbon bike for slightly more than the price of a top-end off-the-rack alloy bike from Giant got under my skin and I began obsessing over where I’d get the extra dough to cover the shortfall without having to resort to swiping my credit card.

After two days of agonising and fruitless contemplation, the solution came when I was swimming — the money I’d set aside to pay rental for my self-storage unit was the exact amount I needed to cover the shortfall. By the time I got out of the pool, I’d already decided I will donate whatever I can and move my remaining boxes to my friend’s house.

What actually happened

I ended up buying a second-hand, one-month-old Giant alloy road bike that cost me less than half of what I was going to pay for the custom-built carbon bike. A cycling buddy, who recently bought a second-hand bike himself, called me from Singapore to talk sense into me, and helped me find the bike I eventually bought on 58.com.

I’ve given up my self-storage unit.  I’ve donated bulky items to Roundabout and moved my boxes to my friend’s dusty third-floor balcony last Saturday. I’ve been feeling bad about imposing on my friend and his girlfriend, but my concerns were completely unfounded. They had more than ample space, and they liked some of my things and intended to put them to good use. It was a win-win situation.

Making this decision has changed my spending habits. Sorting through my boxes the last couple of times has only strengthened my resolve to be more mindful about my purchases, and focus on buying quality, multi-purpose items within my budget and with the aim of replacing items that I plan to throw out. It was no fun throwing things out, knowing full well how much I paid for them and how little I’ve used them.

I feel like a physical weight’s been lifted off my shoulders. Handing over the access keys to my storage unit to Koala’s admin on Saturday afternoon turned out to be an incredibly liberating experience. Through decluttering, I cut off ties with my material belongings and am now better able to focus my mind on those (intangible) things that are more important to me — my relationship with God, family and friends, writing, health and exercise.

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.