By marathoner

Anecdotes from a race volunteer

Volunteered at the Brooklyn Half bib pick-up last Thursday.

A male runner walked up to me to pick up his bib in the 2000-range. I was staring at his face as I handed his ID back to him along with his number.

Seeing that he had a hispanic name and spoke with a slight accent, I decided that he would know who I was going to talk about.

I said to him, “You look like Lionel Messi.”

Slightly embarrassed, he kept his head lowered as he slotted his ID back into his wallet and said, “Thank you.”

My remarks were not intended as a compliment. The resemblance was just striking enough to compel the words out of my mouth.

After a moment of silence, he told me that some of his friends had said the same thing to him too.

I chuckled after he walked away and turned to my neighbor to tell her about the exchange. Not unexpectedly, I had to explain who Lionel Messi was.

Volunteers get tired and we can get bored. We remain on our feet for 6-7 hours in a row with little rest time and repeat the same set of instructions again and again to different people. Having something different to say and recounting an amusing anecdote helped to fight fatigue and boredom.


Remembering Mr Lee Kuan Yew

Singapore’s first Prime Minister, Mr. Lee Kuan Yew, will be laid to rest tomorrow. During these last moments of remembrance of a great man, I’m penning some of my thoughts.

I grew up in Lee Kuan Yew’s Singapore.

When I went to school, I had friends from humble backgrounds among my schoolmates. I did not come from a family of means either. Today, my friends who went to school with me are well educated and make a meaningful living as engineers, teachers, accountants, doctors, civil servants and homemakers. Many are parents raising their own kids.

Looking at where my friends are today, I feel special to be of this generation who got to improve our lives through our access to a good education. Yet, this group of people with whom I grew up is still down to earth enough to not take things for granted and harbor a sense of entitlement.

The schools we attended were so-called “Chinese schools” in a previous era. While we studied all our subjects in English, my class also studied Chinese and Chinese Literature. Today, when I meet up with my high school friends, we still converse primarily in Mandarin. If, however, the social or professional setting calls for it, we will readily switch to an English conversation. We are as comfortable speaking in either tongue.

The education system that was put in place in the early decades of Singapore’s independence by Mr. Lee and his colleagues shaped my years as a child and teenager. Did I wish for something different? Maybe. But that was the only option opened to me. Life doesn’t spoil us for choice all the time. My education gave me a foundation to build upon as I acquired more experience and means later in life.

My favorite story about Mr. Lee is the one on his meeting with Deng Xiaoping in Singapore in 1978. I first heard it on a video interview Mr. Lee did and later read about it again in his memoirs. At that meeting, Deng congratulated Mr. Lee for having transformed Singapore into a modern city. Deng said that it would take a long time for the Chinese economy to recover from the tumultuous Cultural Revolution. Mr. Lee replied that the Singapore of that time was the result of the hard work of the Singaporean people, among whom were migrants from Southern China who came as coolies and laborers. He went on to tell Deng that China could achieve much more with the descendants of its scholars, mandarins and literati among her population.

That, I thought, was a very insightful remark. It was so not only because of the era during which it was made, but also because I believe Mr. Lee formed this opinion out of his understanding of China’s history and he saw a leader capable of transforming China in Deng Xiaoping. It was a real joy to read about his encounter with Deng. One can tell from Mr. Lee’s writing that both men had tremendous respect and admiration for each other.

A great man has left us. He was someone whose life was part of the history of the country where I grew up. Respect, gratitude, sadness and even pride… There were a multitude of emotions that go beyond words.

Sir, I’m fortunate to have lived part of my life during your times.

Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon 10k race

I ran the 10k race at the StandChart Marathon in Singapore today. It has been quite a while since I last ran a race in the tropics. Over this period of time, the body has also accumulated various overuse ailments. I made it a point to train for today’s race for over a month and put in the best that I could.

It was a tough but good run today. Notes from today’s run:

  1. Heat and humidity – Very important factor. The body could not be cooled quickly enough and every bit of effort exerted felt strenuous. Always remember to listen to the body.
  2. Mid-foot strike – This was my first time running a race after I changed to mid-foot strike. However, I couldn’t maintain my mid-foot strike after 5 to 6 km and had to fall back on heel strike from time to time. Perhaps I didn’t train properly to engage the right muscles. I must find out how to.
  3. Interval training – Only managed to do one session this time, on a synthetic track. During that session, I didn’t how to run fast using my new foot strike. I should give myself more time to learn it. Maybe try it out on a harder track first.
  4. Breathing – During my evening training runs, I felt stronger taking long, deep breaths, breathing in over 3 strides and breathing out over the next 3. Couldn’t keep up with this rhythm today. Had to take shorter and more frequent breaths. It could be because of the heat and humidity. The body did not feel strong enough to carry myself forward.
  5. Plantar fasciitis – Had this nagging problem for about 3 months. Other than that, my left foot and knee have also been feeling “weak” for a long while. Now that the race is over, it’s time to get more RICE.

I’m happy with my results today. I did not know how much the weather was going to affect me and I was just aiming for a sub-hour run. It turned out that I did my 2nd personal best time for a 10k.

Summer in Italy – Buried cities

The months of July and August in France are the months when people leave in hordes for vacation, leaving behind towns and cities operating at a fraction of their full capacity, if at all. I have long heard of this legendary phenomena, but it takes living here to realise the difference it really brings to my surroundings. Less traffic, lengthy road works while people are gone, many shops that are closed, effortless quest for the front-row parking spot at the grocery store where the parking was practically empty.

In August, we joined in the exodus, leaving behind the cooler Versaillaise summer for blistering hot Italian tourist destinations. I am writing a few posts on the more notable visits we made.

I am a ruins junkie. I had my first encounter with ruins in Cambodia (in fact, maybe it was earlier, along the Silk Road, but I treat that as an initiation). I thoroughly enjoyed the exploration, the admiration, the discovery and the imagination that came with the miles and miles of walking and cycling. From South-east Asia to India, from Mexico to South America, I found myself visiting their spectacular ruins everywhere to take a peek at how people lived a long, long time ago.

One of the things I had wanted to see the most on this trip was the ruins of the two Roman cities that sat at the foot of Mount Vesuvius and that were destroyed and buried when this volcano erupted in 79 AD.

Pompei – I first heard of it while reading one of my favourite writer’s work. People died, the city was buried and forgotten under some 6 metres of volcanic material and it was rediscovered only in 1748. Today, we find the ancient city with its roads, the remains of its buildings, of which archaeologists have identified units that functioned as laundry shops and eateries, its amphitheatre, its arena and Roman bathes that boast beautiful mosaic floors.

Ruins at Pompei

Water fountain and road in Pompei. Roads were often wet with water from the fountains overflowing. Stepping stones were put in place for people to cross the roads without getting their feet wet.

Ruins at Pompei

Amphitheatre in Pompei.

Ruins at Pompei

Forum in Pompei

Casts of victims from the tragedy had been made by injecting plaster into voids left by decomposed human bodies in the volcanic ash.

Ruins at Pompei

Plaster cast of a Pompei victim.

Herculaneum – This is my preferred site of the two. Due to the manner in which the city was destroyed (by pyroclastic flows), the city of Herculaneum is actually better-preserved than that of Pompei. The city was buried over some 20-over metres of volcanic materials. Like Pompei, Herculaneum has not been fully excavated. Today, modern houses sit on the volcanic materials, which still have parts of the city buried.

Ruins at Herculaneum

The excavated city of Herculaneum.

Ruins at Herculaneum

Skeletons were found here a number of years ago. These probably belonged to residents of Herculaneum who fled the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and took shelter here.

Ruins at Herculaneum

Remains of hawker stores. Romans had the habit of lunching out!

Ruins at Herculaneum

Remains of the peristyle (a courtyard surrounded by columns) of a residence.

Ruins at Herculaneum

Mosaic floor in a Roman bath.

Ruins at Herculaneum

My favourite house at Herculaneum.

Another year

Le Tour

If 2011 had been a ski run, I would have traversed across the slope to make a big, wide turn to end up traversing in the opposite direction again. Not much ground gained in the direction of the fall line.

This year end, I tumbled down and picked myself up over and over again, amidst fatigue and frustration.

2012, I want my turns to be short and rapid, with swift executions right down to the base of the hill.

Turning a page


I have moved to France two and a half weeks ago, after living for close to 5 years in Atlanta. In other words,  I ran in Atlanta for close to 5 years.

I ran along the stretch of Peachtree Road at Buckhead that has been widened for both pedestrian and vehicular traffic. I saw the construction area at my “no man’s land” in Brookhaven morph into a new residential district. I witnessed a Starbucks store go into business near Lenox Mall, only to close its doors shortly after. I watched the blue-green-and-white signs at what used to be Wachovia Bank outlets being replaced by the red-and-gold Wells Fargo logo. I got all excited over a “Clearance sale” poster at a Borders store on one of its last days of business only to find that all the good stuff were gone by the time I returned after washing up from my run.

I have stopped counting the number of races that I have participated in. It is true that after running in the same place for some time, a race feels like “just another race” and the routine business takes away the excitement in running.

To my relief, this is changing.

As I settle into a new city, trying to re-establish my running routine signifies the attempt to seek some regularity in my everyday life. While doing that, there are new things that I need to learn and experiment. I have to relearn to count in kilometres instead of miles. I have to find new running routes and calibrate them. I have to think of a hydration solution for my long runs. I have to test new fuel. I want to tune in to the local running calendar and I want to check out the running stores where I can get all my supplies.

I am doing this all over again. A new city is bringing a fresh breath of life to my runs.

High note

This post should have been written a lot earlier. The Georgia Half Marathon took place in March. Then, there was work to wrap up. After that, there were South America, followed by Singapore, and now Paris.

Almost five months have passed, but I really want to write this post to summarise the things I did differently for my race preparation because what I ran for the Georgia Half Marathon this year was about the best I can do. I was close to my limit.

After running the same races for a few times, it was easy to treat the next race as just another race. Since this would have been the last time I would run the Georgia Half Marathon, I wanted it to be something different.

I resumed my Sunday long runs in January. Due to travel plans for work, I could not do much more in January and only started to properly train from February onwards. My longest run was 14 miles and I worked in three speed training sessions.

During the training period, I continued practicing pilates once a week, something which probably helped me avoid back pains during the race. Besides that, I went to see my massage therapist once a month. I do not know if the sessions by themselves were helpful, but they were definitely painful. The pain made me feel that the therapist was doing her job and I love the sense of satisfaction after subjecting myself to the pain. The “feel-good” effect of the massage sessions made me feel that they were already worth the while.

This time, I also added lunges to my programme. Exercises like this can be time consuming. To save time, I covered part of my walk home from the gym by doing lunges, sometimes with a bag of groceries in each hand if I do grocery shopping after gym. I usually ended up doing around 70 lunges in one session, something that left my gluts sore the following day, without fail. Again, I do not know if the lunges by themselves were effective. I record them as one of the ingredients of a regime that resulted in a successful race.

The weather was nice on race day – cool, but not too cold. I ran the race in tank and shorts, with the Supernova Sequence 3 that were 345 miles old. I did a proper warm up, which I think was very important in preparing my body to start the race in a proper condition. I started the race at the end of the field and I do not remember anything remarkable happened during the race. I just kept running, running and running and I caught up with the 2:30 pace team at the last mile.

Unlike during some past races, my lower back did not hurt during the last mile. I was probably a little tired by then, but I could still run. There was an improvement of more than 4 minutes over my previous best timing when I finished. This was my fifth time running the Georgia Half Marathon since its inauguration in 2007. For yet another time, this race was where my effort paid off where it concerned personal bests. I had my runner’s happy ending before saying goodbye to Atlanta.