Monday, July 13, 2009

A MacRitchie Trail Adventure - The First of The North Face 100 Progressive Runs

Friends are brought together by certain commonalities, be it in terms of background, belief, enemy, interest, tragedy, hobby, mission or cause. I took up running as a sport primarily to fulfill my fitness goal for this year. I've taken steps to increase my success, which included setting up a training schedule, joining as much running events as I could, taking up a healthy bet with co-workers, tracking my progress and plotting it in Excel, and influencing as many people as I can to join me in my simple quest. It didn't occur to me that I'd be gaining a new set of friends while at it.

I've made friends with friends of friends who are also into running. With a little bit of prodding here and there, I'm joining the upcoming The North Face 100 with them. My partner-to-be assumed that we were going for the 100 km category, but I'm glad to have clarified the matter before I registered for the two us and had given him the option of finding another teammate should he really want to participate in the more punishing category instead. I felt there was simply no way I'd be ready for the full marathon in such a short period of time, much more 50 km. In the end, he agreed that we should just go for the shorter distance.

We also signed up for the progressive runs to force ourselves to undergo training. The idea is that runners should be able to increase their mileage over time — therefore the increments of 10 km every scheduled run. The first of three, the 10 km run, took place last Saturday, July 10 at the MacRitchie Reservoir Park. It turned out to be quite an adventure.

The official start was 8:00 a.m. and I got there with a few minutes to spare, just that I ended up making the wrong turn and found myself at a structure that didn't look like it could be called the zig-zag bridge. I called up my partner to ask for directions, who readily handed over the phone to one of our other friends because he wasn't familiar with the place.

When it seemed clear to me where I should be heading, I could not resist asking, just before I put down the phone, "Is it going to push through even if it's raining?"

It had started to drizzle and I could see several joggers going for the nearest shed. The rowing teams who were in the water at that time were being called to come ashore as well. I knew the answer before I even popped my question. I guess part of me was just saying "go home and don't risk getting sick".

When I finally got to the designated place, the runners, led by Kenneth Koh, were in the midst of stretching. One of our friends prompted me to register, stating freebies from The North Face would be given away after the run. I registered and skipped stretching, feeling relieved I wasn't left behind.

It didn't take long before we took of. Our set of friends let the others stay in front, we had to assume they were all stronger runners. Our feet got a taste of the pavement as we headed towards the trail. After that our feet were never subjected to the same kind of surface for more than a few minutes.

The trail had become steeper before I had a chance to warm up. As if that weren't challenging enough, the drizzle turned into rain. Fortunately, it didn't get any stronger. I couldn't help but worry about catching pneumonia. But I soon forgot about that when I couldn't distinguish sweat from rain.

Just when the trail began to ease a bit, in fact it had began to gradually slope downwards, we found one of the runners who was previously ahead of us lying along our path and grimacing in pain. He was supposedly our marker, for he carried with him two orange hiking sticks which made an X mark on his backpack — something very hard to miss. Kenneth asked if he was alright, to which the injured man replied he would be. They motioned for us to go ahead as one of the organizers grabbed her phone and made a few calls. Kenneth went with us while the same lady who made the call stayed behind with the marked man. The diagnosis? Groin muscle cramps. Apparently it was the guy's second attempt to cover the same distance during that morning.

My partner was a strong runner, having already completed the full marathon before, and so I let him lead as I tried my best to keep pace. My only advantage was that I had been training for the past few months. He hasn't joined any running event since last year's Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon and hasn't been running on his own either. He was with us during the Suburban Run where I met him actually, but he only acted as our photographer then. Well, whatever he lacked in training, his genes more than made up for it. Thank goodness I was the one who did some training.

What took me, friends and family almost three hours to walk during our first visit to MacRitchie Park took us only a little over half an hour to run. When we got to the Ranger's Station, we weren't sure which way to turn because there wasn't any trace of where the others had gone. My partner tried asking one of the cleaners if he had noticed a group of runners heading towards the direction we were inclined to take.

"There are so many runners," he replied, smiling.

We had to make a quick decision — either we headed towards the HSBC Treetop or took the alternative Sime Track. I didn't remember it then that the route to the HSBC Treetop was a very punishing climb, which is not only obvious but also worth remembering because that was the only way you could possibly get to the treetop level. We would later find out that the route we avoided was where our fellow runners went: steep climbs help build endurance when done on a regular basis.

That wasn't the first time we had to guess which way to go. At one point, we became worried when we noticed a sign at the side of the trail that said "8 km". We knew we couldn't have done less than 5 km so we should be left with just 3 or 4 km and yet here was a sign which hinted we still had 8 km to go. Not only that, the path ahead of us revealed there was more climbing to do. Faced with these circumstances, my partner slowed down to a halt and for a moment considered turning back and retracing our steps. I voiced out that we couldn't go back having gone so far, and that there was a chance we'd be presented again with a few options as to which path we can take if we kept pushing forward — something we wouldn't have for sure if we turned back. We pushed forward.

Kenneth would later point out what I realized while picking where my foot landed — that as opposed to running on pavements where you can plug in your iPhone and just zone out, you had to be mentally present when running on trails. It is very easy to slip, trip or twist your ankle if you don't pay attention to what where you're going. Disallowing the use of earphones during the race for safety reasons makes perfect sense.

By the time we resolved our second dilemma, our feet had already sampled various surfaces: muddy, rocky, grassy, sandy, wooden and solid. Then we came to the part where the trail formed a narrow U-shape path with a very uneven bottom surface littered with sharp stones jutting out, so we had no choice but to avoid stepping on the middle, running with each foot on either side. That mini-obstacle course definitely made the route more interesting.

We found the view somewhere along the Golf Link area as the most exciting, a welcomed respite from the seemingly endless trees, dirt and stones. My partner must have read my mind as he also expressed that it would have been nice if we brought a camera. The sight of the water was truly refreshing and we would've wanted to take that with us if only commemorated in photos.

We would soon find out that we made the right choice by pushing forward. It turns out the signs indicated how much distance had been covered from the starting point, not how much farther there was to go. Soon enough we reached the zig-zag bridge and joined our fellow runners in filling our tummies with as much liquid as we can.

Too bad no one from our group won any freebies. But the microfiber towel they gave away was a prize, not too mention the magazines.

Overall, it was a truly good experience, something we'd very much like to repeat in the near future. If one thing, our adventure made me realize that I prefer to run on trails than on pavements. Well, we're already planning to hold practice runs in MacRitchie park on our own.


Some links worth visiting:

Always Running the Same Way, The Trouble With Running on Concrete and Asphalt

Get Off the Pavement!!!

How To Build Endurance With Trail Running

Running Program to Build Speed

Go Long! Build endurance for a full day or more on the trail

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Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sunset At Bedok Reservoir

I had been to Bedok Reservoir thrice prior to this day. The first was when we attempted to go for the grand course of the treetop adventure, which unfortunately we weren't even able to start because it rained so hard and we ended up getting stuck there for almost two hours. The next two times were for running — one was in preparation for the Passion Run and the other for the Mizuno Mt. Faber Run.

On the last two occasions, I've been fortunate enough to see the glorious sunset and kept wishing I brought a good camera with me. Well, I actually did bring a camera the second time around but I don't think the pictures I took do justice to how marvelous it was to see in person, not that photos will ever be better than the actual experience, but still, I think they were kinda ugly. I'm still posting those pictures below.

It was impossible for me not to remember my wish when I began taking pictures of sunsets in Pasir Ris Park. I had to come back. So I did when I finally got the chance.

I came with one purpose and one purpose only — to take pictures of the sunset over the water. I would have wanted to run but that meant getting home late and putting the camera at risk.

Unfortunately I wasn't early enough. The sun had already began to disappear on the horizon when I got there.

Still, I tried to do what I came there to do.

The photos are not as great as I want them to be. But I think they're definitely better than the ones I took earlier.

I guess I'll just have to haul myself with a camera back there again some time soon. Practice makes perfect. And yeah, it pays well to be early too.

There must be dozens of other places where it's nice to take pictures of the sunset here in Singapore. I wonder, where should I head to next?


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Wednesday, July 8, 2009

When H1N1 Hits Home - Aftermath

With much help from the medicines he has been taking, Mattin finally got rid of his whooping cough on day 5. With that gone, he didn't appear to be sick at all. However, he was still quarantined in his room as a precautionary measure and the Cisco guys still kept visiting him at least twice daily until day 7.

The rest of us were fortunate not to have been afflicted with the virus. We didn't even have to take Tamiflu, something I really didn't want to do unless it was absolutely necessary. Our misfortune only went as far as having to eat the same food everyday and being confined within the walls of our home — insignificant to the ordeal my six-year old cousin had to go through. Except for the initial scare (for Matthin's condition), momentary paranoia and period of adjustment, the experience wasn't as bad as we were led to think.

I've agreed since the beginning with my uncle's decision to have Matthin stay at home instead of confining him in the hospital. It would have been twice as difficult for the six-year old boy if the alternative was chosen. Besides, the doctors wouldn't have presented the option if they weren't sure it was safe for him in the first place. This might not need saying, but I'll say it anyway: if this ever happens to your cousin, brother or child, I invite you to consider taking the same course of action.

Today is Matthin's first day in school after the break. He was excited to go back and we were only glad that his excitement had the opposite effect last night — he was able to sleep early. A number of parents in Matthin's school had previously expressed their concern about the unnecessary spread of the news regarding what the boy has been through in the last week, worried that this might cause unnecessary panic on the part of other parents. Their concern is not unwarranted — just a few weeks ago, a boy was being avoided by his classmates because he had cough and colds.

Today is also the day the rest of us go back to our normal lives. Today we regain contact with the outside world, not having to worry about being a threat to the rest of society. We have a story to tell and a few lessons to remember and share from the experience.

Maybe there's no need to be overly concerned with H1N1. But this doesn't mean we can take things for granted and not take measures to protect ourselves from unnecessary trouble. Remaining vigilant is not synonymous to being obsessed. There's wisdom in Andrew Grove's words: "Only the paranoid survive." But as always, we need to take advice with a grain of salt and see things from the right perspective lest we give things a different meaning and turn a totally good advice into words of disaster.

Practicing proper hygiene is a must, with or without H1N1. But if anyone at home should ever be afflicted with the virus, informing the right people is the right thing to do and wearing a mask if you have to report for work or go to school is a little sacrifice that's not unworthy of making.

This is the end of day 7 and the end of this H1N1 series.

>>Day 4<<

>>Day 3<<

>>Day 2<<

>>Day 1<<

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Tuesday, July 7, 2009

A Rasa Sentosa Singapore Weekend Getaway

A few weeks ago we decided to go on a quick weekend getaway. We didn't want to spend so much time traveling, so going out of Singapore was not an option. There are numerous hotels to choose from but we wanted a feeling of seclusion, of being away from the frenetic activities of a normal Singapore day. What could be better than staying at a hotel by the beach?

Shangri-La Rasa Sentosa it was. The fact that a bridge needed crossing to get to the island resort somewhat gives it the feeling of isolation. Knowing that Sentosa means peace and tranquility in Malay is also a bit comforting. On the other hand, Rasa means taste, feeling or sensation in Malay as a noun. A few minutes in Rasa Sentosa was enough for me to conclude that we made right the choice and that the name of the hotel was justified.

If there was any doubt that we were in a five-star establishment in the hotel we went to early this year, there was no such feeling this time around. The rooms were in great condition, the surroundings were exceptionally clean, the facilities were well maintained and the people were very hospitable. To top it off was a panoramic view of the nice pool, the blue sea and the white sand.

Staying in the room just watching TV, reading a book, appreciating the view or simply sleeping would have been good enough. But we opted to do some experiencing and not just viewing.

At daybreak, we walked along the shoreline. It was impossible to miss the people sleeping on the sand. Some managed to pitch tents. Here and there were a few litters, but the shore was rubbish-free by the time the sun was fully out.

We did go around Sentosa but we spent a lot of time by the beach. Besides, there are too many things to mention about Sentosa that would make this post to lengthy to include.

Swimming, playing volleyball, flying Frisbees, kayaking, sunbathing, what else do people do at the beach but have fun while basking in the sun? What about throwing-in-the-water time? Boys will be boys.

We never did get to the flying trapeze in Siloso beach in action. We did get to sample Trapizza's pizza and pasta though. The food was great.

One other thing we didn't get to try was riding the Segway. Oh well, I'm sure there will be some other time for that.

We did have good food for dinner at Coastes by the beach. The fireworks from the Songs of the Sea could be seen and heard from where we were. Not to forget where we had lunch, which was in Shutters at the Amara Resort. The food was pleasant although the place was almost empty.

It was a very good weekend getaway if I may say. I can only wish every weekend was like that.


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Friday, July 3, 2009

When H1N1 Hits Home - Day 4

I see Matthin drawing on his desk. He looks good under the circumstances. I can definitely see his improvement since day 1. I just wish he'd lose the cough in the next day or two. Somehow his mother managed to do just that.

The rest of us in the house remain asymptomatic. We're glad that aside from this major inconvenience, there seems to be no permanent damage that H1N1 has caused us. We're glad that the virus is not as lethal as it was earlier feared to be. Of course, this doesn't mean we'd want to be down with it if we had a choice.

If you've read the previous posts, you already know that Matthin is quite big a boy for his age. Since there's pretty much nothing to say about this day, I'd like to share a few more things about my cousin:

1.He loves fried rice. Well, he likes food in general. But he especially loves fried rice. Aside from not wanting anything else but hotdogs when he was younger, Matthin never really gave his parents much of a headache when it comes to getting him to eat. It's good to see him continually expanding his menu since he turned five.

2. He likes playing badminton. Like any other child, he'd cry if you beat him. But he keeps playing nevertheless and of course, the inevitable happens — he keeps getting better at the sport as the weeks go by.

3. He's a Nadal fan. His mother is Federer fan and so am I. Still, Matthin made up his mind and roots for Rafa. He's not yet playing tennis but I'm sure he'd love it when he does.

4. He's into running. It wasn't easy to get him started though. At first he was excited when he joined a fun run in school. Then his face turned bluish red after running 25 meters during a running clinic. My aunt made it her mission to get Matthin into better shape. I remember us pulling out every trick in the bag we knew to get him to run a complete round in the track. His tears kept rolling and his shouts kept coming but he just wouldn't run. After six rounds of walking, he seemed convinced we were never going to stop unless he gave it a try, which he did. Don't ask me how, but he's enjoyed running ever since. Before he was down with the flu, he was running more than I did. Actually that's an understatement because I only get to run a maximum of three times in a week but this kid runs a minimum of five.

5. He likes playing the piano. This kid has a great memory. I'm running out of stuff to teach him on the keyboard. He's been recently forcing me to teach him a piece I haven't even completed myself. I'm sure a piano teacher will have a good time with him. Geez, I miss playing with this boy.

Oh well, it looks like we can see the end of this quarantine period. I sure hope there are no unpleasant surprises. We'll keep praying.

Matthin can barely keep himself inside his room. Thank goodness for TV, X-box and his ever patient mom.
>>Day 3<<

>>Day 2<<

>>Day 1<<

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Thursday, July 2, 2009

When H1N1 Hits Home - Day 3

Wednesday, Day 3. Fun flies when you're doing time. I should be taking pictures of sunsets. How much more for a six-year old boy who's confined in his own room for three days now?

Well, except for his coughs, Matthin appears to be fine. But his mother seems to have developed the same unpleasant sounding cough. Everyone else in the house remains asymptomatic.

The Cisco staff came twice during the day to check on Matthin. They never go in. They just let Matthin come to them near the door and they examine him visually from there. My uncle hypothesizes that they're merely making sure that Matthin is not getting out of the house and the real intention is not to check if he's doing fine, because they're not doctors anyway. Whatever the motivation, I'm glad they're checking. The phone calls come in too.

My uncle actually called them to ask for more Tamiflu, as suggested by the doctor, so everybody else —aside from Matthin and his Mom— could take it as a preventive measure. Over lunch I made a comment about possibly not taking it before the symptoms start showing up. I realize of course the point of not having to go through unnecessary suffering, which is why one would want to take it while being asymptomatic. It's just that I remember hearing in CNN that it might not have the desired effect if it's taken too early and that it's best taken within two days after the symptoms appear. I think I also remember hearing that if you don't have the virus and you take Tamiflu, it might no longer be effective once you really get hit by the virus. I don't trust what I think I remember, so don't you too — I don't want to be the source of misinformation.

I decided to do a bit of research on the Web to learn more about this. Below are what I found.
Based on these, Tamiflu does help prevent someone from getting the flu. That is, as long as it's being taken. I didn't find anything saying that it won't be effective in the future when the flu hits if it's previously been taken for preventive measures.

It occurred to me while I was doing the research that Matthin wasn't able to take Tamiflu within 48 hours after he had high fever, his first symptom. If the Cisco guys weren't late and came a day earlier —day 1 instead of day 2— they would've made it on time. Still, he has showed some great improvement after taking the medicine so we're all glad about that.

With closed windows and an open door that leads to the living room and everywhere else, the ventilation might be a cause for concern. Or maybe not. Remains to be seen in the next few days.

This is the end of day 3.

>>Day 2<<

>>Day 1<<

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Wednesday, July 1, 2009

When H1N1 Hits Home - Day 2

Day 2 is Tuesday, July 30, 2009 — two days into home quarantine and four days since Matthin, my cousin, was symptomatic of the H1N1 virus.

Among other things, I started this day with a call to a friend who was a doctor. We discussed some other thing and when we were about to say goodbye, he asked how I was doing so I gave him the news. He says we shouldn't be worried too much, that it's very similar to the common flu, and that deaths are very rare. Coming from someone you trust, that was quite reassuring.

Matthin is doing well: no fever, no asthma, just a very bad sounding cough. He doesn't look lethargic; he would've been out of his room if his parents weren't scaring him that the police would come get him if forced his way out. I'm glad he's a strong, 40-kilo, almost 5 feet tall, 6-year old boy.

So far no one else inside the house is symptomatic. Matthin's mom looks haggard but appears to be healthy. Matthin's dad, my uncle, has been sleeping in the living room since day 1. The rest of us have been taking extra doses of vitamin C. My uncle came up with his own concoction of boiled ginger, lemon and honey for all of us to drink. Can you blame us? We'd do what we can to stay healthy. By the way, uncle's concoction tastes good to me.

The Cisco personnel arrived late at the afternoon, citing delays due to MOH. They should have been here on day 1. That doesn't sound good because it could mean they have too many cases to take care of. Oh well... As one might expect, the Cisco guys were wearing N95 masks and yellow plastic scrubs. They brought a standard H1N1 kit —as they called it— which included a short literature for Matthin's parents to read, thermometers and most importantly, medicine. There were two sets of Tamiflu — one for Matthin and another for his mother.

They did not install cameras as we were earlier told. They didn't even go beyond the door step. I guess they had no reason to do so. Maybe we really are not suppose to take things too seriously. It's just that in my obsessive-compulsive state of mind, I was expecting a little bit more, like a short lecture on the most critical things we need to monitor Matthin about or a demonstration of how to properly ventilate his room. In place of the cameras, my uncle was told, would be constant monitoring through phone calls. Anyhow, I'm still glad they came and that Matthin could now take proper medication.


Here's a very good booklet regarding H1N1 from UN.ORG:
Pandemic Flu Influenza A (H1N1) Virus). It's a concise and practical guide on things you need to know about the virus, what you should do to prevent contracting it and what you ought to do in case you or your loved one has already gotten it, including how to properly take care of them. If you're serious about wearing masks, there's a proper way to handle them and there's a short paragraph about that in the booklet.

Even with the constant barrage of information from the news, I was surprised about how much I and my housemates didn't know about H1N1 and viruses in general. For instance, the booklet suggests that "separating of eating utensils for use by a patient with influenza is not necessary". It was something we did as a precaution but I guess it's better to be safe than sorry. But then again, if you ask me, I'm really more concerned about other things than the segregation of utensils.

Here's a preview of its Table of Contents so you'd see how practical it is:

That's it. This is the end of day 2.

>>Day 1<<

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