Constraint optimisation

January 13, 2009

Excuse me while I muse aloud about my exercise regime.  Char Kuay Teow is evil.

Here are my constraints:  I’m supposed to do a PT session once a week.  It takes me a couple of days for my arms to recover from a PT session so more gym during that time is unrealistic.  But ideally should be at the gym at least 1 other time.  Classes are fun but I’m limited by the schedule.  Then, I’m supposed to do cardio (the equivalent of a 6km or so run) twice a week.  Cardio should preferably be whole body since I have no upper body strength to speak of.  I am a sucky swimmer.

So now I’m thinking about constraint optimisation and efficiency.  What’s the best way to get my workouts in without spending too much time on them/disrupting my life?  This is what I’ve come up with…

M – (interchangeable with Wednesday) Run home from work – I figure that would be the most efficient way (time wise) to incorporate running into my schedule. Pilates class at the gym is an option on Mondays.

T – PT session

W – Rest

Th – Rest.  Or a really sissy Gym class called Flex + some sort of workout

F – Rest.  If I’ve missed a workout, I could conceivably do it early and then have late dinner/drinks (which would be common for Fridays anyway).

Sa – (interchangeable with Sunday) Long run or a swim

Su – Gym

I wondered if this would work.  Then I realised that Chinese New Year kinda fucks up my exercise plans!  Oh dear.


PT session 2

January 7, 2009

So the festive season consisted of eating and attempting to work off the eating. Workouts were all cardio (i.e. high calorie burn) – running, swimming and what nots. But now, the festive season is over (boo!) and I’m back to my physical training sessions. Good luck to me. My arms hurt so bad that I can barely type this.

So yesterday, between a couple of particularly tiring sets of some weird tricep exercise (I have no triceps to speak of) some guy came over to use the machine.

“Hooray! He is my saviour!” I said to my trainer. (But 10 reps later, the guy was gone.)

“Where is your saviour now?” taunted my trainer. “Guess you’re stuck with me then. The devil!” (Cue diabolical laughter.)  Oh dear.

Well, at least the man has a sense of humour. And, a quick kickboxing set at the end of the session was oddly satisfying. It is good to hit a man who causes you pain. Haha.


December 21, 2008

Today, I went swimming in an actual swimming pool for the first time in er… maybe 10 years?! I’ve been swimming in the sea and by swimming, I mean floating or snorkelling or trying to retrieve lost paddle from capsized kayak.

I have to say that swimming laps is surprisingly exhausting. I was pretty knackered after 1 miserable lap. And when I was hanging onto the wall catching my breath, I thought to myself – Wait a minute, don’t you run?! Shouldn’t you be fitter than this?!! (Apparently not.) I am convinced that I’m doing something wrong. Too much drag on the legs, not breathing right, very inefficient strokes. Hmmm.

But all in all, still a pretty good way to spend an hour or so.  A short stroll to the pool.  A couple of laps.  A decent workout.  The setting sun.  A yummy dinner after.  It’s all good.  🙂

I oddly feel like going again tomorrow.

Half a year of pain

December 18, 2008

So my Christmas present to myself was about 1/2 a year of pain.  My gym was doing personal trainer packages for the festive season and so I thought that I might sign myself up for a whole bunch of sessions with a trainer.  The guy I spoke was nice enough and seemed to know what he was doing.  I told him about my new year’s resolution to run a marathon next year and he used to do marathons so everything was sweet.

At my first session today, he tells me that he’s the trainer from hell.  The things I DID NOT know before I signed the contract.  Oh dear. All the leg workouts were fine.  (Then again, I run so I suppose my legs are in better shape.)  But it turns out that I have no upper-body strength to speak of.  Goodness, my arms are going to be jelly tomorrow.  Triceps?  What are those?!

At the end of the session, I thought I do a bit more cardio before heading off for dinner.

Working out some more?

Yup.  I thought I’d do a little more cardio before I go.  (Read:  I was going to run 2km and call it quits.  What’s that?  15mins?)

Great!  You should go longer, especially if you want start burning fat (as opposed to just blood sugar).  45mins.  Bye!  I’m off for dinner.

When he got back from dinner, I was still working out.  Urg.

(By the way, the twice a week night 4km run route has been banned.  Need to up the distance to 6km.)

So, as a strategist, this is my dilemma:  Do I up the intensity of my non-PT gym workouts to get in shape faster so that I don’t die at my PT sessions, therefore being in perpetual physical pain through the week?  Or do I be a complete slacker so that I only have to die once a week?  Oh dear.

(Damn this type A personality.  I already know I’m going to be in perpetual physical pain for pretty much the first half of 2009.)

The importance of showing up

December 10, 2008

A passage from the book I’m currently reading. Yancey makes me want to be a Christian writer so badly.

Indeed, the New Testament presents prayer as a weapon in a prolonged struggle. Jesus’s parables on prayer show a widow pestering a judge and a man pounding on his neighbour’s door. After painting a picture of the Christian as a soldier fitted out with the “full armour of God”, Paul gives four direct commands to pray. Elsewhere, Paul urges his protégé Timothy to endure hardship like a soldier, to toil like a farmer, to compete like an athlete.

I have neither farmed nor served in the military but for thirty years I have been a runner, often entering charity races. I remember well how it all started. I met a young man named Peter Jenkins at a writer’s conference as he was working on the book A Walk Across America, which later became a national bestseller. As he recounted some of his adventures on a long walk across the country, he said, “I get tired of these reporters flying down from New York, renting a car, then driving out to meet me. They hit the electric window button of their air-conditioned car, lean out, and ask, “So Peter, what’s it like to walk across America?” I’d like a reporter to walk with me for a while!” Without thinking, I volunteered.

As our agreed-upon time approached, I realized that if I planned to walk through Texas in July with a backpack weighing sixty-pounds, I had better get into shape. I bought some cheap running shoes, stepped out the door, and sprinted down the driveway, expecting to run a few miles. At the end of the block I pulled up, gasping and wheezing, with an abrupt lesion in physical fitness. Lay off exercise for a decade or more, and the boy no longer responds.

I ran as far as I could that day – one block – then walked a block, ran another block, and limped home humiliated. The next day I ran two blocks, kept on walking, and ran some more. Within six weeks, just in time for Texas assignment, I was running seven miles without stopping. That began a routine of aerobic exercise that continues to this day. My body has become so accustomed to the regimen that, if I have to skip a few days because of injury or illness, I feel edgy and restless.

I learned early on never to ask myself, “Do you feel like running toady?” I just do it. Why? I can think of many reasons. Regular exercise allows me to eat what I want without worrying about weight gain. It does long-term good for my heart and lungs. It allows me to do other activities, such as skiing and mountain climbing. All these benefits represent the kind of “deferred gratification” Daniel Yankelovich referred to.

As with physical exercise, much of the benefit of prayer comes as a result of consistency, the simple act of showing up. The writer Nancy Mairs says she attends church in the same spirit in which a writer does to her desk every morning, so that if an idea comes along she’ll be there to receive it. I approach prayer the same way. Many days, I would be hard-pressed to describe a direct benefit. I keep on, though, whether it feels as if I am profiting or not. I show up in the hope of getting to know God better, and perhaps hearing from God in ways accessible only through quiet and solitude.

– Philip Yancey
Prayer: Does it make any difference?

Australia runner, Jana Pittman, has a tattoo of a bumble-bee on her stomach. When asked why once, she replied: “Aerodynamically, the bumblebee cannot fly. It does not know this and continues to fly anyway.” That statement is full of blissfully naïve ignorance of what is possible, which I think about sums up my irrational desire to get out of bed really early this morning and run for a very long time. God knows I’m not built to be a distance runner but hey, I completed a half-marathon today. What were YOU doing at 6.30am this morning? Haha.

People talk about race strategy. Pacing, negative splits, when to take the gu gel etc. I had a race strategy too but it was a lot more first-order – Don’t die. Complete it. Enjoy yourself. Sounds simple enough but you will be surprised how easy it is get side-tracked and distracted and wonder later why everything went to pot. Much like life really. But I’m pleased to say that I achieved what I set out to do today and that gives my soul immense satisfaction.

When you are running a half-marathon and as slow as I do, you have a lot of time to think. A LOT. And with Coldplay playing in my ipod and the sun rising over the city, I wondered why I was running (more like a general musing rather than an anguished/agonized WHY?!). In my sleepy stupor, I thought about running a good race as a metaphor for a life well-lived. So here are some disjointed, post first half marathon thoughts:


I started running this year.  I never ran longer than 2.4km before that and that was about 10 years ago.  It started as a deferred new year’s resolution from 2007 but even after that 10k race goal was reached in June, I continued running because I love the solitude of a long run. I run to be still (ironically). You have no idea how many times the simple ability to gear up and go out for a run has kept my sanity going this year. I have run till sweat mingles with tears, indistinguishably salty to taste; till the pain in my legs distracts from the pain elsewhere; till problems turn to praise; till my head is clear of all the noise and my heart is at peace. There is a high positive correlation between the quality of my prayer life and my weekly mileage. I talk to God and he talks back.  It’s all good.  Running reminds me that I am a deeply spiritual person, if not a particularly religious one. The forced stillness (especially to listen) has been very good for my soul.


I don’t run for the company (although there are plenty of people who do). But hovering around the periphery of the community of runners, I’ve learnt a lot. Runners are almost always encouraging and I always appreciate the trouble that more experience runners take to give me running tips. God knows I need all the help I can get!

Maybe there is something shared about running together. Today, I really enjoyed being able to chat with some of the equally slow runners who were bringing up the back with me. The chat was pretty pedestrian but it helped to pass the miles and there is camaraderie in common misery. A big smile, a friendly face and a few encouraging words makes the race worth running. It was great to hear Di’s voice shouting my name from the other side of the turn. It was great to celebrate the run with her after over too much food! It’s the littlest things that keep you going.

There is also a difference between a runner and a spectator. Of course, there are some people on the sidelines who were wonderfully encouraging and supportive. But the 3km or so mark, there was a team of very annoyingly condescending cheerleaders. (What is the value-add of cheerleaders who aren’t cheering?) The guy running next to me muttered something about how irritating they were. I grinned and said, “Yes, it’s easy to talk when you are on the other side of the fence”. I thought about all the times I’ve been in situation when some ignoramus has made some judgmental remark or other about something they have had no experience in. I always think to myself: Walk a mile in my shoes. Then we’ll talk. It’s not personal but it is hard for me to take you seriously when you have no idea what you are saying. And because I’m crazy and masochist that way, I will always prefer to be plodding along slowly on the runner’s side of the fence than wasting words that mean nothing on the other side.


The main reason why my new year’s resolution for 2009 is to run a marathon is because I realized this year that while I can be passionate, driven and committed, I have a problem with the endurance. Case point serving in church ministry for the last 4+ years or so and feeling like it’s been frustratingly forever when in reality what is 4+ years? It’s easy to get all excited about a race in the beginning when it is cool, you are surrounded by people and you’re still fresh. But what happens when like today, you have to stop very early in the race because you’re developing blisters? When you are alone? When you are dehydrated? When it starts to get bloody hot? Endurance seems like as good a lesson as any to learn and there is nothing like learning the lessons of life by actually doing it. I have a very long way to go in life but there will come a day when I want to be able to say, “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.” Maybe running long long will have some thing to teach me about that?


Finishing the half-marathon today was a phenomenal end to an emotionally intense week and the perfect end to the year. It made what could have been one of the worst weeks of the year into one of the best. Scratch that. God made what could have been one of the worst weeks of the year into one of the best. Really, I couldn’t have asked for a better close to the week.

Today, I learn something about joy. That it is possible to be in physical pain (fucking blisters!) and exhausted and yet have joy that transcends that. A shower, a nap and deep heat rub takes away a lot of the discomfort.  Blisters will heal but the joy is irreplaceable. And I’m not talking about an exuberant, excited joy but really a deep, quiet and confident sense of it is well with my soul.

(A note to my future self – Remember this:  When your foot falters, mind over body will keep you going.  Any journey is made more pleasant when talking to God, even when running it alone. Always be a runner, no matter how slow. Always encourage a fellow runner.  It’s ok to stop to walk if it means that you will be able to complete the race.   Go long.  Stick to it.  Life’s greatest blessings sometimes come in funny packaging, like a half-marathon finisher medal.  Today is a great day to praise the Lord.)

21.1km, 1 bright blue dri-fit top, 4 plasters, Blisters in 4 places, 5 bottles of ice mountain, 3 cups of 100 plus, 1 pack of strawberry-banana flavour gu gel stuff, 1 finisher medal and almost 4hours later and I earned the stripes to call myself a half-marathoner.

Running in Sydney

October 16, 2008

Guess what I’m going to be doing in Sydney!

Must remember running shorts this time!