First Post from Perth

Right. It’s been a while. Had a few things to do you know with the whole setting up a new life all over again thing. I wonder if there’s any chance of a consultancy post in witness protection for the FBI. I’m really getting rather good at this setting up a new life lark, bureaucratically speaking at least. My other career option at the moment is as an extra for ‘Home & Away’. I now live near a beach and there are always, always surfers doing their thang in the water – and undressing beachside. I’ve been practising walking past over and over looking disinterested and I think I’m ready for camera.

Career progression aside, a month after our arrival in Perth, our lives have taken on some degree of ‘normalcy’. That is if you consider having to weave around a maze of cardboard boxes to get from the kitchen to the bathroom to be normal.

Cottesloe Beach - 1.5km from my door and I get to run here
Cottesloe Beach – 1.5km from my latest door. Sorry no half naked surfer dudes in this shot 😦

The kids are happy at school. I’ve got a new address, a bank account, a phone, a car, a SATNAV (very important!) and of course, I’ve resumed my duties as personal driver to three children. My soccer-obsessed son was welcomed into a local club despite the season being almost finished, and daughter no. 2 is thrilled to have joined a great gymnastics club with lots of cool equipment. She has committed to 5.5 hours of training – and an extra 3 hours driving for me – per week. If only I got paid for mileage. Unfortunately, I’m paying for the mileage and it will take a long time to adjust to the price of petrol here compared to Malaysia. OMG!

Even nearer than the beach, I have the river. Nice :)
Even closer than the beach, the river. Nice 🙂

IMG_7446Speaking of mileage, this summer (and now winter as I’m in the Southern Hemisphere where winter seems disconcertingly like a great Irish summer but with surfers) was definitely the season of a lot of Expat and virtually no Runner for The Expat Runner. But now I think I’ve finally, with the help of a new Australian physio, and a three-pronged approach to Rehab (more on that another day), started to improve my ITBS. Sunday, I ran 5km for the first time in 10 weeks. Two weeks ago, I could barely manage 1.8km before excruciating pain forced me to stop. The cure has involved a lot of Elvis-inspired pelvic thrusting, frequent application of anti-inflammatory gel and, counter to the advice I received in Ireland, running (on alternate days only). I’m a long way from better but I’m on track for a return to racing. For now, I’m grateful for a return to running, even if it’s only 5km. In the meantime, a slower pace along the beach has its perks. Surf’s up mate, or whatever these lovely Ozzies say.

 

In Case of Emergency

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My favourite part of racing is registering. Months in advance, I love to complete online registration. Just a few clicks and some typing, and I’m giddy with excitement and a sense of accomplishment. If only I always felt the same after the race!

Every race requests details of medical conditions and a contact number in the event of an emergency. Now this is a detail I’ve been quite blasé about; whether he’s racing with me or not, I type in my husband’s name and phone number. I recently signed up for my first race in Australia. It’s in August and as I don’t possess a crystal ball, I’ve no idea what my husband’s phone number will be come race day. So I provided his Malaysian number knowing full well that by then this line will dead. In addition he’s running too so he won’t be carrying his phone anyway. I felt a slight tinge of bad conscience but really, what are the chances that anyone will need to call an emergency number on my behalf?

All this irresponsible form-filling lit up like an Emergency beacon last Sunday at Borneo International Marathon. Hanging out after the race, I saw a member of my running club who had trained really hard for his first marathon, being stretchered into the back of an ambulance. He had collapsed at the 41km mark. When I saw him he was unconscious and quite frankly looked dead. I remembered writing my husband’s number on the back of my bib in the space allocated to Emergency Contact but I couldn’t tell if my friend had done the same as he lay in the ambulance, paramedics urgently settling him for the siren-blazing ride to the hospital. I don’t know his wife but knew that she was staying at a hotel. Though the ambulance crew assured me that they would contact her, they couldn’t confirm that they had her number. I got the name of the hospital and rushed to retrieve my phone from the baggage area, found the hotel phone number and called her. She had already been contacted and was getting ready to head to the hospital. I still don’t know if the race people called her based on the information my friend had provided at registration, or if he had a number on the backside of his bib. (Bib swappers take note!!!) Either way, at least his wife was contacted very quickly. My friend was unconscious for four hours and luckily has made a ‘full recovery’ from heat exhaustion after four days in hospital.

My friend Lorna's pretty pink ID bracelet
My friend Lorna’s pretty pink ID bracelet

The shock of seeing him unconscious aside, the incident brought home the importance of these emergency contacts we provide. That day, my husband was nowhere nearby.  He was an still in bed, on an entirely different land mass, almost three hours flight away. He didn’t have a phone number for any friend I was with on Sunday. In fact, I don’t think he really knew who I was hanging with on Borneo. And my friends were racing, their phones stowed away in the baggage area. So, I wondered who should I have had as my emergency contact? Who would have ensured that I received the best possible care? Who would have hovered anxiously over my comatose body urging me to wake up. I suspect that given my circumstances that day – no one!

Several of my running buddies wear ID bracelets which provide essential information in case of emergency. I have held off buying one because again I don’t have contact details that will still be valid in a month’s time. However, once we get our new phone numbers, I vow to buy bracelets for both my husband, who cycles, and myself. Of course, even if I wear my bracelet, calling the number on it could be a waste of time.

Next weekend I plan to run the NM Galaxy 15km. My husband, it turns out, will be on a plane to South Korea as I curse the hills of Bukit Tunku. Until last Sunday, I’d have just shrugged and said, ‘Ah well, what are the chances of me collapsing at the race? After all, I’ve vowed to take it easy and not push hard.’  After the incident at Borneo Marathon, I’ve had a wake up call. Now, I need to find a friend, who isn’t running next Sunday, but who is prepared to take a call on my behalf – just in case.

How seriously do you consider the emergency contact information you provide at racing events? Do you wear a safety bracelet on training runs? If your partner races too, who can be contacted if one of you falls?

If Only Guinea Pigs Could Fly

Tigerphoto Last Sunday night, I sat down and did something I’d been procrastinating over for weeks. I made a poster advertising our four guinea pigs for adoption. And I cried. Guinea Pigs can’t fly, even on commercial airplanes, so we can’t take them with us to Australia. We’ve had Tiger, Dexter, Hermione and Grace for between two and a half and three years. It’s a bit complicated how we ended up with four in three separate cages but a Twitter feed description of the story would go something like: Two boys, one death, one boy, new friend, friend is a girl, lucky discovery before pregnancy, two more new friends, now two pairs, boys fight, separate, girls live happily ever after together. I put a few copies of the Guinea_Pigs poster in the trunk of my car with the weak intention of placing them on noticeboards at my children’s school. I hated the idea of advertising our little pets to total strangers. At physiotherapy, I told Akmal about my tale of projected loss and woe. ‘I’ll take one,’ he said as he released my posterior tibialis. ‘You will?’ Talk about making a girl happy on a Monday morning! Then Diana, a lovely lady with three children, who works at the clinic said she’d take one. I promised pictures. On Friday, at my 50th physio session since September, Diana was very excited about the guineas and agreed to take the pair of girls. An hour of so later, she Whatsapped me to ask if Dexter was still available as another physio wanted to take him.

GP PosterSo I didn’t need the poster, the animals are going to people whom I know will care for them, and all because I suffered a PTT injury which still niggles especially after hill workouts. Ain’t life funny. I haven’t handed over the animals yet but am very, very relieved that this major emotional hurdle has, if not been breached, well at least approached with a minimum chance of upset. I hope. In other news, I received an email from Garmin Malaysia today in response to my query about sponsorship – back in January. Yes, they’d like to sponsor me with a custom-made run top for racing and a watch, in return for reviewing their products and wearing the top and publishing photos of me wearing it on my blog. They suggest I get a Forerunner 620 from them, Aarrgh! My husband bought me a new Forerunner 620 four weeks ago for my birthday – and I love it. And I’m leaving Malaysia. But I hope I can still work something out. I have four races in Malaysia over the next six weeks, all of which I will write about, and during which I will used my Garmin watch. And I’m not going to stop racing when I get to Australia. I’m just going to be a lot further down the pack. But I plan to still write about my experiences. This is another reason why it sucks to move about. Good things  – and friendships too by the way – always materialise as you’re heading for the exit!

Juice

I recently bought a Breville juicer hoping I could use it to get more fruit and veg into my picky kids. Well so far kids-4, mom-0, but I’ll keep trying. And I’m still juicing as I happen to love the stuff and hope it will keep me strong and healthy for the jam-packed running and packing/moving months ahead.
Coincidentally, flicking through the US edition of Runners World yesterday, an article entitle ‘Get Juiced’ caught my eye. By the way, the fabulous Shalane Flanagan, my current runner’s crush, is their cover girl this month and there are several articles related to Monday’s Boston marathon.

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Back to the juice. I opted for the 1 beet/1 cm ginger/half cucumber/1 pear combo recipe from RW and it tasted great. Beet can be tough on the intestines but it is meant to be an athletic performance enhancer as it oxygenates the blood. Ginger is supposed to calm the stomach. Let’s hope they balance each other out for tomorrow’s 21km LSD!

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No running (water) !

So I can’t run today. I just shouldn’t. My foot is as sore as it was yesterday so I must heed it’s plea for rest. But I feel restless. Boy do I really, really want to run! Second to my desire to get out on the road is my wish for rain. We’ve had so little rain over the past two months that water rationing is now being implemented. In effect, this means that since 9 AM this morning, the water company has switched off supply to our area and it will not be switched back on until 4 PM on Tuesday. Then, we will have water for 44 hours before the off-on cycle starts again, all the way to April 1.

My understanding is that there is currently water in the communal tank and that it is up to residents to make this water go as far as possible. The last time there was a two-day water cut off, for maintenance reasons, my neighbours continued to have their staff water their gardens, wash their fleets of cars daily and send litres of water down the drain, literally. I was gobsmacked when I ran – of course – around the neighbourhood through puddles that had come from hoses. When I challenged one neighbour’s driver, as he scrubbed the hubcaps on a Mercedes, he laughed at me. Laughed! So let’s see what happens tomorrow. Even if I can’t run, I’ll walk, like a vigilante water inspector, armed with an iPhone. I’ll be damned if I’m asking my kids not to flush and have the briefest possible showers only for others to squander the precious little water we have. Let’s hope I’m able to run tomorrow to temper my anger somewhat. Or perhaps my neighbours will surprise me and keep the hoses off. Perhaps..

And some good news – I’m very pleased that the Weekly Telegraph has published an article I wrote about how I developed a passion for running mid-life. Please have a look by clicking on this link. Thank you!

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Philomena

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In the opening scene of the movie ‘Philomena’, a doctor prescribes running as the antidote to the main character, Martin’s, depression. It’s not of course a movie about running and a few years ago I probably wouldn’t have noticed Martin’s poor, lumbering gate in the first running snippet, nor his improved running technique as the movie progresses and Martin’s life takes on new meaning through his search for a woman’s long lost son. But as they say, you can take a runner to the cinema but they’re still a runner. OK, I just made that up.

51yGmIlcxJL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-v3-big,TopRight,0,-55_SX278_SY278_PIkin4,BottomRight,1,22_AA300_SH20_OU02_Philomena is a human interest story which, according to cynical, depressed, novice runner, Martin (played fabulously by Steve Coogan), is “a euphemism for stories about vulnerable, ignorant, weak-minded people.” Of course this is tosh, though there is certainly vulnerability aplenty in the story of Philomena Lee (played by Judi Dench) who was forced in the 1950s by “evil nuns” to surrender her son for adoption when he was three years old because she was unmarried and Irish. His name changed, her son was shipped off to a family in the US, and she was never to meet him again despite efforts made by both Philomena and her son, who became Micahel Hess, to find each other. Even as late as the 1990s the “evil nuns” thwarted attempts at a reunion.

The heartbreaking efforts Michael made to find his birth mother are glossed over in the movie to make the story more palatable, and to avoid public incidences of uncontrollable sobbing. In the movie, the banter between Martin and Philomena is often very funny so that there are laughs and tears in equal measure. It was a smart move on the producers part to go for this middle ground rather than hammering the audience over the head with the true facts behind the story, specifically the consequences his estrangement from his mother and Ireland ultimately had for Micahel Hess. This version of the story is available in Martin Sixsmith’s 2011 book ‘The Lost Child of Philomena Lee’ which has now been reissued as ‘Philomena’ to tie in with the movie.

The convent attached to what was once the Sean Ross Abbey Mother and Baby Home in Co. Tipperary, Ireland, where Philomena Lee lived with her son before he was adopted.
The convent attached to what was once the Sean Ross Abbey mother and baby home in Co. Tipperary, Ireland, where Philomena Lee lived with her son before he was adopted.

I read the book a couple of years ago as research for my novel (working title, Born Irish) which has at its core a story similar to Philomena’s – a single mother forced to give her child up for adoption in 1960s Ireland and the repercussions that event has on the rest of her life. In 2012, I visited the site of the mother and baby home at Sean Ross Abbey, Roscrea and felt very maudlin at the thought of all the poor girls – and most of them were mere girls – incarcerated in the place because of Catholic society’s tough stance on pregnancy out of wedlock. It’s estimated that over 2000 babies were exported from Ireland to the US between 1949 and 1973* with many others being sent to 16 other countries. There were of course also domestic adoptions. It was hard not to think that if I’d been born a few decades earlier, I might have passed through its doors. Sex education was non-existent at the time so many girls got pregnant as a result of ignorance combined with a few lustful moments, or worse, rape. Treated as sinners, unworthy of motherhood, the majority were left with no choice but to surrender their children, with many looking after their babies until toddlerhood before being coerced into signing them away, promising never to seek contact with them again.

Statue at Sean Ross Abbey.
Statue at Sean Ross Abbey.

As an Irish woman and a mother, I am happy that the movie ‘Philomena’ is reaching an international audience, and helping to highlight the recent past that must not be forgotten. As a runner, I’m happy to have a movie advertise the psychological benefits of taking up running though of course there is no guarantee that doing so will, as happened to the Martin character in the movie, enable one to write a best-selling book that will one day be turned into a Hollywood movie. But hey, one can dream 🙂

* Banished Babies: The Secret History of Ireland’s Baby Export Business by Mike Milotte.

The Beach – on the tourist treadmill in Thailand

Back in 2000, Leonardo Di Caprio starred in ‘The Beach’, a movie based on the book of the same name by Alex Garland. Much of the movie was filmed on Maya Beach, Ko Phi Phi Lee Island.
This is the ‘The Beach’ today, or more accurately, this was it yesterday. I haven’t seen a stretch of sand this crowded since a trip to the Canary Islands in 2007 when Norwegians lay jowl to jowl, saddle bag to saddle bag, soaking up the winter sun.
But there was no sun bathing on Maya Beach yesterday.

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We landed on the strand, our boat parking alongside at least 30 more tourist-laden vessels, as part of an island tour. We were like tourists on a treadmill, with water and cola included in the deal, except of course there was no actual running done because on Maya Beach there was barely space to walk. The sand was silken, and if you could photoshop the boats and people out of the experience as easily as a newspaper can for a photo, it would certainly feel like paradise. But yesterday, paradise was reduced to a photo bombing opportunity. I envisage hundreds of Facebook profile photos updated last night with images of tourists against a backdrop of, well, hundreds of other tourists taking new Facebook profile shots.

Years from now, anthropologists viewing these scenes, will be able to examine the aspirations and behaviour of middle-class travellers in 2014. Today, ecologists must be crying. Yesterday, I almost was.

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Race Photographers

Photos from the MPIB 2014  Race taken various by photographers and posted on Facebook
Photos from the MPIB 2014 Race taken by various  photographers (listed below) and posted on Facebook.  

When I recently asked a friend why he thought the number of women signing up for marathons in Malaysia was so low compared to men, he joked that it was because women didn’t want to mess up their hair and makeup. I’m sure the true reason is far more complex, but he was alluding to a very valid point. In running, certainly in this hot and humid climate, there is little place for vanity. Here there is really only one look irrespective of the season and that’s the wet (and sweaty look). Every day is a bad hair day!

How ironic it is then that I’ve never had my photo taken so much as I have since I started running here. I got less attention from photographers at my wedding than I do at a race! The presence of photographers at races, along the route as well as at the start and finish lines, gives one a taste of (make-up free) celebrity life surrounded by the Paparazzi.

After races, these camera guys and gals post albums of thousands of race photos on Facebook, sharing their work for free, encouraging people to tag themselves and their friends. They rise in the dark to lug equipment around after runners, to capture moments of joy and sometimes suffering, shouting encouragement during races and then providing what are essentially free gifts afterwards. The images gifted don’t always tally with the images in one’s memory: how often have I thought I was running with the grace of a gazelle (ok not that often) to have a photo reveal someone with the gait of a hippo. Conversely, a recent set of shots near the finish line of the MPIB 12km shows no hint of the rising tide of nausea I was feeling, but a face grim with determination to cross the line (before dry heaving). Sometimes, you see, a photo can in fact lie.

With the help of a very humble photographer, who doesn’t want the beam of attention shone his way, I have collated a list of local race photographers and links to their Albums on Facebook. Most have posted hundreds of shots of the recent MPIB 2014 run. Be sure to show your appreciation by liking their work, and as they same themselves, feel free to tag your friends 🙂

Victor Chon Hze Hau (Victor & Elaine)

Running Malaysia Magazine (Chris Gan)

Chan Wk

Barefoot Ahfook (Jason Thai)

ET Tey

Runwitme/Celebrunner

Louis Ong

Tristupe

Tristupe’s MPIB Race Report

Leon You

Kahwai Low

Strava to the Rescue (of my ego)

My husband is a very keen and competitive road cyclist who spends most Sunday mornings dragging himself and his hideously expensive (to a non-cyclist) bike up hills on the outskirts of KL. After each ride, he usually sits in front of a computer and analyses his ride data, and tells me that he’s just been declared King of the Hill, or fifth fastest ever on a stretch of road, that kind of thing. The ride data is assessed on a website called Strava. I will admit that my eyes have frequently glazed over at the sight of Strava, spotted over my husband’s shoulder. Until yesterday, that is, when it attracted my full attention for the first time.

Yesterday, being a holiday, the routine went as usual. My husband was on Strava, looking at the data from our run the previous day in Bukit Tunku. The website collates running data as well as riding. ‘You’d probably be Queen of the Hill on some of these route segments here,’ my husband said.

Whoa! Hold up a second? What!? Faster than it takes to set up a Facebook page, I registered on Strava, uploaded over 400 runs from my Garmin watch, and found that yes indeed, I had set course records (CR), personal records (PR), and even Queen of the Hill records on a variety of run segments that are popular locally. I received a deluge of virtual medals and trophies.

My Strava accolades
My Strava accolades

Now I’m not getting carried away with the glory of all this virtual ego-boosting as none of the fast runners I know are on Strava, but still. If you’ve read my previous post – no? – then off you go and do that now here and please come back.

Back? OK. Where was I? Race anxiety, that’s where I was, setting PBs in training but failing to come up with the goods on race day. Strava means that my training runs are recorded and visible so that when I do manage to run my fastest, the results are visible online, and if they are good enough, I receive a little virtual trophy for a course record, or a medal for a personal record. As someone who tends to run fast for short distances, way shorter than most races, it means I can still get recognition for my short, sharp bursts of speed. Unfortunately my happiness is a bit too dependent on recognition – other INFJs will understand 🙂

Strava is really a social networking site for people who love to run and ride, a place where it’s perfectly acceptable – indeed it’s de rigeur –  to advertise your latest athletic accomplishment, be it a 150m hill, or a 7km loop, without fear of alienating your sedentary friends. You can also comment on people’s training sessions and Like (give Kudos to) friends’ runs or rides.

Stravaprofile

I’m thinking too that it’s probably a great way of discovering new running routes too, something I’ll be facing when we relocate mid-year. The site is free, though Premium membership – my husband has it – provides lots of extras such as pace analysis and goal setting. I’m not quite ready to commit the money just yet but I suspect that like joining Facebook and Twitter, it’s probably inevitable now that I’ve discovered the site.

Here’s a link to my Strava profile if you want to follow me there, and I will return the favour. At the moment, I only have one Follower. My husband, of course 🙂

Happy Christmas

It is exactly two years ago today that I started taking running seriously enough to measure my pace and distances. In 2011, Santa brought me a Garmin Forerunner 610 and on Christmas morning, I took it out for a very slow, though it didn’t feel so at the time, 5km. We’ve been through a lot together since: my first consecutive 10 kilometres without walking, my first race, my first half marathon, followed by two more in Singapore and Cambodia, my first prize, and of course my first three falls, the first of which on New Year’s Day 2013 in Siem Reap left its mark on us both. Thankfully my own scars have healed better than the watch’s!
In total I’ve run almost 2900 km on the road since Christmas Day 2011. That’s about 2850 km more than in the previous 40 years. I can’t imagine my life without running now, and am grateful to have come back from my PTT injury feeling stronger and wiser.

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Happy Christmas!

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