Running, Travel

Lessons from a DNF Race

On 2 May 2015, the Ninja Turtle attempted her first ultramarathon trail. The following video tells the story.

After a week of grieving and moping, the Ninja Turtle exhausted her emotional response to the disappointing outcome, pulled herself together, and made that video.

Six months of preparation, discipline and sacrifice; hundreds of euros spent on the trip, and her race was truncated by bad weather. She has cried, she has sulked, she has mulled over it. She has cursed the gods, her fate, and the ill-aligned stars. She has rehashed the event in her mind over and over, trying to draw some lesson from it – something, anything, to pinpoint her errors, her faults, her weaknesses. Something to blame, and to avoid repeating the next time.

The thing is, there’s probably none. She has followed her training plan to the T (save for a week after her accident of falling onto concrete from a loft 2.5m high), fighting against incredible pain on several occasions. She’d run in the heat of the Australian summer, the humidity of Singapore and the frigid winter in Europe.

She’d cut back on alcohol, modified her diet to become fat-adapted, sorely missing out on beef hor fun, curry puffs, Hokkien mee, sushi rolls… (it’s a list too heartbreakingly long to continue so she’ll stop there).

She’d trained in the prescribed heart rate zones. She’d done the mileage she had to do, and for a while, she celebrated PRs for her 10K, 10 miles and marathon distances all in the same racing season. It seemed as if all the fatigue, sleeplessness and ravenous hunger were worth it, promising a celebratory finish to an amazing race season.

The DNF was thus an incredibly bitter pill to swallow. The Ninja Turtle’s boss, an ultramarathoner himself, told her there are many reasons for DNFs, and indeed, the weather is one that’s truly beyond the scope of runners’ control. She’d trained well, toed the line in peak condition (no injuries, having tapered brilliantly), and stuck to all racing conventions: nothing new on race day, stay hydrated, poop before running, smile for the cameras, enjoy the experience and make friends with fellow trail runners.

She did all that and still she DNFed.

After 7 hours in the relentless rain, having covered 49.4km and about 1000m+ elevation according to her GPS, her clothes and shoes were soaked through, and she’d lost her gloves. Despite all the noodle soup, sandwiches, coffee, cake, tea, chocolate and bananas she’d eaten, her temperature dropped. With the winds picking up in the darkness of the night, the rain still pouring and the temperatures dropping even further, she suffered her worst defeat ever when a gust of wind blew just as she turned around a corner, making her feel so ill, like she’d been violently punched in the guts, and her knees buckled.

Thankfully, GodzillaPin was there to witness it all. He’d come to St Julien du Sault to meet the Turtle for a moral boost, and was in fact, holding her hand and walk/jogging alongside her the very moment she’d caved, remarking only 2 seconds before that how icy cold her hand was.

The volunteers arrived, and shortly after, the medics whisked her into a heated ambulance where her pulse and breathing were measured. She hadn’t stopped shivering, and was begin to feel slightly drowsy and a little confused. Her bib was removed and she was declared out of the race, and brought back to Sens in the vehicle, with GodzillaPin following behind in his car.

The heartbreak came slowly, in waves. That night itself, the Ninja Turtle was simply numb with cold and the only thought she had in mind was: DNF. Sitting in the hot bath back at the hotel, having washed away the mud, she could only console herself with the thought that at least she was not passed out in the forest between St Julien du Sault and Villeneuve-sur-Yonne, in the rain, in the middle of the night.

Over the following two days, the physical ache of running almost 50km of muddy trails was frequently matched by the emotional devastation of failing to finish. The Ninja Turtle felt betrayed by both the inclement weather, and a constitution too weak to handle the rough elements. Mentally, she was certain she would have made the 85km, but physically, despite the 1000 miles she’d logged on the hills of Moselle, in the valleys of Meuse, along the coasts of Sydney and on the sandy beaches, in gorges and ravines of South Australia, along the highways of Frankfurt and Marseille, through the villages on the outskirts of Paris and on the country roads of Lorraine, the canal networks of Singapore and Metz, morning, noon and night, she was still unable to support the cold rain in wet clothes and shoes. She had found her limit.

So that’s it. Life isn’t fair; if it had been sunny like last year, no doubt she wouldn’t have cracked, but there is no point speculating. She couldn’t possibly have trained for these conditions, so she’s not sure she can regret anything. That’s the lesson out of this race – she’s given her 100% and she has failed through no real fault of her own. Sometimes, we cannot seek to blame anything or anyone, but rather, we must simply accept how things are, learn to let go, and move on.

Above all, her spirit has not been beaten by this experience, and she shall rise from the ashes to try and try again. One day, the stars will align in her favour and she shall be ready to claim the victory of daring to chase a dream.

In the meantime, all that’s left to do is to turn away from her grief, and properly thank every single person who has supported her on this remarkable journey with their faith, confidence, and words of encouragement when the Ninja Turtle needed them most. Rod Lowe, Baby Turtle, Sonic the Hedgehog, Krazy Cow, Yellow Jersey, and above all, GodzillaPin.

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Running, Travel

Running with a Pro

The Ninja Turtle is still basking in the afterglow of yesterday’s amazing run at Singapore’s MacRitchie Reservoir.

For the Ninja Turtle, MacRitchie used to be synonymous with the torturous "cross-country run" back in high school. Believe it or not, she used to hate it.

For the Ninja Turtle, MacRitchie used to be synonymous with the torturous “cross-country run” back in high school. Believe it or not, she used to hate it.

Since then, it appears that the place has undergone some upgrades, and is now a full-facilities running destination.

Since then, it appears that the place has undergone some upgrades, and is now a full-facilities running destination.

It's even got a sheltered cafeteria area for post-run meals!

It’s even got a sheltered cafeteria area for post-run meals!

Once she was done snooping around, it was time to hit the road.

Thankfully, MacRitchie is full of shade, because running in Singapore at 2pm without trees could possibly kill you.

Thankfully, MacRitchie is full of shade, because running in Singapore at 2pm without trees could possibly kill you.

And oh, how she has missed running on the trails!

And oh, how she has missed running on the trails!

A little rustling in the undergrowth revealed... a dinosaur! No but seriously,how often do you get to see a dragon mid-run?

A little rustling in the undergrowth revealed… a dinosaur! No but seriously,how often do you get to see a dragon mid-run?

Every once in a while, life throws you a spectacular opportunity that seems too good to be true. This was the case for the Ninja Turtle, who got to run with The Road Runner. The Road Runner is officially the Ninja Turtle’s new hero. Not only is the Road Runner an ultramarathon runner, he has also placed 12th in an IronMan triathlon! Swimmer, cyclist and runner, rolled in one!

What is it like to run with a multi-talented sportsperson? Well, it’s just as well that the Ninja Turtle didn’t know what she was signing up for before she actually showed up, otherwise she might have just crapped her pants. Yet, at no point did the Road Runner make the Ninja Turtle feel uncomfortable, and he would check in every few kilometres just to make sure she was feeling OK. Of course, since they were talking nonstop during the run, the Road Runner was clearly not cracking the whip on the Ninja Turtle. When she started getting winded, they simply slowed the pace and of course, walked a couple of the steeper stretches of the uphills. Before they both knew it, they were back to the starting point, and the run was over.

The Ninja Turtle ran this circuit with a pro.

The Ninja Turtle ran this circuit with a pro. Clearly, they were going at her pace, not his.

It was as much a humbling experience as it was an inspiring one. While others may be weekend warriors with a penchant for collecting race medals as Facebook bragging rights, this guy actually truly loves his sport. Through the course of their conversation, the Ninja Turtle learnt that the Road Runner is in fact, a proud father of two young children, who had recently quit a well-paying job the corporate world to pursue his dream of developing the running scene in Singapore. To truly appreciate the significance of this move, one must understand that Singapore is a country in which cash is king, and money talks the loudest. It is, after all, a country where 17.1% of the population are millionaires.

And yet, the Road Runner has very courageously decided to turn his attention to developing not one, but two websites for runners. He’s only made the move back in June, so the websites are still in their infancy, but they are slowly and surely growing.

Just Run Lah! is the one-stop running website specifically for Singaporeans, with blogs, articles, competitions, a forum, and race listings that include races from around the region.

Ministry of Run is global, with articles and highlights from all around the world, and an international race database. Membership is free, and as the website continues to grow, users can access some pretty cool features:

ministryofrun

To read the Ninja Turtle’s contributions to Just Run Lah! simply click here.

Thank you, Road Runner, for being an amazing role model to this aspiring athlete!

Thank you, Road Runner, for being an amazing role model to this aspiring athlete!

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Arts and Culture, Running

The Essence of Running

What is the essence of running?

To run is to be fearless
Listen to the multitude of voices on the web
From all types of runners in this world
One community
One common trait – fearlessness.

Runners are not afraid to try –
And fail
Runners are not afraid to cry –
They will.

Runners are not afraid of the elements
The sun, the wind and the rain
The snow, the sleet and the hail
Are inconveniences, not barriers.

Runners are not afraid of pain
DOMS, blisters, chafing
MTSS, ITBS, plantar fasciitis,
Are just some risks we are willing to take.

To run is to say: I am not afraid
Of setting out in search for more
Of finding myself along the way
Of challenging my pre-conceived limits
Of humbly respecting myself
Because I wasn’t afraid to give 100%.

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Running

Finding A Role Model

In the running and fitness community, it is said to death that the only person you’re trying to beat is yourself. That works to keep morale high, because we can’t all be Mo Farah or (insert the current most awesome person in your preferred discipline). Some people freak out at the mere idea that despite years and years of slog, there will always be someone else faster/stronger/richer/more attractive than themselves, and the idea is enough to curdle all dreams and they just give up. So, you see phrases floating around on the internet saying things like “strive for progress, not perfection”, or  some other rah-rah along those lines.

Today, the Ninja Turtle openly disagrees with that. All that comparing-oneself-to-no-one-else sounds a lot like encouraging self-obsession, and god knows most of us are already pretty self-absorbed. Just ask GodzillaPin how the Ninja Turtle can talk about nothing else but her run splits over the entire dinner.

Sometimes, the best way to stay motivated is to simply find someone whom you admire, and aspire towards their abilities. As Papa Turtle observed many years ago of the Ninja Turtle, “monkey see, monkey do”. We very naturally want to emulate people we look up to. They set the benchmarks with actual achievements. They too, have invested a whole lot of blood, sweat and tears into getting where they are. They are role models.

Alongside the OatmealBaby Turtle and the Snowy Owl (a really good friend), the Ninja Turtle found a new role model this last weekend in the incredible form of Grandmother Rabbit (GodzillaPin’s paternal grandmother). At eighty-eight years old, she managed to effortlessly keep a straight back and do a complete squat as she was inspecting some glass jars the duo brought over for her to use when she starts making eyewateringly delicious homemade jams. Down she went in one graceful motion, and up she came just as swiftly, with no creaks, no groans, no complains.

No, she ain’t no weightlifter, nor is she a fitness fanatic with decades of physical conditioning behind her. She just does a whole lot of gardening, and like so many people of her generation, still remember the importance of always maintaining good posture. (Grandma Turtle, God rest her soul, used to refuse sitting on the couch, most probably because she suspected it encouraged terrible form.)

There are many things to aspire to in life, many of them involving stroking the ego with some great achievement or other, but very often we forget that living out a long, healthy and meaningful life, while maintaining independence in old age with complete cognitive and physical functions, is just as much as, if not more worthy than everything else we’ll ever do.

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Running

Running Motivation

Hello, and happy St Patrick’s Day! Since the Ninja Turtle is neither Irish, nor Catholic, it seems a little strange to be hat-tipping this festivity, but she never says no to one more reason for a cold beer, which seems to be the real point of today. Like all runners, she is also somewhat superstitious and ritualistic – no hunting for four-leaf clovers or wearing horseshoes, but she certainly wore green while out running today, and the thought crossed her mind to go around pinching those who didn’t, so she would be chased into picking up her pace.

We’re halfway through March, and now seems as good a time as any to re-evaluate how this year is coming along. This time last year, the Turtle was training hard for the Marathon de Paris, her first, and having a bucket list goal to work towards is one hell of a motivation in itself. Having achieved the goal however, the Ninja Turtle has decided that there is a lot more to running than just marathons. Sure, they are nothing to sneeze at, but 2014 is the year she’s going to diversify her running experiences. She aims to do more festival and music runs (because she loves dressing silly and scoring high-5s from the children), as well as trail racing. Of course, she’ll go back to the marathons if something really attractive comes up, but for now, there are other priorities.

It must be said that with a less solid goal, it can be challenging to stay focused. When you’re aiming to complete a marathon, you have a mantra on your runs, it sounds something like “42.195… 42.195… if I don’t make it, I’d rather die… 42.195…” (or if you use miles, “26.2… 26.2… I’m going to run faster than you… 26.2…”) When, like the Ninja Turtle, you’re an amateur runner without a coach or a tailor-made training plan, and all you want to do is have fun/run through rugged terrain, mantras become less evident. They sound a little bit more like “kill the hills! kill the hills!” or, while running on the grass in Anywhere, France, “do NOT step on dogshit, do NOT step on dogshit”.

Nonetheless, there is plenty to get her lacing up and out the door; as mentioned before, spring has sprung early this year. The riverside trails that were closed over winter due to floods have reopened, and she did most of the 8 miles alongside two rivers – the Seille and the Moselle.

The best feeling in the world can only be attained by outrunning the ducks on the river.

The best feeling in the world can only be attained by outrunning the ducks on the river.

And along the way, she was treated to views like these:

La Seille, as seen at the Porte des Allemands.

La Seille, as seen at the Porte des Allemands.

Of course, scenery aside, this runner has a few other “carrots” to keep her running. In no particular order, they include:

  • A new running playlist
  • A large post-run meal featuring a LOT of peanut butter
  • Enrolling for an upcoming race
  • A running magazine that GodzillaPin bought for her

How do YOU motivate yourself to run?

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Travel

The Main Purpose of Your Trip Is…

Although GodzillaPin and the Ninja Turtle have had a real blast being tourists in Australia, the primary reason they flew halfway across the world was not the sunshine and the beaches, nor the food and the shopping (although these are pretty good reasons too). No, they made this long trek for a much more important reason – to recognise the Ninja Turtle’s baby sister finishing an important stage of her life, and moving on to the next.

Baby Turtle graduating from the Hogwart's...

Baby Turtle graduating from Hogwart’s…

Mother Turtle was here too, and so was the boyfriend. It was a family event to witness a Miss T turning into a Dr T, as she is now officially a veterinarian.

Mother Turtle is super proud of Baby Turtle

Mother Turtle is super proud of Baby Turtle

It is a relief as much for the family and friends who act as pillars of support, as it is for those who undertake many years of hard slog in chasing their dreams. And that’s what it is – dedication and commitment towards realizing what we really, truly want. It takes a lot of effort, and often times, when we stumble and start doubting ourselves, we need people around us to love us and believe in us.

The Baby Turtle had always wanted to play and work with animals, so it was essentially a childhood fantasy we witnessed being fulfilled at her graduation ceremony. We will never forget the late night phone calls with a stressed voice on the other end, just needing a chat to soothe her nerves, or the tone of pride in her voice as she described her first surgery on a dog. We will remember the sacrifices she’s made along the way – spending her birthday one year all alone in rural Australia for farm work, missing the shop’s closing time and having absolutely no birthday cake, nothing but the memory of that one day’s hard work to remind her she was still alive.

As Baby Turtle ran around sorting out her transcripts, Mother Turtle and GodzillaPin followed the Ninja Turtle back to one of her old favourite hangouts when she used to live in Melbourne – the Queen Victoria Markets. Not only an iconic tourist attraction full of touristy souvenirs, the QV markets primarily service the locals by selling the most beautiful array of fresh fruits and vegetables at a far better price than in the supermarkets. The trick is to wait until the end of the day, when the vendors are trying to clear their goods and one can buy produce at a heavily discounted price. As the vendors yell out reduced prices in a competition to clear their wares, one experiences a slightly surreal moment of witnessing a fruit and vegetable auction.

GodzillaPin is in carrot heaven.

GodzillaPin is in carrot heaven.

Later, Baby Turtle caught up with the group once more, and took GodzillaPin and the Ninja Turtle back to her place, to check out her pad. Another thing that surprised the Ninja Turtle about Baby Turtle was her getting a driver’s license. They all just grow up so fast these days…

GodzillaPin and Ninja Turtle holding on for dear life at the back of the car.

GodzillaPin and Ninja Turtle holding on for dear life at the back of the car.

Although the Ninja Turtle is allergic to cats, she took an antihistamine which kept the symptoms at bay, which was just as well since Baby Turtle not only has a cat at her place, it is literally one of the cutest cats ever.

Newman in his naughty box for a time-out.

Newman in his naughty box for a time-out.

This cat was adopted by Baby Turtle and her three other housemates – all veterinarian students. It is stone deaf, so calling it is useless, and it cannot hear itself, which explains the most ridiculous miaows you hear from it. Between the four students, they managed to rehabilitate what was once a paranoid, anti-social, fearful cat (as it was deaf, it was hard to get along with the other cats) from the shelter, and turned it into a loving, tame and trusting white ball of fur. The Ninja Turtle is not a cat person (really, she’s not), but she could not resist Newman. It was also the first time she had seen a cat on a leash.

The day ended on a high note with the first non-restaurant meal since they left Metz. It was wonderful to have access to a kitchen at Baby Turtle’s, where she put her knowledge of chicken anatomy and surgical skills to carving up the roast chicken in a most equitable division (there were four of us fighting to have various cuts). Mostly, it was just lovely to finally sit down with one’s sister to a quiet meal, and just chat, after having spent a whole year apart.

Roast chicken and peach salad.

Roast chicken and peach salad.

Baby Turtle, we are all so proud of you. Spread your flippers, and may you glide through this world with ease and grace, using your intelligence, skills and compassion to make this world a better place for both animals, and the people who own them. This is only the beginning of your journey, and we hope you know that we will always be there for you.

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Running

Strive for Progress, not Perfection

Set goal. Start off highly motivated. See initial results. Positive feedback maintains level of motivation. Keep at it (whatever it is). Start seeing diminishing returns OR life gets in the way. Motivation starts flagging. Keep at it (maybe even try harder, to try and induce the same fabulous! initial results). Frustration sets in. As a last-ditch attempt, some crazy scheme is resorted to. Progress stalls completely. Throw in the towel and sit down to a bar of chocolate (because chocolate really DOES solve every problem that ever exists).

Sounds familiar? It doesn’t matter what the initial goal is, be it clearing one’s debt, giving up a vice, learning a new skill, some sort of health-related goal, or vanity-driven pursuit; chances are, we’ve all been through this wash-rinse-repeat cycle. During the goal-setting stage, it is easy to create a fantasy of how things will be once we have achieved our goal, by the deadline we have set ourselves, of course.

There are several problems to this mentality. Like a race, we rush to get from Point A to Point B in the shortest time, thinking that when we arrive, what? Like an inanimate object we will permanently rest at Point B, and life has no influence on us? That once we “get there”, everything will be perfect, and stay that way?

This is the reason why a lot of people who embark on weight loss regimes don’t get lasting results – they hurry to drop the weight without giving any thought to creating lasting healthy habits to maintain it for a lifetime.

This is a case of the journey being more important than the destination, and it’s sometimes really hard to remember this when we desperately want to attain what we’re after.

The other problem is believing that once the job is done, it’s done for good. That we can rest on our laurels and call it a day.

This is the reason why debts are never entirely cleared off – simply fixating on the negative balance as the sum to catch up on does not take into account that new expenditures are constantly being added to that sum.  This also is the reason why despite 10 years of piano lessons and multiple examinations, the Ninja Turtle today is unable to play more than a few repertoires on the piano – because she spent the subsequent 9 years going nowhere close to a piano.

Reaching Point B is really just the beginning.

Or rather, to not discourage people, Point B is just the first checkpoint in a series of checkpoints for the rest of one’s life. The ultimate Point B is the moment one dies, because unless one is dead, there really is no reason or excuse to stop trying. The sooner we realise that life is nothing but one big continuous and perpetual motion, the sooner we will stop rushing towards that end goal.

Whatever that end goal may be, here is a universal truth in every situation. Believing in perfection is likely to be the biggest obstacle in the journey. The Ninja Turtle spent her adolescence in a haze of perpetual disappointment because she bought into the idea of perfection, until GodzillaPin taught her to see that good enough is good enough. Feeling defeated because one fails to attain this imaginary “perfect” inevitably makes one suffer from what’s-the-point-itis. Dangerous disease, that.

There is a cure for this, however. If ever you find yourself in a position where, despite having put in a great amount of effort for a period of time and feeling like you’re still impossibly far away from your goal, simply pause and take a look back at how far you’ve come since you’ve started on the journey.

Look back once in a while - you'll get quite a remarkable scenery.

Look back once in a while – you’ll get quite a remarkable scenery.

Recognise the effort it took you to get this far.

Rejoice in the distance you’ve covered thus.

Respect the distance before you and commit to giving as much as you did when you started the journey.

Recall how you felt at the start of the journey.

Remember that “perfect” is the devil of a word, and if you wish to succumb to its tempting notions, you may as well use it to your advantage. You are perfect as you are. C’est vrai.

It’s saying something when in the process of searching for synonyms, the search yielded the following results for progress:

Advancement

Improvement

Development

Growth

Amelioration

When a search for synonyms of perfection was subsequently made, the computer froze for a good ten minutes. It then had to be restarted. I think this basically encapsulates the entire idea of what we’re trying to say.

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