Race #5: Boucles de l’Acier

Spring has finally sprung! After two miserable races in miserable weather conditions (both being marathons no less), the Ninja Turtle finally lucked out and got some sunshine for her 5th race of the season, a 10K run in Florange, not far from the Luxembourg border.

This time round, GodzillaPin and the Ninja Turtle invited their neighbour Mickey Mouse to come along for a fun day out and extra moral support. Secretly, it was the Ninja Turtle’s strategy to make sure that GodzillaPin would be there at the finish line this time, instead of missing her YET AGAIN.

The race started at a local stadium, which was very convenient for warm-ups. Mickey Mouse helped pace the Ninja Turtle to make sure she was going fast enough to get the blood pumping, but not toe the line wasted.

The race started at a local stadium, which was very convenient for warm-ups. Mickey Mouse helped pace the Ninja Turtle to make sure she was going fast enough to get the blood pumping, but not toe the line wasted.

It was a small-town race, and only into its 3rd edition. The name Boucles de l’Acier literally translates to Loops of Steel, as it was 2 laps of 5km, and a reference to the local steel industry. There was a really dreadful smell as they drove into town, which was a cross between dead fish and chlorine. It was little consolation when they got accustomed to the smell though, because there were visual reminders of heavy industry.

How to die of black lung: run a race in a town which pumps out this much smog. Breathe. Enjoy. Keel over.

How to die of black lung: run a race in a town which pumps out this much smog. Breathe. Enjoy. Keel over.

It was a pancake flat course, and with the sun and light wind, conditions were perfect. The Ninja Turtle employed her usual “strategy” of going slow for the first 70% before picking up the pace at the end.

She even had time to stop for a mid-race kiss from GodzillaPin.

She even had time to stop for a mid-race kiss from GodzillaPin.

She finished the race in 54m 13s, which is a PR for a 10K distance. Save for the 7th to 9th kilometres, which were held at a constant of 11.05kph, this was also a perfect negative split run, meaning each kilometre was run progressively faster than the last. She started at 10.49kph and worked her way up to 12.93kph for the last and final 1000m.

Crossing the finish line strong and happy.

Crossing the finish line strong and happy.

There’s an observation that the Ninja Turtle wishes to make. Progress takes time. For some people, it takes a very long time. When the Turtle first started running in September 2012, she’d lost all fitness, and couldn’t imagine running 10km without dying of an asthma attack.

She remembers when she first ran a 10km under an hour, some time after the New Year of 2013. She cried happy tears.

It took her one year and a bit to bring it down to 57m 54s (summer 2014)

This race time of 54m 13s in spring 2015 is a new 10K time for the Turtle.

Undoubtedly, there are lots of people who improve much faster than she does, but there are also others who’ll need more time. The Turtle has no running coach, and isn’t part of a running club. These are not excuses, these are just facts, being stated simply and plainly. It’s to say that whatever your personal circumstances are, whatever your financial or temporal limitations, just work with what you’ve got. It takes determination, discipline, patience and trust to happen.

Also, progress isn’t linear. Sometimes we stagnate, or we regress, but as long as we keep at things and give it all we’ve got, magic will eventually happen.

You’ll just have to check back in a year or so to see improvements with this Turtle (who knows, she may have even upgraded to a Sloth by then).


Measuring Progress as a Runner

A while ago, the Ninja Turtle came across a few blog posts of runners showing off their impressive collections of running medals. While this blog occasionally features a race that the Turtle had participated in, the truth is that she blogs about 100% of all her races. They aren’t a selection of the “Best of the Best” – if you can count the number of posts about her races, you know how many races she’s participated in.

This got the Turtle thinking about how or what she’s got to show for her progress as a runner, if anything at all.

Like all relationships, runners have a love-hate thing going on with running. From the first step on the treadmill back in September 2012 to the present, the Ninja Turtle’s relationship with running has profoundly developed, and her identity as a runner has thus, evolved. What started out as a necessity has grown into a compulsion. The Ninja Turtle has transitioned from running for the sake of good health, to running as an interesting hobby, to not being able to imagine her life without running.

As with all good and lasting things in life, the changes came gradually, of course. Initially, she spent 6 months on the treadmill, working towards her first ever marathon. Believe it or not, it took another 2 months after that for her to dare to venture running in the local park. To be fair, a large part of this was being so unfamiliar with the dreadful climate in Metz.

Once at the park, she developed one running route, and stuck with it for another 6 months. It was a sort-of lap that came to a beautiful 1 mile (1.6km) exactly, and she simply ran the loop multiple times to make her distance for the day. On days she was feeling adventurous, she ran the route in reverse.

Fast forward a whole year and she’s added various cities around France, Germany, Luxembourg, Switzerland, the UK, Singapore and Australia on her list of places where she’s completed a run.

While she likes to measure her distance on her RunKeeper GPS, she sometimes has no mobile data on her phone when crossing borders. Her sense of direction is atrocious, but she’s learnt to memorise street names in foreign tongues, and recall the route when she goes back, to plot it onto RunKeeper manually.

She used to be pedantic about running first thing upon waking, for it was the only way to make sure running was crossed off her to-do list in the day. Now, she’s willing to remedy insomnia by commencing a 20-mile run at 3am, or pushing the workout back till midday to suit the schedule of a running buddy. Basically, she’s comfortable with lacing up any time of the day.

She’s seemed to make a reasonable transition of running at 6am on holidays in Australia and Singapore to avoid the heat, to running at 11am back in Europe to catch a glimpse of sunlight (except the two runs in Paris and Frankfurt, which were executed at 6am in complete darkness and the freezing cold because she wanted to run while GodzillaPin was still asleep, and free the rest of the day for sightseeing).

She used to spend hours ensuring she’s got the perfect running playlist, and not so long ago, she just completed a 32km run listening to nothing but the sound of her footsteps and breathing. (To be fair, she didn’t really want to do it, but her mobile phone only had enough juice for either GPS tracking, or music, but not both to last that distance.)

The first week back from halfway across the world, she completed 5 runs (one on the treadmill, most reluctantly, but she wanted to do some aggressive hills).

She has found herself running in weather like this:

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Still, the Ninja Turtle is human, and there are just some days when running is a struggle. GodzillaPin has been ill with the flu all week, and the Ninja Turtle’s been functioning on jetlag and interrupted sleep as GodzillaPin coughed through each night like he had tuberculosis. Worse still, upon returning from Frankfurt last night, poor GodzillaPin suffered a dreadful bout of gastro, and spent 4 hours projectile vomiting. Even the rice porridge that the Ninja Turtle boiled up for him was promptly brought back up.

This morning, with a weekend backlog of work to be done, the Ninja Turtle found herself staring at the computer screen at 7am. By 11am, she’s decided to take a break, and get that 10 miles in. Of course, with full concentration on her work, she’d forgotten all about breakfast and tried to remedy the situation with a cup of black coffee (thankfully, she ate a LOT over the weekend). There was no rain, but the wind was gusting 65kph (40mph) outside. She knew at that moment that all the odds were stacked against her favour, and it was easy to throw in the towel and say “you know what? nah…”

Instead, she laced up a brand new pair of trail shoes, and was determined to get them filthy. She found herself shuffling into those awful headwinds – yes, of 65kph – and hated every single second of it. Her eyes watered and her vision was blurred. Her lips were numb with cold, and her nose was running faster than she was. She no longer felt her legs, nor her feet, nor her hands. All she sensed was the mighty roar of the wind as she ran through a naked field, and she never felt more alive.

It’s not always possible to measure progress, but sometimes, progress cannot be measured, it must simply be felt.


Measuring progress with various yardsticks

As all runners know, there are good runs and bad runs. And then there are terrible runs. On good runs, you feel strong, you run as fast/long as you set out to, and when you finish, you feel refreshed. Heck, you may even go the proverbial extra mile. The Rocky soundtrack is playing in your mind as you cross the mental finish line.

On bad runs, you don’t make it to 100%, for whatever reason (snow, fatigue, injury… you name it). You start off with a particular goal in mind; two steps in, you start having doubts that you’ll meet it, two minutes in you argue/bargain with yourself, two kilometres in, if you make it so far, you start believing that it was a complete mistake to get out of bed.

The Ninja Turtle had a terrible run on Monday morning. Nothing is a bigger kick up the backside than seeing the scales move in the wrong direction after a super indulgent weekend. (Although neither the Ninja Turtle nor GodzillaPin are “overweight” in the clinical sense, they like to keep an eye on body fat percentage, which is a far better measure of health.) Feeling well rested and recharged from a few days away, her motivation was high and she was keen to return to routine. So despite the grey skies, she knew it was imperative to get off her backside and out the door.

Despite starting out strong, she soon fatigued. Too soon, in fact. In the span of ten minutes, she was finding it difficult to breathe, which in and of itself isn’t exactly alarming, except she’s asthmatic. There was nothing to do but slow down, and slow down she did, that it added an extra ten minutes to her usual 4.5-mile circuit. It was frustrating, it was demoralizing, and it was raining. Her face betrayed the effort of the run, but oddly enough, her clothes were almost dry by the time she reached home, thanks to wind speeds that reached 60kph.

The GPS tracking gave a frankly disappointing report. She had intended to cover six miles, and only managed 75% of it. She set off with a specific pace in mind (her tempo run pace), and fell short by a good deal. Basically, it was blah. For someone who’s starting to take her running seriously, it was cause for concern.

Until… until. Although runners are generally aware that running in high altitude is much tougher, this runner wasn’t completely familiar with the reason why. Turns out in higher altitudes, the air is thinner (lower barometric pressure), which means one is basically gasping “air! air!” as there is less available oxygen to be absorbed into the blood. This makes running hard. It was only very recently that the Ninja Turtle started looking at barometric pressure on the weather page, in addition to noting temperature, wind speed and cloud cover. She’s not so good at converting mb to mmhg – heck, she can’t even tell you what it means but she can tell you that at 1024mb she runs great, and on Monday when it registered 991mb, she wasn’t feeling all that flash.

So, the conclusion out of all this is that there are certain variables beyond one’s control, and these things do impact on the outcome of whatever it is we are doing. Choosing to look at the GPS report on that one particular run alone is taking it out of context (weather, slippery roads, etc). Without the context, it is very easy to conclude that performance is backsliding when in fact, that is not true (the Ninja Turtle ran again today and her performance was back to what she expected).

Our behaviours, motivation and thoughts have an impact on one another, which is why it is very important to maintain the right attitude. Countless times people have lost heart because they did not see an expected outcome, and how often is it because of things beyond one’s control? Take the classic example of weight loss – not seeing the scales budge can, and do, lead people into a spiral of what’s-the-point-I-see-no-change, and then the next step is often self-sabotaging behavior that sets them back. It’s a shame to give up just because gravity is a bit stronger than you liked today. Likewise, it wasn’t worth spending a whole day moping over one lousy run.

It helps to maintain a positive attitude when one is armed with more than one yardstick when trying to measure progress or change. It becomes so easy to fall into the trap of reductionism, and one quickly becomes tunnel-visioned. People who wish to acquire wealth, look up from your financial statements and balance sheets, and take stock of other measures – your health, your sanity, your friends and family. Think about the true legacy you want to leave behind (trust us, it’s definitely not a stack of dollar bills). People who want to lose weight, ask yourself if it’s the number you wish to change, or your entire approach to living and how you take care of yourself. The weighing scale cannot measure the sense of physical and mental wellbeing after sharing a nutritious and balanced meal in the company of friends, nor the joy of playing in the autumn sunshine with your children.

In the spirit of measuring progress differently, here are some yardsticks the Ninja Turtle have come up with to measure her progress as a runner.

Running is such an integral part of her life, she runs while on holiday. It's never a chore, but an immense pleasure. It's a great way to go sightseeing.

Running is such an integral part of her life, she runs while on holiday. It’s never a chore, but an immense pleasure. It’s a great way to go sightseeing.

She trained her partner for a semi-marathon, and by sharing her passion, the relationship became stronger.

She trained her partner for a semi-marathon, and by sharing her passion, their relationship became stronger for it.

And oh, when she sees cars slowly accelerating as the lights turn green, she’s always filled with a strong impulse to race the car. Sometimes, she does it, and no doubt looks ridiculous.


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:






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.