Monday, July 4, 2011

We just like it more over there

December since my last blog post?

Much has changed and much is still the same.

A fair chunk of that time has been spent studying for the CMA exam. I took Exam 1 in Feb (passed) and Exam 2 in June (still waiting on results). I am now studying for the CPA exam and will take my first exam, BEC, in late August when we get are back in the US.

January was pretty uneventful for us. I spent most of the month training in prep for the Round the Island ultramarathon. The weather was at times cold and wet here in HK but at other times very nice (e.g. high 60s at 50% humidity). I had planned to do the Tokyo Marathon but decided against it once I saw the costs of flying and staying in Tokyo. I got food poisoning mid-month which was a load of fun.

In February, I decided to start swimming again. I found an adult masters swim team at the YMCA. I was told I needed to swim a 200 IM in order to prove my worth. Since the workout included 8x100 IM, they considered that good enough. Initially, I felt great about joining the group. However, as time passed, the fact that I was the only English speaker wore on me. I do triathlon for the social aspect and this was providing me very little. Plus, lugging a workout bag 2x per week around HK was not fun. So in May, I quit swimming. The good news is that when I did start swimming in Feb, it had been an 8 month layoff from swimming. While I was about 10 seconds off my 100m times from before, within a month or two, I was back to my normal times.

In February, I also had my first DNF ever. Dispite being cold and rainy the entire day, things where going great until the ½ way point. After a 1/2 mile of mountaineering (steep rocks, uphill, using ropes to climb, very scary), we entered a rocky downhill portion. All of the sudden, I roll my ankle badly on some wet rocks. I can’t walk for 5 minutes. While I should have dropped, I press on. 2 miles later, I roll it again; this time even worse. No way I am going to make it over 6 more miles of mountains to finish. I limp for 2 miles to Tai Tam Tuk reservoir and catch a taxi back home. I am so cold and wet that it takes me 30 minutes in the hot shower to stop shivering.

Also in February, we had a special visit to a US Navy destroyer. Great treat for a Navy brat.

The original plan for March was to send Jamie and the girls back to the US. Then I found out that I could expense this trip as part of our rotation and I decided to make a quick trip back also. Just what the doctor ordered. While in Atlanta, I signed up for the Publix ½ Marathon. Finishing time was 1:48, well off my ½ marathon PR. Just goes to show you that running hills all the time doesn’t make you fast; running fast makes you fast. I ran most of the way with a close friend, saw some other friends on the course, and had a fantastic time.

Looking back at my workout logs, after rolling my ankle, DNFing and having a long season, I can see where the cracks in the dam started to break. At any rate, in April I started the Round the Island Ultramarathon and DNFed at 23 miles. While I only had 17 miles to go to finish, I was physically and mentally done. I may attempt that race again next year. Then again, I may not.

I spent the rest of April running and swimming. At the beginning of May, I dropped swimming. It just wasn’t any fun. And by the and of May, I had dropped running too. It also wasn’t any fun.

So where am I at now? Feeling quite plumb actually. I’ve been doing Simplefit.org which is a body weight workout routine. I like it because it’s fast and gets the job done. I’m also focusing on my nutrition. I’m toying with the idea of doing Insanity as a way to boost my cardio. It’s been a nice break from swimming, biking and running but I have to admit that I do miss it.

Aside from all that, we are 11 months from returning to the US. We get asked a lot: are you staying? When our answer is no, there is an implied assumption that we hate it here. Nope; not at all. We just like it more over there.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Sham Tseng Mountain Marathon Race Report

Usually, I do all sorts of recon before a race. Not this time. This was a race where I wanted to just show up and have a good time. My training was great for this race as usual. I even did a 27 mile run a few weeks ago as the final long run. Ninja and I were undecided if she and the girls would come to the finish line. Racing in HK is not like in the US where you get to see the athletes more than a few times during the race. In HK, you basically see them at the start and then again at the finish. And these races are generally not in places where there is a lot for kids to do so hanging out for hours on end isn’t fun for them. In the end (on the way to the race), I told them I would just see them at home.

So I woke up at my normal 5:00am and downed some oatmeal and coffee. Collected all my things and headed out around 6:30am. I took a minibus to the MTR, and then rode the MTR from HK Island to Tsuen Wan (far north end western side of New Territories in HK). I searched around and easily found minibus 96M and took that to the end. Then I walked about ½-3/4 mile to get to the race start. Got checked in, said hi to a few runners I know and chilled before the start.

I purposefully started toward the back since I wanted to pace myself. I figured I would take it “easy” for the first 18 miles and give it everything I had for the last 5 miles. After an easy 1k of running, we hit some stairs where everyone bunched up. 3 words: time trail start. After the stairs, we never hit a spot where we got bunched up again.

The first 5 miles went by very smoothly. By HK standards, it was flat and I ran along at an easy 9-10 min pace on the flats and downhills and walked the uphills. This was the best part of the race as I got caught up in a group that was going at the perfect pace. All 4 of us just running along. I was having a blast.

From miles 5 to 10, we had some sustained uphill climbs but this was in the woods on great paths. We passed mountain bikers going the other direction which I don’t get to see on HK Island so that was cool. On the last climb, I got stuck behind some woman who decided it was a good idea to lather Icy Hot all over her legs as she hiked up. Not a smell I wanted to run behind for very long.

Just over the crest, we came upon the turn off point. Turn right to take the half marathon route or go straight for the full monty. I refilled my water bottle and headed straight (truth be told, I did think about turning right).

We next had a mile of downhill running which included crossing a major road and running through a small village. Running in HK is more like the Amazing Race than anything I've ever done.

At mile 11, we started 1.5 mile climb up to the highest peak of the race. Just after we turned to go up the mountain (after the village), the trail seemed to end. WTF? I searched for a second for the yellow ribbons that marked the course and didn't see one in site. Is this a joke? I finally see one, but it is marked so that I need to head into some thick brush. I see only a faint glimmer of a trail (like one existed a while ago but had since been overgrown). I headed in. Surely, I wasn't the only one running the full course today. Now, when I say thick, I mean the kind of thick where it feels like you are making new ground. I wish I was brought along a machete. This continued for 15-20 minutes with some sections being so steep I was climbing with my hands up the side of the mountain.

Eventually, I left the brush and continued upward. Even though I was out of the brush, the climb was still straight up. A few more degrees upward and we would need climbing ropes and climbing gear. I paused to take a photo at the top.

Proof that where ever you go, there will always be d-bags: We get to the top and there is a water stop. No roads in site; which means the volunteers hiked up the mountain caring a box of water with them (not an easy task). Just as I reach the top, some jackass also gets there. He takes one sip of water and says “hey, this water is warm. Don't you guys have any ice up here?” What an ass!

We run along the ridgeline jumping over large boulders for about a mile then turn to come down the mountain. Not really running here; more like a controlled 1 mile slide while trying to remain upright.

The next 2.5 miles where pretty uneventful. My spirits where starting to get down. I originally anticipated my finish time to be around 6 hours 30 mins. I finished the first 10 miles at 2:30 and thought that if I hustled, I might be able to break 5 hours. By the time I got to mile 16 due to the climb up and down the mountain, I was at 4 hours race time. Not only was sub 5 out the window, I began to wonder if I was even going to finish in the 7:30 cutoff.

Around mile 16, we crossed a few rice fields. I had to laugh at this because 1) I’m sure our friends the Bennetts believe we live in something like one of these houses with rice fields just outside the front door and 2) I’m pretty sure the yellow markers were about the take us through someone’s living room at any minute. Alas, no living room but we did cross a few streams. Some of the farmers gave us strange looks. Or maybe just gave me strange looks.

My original plan was to try and pace myself for the first 18 miles and then push as hard as I could for the last 5 miles. This plan was hatched without seeing the elevation profile. Little did I know that starting at mile 18, we had another 1.5 mile climb. As we started the climb, I couldn’t see the top so I thought it was just a short one. At every turn, I could see more and it just kept going. A few times we got to a false summit and there was more climbing. Demoralizing. I was at 5 hours race time. Still hadn’t hit 20 miles yet. My legs and feet were cooked. I had blisters on my feet and ankles felt like Cathy Bates had taken a run at them. And I’m pretty sure my stomach signed a union contract hours earlier and was in the process of a work stoppage. If I could have dropped, I would have.

I kept moving forward as best I could. Eventually, I got to the mile 21.5 aid station. I was stoked since I knew I could finish the 1.5 miles left. Unfortunately, the sign at the aid station said “Finish Line 4.5km”. ALMOST 3 MILES? You have got to be kidding me. What jackass marked this course out? Whatever energy I had left was gone now; I was totally deflated. My mission went from finishing with a respectable time to finishing sometime in the next few days. I walked/shuffled along. As a few people passed me, I tried to run along with them as motivation but that usually only lasted a few minutes.

Thoughts of scrawling my last will and testament in blood on a rock entered my mind so that Fun Killer and the kids would know that they where in my last thoughts as buzzards picked at my roasting dead corpse.

But just when things looked their darkest, I passed some hikers going the other way on the trail. One of them said “keep going mate, only 700 meters left”. “Seriously?” I asked. I’m not sure if he thought I was joking but I didn’t wait for him to respond as I turned and took off. Let’s finish this beast.

The last 100 meters, you cross a bridge. At the end of the bridge, a few volunteers where cheering runners on to the finish line. As I almost got to them, I heard Ninja’s voice. Never has her louder-than-an-F18-spooling-up-for-a-carrier-launch voice sounded so sweet than at that moment. Even after I told them not to come, they still made the trip anyway. Crazy awesome!

I crossed the line and made my way to a bench. Finish time was 6 hours 20 minutes. 10 minutes faster than my original goal. Ninja put a bottle of water in my hand and we chatted a bit. I was suddenly overcome with emotion having them at the finish line and had to choke back a few tears. That part was extra sweet.

So much of life is wrapped up as an example in races like these:
- You should have a plan but expect to go with the flow when your plan has to change.
- Sometimes, life is hard. And sometimes, the trail isn’t well worn or even well marked. Keep moving forward.
- There will always be d-bags in life. Ignore them.
- Just when things seem their darkest, someone/something comes along and before you know it, you are were you wanted to be.
- Having the support of loved ones always makes difficult circumstances better and victories even sweeter.

After some rest, I hobbled (the girls walked) down to the minibus terminal and headed back to the apartment.

Great race but very tough. Every time I think I have seen the toughest challenge that HK has to offer, I am surprised again. The winners finished in under 4 hours and I have no idea how it is humanely possible to go that fast. I also took stock of my race plans and canceled another mountain marathon I was going to do at the beginning of Jan. I want to do well in Feb at the Tokyo marathon and as much as these races kick my butt, I think racing every other month is a smarter approach.

Monday, October 11, 2010

A few more thoughts:

- I am more sore today than I thought I would be.
- We ran over the #2 and #3 highest peaks in all of Hong Kong according to
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_mountains,_peaks_and_hills_in_Hong_Kong
That puts things into perspective.
- Thinking about predicted racing time here vs. distance is probably the right way to go. In the US, I would have no problem doing an easy 1/2 the week before a full. However, if I look at it by time, it's completly different. From a tri perspective, I am good to do a 2-3 hour race once per month. And maybe 2-3 5+ hour races per year. I am slowly realizing what that means for trail running in HK.
- Totally at ease with my decision to skip MoonTrekker next weekend. I am not mentally prepared for a 7 hour race the weekend after a 4 hour race (especially on that same course).
- Several times during the race I thought "It would be so cool to just sit here and take some pictures." I need to re-hike that trail again with a camera. The views 3/4 mile up in the air were very cool.
- It would be a lot more accurate to call these adventure races than running races. At one point, I was on my hands and feet crawling. And there was a road crossing that involved jumping over a metal fence. The only thing missing was a map and compass.
- I was thinking this morning, I don't think I gave the stairs a proper discription. They are like nothing I have seen in the US. Each step is 12-24 inches high. The tread is basically a rock, maybe 18 to 24 inches wide. This is a pretty good pictures of the peak:
http://www.yousaytoo.com/gallery_image/pic/54595/original/remote_image.32440.0.jpg

http://traveldave.com/wp-content/uploads/2009/08/Almost_There_Lantau_Peak_sm.jpg

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Salomon Lantau 2 Peaks

What an epic race. I used to think I was a fast long distance runner but just not a 10k runner. So when my times here in HK weren’t that great, I figured since I’ve never been a great 10k runner, no worries.

Then I started trail running. I thought I was pretty good. Until today.

The day started early as we took a taxi to Hong Kong MTR station and then rode the MTR to Tung Chung. After registration and hanging out for a few minutes, the race set off at 8:00am. The winners last year did the race in around 2:30 and I thought based on my training times I had a good chance of finishing in the top 20 and just under 3 hours. At least that’s what I thought at the start line.

Everyone took off for the first 2 miles. I’m not sure why most people hammer the first part of the race only to be passed before the halfway mark. Actually, I’ll be honest, it pisses me off. But whatever. After mile 2, we hit the climb. And by climb, I mean stairs going straight up. Almost 2 miles of climbing. Much of it was trying to go left, right, around in any direction the people that went out too fast.

From miles 4 to 6 was standard trail running. Nothing really to talk about until we hit mile 6. ½ mile straight up. At this point, we hit our first peak. We were up in the clouds which was pretty cool except for the 25 MPH+ wind gusts. I got knocked down twice by wind. By wind! Crazy. The ground was super wet and I was sliding all over the rocks. Coming down off Peak 1, I slipped and fell twice. Nothing major and I was able to catch myself. A few “almost” ankle turns as I made my way down. A few of the people that I passed going up passed me on the way down. I still don’t know how folks go downhill as fast as they do.

Then we hit the climb for the second peak. I got caught behind 5 guys and had 6 behind me. The 5 guys in front were not letting anyone through despite me being right on their heels. Finally, I saw a gap, passed all of them. Now a word on climbing mountains here in HK. I was moving at 30 mins/mile. However my HR was in zone 5. I was breathing as if I was sprinting and I was hardly moving. At one point I thought I would have to stop and sit down because I was breathing so hard I thought I was going to pass out. Tough.

Reaching the second peak, the wind picked up again. Again, I was knocked over. Again, it was slippery. Coming down, we had 2 miles of descending. My knees and quads where on fire as I dropped down each 2 foot drop of a step.

At this point in the race, my dreams of finishing in the top 20 where gone. I was demoralized. Guys where flying down the mountain and here I was about to cry from getting beat up so bad. This was one of those races where if I could have dropped, I would have.

At mile 11, we were finally off the mountain and back onto a mostly flat road. I had to give myself a brow beating to start running and finish out the day with some dignity.

Never would have thought that 13 miles would take me over 4 hours (4:10 and change). Over 1 mile of climbing. Post race, I can now see that I’m finishing my races around the top 30%. Looking at the finish times from last year and assessing how long the mountain races will take me, Jamie and I have agreed to re-evaluate the rest of my race season. Not doing the race next weekend. Probably not going to tackle the 60 miler in Jan this year. Need to go back to my 1 race per month rule. The good news is that will leave plenty of races to do next year to build to.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Punishment

Every Friday night or so I get an email from my coach with next week's schedule. Sometimes I wonder what is going through that man's brain as he writes down the instructions for my weekly punishment. This week ended with an ever so simple entry: 14 miles marathon pace.

Now, running in HK, I have no idea what my marathon pace would be. In "flat" GA, it would be around 8:00. Here though, no clue. So looking at the pace of my "easy" long runs (there are no easy runs here) I figured I'd be happy with 11:30 pace per mile.

Yesterday I ran (or ran/walked) 4 miles with Hannah. It was awesome to spend time doing something I love and, hopefully, something she will too someday, together. Normally I would have done 6 and it would have been at a moderate pace. So, going into today, I was well rested.

After coffee and oatmeal, I headed out. I set the pace on my watch for 11:30 and started the climb up Sing Woo Road, Blue Pool Road and Wong Nai Chung Gap road. This is 2 miles of climbing at an 11:15 pace. Things where looking good. From here, I followed the Round the Island trail run route to Tai Tam Reservior. This is a net downhill but over very rocky terrain. I hit an overflowing creek at 6.5 miles and decided this was my turnaround point. At this point I was about 1/2 mile ahead of my pacer and feeling good.

However, now I had 4 miles of mountain climbing ahead of me. For the most part, it was pretty smooth sailing. I had some funny parts as I flew past groups of hikers. It's funny, for the most part I have found, if you are Asian, you are kind and considerate and very open about sharing the trail. However, if you are Caucasian (which I guess means American, Canadian, European, etc) the trail is yours and because you are hiking it, you will not move over to let someone pass by. Generalization, I know. About 2 miles in, the hills had started to take their toll and I was in survival mode. My pacer (Garmin) passed me as I climbed the stairs. I was pretty sure 11:30 pace was out the window given how I felt.

Hitting the top of Wong Nai Chung Reservoir, I was .25 miles down from my pacer but I did have 3 miles of downhill/flat. I opened it up as much as my beatup legs would allow and made up all my time. As much as going up hill sucks the life out of your legs, going downhill is like someone is taking a Louisville Slugger to them.

Final pace was 11:21 over 14.2 miles. Very happy with this pace.

http://connect.garmin.com/activity/45557333

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Settling In

I've thought a lot about writing a blog post the last week or two and honestly I had too many ideas. Every time I sat down to write anything, it came out as very negative. I finally realized that I was hitting the phase where an expat starts to get homesick. 3 months in; the newness of HK has worn off. Little things bug me and I forgot to focus on the bigger picture.

There are days where I miss my friends and certain aspects of life in Atlanta terribly. I thought at first that somehow I wouldn't get homesick. But alas, I am human after all.

It's not the big things that wear on you but the little things. Like the never ending forms and stamps to get the most trivial things done (even at my own firm). And dealing with the things they don't tell you ("oh, btw, most of that reimbursable stuff is taxable even though we said originally that all of it would be tax free"). And the little old ladies who want to push the big American out of the way so that they can get a seat on the MTR. No worries taaitaai, this gwaulo is fine with standing.

Once I recognized where I was mentally, I have been able to deal with it and turn things around. I reminded myself that we are after all in Hong Kong and that, in and of itself, is very cool. I only need to look out onto the harbor and be amazed.

I'm also focusing on our trips to Beijing and the Philippines this fall. That is, after all, a big reason why we came here.

This weekend we traveled all of 10 minutes via taxi to the other side of HK island to Deep Water Bay. Large trees with shade were you can relax while the girls swam in the ocean. Large platforms 100 meters out so you can jump off and be a kid again. Outstanding.

On Sunday I ran another 10k. I was happy with my performance for several reasons. First, it was one of the few times I have paced a 10k perfectly: 24:26 on the way out and 23:52 on the way back in. Second, I have stopped comparing my results back in the states to my results here. Back in the States, all my running PRs were set at temps like 4c. It was 30c at the start of the race on Sunday. Third and lastly, 10k PR is not my goal. Badwater is.

My Canto is coming along fine although at a much slower pace that I would like. I'm having to devote much of my free time to getting serious about the Certified Management Accountant exam which I had originally planned to take in October. Now, I'm thinking I should push that back into January to give me more time to prepare. I did stop going to classes: I didn't have the time and they seemed a little too disjointed. We were learning a little of this, a little of that, rather that going fully into one section. We would learn Canto for Coke, rice, vegetables, and then a few verbs like to be, to eat, to drink, and then off to street names. Random. I've also cut out listening to several Podcasts that I think were doing more harm that good. Right now I'm just focusing on Pimsleur MP3s, FSI Cantonese MP3s, and getting as much Cantonese input as possible (e.g. Canto radio shows, news casts, movies in Canto, etc.). Also doing daily flashcards via Anki so that I don’t forget any vocab I’ve learned.

The girls started homeschool week before last week and everyone seems to be adjusting to that. I was worried that there would be a mass revolt and we would be putting them in the first international school we could get them in (which invariable would have been pretty far from where we live).

Thursday, July 22, 2010

All Canto All The Time

Last week I started Cantonese classes. It's at the YMCA; there are 3 levels with each being 10 to 12 weeks. Originally I thought about taking the 2x/week version but I thought that ill advised given my commitments. Still Ninja thinks I over-commit myself. Don't know why she would think that.

After sitting through the first class, it was evident that the decision to go slower was the right one. The first class we learned numbers from 0 to 9999. Odd as it seemed to me, numbers was the perfect place to start. So much of what we do is described in numbers and now that I know my Cantonese numbers, I hear them being said all the time.

This week was the second class. We started learning some verbs: drink/not drink, eat/not eat, want/not want. I already know have/not have from a Cantonese podcast I've been listening to. We also learned some essential nouns such as toilet and peanut butter. I'm trying to work them both into the same sentence.

The folks in my class are from all walks of life and all ages. There are folks that have been in HK for over 10 years (and your just now learning the local language? huh?) as well as folks who just arrived (although no one is newer to the Island than I am - hum, out of the womb a month early; into class early - I see the correlation). There are folks from South Africa and folks from the mainland. You can definitely see that folks with an Asian background have a significant leg up on others, such as the girl from France. On Tuesday night in class, she was either ill, having a bad day or really did not want to learn Canto that day. In any case, her "pissed-off-ness" just poured out of every sweat gland in her body. It was really uncomfortable sitting next to her. Or maybe, she is just French and they all act that way. I mean she did have to sit next to the ugly, loud American after all.

So I was doing some research after class and I found this site: www.ajatt.com. If you have some hours to kill, it is an awesome site even if you are not learning a foreign language. Essentially this guy became fluent (reading, writing, speaking, etc.) in Japanese from scratch on his own in college in Ohio in 18 months. No classes, no tutors. Only podcasts, learning kanji, reading and watching Japanese cartoons and speaking with Japanese friends. To prove out that his Japanese was up to snuff, at the end of the 18 months, he applied, was offered and accepted a position as a software developer for a Japanese company in Japan (none of the interview was in English). This is the type of guy I would hang out with. He totally bucked the conventional wisdom on how to learn a language that was "too difficult for foreigners" (which I have heard repeatedly about Canto). He listened to Japanese podcasts and watched Japanese TV shows. He essentially immersed himself in the language, turning off as many inputs in English as he could and replacing them with Japanese inputs. I'm glossing over a lot of what he did; his site is hugely motivational if you have some time to kill.

So, I've started to do the same with Canto. When I'm work, I've started to listen to the Radio Free Asia Cantonese news. I pick up the occasional word and number that I know. This morning on the way to work, I watched part of a Simpson's episode in Canto.

However, this raises an issue for me. My other goal right now is to pass the CMA (Certified Management Accountant Exam). I was studying for 1-2 hours per day. Now I'm having to juggle that and learning Canto. Plus I'm working 12 hour days. Plus my running. Plus trying to eek out some family time. Ninja isn't too happy with me. But there is one thing I know about myself: I thrive in adversity. I love it when people tell me I can't do something. Just fuels my fire. In college, I managed a full course load, a full time job, ran 70 miles per week, was an office in my fraternity, SGA, and College Republicans and had a girlfriend - all at the same time. Last fall I was working out of town, training 15 hours per week, working on my master's degree, and studying for a professional exam. I love the challenge.

One of the nice things is that since I don't look like a local (hey, who is that tall ghost in our office?), I am always given the benefit of the doubt. The problem with this of course is that no one wants to speak Canto to me. So I find myself going out of my way to put myself into situations where I have to grow. For one, I ordered my lunch using Canto earlier this week. Now, before you say "Wow, JC you ARE a stud": Most menus are number based with pictures so it wasn't all that hard once you know the numbers. But today I went to lunch by myself, walked off the beaten path where expats don't go to a restaurant where there was only Asians and walked in. It would have been extra uncomfortable for most Americans as you don't get a table by yourself. They will seat anyone and everyone where they can. This means I started my lunch in an empty booth but was quickly joined by 3 other locals. To me, it's all part of the experience.

This weekend, we are going to Macau for a quick weekend vacation. It'll be nice since every room has a balcony overlooking the ocean. I am looking forward to enjoying some coffee and just sitting outside in the morning hours. Working on my Canto of course.