Altitude. Heat. Humidity. Pollution!

Over the last three weeks I have been in China. Where in China you might wonder? How about Beijing, Dunhuang, Lanzhou, Xining, Xi’an and Shenzhen? And yes, it was frantic three week trip to visit all of those cities!

The first stop was the capital. Like every Westerner that visits China, I too saw The Great Wall, The Imperial Palace, The Summer Palace, and Tiananmen Square! My hotel was in-fact very close to the Forbidden City and I found a nice 5 km loop to go for a run. Running three loops was a good start to the day. However, I tried this run next day after visiting attractions. Big mistake!

The temperature late in the day was almost 30C. The air was also heavily polluted. After my run I coughed and spluttered for 20 minutes… no wonder they call it the “Beijing Cough”! The pollution hit 194 AQI. That’s 21 times worse than what I’m used to!

Fortunately I recovered from the ordeal and went to Dunhuang, a city famous for the Mogao Grottos, Crescent Lake, and The Whistling Sand Dunes! I too saw these attractions. I also went for a run in Dunhuang. This was the first time that I had ran at altitude (1200m) and 25C+ heat! No problems.

We then travelled to Lanzhou to visit some of my father’s friends. Lanzhou is not known for attractions but infamously known for once being China’s most polluted city. Fortunately, Lanzhou has since changed and is no longer as polluted as it once was. Running along the walkway by the Yellow river ended up being a trip highlight! A lot of locals are there too, walking, whip cracking, playing with diablos or just dancing! Oh and Lanzhou is one mile above sea level!

The next two stops involved even greater heights. Although we were not there for long, I was dead set on running at Qinghai Lake. At 3200m above sea level, this is in high altitude training territory. Despite gradually building up to this altitude over several days, I had a slight headache while at Qinghai. But it was now or never! The first kilometer of the run felt odd. The air was noticeably thinner as was the cool temperature. However, each stride became harder and harder. Soon my legs were completely dead and called it quits after a mere 4km!

Humbled by the high altitude experience, we headed back to Xining. At 2200m above sea level, my run in Xining was fine albeit slower than my usual pace. I enjoyed the cool climate and the much cleaner air!

Next we headed to Xi’an, one of the great ancient capitals of China. And just like the other thousands of tourists, I too visited Xi’an to see the Terracotta Army! Another interesting relic of the past is the 15m high, 14km perimeter long city wall! A perfect place for a run? Although the air was not smelly like it was in Beijing it was visibly polluted. I ended up doing two laps of the city wall on a day that was warm (23C), hazy and heavily polluted (174 AQI). I think I also got Bronchitis from this run. Was it worth it? Ask me after I recover from it! Cough splutter cough…

Finally the last city we visited was Shenzhen. Known as the “Sillicon Valley of Hardware”, 90% of the world’s electronics are made in Shenzhen! There are literally five story buildings packed to the rafters that just sell USB cables for iPhones! In order to preserve my lungs from the polluted air I decided to run at night, where it is usually cooler (low 30C!) and less polluted (<100 AQI). One night it was 33C. Suffice to say when I got back from my run, my tshirt was drenched in sweat!

Altitude, heat, and humidity! Whether you are after altitude training (right up to crazy 2+ mile high runs!) or just curious to see if you can handle running in the mid thirties with high humidity, China has a city for all environments.

Runner be warned! Many cities in China are badly polluted, as I’m sure you already know. So caveat emptor, if you’re in one of China’s large, polluted cities, choose another sport!

Pedal Bite, Rest and Recovery

It’s been a long road to recovery but I’m now back and better than ever! Today’s track session consisted of 6x 1200m intervals with an average time of 3:57 (3:55, 3:56, 3:57, 3:59, 3:58, 3:57)! There was a 400m / 3 minute rest between each interval. This is a solid workout for me.

Six weeks ago I tried mountain biking for the first time. What’s the worst that could happen? As my confidence grew on the beginner tracks so did my ego. Sure enough I was now on an intermediate track, hurtling down it with gusto! I approached a sharp right-handed turn with a steep descent. But just before the turn, my right pedal snagged a tree root, putting me off balance. You can guess what happened next!

Life was now played in slow motion. I recall bailing all but my left leg; the bike and all its pointy bits lands on my leg! Embarrassed and brought down to earth, I got back on my bike and gingerly rode the rest of the track.

Aided with the help of my friends I assessed the damage. My leg was covered in blood but had clotted. Unfortunately, the bike’s metal pedal made quite an “impression” on my lower leg! It made a large and deep gouge that would require stitches!

I’ve just received a “Pedal Bite”!

We rode back to the front office and my leg received Steri-Strips and a temporary dressing. We then head back and complete more trails. I even went for a run afterwards!

Late Saturday afternoon. I turn up to the A&E but its full of people. Lesson #1: pick a better time to be injured! The A&E was full of sick infants and people with sports and alcohol related “injuries”.

Shell shocked from the cacophony of whining children, I eventually see a doctor. He numbs the wound, vigorously scrubs it then sews fives stitches. Luckily the lacerations do not expose the dermis and are on an area that only has flesh and bone! I collect my medication (antibiotics and pain relief) and head home.

Sunday and Monday I’m bedridden. Was this my body’s immune system working overtime to mend the wound? Was I experiencing side effects from the antibiotics?

True to the doctor’s orders I skipped a week of running. And just as well. I’d been as sick as a dog with a slight fever and a nasty cough.

I head back to A&E for my fourth dressing change. The nurse took one look at the wound then ordered a swab test. The wound was warm, puffy and was still weeping. It’s infected, she said!

The swab results come back and it was indeed infected with a “heavy growth of Aeromonas species”, also known as flesh eating bacteria!

What’s more unsettling than the Google images of “Aeromonas leg infection” is the knowledge that the bacteria was resistant to the Penicillin-based antibiotics (Flucloxacillin) I had been on for the last two weeks! I’m immediately prescribed Co-Trimoxazole which is effective against the bacteria.

I make regular trips to the A&E to get my dressing changed and request a doctor to monitor the wound. My dressing has now been changed by three different nurses and they all apply completely different types of dressing! Lesson #2: there is no standard way to treat a lower leg wound!

One of the nurses also managed to unsettle me. He states it could take four months for the wound to heal. Four months! That’s because lower leg wounds take a long time to heal, and in some cases, don’t heal! Yikes!

I was three days into the Co-Trimoxazole and the wound already looked markedly better. It was no longer puffy or weeping and was mending well.

Four weeks after the “Pedal Bite” a doctor was concerned that the wound had become “lazy” and was taking too long to heal. He referred me to a plastic surgeon who later scrapped the newly formed skin off my wound to promote faster healing. It bled a bit and felt like a step backwards. Fortunately, the doctor was right. Lesson #3: removing the scab off a wound can help it heal faster!

It’s now six weeks since the ordeal. I no longer require dressings and my wound is a fraction of its original size. It is going to leave a large scar. What I thought was a minor injury turned out to be a major inconvenience. I’ve only regained my fitness in the last week. Two weeks ago I barely could do 3x 1200m intervals (with times of 3:59, 4:03, 4:10).

I suspect most of the damage was not from the “Pedal Bite” but from the nasty cough I caught from the two and a half hour wait at A&E. This cough lasted for about four weeks and from my own diagnosis of the symptoms I had, it could have been a mild form of hospital acquired pneumonia! However, the “Pedal Bite” could have ended up much, much worse. Thank goodness for modern medicine!

Onwards and upwards!

Christchurch Marathon

Today I competed in the 2017 Christchurch Marathon. My official time was 2:49:46. A new personal best!

Despite the poor weather (rainy with cold Southerly winds), I also achieved my most consistent marathon pacing yet. With estimated half splits of 1:23:20 and 1:26:26, I had a positive 3 minute split. I also “hit the wall” much later than usual at this occurred at 38km / 4km from the finish. The flat course definitely helped with this!

Compared to my previous marathon, there was no issue with my nutrition. A colleague of mine recommended that I consume four gels, and that’s what I did!

From the start I took two energy gels with me. One was taken at 10km (GU, 22g CHO, 0mg CAFF) and another at 20km (GU, 22g CHO, 20mg CAFF). My third energy gel (GU, 22g CHO, 20mg CAFF) was attached to a water bottle and was picked up at the 26km aid station. I took my time consuming this gel and ended up finishing it three kilometers later! My last gel (SIS, 22g CHO, 75mg CAFF!) was consumed in a similar fashion to my third one and was picked up at the 36km aid station. However, unlike my previous three energy gels this was an “isotonic gel” and was a lot easier to swallow — especially late in the race! This was the first time I have made use of the “Special Drinks” facility and plan to use it in subsequent marathons.

I also had water or Powerade at each aid station. The night before I had a scrumptious dinner at my Grandparents place consisting of Mac and Cheese, steak casserole, steamed vegetables and an Apple Crumble! The breakfast before the race was porridge and a banana.

Race weight was between 77kg – 78kg. I ran with new running shoes (ASICS GEL Nimbus, 11US) and found the extra half size better for my foot.

Rotorua Marathon

Last weekend I competed in the 2017 Rotorua Marathon. My official time was 2:58:31.

Adamant to improve my personal best on this notoriously tough course, my goal time was 2:50. Things were looking good at the half way mark (1:22:30). With my heart rate below my threshold value (and also below what it was my previous marathon), I was feeling good and had “time in the bank”. Unfortunately, the wheels fell off shortly afterwards at the 28 kilometer mark! With a second half split of 1:36:01 (i.e., a +14 minute split), one could imagine how painful the long slog back to the finish line was!

In hindsight, I was too ambitious on my goals for this race. I have done the Rotorua marathon twice before, and just like this time, I also had a horrible second half (read: greater than 10 minute split)! Ironically, the “wheels” also fell off in a similar fashion to my  2015 Rotorua Marathon):

Although heart rate is a indicator of workload, I suspect a contributing factor to my second half demise was going down the hills too fast. Carelessly racing down hills causes a lot of stress on your knees. Meanwhile going up hills too fast can also strain the body as its easy to go into lactate threshold territory. In this case, lactic acid begins to accumulate faster than the body can convert it back into energy. I’ve felt this on runs before and made sure to take it easy up the hills. Nutrition could have also played a key role, but I had a similar diet before and during the race compared to some of my previous marathons.

Race weight was around 77kg and I took an energy gel at 9.3km and 27.8km. I had a third spare gel which I didn’t use. I also took a drink at each aid station (either water or Powerade).

Back to the drawing board.

Skin folds test #4

Yesterday I had my first skin folds test in three years! I’m now an estimated 7.2% body fat. The detailed results:

Measurement 23-Feb-14 13-April-17 % change
Weight (kg) 81.6 75.0 -8.1
Triceps sf (mm) 5.3 7.0 +32.1
Subscapular sf (mm) 9.5 7.7 -18.8
Biceps sf (mm) 3.0 2.3 -23.3
Iliac crest sf (mm) 20.5 9.8 -52.2
Supraspinale sf (mm) 11.0 7.1 -35.5
Abdominal sf (mm) 15.5 9.7 -37.4
Front thigh sf (mm) 8.3 6.8 -18.1
Medial calf sf (mm) 7.5 5.7 -24.0
Sum of 8 (mm) 80.5 55.9 -30.6
% fat (Yuhasz) 8.6 7.2 -16.3

So what’s happened since my previous skin folds test? I’ve changed my workouts from swim/bike/run to just run. However, I suspect the biggest contributor to my loss of weight (and subsequent loss in body fat) is due to the orthodontic braces I’ve been sporting for last two years!

Wellington Round the Bays

At last! A sub 1:20 half marathon! Yesterday I competed in the 2017 Wellington Round the Bays half marathon. I’d been close to achieving this before, but my previous attempts at Wellington were well off the mark.

Determined to conquer this sub 1:20 milestone, I started out with a pace faster than required. I reached the 5km mark just under 18 minutes (3:36 min/km). The next 5km split was slower at 19 minutes (3:48min/km), but still fast enough to give me a healthy margin. I held onto a similar pace for the rest of the race.

The weather was even conducive for a personal best. Oddly for Wellington, there was no wind! However, the temperature was warm and the air was humid. Never the less, it was almost ideal conditions for running!

I was between 76kg – 77kg on the day, had two sips of water and a sip of sports drink, and took no energy gels.


Auckland Marathon

A new marathon PB! Yesterday I ran in the 2016 Auckland Marathon, completing the run in 2:53:41!

Although I’m happy to have knocked three minutes off my personal best, I have fallen an agonizing 41 seconds short of my sub 2:53 target!

I was 77kg-78kg on the day, consumed three energy gels throughout the race (0km, 16km, 29km), and had either a cup of water or Powerade at each aid station. I’ve also mastered the “art” of drinking while running!

My preparation for this year’s marathon was to run faster and run less! I decreased the amount of mileage I did by a whopping 45%! From the start of the year to date I have ran 1980km.

Other “interesting” metrics:

  • This year 39% (60/154) runs were on the treadmill. Compare this with last year where 33% (61/183) runs (up until the marathon) were on the treadmill. (I’m not sure whether running on a treadmill this often is good, but it sure was convenient!).
  • In 2016, my [min/mean/max] speed on the road and the treadmill was [9.5/12.8/16.7] and [13.0/16.1/18.8] km/h respectively.

  • Meanwhile in 2015, my [min/mean/max] speed on the road and the treadmill was [9.2/12.4/15.8] and [12.0/14.4/17.6] km/h respectively.

  • This is my sixth marathon. Despite a steady improvement in speed, I’m still a long way from achieving a negative split.

Year Marathon First split Second split Difference Net Time
1 2011 Christchurch 1:31:05 1:50:37 0:19:32 3:21:43
2 2012 Auckland 1:25:16 1:42:58 0:17:42 3:08:15
3 2014 Rotorua 1:28:00 1:43:00 0:15:00 3:10:48
4 2015 Rotorua 1:29:00 1:44:00 0:15:00 3:12:49
5 2015 Auckland 1:26:15 1:30:43 0:04:28 2:56:58
6 2016 Auckland 1:24:17 1:29:23 0:05:06 2:53:41

Compared to my last year’s marathon, my speed at each kilometer segment is similar and generally follows: 1) the profile of the course (dip at 15km is the habour bridge) and 2) fatigue in the last 10km! The bar graph below shows the average speed over each kilometer (2016 = blue with text, red = 2015, 2016-2015 = green).

I have also volunteered myself to be a test subject in a couple of running studies. In addition to getting a free VO2 Max test, I’ll also get some general training advice – heart rate zones, training drills … even how to improve my running technique! A week or so ago I had a VO2 max test and got 58.4mL/kg/min with a maximal oxygen uptake of 4.46L/min. Although this is a reasonable V02 Max score for a “weekend warrior”, it was noted that my running technique has plenty of room for improvement. Stay tuned …

Auckland Marathon

Today I competed in the 2015 Auckland Marathon! My official time was 2:56:58 and I was 50th across the finish line! I have conquered the elusive sub 3 marathon!

0415 h. I drag myself out of bed and carry out my usual pre-race ritual – eating a big bowl of rolled oats for breakfast! I’ve stayed the night at a friend’s place. Michael, just like me, set his sights on a sub 3 marathon finish this year. Unfortunately, he has injured himself but is still going to complete the race — a real strength of character! Helen, Michael’s significant other drops us off at the start line in Devonport.

20x30-AAMO00720500 h. We head into a café which has opened early for the 2015 Rugby World Cup (RWC) between New Zealand and Australia! We continue watching the first half of the match outside near the start line, where the organizers have graciously erected a large screen. Hundreds of runners and supporters gather on the lawn. It is a fantastic atmosphere and a great way to start the day — especially as we are in the lead!

0555 h. With one hand on the Ellis Cup, my mind shifts from the RWC to my own future glory — crossing the finish line within three hours! All that stands in my way is a mere 42.2 kilometers at an average speed of 14.07 km/h. Easier said than done? One last check and disaster strikes! I’ve lost one of my energy gels! I’ve got no idea where I lost it and suddenly I’m down to four gels.

Before I know it, the race has just begun!

I ease into the run and join in with a bunch of Wellington Scottish runners. I look at my watch and notice I’m going too fast. I drop off the group and dial my pace back to 4:10. Paranoid about losing another energy gel, I check my gel belt. It is a mere two kilometers into the race, and I’ve lost yet another energy gel! I lament to the runner beside me that my gel belt is going straight into the rubbish after the race!

I’ve got three energy gels for the entire race and can’t afford to lose another one. I remove two of the gels out and hold onto them — firmly — in my hands.

20x30-AAML0072Soon enough I’m running up the Auckland Harbour Bridge. It is one of the joys of the run and is one of the few chances you’re able to cross the bridge on foot! It is a steady climb but is made difficult by a head wind along with drizzle. Fortunately, the rain is brief and I consume one of my gels at the 16 km mark. According to my watch I reach the half marathon mark at 1:25:17 but in reality it is 1:26:15. A good time never the less, but somewhere my watch has overestimated the distance by some 300m. I take my second gel at 26 km.

I make good progress towards the St Heliers turn point and maintain 1 km splits between 3:46 and 4:09 pace, well on track for a sub 3 finish! However, at the 34 km mark, my tired and fatigued legs begin slowing down. I keep glancing at my watch, foolishly hoping that by doing the time goes quicker. By it just adds to the agony; I see my average speed drop and my 1 km splits slow to a 4:35 pace!

20x30-AAMB0074As a few runners I passed earlier in the race overtake me, a familiar face appears. It is my colleague Grant, who has come out to watch the runners on his Sunday bike ride! I ask Grant to accompany me for the remaining seven kilometers for moral support. I also take my third and final gel at 36 km.

Surprisingly, I hold on to 4:40 pace and am at downtown and only a couple of kilometers from the finish! With Grant riding beside me on bike I get a further boost as I pass another familiar face. Michael, who still recovering from surgery, briefly stops for me, does a short ‘dance’ and gives quite vocal words of encouragement. I slog out the last kilometer and complete the race in 2:56:58 (official/mat time of 2:57:04)!

I have conquered the elusive sub 3 marathon!


I catch my breath at the finish line then head back home. Later that afternoon I doze off for an afternoon nap…

DSCN87672355 h. Hunger wakes me and I’m longing for some greasy food. And why not? I’ve earn it today! Sausage rolls and chicken nuggets have never tasted so good! I reflect on today’s achievement and amuse myself reading of others sub three hour achievements and marathon statistics. I also take stock of my own race:

  • Official time: 2:57:04, net time: 2:56:58
  • 50th across the finish line (out of 1,496 finishers)
  • First half split: 1:26:15, second half split: 1:30:43
  • Race weight: 79kg
  • Average heart rate: 174 bpm
  • Energy gel at 16km, 26km, 35km and Powerade at every station



Christchurch Half Marathon

Last Sunday I competed in the 2015 Christchurch Half Marathon! My official time was 1:20:24 and I was 59th across the finish line! This is my second official half marathon and achieved a new personal best!

My goal was sub 1:20. The plan was to maintain 3:47 min/km for as long as I could. To my surprise, I (almost) managed to maintain this pace! I carried an energy gel but I did not use it.

I enjoyed the course. It was the first time it was held in the city since the devastating earthquakes in 2010/2011. I was 79kg on the day (I have lost several kilograms since having dental braces).