Friday, April 11, 2014

Protectionism

Recently, Running Shots, the photography group that I shoot with got a message from an event organiser. That is nothing new considering that nowadays we get a lot of request from event organisers to take photos of their events. But this latest request was not a request to take photos. It was rather different. In fact, it was a request for Running Shots not to upload the photos of their events immediately after the event but to delay the upload for a month. The reason?

Let me reproduce part of the message here:

"We respectfully request that you do not post photos of our events on your site for at least one month following our events in order to allow these photographers time to receive the benefits for which they are employed. We fear that the posting of photos too soon will hurt the profession as a whole as we believe this talent and service should be provided first and foremost for a fee to ensure local photographers can continue to be paid for their work"

We were stumped. This was a first and we have no idea whether to agree or not to agree to the request. But here again we see an element of protectionism creeping in. Just like the saga after the Commando Challenge late last year. And this got me pissed off. Let look at the reasons behind the request.

- to allow these photographers time to receive the benefits for which they are employed.
- posting the photos too soon will hurt the profession ......... this talent and service should be provided first and foremost for a fee to ensure local photographer can continue to be paid for their work

There it is again. - benefits / pay. What utter baloney!

This is a free world. Where in the world nowadays can one company ask competitors not to compete with them so that they can make money? I thought protectionism exists only at the country level but it seems this isn't so. Seems like the paid photographers expect to be handled a golden platter to make money without competition. The argument is seductive. Hurt the profession = No more support from these photographer = no more photos. But is this really true?

The impact of such a policy will simply mean that the interest of a small group of people (ie the paid photographers) is protected and deemed more important than the interest of the majority (ie the participants in an event). Let me quote from this article by Murray N. Rothbard in 1988: "Invariably, we will find that the protectionists are out to cripple, exploit, and impose severe losses not only on foreign consumers but especially on Americans. And since each and every one of us is a consumer, this means that protectionism is out to mulct all of us for the benefit of a specially privileged, subsidized few—and an inefficient few at that: people who cannot make it in a free and unhampered market." This was written in the context of the Japanese flooding the American market with their products in the eighties but it is as relevant now to this current situation as it was then. To apply it to the current request - this is what they the event organiser is saying to participants."Don't take the free photographs from the volunteers. Pay big bucks to our paid photographers for your photos instead" Does that sound fair? I suppose yes if you are the one selling the photos and definitely no, if you are the one who have to cough up the money for it!

I said before and I said again, the paid sports photography market is going the way of the dodo bird. With over prized photos, quality that are not much better than what amateurs like us are taking, there is simply no way for such a business model to continue to be viable. With cheap and good quality dslr readily available nowadays, anybody can take a fairly decent photo. And most people nowadays do not print hard copy of their photos. Most are just happy to have a soft copy residing on their pc, tablet or phone which can easily bring around to show their friends instead of having to lug heavy photo albums. 

But instead of reducing prices or coming out with more innovative way to sell the photos, they resort to trying to block volunteer photographers from competing with them. But is that going to work? Mass events are public events and they cannot possibly shut out the public or stop anybody from taking photographs of the events and subsequently uploading them to social media or photo sharing sites. Even if Running Shots agree to their request, there will still be other groups out there like Running Kakis, Chasing Shots, Run Mo Cap etc around. Are they going to try to block everybody? And if they succeed, who benefits? The participants or the paid photographer?

No wonder a friend I met in Tokyo commented that Singapore event organiser do not have the interest of the participants and are only interested in making money off them and which is why he no longer participates in local event. Judging from the request of this particular event organiser, he is not far off the mark in his appraisal. And it will be a sad day for the local sport scene if volunteer photographers are sidelined so that the paid photographers can cream off the participants.

NB: the views expressed here are my personal opinion and do not represent the view of Running Shots and my colleagues there.

Friday, April 04, 2014

The Problem with Timex Run Trainer

I bought the Timex Run Trainer online in September 2012 after reading favourable review of the watch on web sites. It was to replace my slowly disintegrating into several pieces Garmin 110.

I was amazed at the features of the watch especially the flexibility of the interval program. One small bug bear that I faced was the erratic GPS lock on. According to web review, it was supposed to be fast and it even had the ability to remember the last site. However, in my usage, GPS lock on was really bad. Sometime it can be so fast and sometime it can take up to 10 minutes! And the thing about remembering the previous start site. It didn't work. I run at least once weekly from the park connector next to my place and that place has one of the worst lock on rate. Maybe it is because there is a Singtel sub station there and it interferes with the signal but I don't see the same problem with the sidekick Garmin 210.

Anyway, I could live with the erratic GPS - just turn it on earlier but still the reading can drive me nuts. One time, I started my run at the open area next to the High Street Centre in Hill Street. Throughout the run, the watch keep beeping "Weak GPS signal".  I was puzzled. Only when I got home and upload the run data did I realised that the GPS showed that I started in Bukit Timah which was like at least 10 km away! Another time, the GPS signal just dropped and disappeared reappearing a few kilometres later and I swear I was not even in any built up area!

Then somewhere in the middle of last year, barely less than a year after I bought it, my computer failed to recognise the watch. Or at least it could charge the watch but I could not upload my run data because the computer couldn't find it. Just in case it was an isolated problem peculiar to the notebook that I was using, I tried on 2 other computers and it was the same. All the computer, notebooks couldn't read it. I tried resetting, reinstalling,  writing email to Training Peak and Timex, they couldn't solve the problem. Finally I got an email from Timex asking me to send it back to US since at that point in time there was still  no local agent. Unfortunately,  because I was still using the watch to run and not upload the run data, I delayed until the warranty period was over. So I carried on using it until one fine day late last year. Inexplicably in the middle of a run, the GPS disappeared again. And this time it stayed away.

This is what I got now when I try to activate the GPS

A Waiting for GPS message that just wait forever until it auto switch back to Time mode. So I gave up and am now back running with a Garmin 620. 

Meanwhile, Timex has came out with a new Run Trainer 2.0 which hopefully will resolve the GPS problems which has been reported in many forums. Until it does, it is caveat emptor!

Tuesday, April 01, 2014

Medical Aids at Races

At the recently concluded 2XU Marathon, a runner collapsed during the race and despite efforts by fellow runners and subsequently medical personnel, he passed away at the hospital. After this, there was a lot of kpkb over the lack of medical aids from the event proper. According to press reports and postings  in social media, the runner collapse somewhere around the 11km distance along the Geylang Bahru PCN. Fellow runners were not able to locate the event medical personnel and there was no emergency contact number of the race organiser to call. In the end, other runners provided cpr and called the SCDF. Unfortunately, they were not able to provide the exact location and consequently the SCDF ambulance took longer than expected to reach. Meanwhile, the race director was none the wiser about the event. Runners told umbrage at the lack of medical personnel, the inability to contact the race organiser/director and the simply inertia of the race organiser.

But to be fair to the race organiser, I think they have done what is expected of them. Looking at the race map, there are medical points spread out all over the race course. However, most of the medical points were along the second half of the route as to be expected of a full marathon where most of the injuries and problems are likely to occur later rather than so early as in this case. And there is no precedent for an emergency contact number of the event organiser in most race although I noted that this is now printed on the City Race race bib. Lesson learnt! And it is not realistic to expect medical personnel to be stationed at every 1 km. As I understand, most big races will have at least 3 civil ambulances during a race stationed along the race course and first aiders (usually from the Red Cross or St John) stationed along the routes. What happened is really unexpected and beyond the control of the race organiser and they have done what is required of them. But that is of course not to say that these cannot be improved on.

For a start, we could all learn from the Tokyo Marathon. I noticed that apart from the usual medics stationed at various points throughout the race course, in addition, there were medics on bicycle. Not only that, there were doctors who were running with the runners.

Members of the Medical Response team at the Tokyo Marathon
Photo from http://www.newshome.us/news-6341487-Tokyo-Marathon-medical-rescue-drill-to-improve-anti-terrorism-Level.html
Medical personnel with AED along the race route at the Tokyo Marathon
Photo from Tokyo Marathon website
These doctors wear distinctive red vest with the words "Medical" and they ran together with the runners
Photo from https://www.flickr.com/groups/627262@N25/
Perhaps doctors who are runners can volunteer their services and run together with participants in races. Race director should also make available mobile medics with AED and other relevant medical aids.

However, all these measures will not prevent somebody from dying if that is his fate but hopefully it will be sufficient to reduce or prevent more cases

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Nathan Singapore City Race 2014

Last year was the first time I took part in this race. And I enjoyed it a lot despite that being one of the longest race I did. So when this year edition came back with a new apparel sponsor, I roped together last year kakis and signed up for it. The goal was to emulate or even better last year's feat when we covered the race in 38 km 2 km short of the actual distance of 40 km.

So on Sunday morning, together with 2 new team mates and an original member who "bandit" for the fun of it, we found ourselves at the start line at Marina Barrage. 
That us. Forest 6 + 1
The format of the race was similar to last year i.e run either as a solo participant or in a team of up to 6 members. There were 4 categories to choose from - mini, short, mid and long. Each categories has 5 checkpoints except for the long distance which has 6. Of course, we being "itchy backside" has to go for the long distance which has 6 checkpoints and a total distance of 45 km provided the runner run correctly.  For us our goal was to see whether we can take "shortcuts" and this is one race where shortcuts are allowed! In fact the more the merrier.

We started late and so consequently got the map late. They only give us the map when all the members of the team are in the start chute and so 10 minutes after everybody else in our category had gone off, we got our map and we let out a collective groan. The furthest checkpoint was Old Ford Factory way up in Upper Bukit Timah Road. And there were 2 checkpoints which was neither here nor there. For me, the ideal route would be something that can be done in a loop like last year but this year route was different. On the map although it was obviously longer, there was less trail. The dilemma was which checkpoint to go in which sequence so that we don't run further than necessary.

The obvious choice was to go to the nearest checkpoint which happens to be Sultan Mosque and just a stone throw away. We start off at a nice easy pace down Garden by the Bay, cross the Helix Bridge, Rochor Road, Beach Road and 3 km later, we found ourselves in front of the beautiful Sultan Mosque, our first checkpoint!
Sultan Mosque. 
From here, we had a difficult choice to make. The next nearest check point was CP 6 at Shaw House in Orchard Rd. But that was going to be open only at 9 am and we were still early. If we go straight there, we will be too early. However, the other nearer checkpoint was  CP 10 at Alexandra Road. It doesn't make sense for us to go there first and then turn back to Orchard Rd. That would be going on a mini loop - a waste of energy. The other alternative was to go to CP 10, then to CP 8, 9 before going to CP 11, the Old Ford Factory and finally coming back to CP 6. The problem with this option was that we will have to climb Pepys Hill which was not something that I want to do and then we still have to run back from Bukit Timah to Orchard in the afternoon heat. In the end after some hesitation, we decided to go ahead to Shaw House and if we are early, we could grab something to eat while waiting for the CP to open. 

We ran along North Bridge Rd, Bra Basah Rd, Orchard Rd and along the way, took a lot of photos. Still we reach Shaw House well ahead of 9 am and so we sat outside Isetan to wait.
At Shaw House with a volunteer who accompanied us all the way from Dhoby Ghaut to Shaw House
From here, after another lengthy discussion, we made the decision to go straight to CP 11. The rationale was this was the shortest route there from whichever CP and this was also the most "hot" stretch and we should get it out of the way first. So in a repeat of last year's run, we ran from Orchard Rd to Tanglin Rd, Nassim Rd, Evans Road, Bukit Timah Rd, Jalan Anak Bukit and finally Upper Bukit Timah Road. We skipped the Green Corridor which was a good decision as there were big trees along the stretch of road outside the condominiums along Upper Bukit Timah Rd and those provided much welcomed shade from the by now blazing hot sun.
At Old Ford Factory
So far we have covered 19 km in a super slow time of over 3 hours. 3 checkpoints completed and half way done. We walked a fair bit, stopped to buy drinks, take pictures and enjoy the scenery. The return journey was a fairly straight forward route. Go back via the Green Corridor, exit Queensway - CP 10 then CP 9 then 9 and back to finish line. Should be a piece of cake. But we forgot the sun had melted the cake and there was no cake = no energy. It was a hot hot trudge down the freaking never ending former railway track with the sun blazing down mercilessly on us. Unlike last year, we met very few runners. Most of them were going towards Bukit Timah which means they have to tackle Bukit Timah Road later.  We walked a lot along this stretch. Of course, we also took a fair bit of photos:)
Doing this 10 km stretch took us 2 hours!
Finally after 2 hours of sauna, we exit the freaking railway track. Never mind that this was the only trail we were covering this year. A short run down Alexandra Road and we were at the Harley Davidson showroom, which was CP 10! Bladdy hell, the checkpoint has no isotonic drink. Only water. Thank goodness the water was cold. But the bestest was the aircondition inside the showroom.

The air con was so shiok that we spent easily half an hour there. The ladies of course were imagining that they were riding the big Harleys with some hunk whilst the guys were wishing... Oh well, never mind what we wished for! But all good things must come to an end and finally after a long long time, we finally dragged ourselves away to continue our journey. 

But we are smart people and just a stone throw away was this awesome place!
.
Hell yes, after an half hour break at Harley Davidson, and now barely 1 km later, we took another break - at the famous Alexandra Village Food Centre. We had sugar cane, soursoup, lemonade but no avocado and we were buying from the stall that made the Avocado shake famous! What goodnus!. We took another super long break here. Consequently, for the last 7 km, we took more than 1 and a half hour! Super super slow and super super slack! But what the hell, despite the heat, I think everybody was still having fun.

After we finally dragged our butt away from the stools at the food centre, we made our way to the Hort Park for what else but another 10 minutes break! This time it was a toilet break. Ha ha. The break was also to prepare us mentally for the short climb to Kent Ridge Park
"Climbing the slope of Kent Ridge"
Ok it wasn't much of a slope or a climb but when one is hot and tired, any teeny weeny slope is a hill! But fortunately for us, because we know the area here well, we were able to go straight to CP 9 Reflections at Bukit Chandu which is a war museum by the way and not the Reflections at Keppel! I think we would have love to go inside to enjoy the air con look at the exhibits but we were kinda running out of time. So after just a water and of course photo break, we were off to the last checkpoint.

CP 8 is at Labrador Park. By now I was hoping they make things easy for us and have the checkpoint at the MRT station entrance but sianz, no such luck, it was all the way in at the seaside. And of course to make thing worse, we went to the wrong side and that cost us another 500 metres :( On the way in, we had seen people making their way out so either they were going to CP 9 in which case they were going to be very late back or they didn't know the way well. We smart guys took the scenic route via the park connector.
The view from the Labrador Park
By now it was already after 3 pm. We have been out for more than 7 hours and although we have completed all the checkpoints and were on the home stretch, it was still a long long stretch back to Marina Barrage. And this time there was no respite from the sun. We were reduced to walking almost the entire stretch of  7 km along hot noisy dusty Keppel Road and then down hot quiet Robinson Rd. And of course, the ladies must still have their photos and the air con break at MBS no less!
Outside Harbourfront Centre
And after 8 hours 40 minutes, we jogged past the finish line at Marina Barrage! One of the longest timed run and distance I ever undertaken. We didn't managed to reduce the distance either. Our watches shows various distances ranging from 41 km (mine) to 47 km (sidekick). Brokie's watch was 45.2 km. I think the problem was the many buildings that we went into. So I think we shall take the middle distance which is 45.2 km which means we were spot on on the route! I think a lot of people took much longer distance.
Our finishing run (picture from Finisherpix)
And despite taking 8 hours 41 minutes, we place 15 out of 33 teams. Not bad eh? Frankly, I think if we had not stopped to cool ourselves down so often, we would probably have shaved off at least 2 hours. But timing or how far we ran was never an issue here. We were not doing this to win or race against the clock. If we had pushed ourselves hard, we would not be able to enjoy the race. There will be no photos, no water break at Alexandra Village, no imaginary ride on a Harley and no fun. We were there to have fun and despite the heat, the cramp, the cursing and swearing, I think we did managed to have fun. A lot of it. Although I will think twice about signing up next year unless.....

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