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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Singapore Sports Hub

The new Singapore Sports Hub and National Stadium has now been opened for about a month and during this period, the public are free to use some of the facilities. Like all the curious people, we went to look see look see.

Unlike the old National Stadium which is just a sports stadium with a cluster of smaller facilities nearby, the new stadium is housed in an integrated complex. The new complex called the Sports Hub have beside the stadium, an aquatic centre with swimming and diving facilities, tennis, badminton and basketball courts. There are also beach volleyball courts, watersports facilities for sailing, kayaking and dragon boating. 

The main complex comes with a retractable roof so no more wet soccer pitch

There is also a 880 metres running track outside the stadium itself for the public to run around.
The sidekick doing the obligatory run round the stadium
The new stadium beside the retractable roof also has arrangeable plastic seats. Somehow it feels a bit different from the nice wooden seats which has since been turned into decorative benches and placed all over Singapore.

Thursday, July 24, 2014


I find it weird that Mindef has seemed it fit to respond to all the cry father cry mother about the IPPT and after a review, took such a drastic step of dropping the standing board jump, shuttle run, pull up and replacing it with a push up. Only the sit up and 2.4km remain untouched.

I know many people cannot do the standing board jump (SBJ) and the pull up and that is the single biggest cause of the high rate of failure.  When I did my NS more than 30 years ago, I couldn't even do 1 single pull up. As a result, we had to do pull up before and after every meal. Over the course of the BMT, most of us eventually manage to do the minimum 6. SBJ was a different ball game altogether. It was not something that we could train for everyday. For me, I was lucky that I usually managed to scrap through. However, for many others, even though they excel in all the other stations, a failure at the SBJ means they failed the entire IPPT.

So after so many years, I guess Mindef has finally decided to listen to the complaints and did a review and removed the 2 biggest bugbear of the soldiers. Or maybe the current commanders cannot stomach a high failure rate and decided to get rid of the problem the easy way.

The IPPT was modelled after the international NAPFA test. Each station was supposed to test different aspect of one fitness like pull up for upper body strength, sit up for core muscle, SBJ for agility and so on. Personally I don't see the relevance of the SBJ for a soldier's fitness. Likewise, the shuttle run, the sit up and the 2.4km run. These are measures of a person fitness in a mainly sports environment. Not for a soldier and definitely not for a soldier engaged in a war. As it is, our soldiers are already quite a big softie with so much pampering compared to the bad old days. Probably the toughest test for the soldier right now is the route march but even then, the distance has been shorten considerably.

If Mindef is really serious about ensuring that its soldiers are combat fit, I would suggest that they seriously reconsider the whole idea of the IPPT. Why have a half pass 6 type of standards? Soldier don't just run 2.4 km in a war. Being able to run 2.4 km under 10 minutes is not going to make anybody a great soldier. Likewise being able to do 20 pull up or push up or 40 sit up. What has that got to do with one fitness?

To measure a soldier's true fitness, I will suggest that Mindef bring back the full battle order obstacle course test. That is definitely a more intense measure of a soldier's fitness and strength cum ability to manoeuvre, dodge and climb obstacles. But that is only for a short assault. To test a soldier's endurance during war, make every runner runs a half marathon in Standard Battle Order not PT kit. After all, when a soldier goes to war, he is not going to wear running attire and sport shoes. If a soldier can pass the obstacle course test and the SBO half marathon test, I believe he should be fit enough to fight a war even if he can't run 2.4 km in the required time or jump 251cm.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

The Cyclist vs

Cyclists in Singapore have always been on the wrong side of the news. Either they are immortalised on youtube and stomp for their riding antics or they are making the headline as accident victim. Social media here (and I think in other countries as well) are full of complaints about cyclists.

Over in Singapore, one of the biggest pet peeve is cyclists who continues to cycle on pedestrian walkways, which except for Tampines town, is illegal in very other estates. Yet these cyclists ride like they own the pavements and expect pedestrian to jump out of their way when they zoomed by. On the road, the tables are turned on them when motorists forced them to the curb and in some extreme case, mow them down like bowling pins. Yet, despite these risks, the behaviour of cyclists on the roads seem to have gotten from bad to worse and worst still, even if they are the one in the wrong, they behave like they are not like this one here.

Just this morning, I was running along Changi Beach Park when I came across an altercation between a group of cyclists and a runner. It appeared the cyclists were cycling on the pedestrian path and not on the empty cycling path. The runner apparently shoved one of the cyclist. Not too sure whether that was deliberate or accidental. What I gathered was the cyclists were angry he had pushed one of them down. He, the runner was angry the pack of cyclists were forcing him off the path onto the grass patch. There was loud voices raised and it looks like 2 of the cyclists was not going to let up. The runner stood his ground and insisted that the cyclists should have not been on the pedestrian path. They in turn retorted that there was a child on the cycling path and so they had detoured onto the pedestrian path. At one stage things got pretty heated up but eventually better senses prevail and everybody moved on.

I cannot judge who was right or who was wrong. A lot of us runners also run on the cycling path as it is made of asphalt which is kinder on the leg than the concrete on the pedestrian path. So to fault the cyclists for cycling on the pedestrian path can be hypocritical. But having said that, when a whole pack of cyclists rushed down a narrow path at speed of 35 to 40 km/hr, it can be quite scary for the pedestrian and is an accident waiting to happen. I go to the East Coast Park frequently and I am always shocked at the irresponsible attitude of pack (yes I will describe them as pack rather than train) of cyclists. Even though they are cycling on the cycling path, East Coast Park is not the place for competitive cycling. The cycling path is between the pedestrian path and the facilities on the other side and all park users has to cross the cycling path to get to the toilet, car park or the underground passage on their way to Marine Parade. There are pedestrian crossings at regular intervals but I have never seen a cyclist stop for anybody. With so many people including children and pets running across the cycling path, it is really scary to see pack after pack of cyclist charging down the path scattering everybody in the way.

It is the same situation on the road. At Upper Thomson Rd, I see pack of cyclists cycling together. Perhaps they think there is safety in number and they are more visible to motorists. But some part of the roads are single lane, like Old Upper Thomson Rd and motorists are forced to crawl behind them until the road widen enough or there is no oncoming vehicles and motorists then overtake them against the traffic flow. But of course the cyclists don't care because they expects motorists to give way to them just as they expect pedestrian to give way to them on the pavement.

Either way, cyclists are not endearing themselves to the general public with their blatant flouting of rules like riding across overhead bridges, failing to stop at pedestrian crossings and very rude and obnoxious shout at people or  the incessant ringing of the bell to clear the way for them. At the end of the day, it is a life at stake be it theirs (most of the time) or that of the pedestrian (very rare). If only they can realise that and rather than try to be king of the road, practice a little humility and patient and learn to co-exists with other road users without coming across as the villain in all the situation.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Journey to Mt Kinabalu - The Descent

What goes up must come down. And so do we. After climbing for 14 hours over 2 days, we were finally ready to descend to Timpohon Gate. We had a shower in the freezing cold water of Laban Rata, a light breakfast and off we went.

Our target was to reach Timpohon Gate by 3 pm. The distance from Laban Rata was only 6 km yet it felt like 60km. It never amazed me that 500 metres seem so long in the jungle. 

The first part of the downward climb was on the uneven rock surfaces and so progress was much slower. And we stopped to allow the climbers coming behind us to overtake. Its is so amazing to see these young people jumping down so easily without any fear. For us old fogeys with our aching knees and joints, every jolt felt like somebody using a hammer to hit us.
Photo by Alicia Koh
But thankfully, the rocky part was only about 2 km long and soon we were on the main Timpohon trail. And as we descended, we were thankful that Tony had chosen for us to summit via Mersilau because there was really no view at all throughout the Timpohon trail. It was just a single trail with lots of steps sandwiched between 2 side of jungle. In fact it looked just like our Bukit Timah trail! 

Photo by Alicia
There was a small little waterfall but that was about it. 

Less than 200 metres from the waterfall was the end of our climb. The Timpohon Gate. And it really is a gate!
Photo by Alicia
From Timpohon Gate we were transported by shuttle service to the Sabah Park HQ where we had our lunch before transport back to our hotel in Kinabalu town. And with that, we ended our 2 days 1 night journey to Mt Kinabalu. Did we bite off more that we could chew? I don't think so. Other than the altitude, I think this is a fairly easy climb. No technical climbing skill is required and what is needed is just lot of energy, determination, a pair of good shoes and anyone can reach the peak.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Journey to Mt Kinabalu - Low's Peak

We woke up at about 1 am. Or rather we were ready to go at 1 am. Light out at Laban Rata was  8.30 pm incredibly early but aside from the fact that there was nothing else to do and we had to start early to catch the sunrise at the summit, sleep seems the only sensible thing to do. But I dare said most of us didn't sleep well. Perhaps it was the excitement that we were going to reach the highest peak in South East Asia in a few hours time or the splitting headache that everybody seems to be having, none of us slept well. So at 1 am, everybody was up and raring to go. After a light breakfast where we were advised not to eat too much, we finally set off at about 2.30 am.

Led by the guides, the various group moved off. I reckoned we were among the first few groups. As usual, we started off a tad way too fast. We kept mostly to our group formation as per yesterday - with Vincent and the 3 kids in front, myself and 4 others in the middle pack and a last group. One of our member was still having problem with his stomach and was taking it easy in the last group.

It was pitched dark and all of us had our headlamps on. Still we couldn't really see far away. Just the few person immediately in front of us. And with the high altitude, we got tired pretty fast and before long, groups behind us started overtaking us. Interestingly, most of them were Caucasians rather than Asian. Perhaps the Asians were not in too big a rush to get to the summit?  

It was up and up and up all the way. But there were also a lot of stretches where we were walking on wide open area. We knew it was open area. There was a super long rope that we had to hold on to for most part of the climb. At certain stretches, there were vertical climb, horizontal climb but in the darkness we just walked like zombies following the rope.

These was what our eyes were seeing along almost the entire route. The little white specks are not stars or blemish but lights from other climbers behind us. The rope is there but totally not visible unless you are near enough to see it.

This is the same photo but digitally enhanced to bring out whatever little light there is. The rope is now visible in the foreground. Now the lights of the trail of climbers behind us and the city in the background is visible.

At 3800 metres, all of us were feeling the effect of the high altitude and we were stopping every few steps to breathe in hard. The climb itself was in my opinion fairly manageable. It was the breathing that was sapping away our energy. Thank goodness none of us in the middle group puked though we sure felt like it with almost everybody having some form of nausea. The Princess who was in the first group and dropped back. She was getting the altitude sickness real bad and stopping to sit down every 5 to 6 steps. But thankfully none of us threw up. That was not the case though with our last group members. 2 of the ladies threw up after passing the checkpoint at Sayat Sayat and the guy with the stomach problem was going too slowly and the guide forced them to turn them. So for the 3 of them, it was game over as they turned back without reaching the summit.

For the rest of us, we plodded on and managed to reach the summit well before 6 am - the sun rise time. And we were rewarded with a gorgeous view of the sun rise.

After the mad rush to take the almost mandatory photos at Low's Peak, the highest point of Mt Kinabalu at 4095m, we were ready for our descent to Laban Rata. By now the sun was fully up and we could now see what we could not when we were ascending and what beautiful scape it was too!

And we could also see the way that we took to climb up including the very important rope that led us all the way to the summit.

This was where we came up from. Scary to think that we climbed up from the horizon in the dark and now had to descend the same way.

Did we really went past all these?

This was the notorious Horizontal Climb. Our guide had described to us that we were walking on a ridge which was 6 inches to 1 feet wide in darkness and we had to hold on to the rope at all cost. It sounds scary enough but in the darkness we felt no fear since we couldn't see where the side was or was not. Now that it was bright, it didn't look and feel that scary. The angle of the cliff was fairly gentle and the so called narrow trail was actually quite wide in some parts so it wasn't that bad.

But of course it was always easier going down especially since it was now very much brighter. We made good time and we reached Laban Rata around 9 am well in time for breakfast and a quick wash up before we continue our final journey down to the bottom.

Saturday, July 05, 2014

Journey to Mt Kinabalu - Laban Rata

Most people who goes to Mt Kinabalu goes up via the Timpohon Gate trail. Our friend, Tony arranged for us to climb via the Mersilau Trail. He said it was more scenic and it was just 2km longer. 2km didn't sound like much considering that almost all of us are runners. So we happily agreed. We stayed at the Mersilau Nature Center the night before and after another oily breakfast and weight in of our luggage by the guide/porter, we set off to Laban Rata, the midway rest point.

The guide weighing our bags. Anything above 7kg we have to pay RM10 per kg of excess
Each of us was carrying our own pack with just the basic necessity for today climb. We had about 1.5 litres of water each, lunch(sandwhich and an apple) from the restaurant; our own snacks, some had hot drinks; a windbreaker or jacket and headlamp. This weights on average about 3 kg. Some of us had additional gear like camera, first aid kits but the main bulk of the surplus items were put in another bag for the 3 guides/porter to carry up to Laban Rata on our behalf. Each bag we passed them was not to exceed 7 kg and as there were 14 of us and 3 of them, each of them had to carry around 30 kg each. And yet they were so much faster than us!

We started off just after 9 am. Our target was to reach Laban Rata by 6 pm. On paper, it was just 8 km of walking. Sounded like a piece of cake and something we could do easily with 2 hours of brisk walking. But this was on an ascending trail at altitude starting from 2km and climbing to eventually 3272km. Of course being greenhorn, we didn't know what was in stored for us.

As usual, we started off fast. And within a few metres of climbing those everlasting steps, we were all panting and breathing heavily and  the calves were screaming. And we haven't even hit 500 metres! But pretty soon all pain was forgotten when we came to the first break in the forest canopy and this was the scene behind us.

And as promised by Tony, the route was really more scenic than the Timpohon trail which we were able to compare when we descended via it the next date.

Back on the Mesilau trail, there was 2 waterfall, a suspension bridge and more breathtaking sky view of the mountain range.

Photo by Jancy
Photo by Jancy

Most of the view were stunning and breathtaking and none more so than this next picture from a ridge which also serves as a helipad,

After 6 km of climbing up and up with just a small section which went downhill, we finally reached the junction of the Mersilau and Timpohon trail. From here it was just another 2 km to Laban Rata, the resthouse where we have to stay overnight to tackle the next stretch of the climb.

This stretch also sees the end of the countless steps similar to those in our Bukit Timah Nature Reservs except of course that there are many many more of them.

 Unfortunately, in its place was large uneven granite and other rocks which really cause us to stretch our legs long long to climb up and down countless time. This was really a rocky time and the 2 km took us a fair bit of time to negotiate.

The constant stopping to take photographs of the giant pitcher plants and other plants helps to take our mind off the difficult terrain and eventually after almost close to 7 hours of walking, trekking and climbing, 12 of us reached our first destination, the Laban Rata Resthouse!

The Mt Kinabalu summit behind Laban Rata resthouse. That is our ultimate target.

We were awed when we realised that there is no road up to this resthouse and  all the food supplies have to be carried up by porters via the Timpohon trail. Even the staff there hike up and down this trail to and from work and to think that back here in Singapore we complain about a 10 minutes walk to the MRT station!

This is the group photo of what remained of us. 14 of us started out from Mersilau but one of us dropped out barely after crossing the suspension bridge due to a  bad case of diarrhoea. Another lady was a bit further behind and reached about 6 pm whilst the rest of us reach just before 4pm. The other 4 had reached way earlier and were already happily changed and resting inside the rest house!

Maybe it was the nice weather, or the many breath taking view but I didn't think that this portion was that tough. Sure we huff and puff but that was to be expected given that we were moving at attitude of about 2000 metres something that we were not accustomed to back here in Singapore. But of course the next day will be more challenging!

Wednesday, July 02, 2014

The Journey to Mt Kinabalu

The plan to scale Mt Kinabalu was hatched when I failed to complete the gruelling TMBT last year. If I cannot conquer the grand old dame through a trail race, I know I have to do it another way and so begins the journey to scale the mountain. I was fortunate that in January this year, a mutual friend introduce a group of us to this super friendly nice guy who has conquered Mt Kinabalu many times and he was kind enough to offer to bring us up. And so the journey begins.

The initial plan was to gather about 20 like minded person to go during the June school holidays. But upon the advice of our Malaysian friend, Tony we moved the date to the last week of June to coincide with the end of the school holidays and the start of Ramadan. This was so that it will not be so crowded up in the mountain. And when we finally reached the mountain, I could see the wisdom of that advice.

So we gathered a group of running friends. But because of the new dates, many people who had previously indicated interest would not make it as it clash with month year closing, school re-opening' and of course the fasting month. I had to scamper to get enough numbers to justify Tony's time. Eventually we managed to get a total of 13 person. Among us were ultra-marathoner, ironman finisher, average runners and young adults barely out of their teens and finally people with totally no experience in trekking, hiking or running. What a motley crew indeed! With such a mix, having a proper cohesive training program was going to be super difficult.

We started the first session with just 4 of us going for a 6 hours hike in the Central Catchment area. Subsequent training were held mainly at the Bukit Timah Hill doing climbs up and down the stairs and weekly evening run at Mount Faber. But due to everybody busy schedule, getting everybody to turn up for training was difficult and I was worried especially for the newbies and the non runners - how they were going to cope.
Hiking in the Central Catchment Area
As it was, I realised that what to us was strenuous climbs up and down the Jungle Fall path at Bukit Timah were really insufficient to prepare us for Mt Kinabalu. Maybe if we climb up and down Jungle Fall Path 100 times each session - that would be enough but of course we didn't have the luxury of time. 
Stairs training at Bukit Timah Hill
And so it was with a slight worry when we finally flew to Kota Kinabalu to begin our assault on the mountain.
Photo credit Sarah
 Cont'd here