Saturday, February 27, 2010

Tokyo Marathon 2010

It was a cold, wet and windy Tokyo Marathon.

The weather forecast called for rain in the morning that would stop come afternoon. Well, of course, it rained during the entire marathon, quite miserably (in my opinion) during the line up in the starting area until the official start at 9:10am. As the records confirm, needless to say, the rain stopped and the sun came out around the time I crossed the finishing line in waterlogged running shoes and soggy socks and shorts.

Fortunately, I'd stopped to buy a lightweight, transparent Asics shell at the marathon expo a couple of days earlier when I picked up my bib and timing chip. Plus a yellow head covering and gloves from a 100 yen store. Otherwise, I would have froze.

Still, despite the conditions, I don't think anyone would want to punt on this event. After all 272,134 people applied for just 32,000 spots. As it turns out, the completion rate was 97.0% for men, and 95.1% for women. Amazing.

The event is professionally run and extremely well supported by over 10,000 volunteers. Can't fault anything about the event save having to line up and stand in the cold rain for 45 minutes before the start.

Nearing the finish line: I'm told someone finished in a bikini just 10 minutes ahead of me. You're pulling my leg, I don't believe a word of it...

And I think I had a decent run. The official results aren't out yet, but if my iPod Nano is to be trusted, I ran a very steady pace for a time around 3 hours and 45 mins.

As the finish line photograph shows, gun time was 3:48 but since I was in the Cs, it took maybe 3 mins or so before I crossed the start line.

And so 3:45 despite losing about 5 mins waiting in line for a porta potty at km 25 (you can see the dip in the graph). I'm happy.

Update: (June) I received my official finisher's certificate in the mail. Chip time was 3:44:42. Gun time was 3:48:06.

(The graph also takes a big dip at the end because my numb fingers fumbled for a while before I managed to terminate the workout after crossing the finish line.)

In fact, (for a change) I'm actually quite pleased considering the conditions and the fact I haven't managed to run outside for nearly 9 weeks. Lack of time due to work and other priorities have restricted me to short treadmill workouts at the local Konami gym.

I didn't have to walk, my lower back didn't bother me, I didn't cramp, I didn't bonk. For the latter fact, I'm grateful to Sasha Woolson for mailing me Strawberry Clif Bloks all the way from the United States. (I've not able to find them in Tokyo.) My Newton running shoes that I got back in December were simply great. (My feet were cold despite double layering of socks but that's not the fault of the running shoes.)

At the finish line, besides the finisher's medal (in exchange for returning the timing chip) and souvenir towel, they hand you an Amino-Value BCAA 4000mg sports drink, bottled water (Tokyo Metropolitan), mikan (蜜柑) = satsuma, banana, a Soy Joy bar, Calorie Mate pouch and even onigiri(御握り) = rice balls (flavors: sake(鮭) = salmon and mentaiko (明太子) = pollock roe). I even saw a sign for a foot bath (足湯). And I probably missed a few other goodies. They even search for and personally hand you your clothing kit bag that was dropped off at the start.

Also, although my BMI is nothing to write home about, I sincerely believe another key factor is that I managed to lose nearly 8 lbs since the Tucson Marathon back in December.

See chart where I've plotted Body Mass Index (BMI) vs height in cm for the invited athletes. As you can see those guys fall neatly in a narrow band between 18 and 20.

For comparison, the red dot is me (172 cm, 67.5 kg, BMI=23). And given my body type, it's not really realistic for me to lose much more weight. Personally, 65.0 kg is probably the absolute limit without getting sick all the time. I'll never be able to make the BMI 20 class. And let's not talk about aerobic capacity either...

But endurance is highly trainable. So I can definitely see room for improvement and possibilities for the future...

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Shenzhen Ping Pong: drills for integrating the reverse penhold stroke

As an amateur I find it's sometimes frustratingly hard to make fundamental changes to my table tennis game. Sometimes it seems completely futile. No matter how many times I'm told I'm not doing it right, despite my best efforts, I'm repeating the same errors over and over again, especially when under pressure.

Table tennis is a fast game. Good reflexes and muscle memory are activated when we play shots. Since muscle memory is largely automatic, and many of us amateurs did not learn the strokes correctly to begin with, e.g. not everyone hits like Lu Yan (see here), changes to the way we hit the ball will involve substantial re-programming.

Therefore, when it comes to a new stroke, formal drills are a good first step towards proper integration.

In my case, learning the reverse penhold stroke (see summary of posts here) has changed not just my backhand, but has also revealed fundamental weaknesses in other strokes.

In other words, one has to take a totally holistic approach to the game. And thus a single change may involve a cascade of additional changes in order to take advantage of the new stroke.

One year ago, I went to Shenzhen to learn the new reverse penhold backhand only. Although I knew my (far from perfect) forehand loop had its quirks and limitations, I did not think it was the limiter in my game. I did not anticipate having to completely re-work it to accommodate the use of the backhand.

My approach has been to visit the Shenzhen Century South China Table Tennis Club (深圳市世纪南华乒乓球俱乐部), record my practice sessions, study (i.e. attempt to understand) and try to incorporate suggested modifications and improvements back home.

One doesn't necessarily need a professional coach to do the drills. Not every ball has to come back. A box of balls and a patient practice partner will do. Assuming one knows what to look for, I found video review to be invaluable in helping to close the gap between what I believe I was doing and what actually happened out there.

Here is a pair of drills I used. The venue is Warabi (蕨) municipal sports center, just outside Tokyo. I try to implement the lessons from Shenzhen through twice weekly practices with my friend Hideya Watanabe.

Let's go to the videos. First up, forehand/backhand to the practice partner's forehand. (He blocks alternately, one to each side.)

(Link (Link here.)

Second, forehand/backhand to the practice partner's backhand.

(Link here.)

Remember earlier I said I had to change my forehand stroke completely? Compare the above video with the following drill recorded 4 month earlier (from prior blog post here).

(Link here.)

Can you spot the key differences?


Video was recorded using a Panasonic DMC-TZ7 in HD mode (1280 x 720p) in the corner of the court at the widest possible angle available for the camera, a focal length of 24mm-equivalent for 35mm format. The difference between the two setups shown is one of height.

By using a center column extension such as those made by Habuka, one can increase the height of the camera from 1.5m to over 2m for a better position without buying an expensive, tall tripod with a huge footprint. (You can compare the relative heights relative to the notices on the back wall.)

Since the Panasonic compact only weighs in at about 220g, this does not make the tripod unstable.

The 1 minute forehand/backhand to the backhand drill below is an updated video clip taken at the higher camera position.
(Link here.)

Can you spot how my stroke has evolved from the earlier videos?