Tuesday, May 17, 2011

A half marathon

I've been having a serious bit of trouble sleeping recently. I go to sleep at a decent hour but I wake up too early. And have trouble getting back to sleep. Maybe there are other factors involved, but being fairly desperate about the sleep issue, I decided to exhaust myself completely.

Being fit enough to run a marathon at any time was one of my baseline goals I've mentioned in a recent entry (see here). The training program for that was basically to run a couple of 10Ks a week, and occasionally substitute in a half marathon.

So I put my money where my mouth is. I went and tapped out a half marathon on the treadmill in the gym.

An hour before the run, I went and bought a new pair of Newton running shoes to replace the tired and worn existing pair that I have. Even on the treadmill, there is a lot of pounding to 13.2 miles (21.1 km). So I figured I could do with fresh shoes. They didn't have my size in stock, so I bought a lower end shoe in the right size. It's the Sir Isaac neutral guidance trainer. There is a psychologically significant difference in weight (247g vs. 316g for each shoe) between this and their race shoe.

(See picture of me checking my download in the changing room after the run towards the end of this entry to see the shoe.)

I usually run using my iPod 6g Nano with music and the Nike+ attachment to record the mileage. (See details in a previous blog entry here.) It has a special half marathon mode. Bit like the marathon mode, it counts up the miles completed until halfway, and then counts down the miles remaining in the second half.

The special mode gives a small psychological boost and provides a little extra motivation to complete the workout. Stopping the workout would mean aborting the electronic countdown. And that's not cool. Hang in there baby!

Here are the stats from the screen.

Yes, that an hour forty-five on the treadmill for nearly 1500 kcal burned. I also use the special Polar Wearlink HR strap to enable the 6g Nano to record my heart rate (HR).

For graphing, I used the basic technique described here (enable disk mode and drill down) to extract the raw data and plot it in Excel.

Step 1: Access raw XML data
  <extendedData dataType="distance" intervalType="time" intervalUnit="s" intervalValue="10">
    ..comma-delimited list of distance values in km..
  <extendedData dataType="speed" intervalType="time" intervalUnit="s" intervalValue="10">
    ..comma-delimited list of speed values in km/hr..
  <extendedData dataType="heartRate" intervalType="time" intervalUnit="s" intervalValue="10">
    ..comma-delimited list of HR values in bpm..

With the Polar Wearlink+ HR monitor active, HR is also recorded simultaneously with footpod data: in fact, the current values for three pieces of data - distance, speed and heart rate - are recorded by the 6g Nano every 10 seconds and stored in the xml file.

Step 2: Import data into Excel

Step 3: Scatter plot

Only real difference from the results shown in that earlier post is that I've used a scatter plot with HR and speed on different vertical axes (primary and secondary).

As you can see my HR steadily increased the whole way, despite sipping water every five minutes. I ended up downing two bottles of water (1 liter) and one gatorade (20 oz).

For those of you who are familiar with my blog, you can probably tell I err a bit towards the analytical side. I love instrumentation.

There is a discrepancy between the treadmill and the sensor I feel compelled to point out. In particular, speed-wise, I believe the Nike+ sensor gave me more credit than I deserved. I only set the treadmill speed to a rather wimpy 7.0 mph. But it gave me 12 km/hr credit. So either the treadmill is pessimistic or the Nike+ sensor is optimistic. As I said, I believe it's the latter case.

Well, I'm happy I managed to stay on the treadmill that long to complete the half marathon workout. But, as they say, the sixty-four thousand dollar question is: did I sleep well that night? Unfortunately, the answer was no.

Oh well, I guess I should trusted the treadmill not the sensor and run that extra kilometer more...

Friday, May 6, 2011

Shenzhen Ping Pong: LATTA

Travel by itself can be cathartic, bringing about a genuine realignment in perspective.

I am just a dreamer, but you are just a dream...

One of the things that can make us better and more accomplished human beings is a sense of passion, and an accompanying desire to succeed. As with life and perhaps so with athletic goals.

It can start with a simple dream, a realizable goal and the determination to make it happen. On one hand, having a concrete goal allow us to set milestones along the way and measure out progress. On the other hand, despite the application of plenty of sweat and fitness, goals can remain tantalizingly out of reach and lead to pent-up feelings of frustration when things aren't working out right.

With respect to catharsis, it has been said that it is the human soul that is purged of its excessive passions. Experiencing these moments could be a good thing.

It's a good seven hour drive from Tucson to the Los Angeles Table Tennis Association (LATTA), a straight shot on Interstate 10 heading west all the way out to the Pacific ocean. I took the opportunity to use up a furlough day. Loaded the car up with a couple of boxes of water and gatorade. Throw in my gym bag and an extra bag full of ping pong clothing. I'm gonna focus on eat, sleep and play ping pong, nothing else I need to bring along. Plug the iPod into the car stereo. Turn up the volume. Set the cruise control and satnav. Relax. Seven hours each way is a lot of time for the brain to unwind and reorganize.

The LATTA is the largest table tennis club in LA with professional coaches. Like many marginal sports, at first glance, the facility is nothing much to look at. One could easily pass by and not notice it. Simple signage leads to a warehouse facility.

Hmm, I guess I can do better than that. Here is a photo at sunset when people are actually present at the club.

Inside, we have high ceilings, quality table tennis tables, barriered areas, and a professional (red) rubber floor.

I have to say the lighting is not quite as good as it might be, perhaps I'm spoiled at my ping pong palace with indirect lighting. Also, most courts there are not individually barriered. But the last point/feature about the floor is important to me. Playing on concrete is simply really tough on joints. And concrete and other surfaces (even wood) can be slippery unless kept very clean. But putting aside facilities, the single most important fact is simply there are lots of good players who frequent the club. And that's why I'm here.


Anyway back to the theme of this blog entry, this rather unassuming but friendly and generous lady is Zhu Min Ming, originally from Guangzhou. She told me she is rated around 1600. She beat me 2-0 first day I arrived. I figured perhaps I was a little tired after a seven hour drive plus taking two hours of coaching.

Well, by last day, when I thought I was pretty grooved in, although I had my moments, she beat me 2-0 again deservedly.

And when she told me I was playing 1700 level, maybe at most 1800, it was definitely a cathartic moment. To learn to win one has first to learn to handle one's weaknesses. To learn to handle one's weaknesses one first has to learn how to lose.

( I'm sure I'll eventually get used to her close-to-the-table game with smooth rubber on one side and semi-long pips on the other.)


I also got the opportunity to meet Hideo (from Orange County) in person. He came on Saturday to play the Round Robin at LATTA.

Hideo frequents the same online ping pong forum as me and was kind enough to mail me one of his modified paddles to test last month. (See below.)

Despite its compact appearance, the grip is similar to my thumbgrip-modified SuperCPen in feel (see here). However, due to the wood used in the construction of the handle, it's significantly heavier and slower than my modified SuperCPen.


And now to the main purpose of my LATTA sojourn, although one can theoretically get coaching from any professional, I've always wanted to get coaching from a top-level penholder who understands the reverse penhold backhand.

Crystal Huang (rated 2460), who runs the LATTA, is a former member of the US Table Tennis team; in fact, she represented the USA at the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Since she is an expert penholder, I've been taking lessons on the penhold style from her.

Given I'm in the progress of overhauling my game completely (from my previous one-sided traditional penhold technique), I'm kinda retooling from scratch, and therefore need to learn to lose not just all the old bad habits, but need to learn to lose by bravely adopting the weaker but theoretically better strokes in matches - at the cost of losing matches I could have won using unfortunately well grooved-in but theoretically inferior strokes. In other words, accept short-term total humiliation with the prospect (possibly unrealized and unguaranteed) of better things to come. I admit this has been hard. That is why creating the necessary conditions for catharsis is required in order to break that logjam. Thank you Zhu Min Ming!

As the beginning of this post states, I'm just a dreamer and you are just a dream... Forever dreaming only if I could work out how to move, stay balanced and hit a decent forehand... Well, dreaming is free but lessons are not. Onto the videos...

Video Clips

[Seems strange, I lost my earlier edits to this post.]

As I've mentioned in earlier posts on the topic, my forehand is one of those strokes I've had fundamental problems with but have always wanted to fix. On the one hand, my forehand loop is powerful (for my level) and wins me many points. On the other hand, it needs to be abandoned totally and radically restructured if I am to make any progress. The following warm-up with Crystal Huang illustrates many of the problems I have with the stroke.

Link here

More sample video clips to follow...