Viewing: fitness

Twenty minutes

Six weeks ago, I signed Marlon and myself up for a beginners’ running group at the Vondelpark, Amsterdam’s version of Central Park. I wanted a wallet-friendly form of exercise, but am especially bad at running (which is probably why I detested it). So I thought learning how to run “properly” and combining it with a fun group atmosphere would transform my experience of the sport.
So every Thursday at 7:45 pm (except last week when my sister was here), I ran. I quickly grew to enjoy the company of my group—11 warm and friendly Dutchies who had as little experience with running as I did. Rick, our coach, worked in sports for the disabled, a fact that did a lot to put me at ease. I had all my limbs and faculties, didn’t I? So I couldn’t be the worst runner he’d ever met! Rick was patient and kind, always reminding me that everyone has their own pace and I didn’t have to keep up with the others. When you’re perpetually at the tail end of the group, lagging way behind the Dutchies with their endless legs, hearing that can really keep you going.
Last night was our last run, the one we’d been working up to for six weeks: running for 20 minutes straight around the park. If this sounds easy to you, you must already be into running. Back in Singapore, I attempted a “couch to 5k” program where the first level was one minute of jogging alternated with a minute and a half of walking. I would be totally winded after the minute-long jog, and lived for those precious minutes of walking. I never progressed beyond that first level. 
But last night was a breakthrough. After working my way up from 2, 5, 8, 10 then 12 minutes of straight running (no walking allowed!), I was nervous that skipping last week’s 15-minute training would stop me from reaching the goal of the entire course. But it didn’t. Finally, running became easy, automatic even (at least after the first five to seven minutes). And running through a park buzzing with vibrant life all around me, seeing all the Dutchies out in full force to enjoy the spring sunshine with their beers and barbecues… running even became fun. 

When I saw the green fountain (“water post” in Rick’s idiosyncratic English) that marked the end of my 20 minutes, I could not help but break out into a wide grin. Marlon, having seen me at the worst of my running attempts, was so proud of me. 

After a round of high fives, we walked over to the pub at the Amstelveenseweg gate of the Vondelpark to celebrate with a drink. It really did look and feel like a celebration, with a packed open-air terrace and bonfires lit all around. And that beer tasted like the sweetest thing on this good earth.

I also received a certificate from Running Holland. If I ever forget that I was able to run 20 minutes straight and how good I felt afterwards, I have this to remind me!

But why would I forget? Because I signed up for the next course, 6.6km or two to three rounds around the Vondelpark, next May. And I’m looking forward to surprising myself all over again.


This afternoon I exercised for the first time since November. Yep, it’s been that long—since this whole moving to Amsterdam process first got started, in fact. 
I’d been putting off this workout since we got here. When I first arrived in Amsterdam early January, I resolved to use my time at the serviced apartment by using the in-house gym. Guess how that went. Then when we moved to our permanent address, I got all excited about having the picturesque riverside a few minutes from my doorstep. I told myself every single day that I was going to run. Or at least walk. Tomorrow. Hah! Fat chance (a pun that truly applies to me at this point).
I avoided exercise with an odd, inverted determination. There were a lot of excuses, the cold being my favorite scapegoat. “When I go out in the cold, I burn more calories anyway,” I told myself. E ano kayang ginagawa yung mga cold cuts and cheese sa bahay
Finally, today, I just went out and did it. I didn’t think much about it. I just put on a Heattech top and tights plus a regular hoodie and sweatpants (a 100% Uniqlo outfit), stole Marlon’s Nike GPS thingamajiggie and stuck it in my shoe, and went out.
And found what I had been avoiding all along was actually… not so bad at all. In fact, it was wonderful.
Half jogging, half walking west along the river, I discovered Beatrixpark just minutes from my house. It’s a beautiful open space with long winding paths, duck ponds and large green swathes of grass. I saw lots of doggies bounding along happily, playing catch with their owners, and old ladies sitting all bundled up on park benches with their smiling faces tipped up to the sun. Because of the cold, a kind of fine mist hung in the air, making everything look soft. 
It was another “Is this really my life?” moment. I didn’t feel cold at all and I didn’t really care that my pace was atrociously slow. It felt that good. 
And I realized I avoid a lot of things that turn out to be less painless than I think they’ll be. I think of it as the “hell week” syndrome—you know, back in college when it’s the week before exams and you’re terrified you’re going to flunk or die, but when you’re halfway into it you realize you’re passing and alive and hey, it’s not so bad.
Exercise is one. Housework is another. I never did housework in Singapore, ask Marlon. Getting me to do it is like pulling teeth from a baby lion. But yesterday when the sun streamed in through the windows into my house, it hit me how dirty everything had gotten in the span of a few days. And so I began vacuuming and mopping like a madwoman. I remember thinking to myself, “Hey, this really doesn’t take that much time.” And seeing my all-white kitchen just sparkle in the sunlight gave me a domestic thrill that bordered on perverse. Hallelujah, I have seen the light!
I also used to avoid calling clients. And it wasn’t because they were difficult, I just had this strong irrational sense of not wanting to do it. It doesn’t last long, maybe an hour at most; people who’ve worked with me always find me quick to respond and very “on.” But sometimes even if I already found myself on my way to doing it, I would get a heavy, draggy feeling in my chest in those last few seconds before picking up the phone. Then we would have a normal chatty conversation, getting things done, and I would feel like myself and all fired up to work again. Weird huh?
What do you find yourself avoiding lately and why? And how does it turn out when you do get into it?

So bike me

Recently, Marlon and I put together a list of things we have yet to do in Singapore, made up of things we feel we absolutely must do before we leave (bakit kaya? Umaambisyon lang). On the National Day holiday last Monday, we finally got to cross one item off the list.
That item was “bike at ECP.” East Coast Park is a long stretch of beach on the, you guessed it, east coast of Singapore. It’s really popular for rollerblading, biking (or as they prefer to say here, cycling), camping and good old-fashioned beach bumming. The shores of home have spoiled me for life, so this is far from my top choice for a beach. But since learning how to bike, and biking through wine country in Sonoma last June, I thought I could finally give the bike lanes a try.
After a little online sleuthing, I decided that a worthy goal would have to be a nice way to end the day: a sunset stroll along the scenic boardwalk at Changi Point.  To get there, Marlon and I would cycle through Park Connector Network, a bike/footpath that links East Coast Park to Changi Beach Park. All we had to do was rent a bike from one of the PCN stops along East Coast and drop it off at any of the pit stops on Changi Beach. So we did, and we were off!
East Coast Park was packed with people that day, being a holiday. After a few kilometers of cycling, we slipped out of the crowd and stopped for a big carby lunch at the Mana Mana Beach Club. It was a familiar name from our visits to Bintan—we’d stayed there a couple of times, enjoying the chill vibe and superb wood-fired pizzas. Unfortunately, this was more like Polo Club Seaside Branch, without the pizzas :P
One of the reasons I don’t like East Coast Park is the view. Something about the fleet of ocean tankers parked meters from the shoreline just ruins it for me. I don’t understand how people can swim in this water—not when it’s plain that all these tankers are dumping their waste water into the ocean within swimming distance from you. 
You know how, at our beaches, the ocean gradually deepens to a sapphire blue as you look farther out to sea? Here, it doesn’t. It’s just a flat grayish green, with just a faint tinge of blue, all throughout. I know it’s the only accessible beach for a lot of locals, but for me it just feels like swimming in Manila Bay. I saw a lot of affluent locals and foreigners all dressed up in their flowing boho/tropicana caftans and chunky jewelry and designer flip-flops for this beach; kung ganito lang ang tropical paradise, wag na lang.  
So imagine my wonderment when, biking further and further away from the crowds, we found a beautiful little cove with actual white sand and clear blue water! I was thrilled. Pwedeng pwede na ‘to! There was only one other couple around, plenty of shade and grass, even a little rocky knoll with tufts of grass. Pang-Koreanovela lang. I wouldn’t mind biking back to this lovely secluded cove on another Saturday afternoon for a bit of sunning and swimming.
Tapos, kalbaryo na. Having woken up late, Marlon and I had to cover the longest stretch of road over the hottest hours of the day. But we weren’t the only ones—lots of bikers, a large percentage of them ang moh (Caucasians) whizzed by as we puffed along. I had gotten comfortable enough with biking to enjoy some of the views, like this aqueduct. It almost felt like we weren’t in Singapore. This was definitely a side of the Little Red Dot I’d never seen before.
The planning of the bike path was excellent. With lots of shade from the trees lining the path, and a covered rest stop every 1 to 2 kilometers, it was perfect for an easy-to-tire, newbie biker like me.
The most fun thing about this bike path was that it runs behind the entire length of Changi Airport. So every time I needed to catch my breath, we would plop down at a rest stop and watch the planes take off. 

After what seemed like eons of pedaling, we finally reached the PCN pit stop at Changi Beach Park. And not a moment too soon! If I could have thrown my bike at them, I would have. (Pero mas effort pala yon, LOL.)

And this is the route I cycled! From the blue point below to the blue point on the upper right, or a total distance of 17.9 km. It looks like almost a third of Singapore’s coastline!
Changi Beach was quite homey, a lot less developed and far less packed than East Coast Park. The crowd was mostly local families enjoying a day at the beach, flying kites and barbecuing. The tankers were way further out to sea, which made me feel more at ease about swimming here. 
Then our leader Ben Linus sounded the island-wide alarm, pulling us out of our weekly book club meeting to comb the beach for survivors. LOL!
We decided to take a taxi to Changi Point to make it in time for the sunset. Buti na lang kasi ang layo pala niya kung lakarin o i-bike! I have to say, the boardwalk was one of the nicest places I’ve been in Singapore, and one of the most genuine. Dotted with old-timers fishing and young families taking a late afternoon stroll, the boardwalk felt laid-back, removed from the Singapore I’ve known for the last three years.
Parang Riva del Garda lang!
And true to its promise, golden hour at the boardwalk truly was golden. Other photographers call it the magic hour, and yes, you could say it was magical too.
A section of the boardwalk takes you along a seaside cliff shielded from the sea by trees. This was my favorite part. Frame by backlit leaves and trees, the sunset seemed shrouded in layers of fine black lace woven by Nature’s own hands.
And that’s how Singapore and I bonded on her 45th birthday.
While everyone else was at the big splashy shindig down at the Padang, where we were that evening was absolutely fine with me.

Trial run

… or more like a trial walk.

This evening Marlon went for an hour-long, 4 to 5km walk around Bishan Park, a very nice open space that’s roughly five to ten minutes’ drive from our house. We walked with Shivaani, Marlon’s closest friend here in Singapore who’s returning to India for good tomorrow evening. They used to walk a lot together when Marlon was still living by itself, so it was a last hurrah of sorts, a farewell to a favorite pastime.

Me? I’ve never liked walking, so whenever Marlon would suggest we go for a walk, I would always combat his enthusiasm with my inertia. Eventually he stopped asking. But tonight’s walk was really nice — so nice, in fact, that I wondered why I don’t walk more often.

What made it so nice: the weather has been rather un-Singaporean as of late — cool and breezy instead of hot and humid, proper December weather as it should be. The park was quiet and peaceful, with clearly marked, well-paved walking trails. Just talking along the trail was really quite relaxing. And the bulk in my tummy (composed of the risotto I had for dinner) disappeared quickly, leaving me with a surprisingly flat stomach so soon after eating.

This might very well become a regular thing. Lately I’ve been thinking of giving up muay thai because I’ve become so disconcerted with how wide my shoulders and back have become. It’s all the upper-body training: push-ups and punching. I look like a wrestler :-P which is not good if you’re a 5 foot 1 inch female. I’ve actually even started thinking about taking up running, which seems to be the new yoga, and which I dislike even more than walking.

Hmmm. This means I should probably give my Divisoria-bought, porma-only Nikes a rest and get some real walking shoes. After Christmas perhaps…


i lost 5 pounds in the last two weeks!

my goal is to lose at least 10 pounds before my NY trip in august . so happy to be half way there! this is my first time to weigh in since starting my (tedious) diet and exercise regimen.

another milestone for me this week is that i did two one-and-a-half-hour muay thai sessions back to back, on wednesday and thursday evening. marlon and i recently upped our muay thai from twice to thrice weekly. muay thai sessions are really grueling, and i felt the only way i could manage them thrice a week was if i did a short, one-hour session followed by a longer, one-and-a-half hour session the next day. it’s great to know that i can take the additional toil! my endurance is improving and my recovery time is getting much, much shorter.

also, robert (the ultra maniacal terminator trainer) told me i had really good form this week and that i was really starting to get the technique. i can really feel my kicks cutting through the bag now, even my left kick which is usually weaker. it is so satisfying to see a dent appearing in the bag, then getting bigger and bigger with each kick!  
i’ve decided that my reward for getting to the 10-pound mark will be makeup shopping at MAC! and marlon promises shopping jaunts at the 20- and 30-pound marks.
so inspired to carry on. happiness! :)

Pleased with myself :)

i just had to blog this because i am so proud of myself today!

back story: after weeks of sitting through reruns of the biggest loser every day, marlon and i decided to get serious about losing weight. after all, if these 300- and 400-pound juggernauts could literally work their butts off and get even thinner than us, what the hell was our excuse? marlon took some opportune downtime at work to look for online tools that we could use to help us. initially, he found us a calorie counter widget for igoogle on labpixie, but with some more digging he turned up this website called sparkpeople.
it seemed a little confusing and tedious at first, but basically what happens is that you input your current weight and goal weight (it caps your weight loss at a very healthy 2.2lbs per week), and it churns out a recommended calorie/fat/protein/carb intake, plus a meal and exercise plan for you. 
marlon and i opted not to follow their meal plans (which seem like the most boring, white-people meals on the face of the planet) and just input our own meals into their calorie counter. you can search through their database or input the nutritional info of the brands that you like.  
it then tallies up the numbers and helps you see how you’re doing in terms of the recommended calorie/carb/fat/protein range for the day. yep, it helps you get that good old-fashioned balanced diet that you’ve been hearing about but never really believed worked. 
this is where i had all my breakthroughs, because i’ve always just starved myself (which actually forced my body to go into survival mode and cling on to the calories) or cut out carbs (which my body needs to burn calories). and i never even thought about protein (which my body needs to build muscle and pump up my metabolism), a bad habit that which became obvious in my first few days as i was always way below the minimum protein requirement. and fat… hah. it was off the charts.
ANYWAY. i could go on and on and on. but basically yun yung back story. the reason i’m so happy today is that after nearly two weeks of trying to balance my diet (and failing miserably on some days, as the spikes below will show you!), i was finally right on target today! 
the light green area is my recommended range. the out-of-bounds spikes reveal when i had a ton of olive oil in my salad dressing, or when we had a big vietnamese dinner with fried spring rolls and coffee jelly!
not only that, i was actually kulang calories and fat… even after eating a big (for me) breakfast, drinking apple juice (which i don’t normally have) and having lunch with a full tupperware of brown rice. i actually had to rack my brain for a snack that would put me just within the ideal range — and it turned out to be a midnight snack of parmesan cheese and ferrero dark chocolate! 
a diet that “forces” me to have chocolate and cheese? i never thought i would see the day. :)

Muay gulay

about an hour into muay thai last night, in mid-pushup, my arms suddenly wilted into gulay (perhaps steamed bok choy, for that local touch) and simply refused to flex. this morning, while i can still rely on my arms for basic functions like opening taxi doors and resting on tabletops as i type, if someone put a gun to my head and made me do a pushup now, it would be the end of me.

yes, i do muay thai now, to fill the void left by boxing. serendipity played a part in my new choice of sport — there’s a muay thai gym called punch academy about five minutes from the office. since marlon’s always wanted to do muay thai, and i figured whatever i was doing to lose weight (read: not much) was not working, we bit the bullet a couple of weeks ago and signed up for forty lessons.

if you’ve never worked out and been drenched head to toe with sweat within half an hour, you have to try muay thai. i don’t sweat much, but i was a veritable geyser of perspiration in my first lesson. after that first class, marlon and i staggered out the door and plopped down at the next-door kopitiam for dinner. we just sat there panting and staring at each other for a good ten minutes, not knowing quite what hit us.

so far, all my lessons have turned out to be the same. it’s positively boot camp, which is probably why i see boot camp bodies all around me whenever i go to the gym. perhaps, after thirty-seven more lessons of muay thai, one of those will be me. and perhaps gulay-ness is simply the first step.