the pencil runs

posts on running

ITB Anonymous: Session V

Thursday, December 21, 2006
Hi, my name is mis_nomer and I have a problem.

I went to see the sports doctor at National Stadium this week. I was nervous about seeing the doc 'cos I felt like an impostor. After all, I'm not exactly an athlete. But I felt a little better when the person after me was an auntie whose sport was "aerobics". Sports is for everyone; it is just hard to imagine it so.

Anyway, it turns out that my ITB problem may have a biomechanical origin. My left leg is 1 cm longer than my right, and my left knee naturally tilts inwards. This means that every time my foot hits the ground, it rolls inwards and the ITB strains to keep the knee straight. After a while the ITB rubs against the bone and becomes inflamed.

I was a bit appalled to hear about the discrepancy in my leg length, but the nice doctor assured me that a 1-3 cm discrepancy is normal and the only reason I feel pain is because small discrepancies become magnified when you multiply it over in long distances. She thinks that thrice daily stretching will help, followed by short runs (starting 3km, increase 10% per run) in the new year. Hopefully, my body will know how to compensate for the quirks in my leg structure. If the pain comes back, I'll have to consider making a prosthetic.

These are the four ITB stretches she recommended:

For the ITB, this is her preferred stretch. This stretch reaches the hip as well, so if you suffer from hip ITB, this is a good one to do.

This is my preferred stretch. I find it hard to feel the stretch in the one above because I'm fairly flexible and have to lean really low to feel anything at all.

This is another one.

This stretch is good because I can do it while I am sitting at work.

You mustn't forget to stretch your calves and quads too.

I had a lot of questions to ask the doctor and she gamely answered them all.

1. Can I swim the breaststroke? What about cycling?
"Everyone is built differently. Of course the frontcrawl is the best for swimming because the breaststroke shortens the ITB, but if it doesn't bother you, go ahead and do it. In your case, it may be that only running/ walking is the precipitating factor." Whoohoo!

2. What do you think about the Walt Reynolds' ITB Special?
"I can't comment on that because we haven't tested it out."

3. How long must I stretch for?
"Three times daily: morning, afternoon, night; and don't forget to stretch before and after your runs." What! I was thinking along the lines of five minutes before and after my runs!

4. How can I stretch for hip ITB? (on behalf of Smole)
"All of the regular ITB stretches work for hip ITBS. The leaning on the wall stretch is the best. Some athletes use a rubber ball with rubber spikes to rub against the hip ITB. That helps too."

5. Can I buy an insole from the store?
"No. If you have a specific problem like you do, it is very unlikely that a store-bought insole will help. You need one to be custom made. Our podiatrist is a runner and comes in every Friday if stretching does not solve your problem."

6. Is this something that will heal and resolve itself? I want to run for a long time.
"Stretch a lot and if that doesn't work, make a prosthetic." Hmm. Not quite what I was looking for. The doctor said she has the exact same problem as me and hers kicks in at 7km. I wonder if this is going to be a long-term issue if even the sports doc struggles with this...

and these are the questions I didn't get around to asking.
7. Is it possible to stretch too much?
8. Can I do speed training, run on hills, run laps, play squash?
9. What do our athletes at the Asian Games struggle with?
10. Hey doc, nice Treo!

We are the plodders of the world!

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

We are the plodders of the world!
And we'll keep on fighting - till the end -
We are the plodders-
We are the plodders
No time for losers
'Cause we are the plodders- of the world!

Sung to the tune of Queen's "We are the champions"
Smole and I made this song up the very first time we ran long enough to feel bored -- it was a 13.5km training run at East Coast Park -- back then, the plan was to work up to where we could run for "two hours or so". Today, we ran for five hours and fifty-four minutes. What a long way we've come.

Of course it hurt. My ITB gave way at the 18km mark. There was a sharp pain and the knee just stopped being able to bend. I popped two ponstans, two panadols, and hobbled on, and waited for the painkillers to kick in.

Thank God for painkillers and deep heat and painkiller gel and friends who wait at the 33km mark and a buddy who inspires; but most of all, for the cool weather today and the strength to run.

The psychological turning point for me came at the U-turn at East Coast ( 27.5km mark). From then on, we were on our way back, and we had Jamie Oliver to look forward to at the 33km mark. It was so good to see her. We stopped for about 5-10 minutes, and she ran with us to Fort Road. That was possibly the most light-hearted stretch of the race.

From then on, it was sheer grit. Step by step, psych-ing myself with "Pain is Nothing"; "Pain is Nothing"; "Pain is Nothing". It was only at the 37km mark that I felt somewhat confident that we would finish, and I started crafting a post for this blog. This was the post I crafted in my head:

"ITBS and fatigue, I laugh at your face!

But now I succumb to my bed."

It is probably indicative of my frame of mind then. ;)

I was so happy when I ran under the Esplanade bridge and someone shouted: "400m more!" and there were photographers and supporters and I knew I would finish that I just about teared up. Turning that corner and seeing the finishing line, looking at Smole and pointing and smiling, and finally, running, running, hand-in-hand to the finish, a dream come true.

Perhaps we are champions after all. :)



Don't panic!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I've had so much carbo today that if I don't run tomorrow, I'll put on weight. Seriously, you'll be surprised at how much this moderate-sized girl can pack in in a single day when she puts her mind to it. Be awed:

1. One coffee
2. Half pack fish crackers
3. One banana
4. One prawn yellow mee, soup
5. One orange and lemon fountain soda.
5. One curry pumpkin soup, with
6. One and three-quarters bun
7. One crab-craw spaghetti
8. One bite mudcake
9. One Vitamin C effervescent drink
10. One duck rick, with duck leg

I think I can feel my ITB throbbing in anticipation as I type. I've been sneezing and sniffling all day too. Pscychosomatic I am.

This is my revised marathon to-do list on protopage. Note that "carbo load" is crossed out. And guess what? I bumped into Jamie Oliver today and she said that she will be at the 33km mark to cheer us on! YAY! She's so sweet. Hence I have a new category: "Things to leave with J".

It is 8:15pm and I'm too nervous (and full!) to fall asleep. I think I'll go deflect this restless energy and pick up my messy room. Thanks for all the well wishes!

ITB Anonymous: Session IV

Hello everyone, my name is Ms. Nomer, and I have a problem.

A bit of trivia before I start: what is an important difference between running and swimming?

After a swim, you're not smelly!

This past week, my bedroom has been suffused with the antispetic smell of chlorine, unlike the usual musky smell emanating from the laundry basket at the corner of the room. I almost like the sweaty smell more than the chlorine smell, just because it is more familiar and it always makes me feel happy and accomplished.

So after a week of not running, I went for my first run yesterday evening. My mind had grown soft -- I wasn't looking forward to exerting myself at all -- but once I got started, it felt so remarkably good to get gloriously sweaty again. Great big glops of sweat, like a labourer at work. And the cadence of the feet, the ability to breathe whenever I wanted to, the music in my ears, the road before me, it was all very good.

And then of course, the pain set in.

I have resigned myself to the fact that I will not be able to walk after the marathon this coming Sunday. It is not like I haven't cut back my mileage. My total mileage this past week was less than 10km. How I am going to go from less than 10km to 42.195km this coming Sunday is going to somewhat of a miracle on the Moses-parting-the-red-sea scale. Not to mention the ITB. My longest run so far is about 26km; my ITB is probably irrevocably inflamed; the die is cast.

But dang it, I'm going to finish it anyway, hobbling if required.

So, since it doesn't help to ruminate on this matter any more as the die is cast, I'll just do what I have to this week (swim the freestyle, eat, drink) and think about something else altogether:

Do people sweat when they swim?

If so, is that why public pools taste salty?

Food for though eh? :) Have a good day.

A to-do and a to-wish list

Sunday, November 26, 2006
Running late. I have five minutes. I wish I could draw.  And run.  And dance the tango.  And settle down.

I've done no running this week -- only freestyle, back and forth until my lungs cannot take it anymore, which doesn't take very much at all.  I've been eating and sleeping in and getting lazy.  So I must -- I tell myself  -- I must go for a short run this evening and hope that it will not protest. 

Running late.  I may have to skip the shower.

Why run?

Wednesday, November 22, 2006
Have you seen the latest Adidas advertisements? Where these guys wear bibs declaring the reason they run, like "Because No. 2689 talked me into it."? I think they are great!

I especially empathise with reason No: 2418, taped-nipples and all.

Guess what? Guess what? They will be giving us these special bibs to wear on the back of our shirts during the marathon! :)

Ooh ooh ooh.. what shall we write?

Running mantra #5

Monday, November 20, 2006
Sometimes you've just gotta swim.

Feeling down

Sunday, November 19, 2006
Feeling down
I'm so screwed. The marathon is in two weeks.

Today, my illiotibial band hurt more than it did last week, forcing me to abort the long run at a mere 13km. Did I get vaselined, sunscreened, hatted, all taped up just for this?

My cardiovascular fitness isn't up to scruff -- today I felt lethagic, miserable and pessimistic. My running buddy was tired and kept having to stop. Swimming 10 laps every other day doesn't seem to be enough, yet that is about as much swimming as I can bear.

Ever since my Garmin forerunner came back from the workshop in Taiwan, I haven't been able to get a decent reception from it. It hangs like a dead weight on my wrist. Perhaps its performance mirrors his owner's.

How? How? How? All I want to do is to finish.

ITB Anonymous: Session III

Tuesday, November 14, 2006
Hi, my name is Ms. Nomer and I have an ITB problem.

I went for my first swim last weekend, the day after a 21km (achey) long run. The water in the public pool tasted somewhat salty... very gross! But I was determined to swim and so struggled through ten laps anyway. Have I mentioned that I don't like swimming?

In other news for fellow-sufferers, I have discovered a new ITB strengthening exercise. I call it the kungfu stance.


What you have to do is to place your feet far apart (facing outwards) and bend your knees to 90 degrees. Then stand up slowly, without locking your knees. Do 15-20 reps per day, followed with ITB stretching. Do this before AND after your runs to keep your ITB flexible.

I am almost at my wits' end since nothing I'm trying seems to be working. But after talking to a friend who is trained in this area, I'm somewhat cheered with the discovery of the "kungfu stance", the success of swimming ten laps, and the possibility that insoles may help my problem.

If all else fails, will someone please wait for me at the 30km with a pair of crutches? Thanks.

ITB Anonymous: Session II

Sunday, October 29, 2006
Hi, my name is Ms. Nomer.

I think I need to learn how to swim.

ITB Anonymous

My name is Ms. Nomer and I have a problem.

I didn't used to think I have a problem. I thought all I was experiencing were a few one-time flare-ups, well within my control.

But I am realising that this may not be so.

My first encounter with my nemesis occured three weeks ago, on a jaunt to the Chinese garden. Then it was a dull throb, a fleeting temptation, so to speak.

I went cold turkey, put an ice pack, and forgot about it soon. Two weeks went by and I was asymptomatic. I wasn't as thrilled as I ought to have been because, well, I didn't think I had a problem.

Then I had an episode. It near crippled me, and I was frightened by its power.

So I took some precautions: did the seven steps to stregthen my resolve, the eight steps to complete joint freedom. And I was optimistic. Bouyed by the success of 25 minutes in the fray this last Thursday without a flare-up, I attempted a 45 minute endeavour on Friday. I was pushing my luck as I quickly realised...

Today, I only managed 35 minutes before the old demons knocked on the door.

But I will try again; because, why else am I here, telling you all of this?

The weakest link

Friday, October 27, 2006
Between Smole and I, we have enough problems for three of us.

While I was congratulating myself at the 25 minute mark on how good my ITB was feeling thus far, Smole tripped over the tiniest crack in the pavement and sprained her ankle. It was a pretty bad sprain -- it swelled up to as large as a golf ball -- the poor girl! We got some ice in a plastic bag from the nice folks at Long John's Silver, iced it down and limped back to where we started.

We take turns to play the weakest link. (or at least our body parts do)

Week 1: Great run! No weakest link.
Week 2: MN's sunburn
Week 2.5: MN's sweat bubbles
Week 3: Smole's knee
Week 4: Smole's knee
Week 5: Smole's knee and MN's ITB
Week 6: It was actually an alright run, just general fatigue and impatience.
Week 7: MN's ITB
Week 7.5: Smole's ankle

What does Week 8 hold? Will Smole's ankle heal? Will MN's ITB flare up? When novices are foolish enough to sign up for a marathon, you get a drama serial.

Walt Reynolds' ITB Special

Tuesday, October 24, 2006
Walt Reynolds' ITB Special is an exercise that mimics the running gait and strengthens the iliotibial band. I found the original instructions a bit difficult to follow, so I've taken the liberty of adding a few photos to illustrate. Please let me know if I'm doing it wrong.

First, find a four to six inch elevation.

Place the involved leg, i.e. the leg you are working out, on the step. Use a wall or railing on your non-involved side for support.

With both knees locked, lower your non-involved leg towards the floor. As you do this, your involved hip would be higher than the non-involved hip. (see pic below) Try to shift most of your body weight to the inside part of the foot of the involved leg. Make sure that a fair amount of your body weight is directed through your heel, not just your toes.

Bend your weight-supporting, involved knee slightly (about 10 to 20 degrees), but keep the non-involved foot off the ground or floor.

Now, move the involved hip forward about four to six inches, while keeping the involved heel in contact with the step and your weight on the inside of your involved foot. As your involved hip moves forward, your upper body should move backward.

After you've moved your hip forward, move it straight backward. As your hip moves backward, your upper body will tend to bend forward.

As you do the exercise, you should feel the burn up toward the side of your hip. If you don't feel anything happening, go back to the basic position and try again. Make sure that
1. Your involved hip is higher than the other hip
2. Your weight is shifted to the inside of the involved foot.

Start with 10 reps per day on each leg, and gradually build up to a set of 20 to 30 reps - carried out at two different times during the day.

ITB woes

Monday, October 23, 2006
My left illiotibial band is sore like anything. I can't walk without it hurting so I keep my leg as straight as I can and swivel my hip around to take a step. Smole says I walk like a stroke patient.

I'm not really sure what to do. I think I really have to make an effort to stretch and do exercises to strengthen my gluteus medius muscle and hip abductors. And keep off the track. And try to pronate less and be less bow-legged. Er, right.

I am wondering if tape will be a decent substitute for the pattstrap...

Week 5: The West Coast Park Run

Thursday, October 12, 2006
Unlike the previous four runs, the name for Week 5's run is contentious. It is a narrow fight between
  • The West Coast Park Run: Labrador Park-West Coast Park-Pandan Reservoir-Chinese Garden *descriptive*
  • The Just-How-Small-is-Singapore Run *inductive*
  • The we-are-never-going-to-make-it-so-let's-just-give-up Run *emotive*
The name West Coast Park Run is descriptive. We ran from the Southern tip of Singapore to the Chinese Garden, which was decorated with colourful lanterns for the mooncake festival.

Chinese Garden: Mooncake Festival

The name Just-How-Small-is-Singapore Run is inductive, as can be seen in this map:

Week 5: The Just-how-small-is-Singapore Run

That is the whole of Singapore you see. That purple line you see is only 17.5km, so just how small is Singapore exactly?

And the we-are-never-going-to-make-it-so-let's-just-give-up Run is emotive, as evidenced by having to stop because of knee pain before we even hit the 20km mark.


And so what do you do when you are discouraged because you have neither speed nor endurance? Pretend you are as fast as speeding train.

Zippin' Train
Zippin' train

Zippin' Smole
Zippin' smole

Zippin' MN
Zippin' MN

How many ways can your knee hurt?

Monday, October 09, 2006
So I have become a runner. I know what a sore iliotibial band feels like.

Smole has Patellofemoral Pain Syndrome and I have Iliotibial Band Syndrome.

Smole needs to strengthen her quadriceps and stretch her iliotibial bands, calves and hamstrings. I need to strengthen my hip abductors and stretch my iliotibial bands.

How to strengthen quadriceps: (for PPS)


How to strengthen hip abductors: (for PPS and ITBS)


How to strengthen gluteus medius muscle: (for ITBS)


How to stretch the iliotibial band: (for PPS and ITBS)

And all of these stretches too: (for PPS and ITBS)


No cycling or squash for me till after the marathon...

Week 4: The Great Midnight Run

Sunday, October 01, 2006
Due to a happy alignment of the stars, three major ethnic festivals are happening in the same month this year: Mid-Autumn, Hari Raya and Deepavali. The three festivals also coincide with the convergence of 16,000 IMF delegates on our little island state -- which is the kind of conincidence that makes you wonder about the real power of our government...

Three festivals

Anyway, public holidays are sweet. For equity, major ethnic groups are allocated two public holidays each: two Chinese, two Muslim, two Christian, two Indian, and three secular. Singapore banks on these festivals to up the "asian factor" of our otherwise modern and secular country, and so go all out to impress tourists. Which means that it is a great opportunity for a midnight run. :)

Mid-autumn Festival


Hari Raya Light-up
Hari Raya

The plan was to hit all three light-ups via Chinatown, Serangoon Rd, and then Victoria Street in a grand loop that was to take about 26km. We started about 9:45pm and got home at 2am.

This was the route we took.


What a run. It was interesting to watch how the city changed as we ran. The ah-peks (old chinese men) on bicycles in Chinatown morphed into the young dancing crowd at clark quey, which transformed into the crowded Indian streets at Serangoon, which eventually settled uneasily into the buzzing bright lights of geylang... When it got late enough, we bumped into the midnight cyclists.

The stretch on MacPherson towards Paya Lebar was horrendously long and boring, but I eventually got over my bed-time sleepiness and felt better after the U-turn and stopped running away from home. Smole's knee started hurting at Bugis so we stopped, leaving the battle for another day.

Thank God for taxis that ply the streets at all times of the night. And for seven-elevens and petrol stations too. The best part? No sunburn! ;)

Ruminations on Running

Tuesday, September 26, 2006
Training for a marathon defies common sense.

It is hard on the body. The pounding on concrete wears out the knees; the sun ages your skin prematurely; the immune system is usually slightly compromised after a long run. That reluctance to take another step at the 20-something or 30-something km mark is not just your imagination.. It is your body telling you that what you are doing is beyond what is needed for a healthy balanced lifestyle.

So why do people still do it?

Is it endorphins, that biochemical compound released by your body during exercise that makes you feel on top of the world? I doubt so, because sheer fatigue always overwhelms the good feelings with enough time. Trust me, I know that for a fact.

Is it for fitness? There are easier and better ways to be fit. Swimming is easy on the joints and is a good cardio workout. Even running the half marathon or 10km is better as it is less taxing on the body. I was literally sneezing and feverish all day yesterday from the long run on Sunday, and that was only 25.8km.

Is it for fun? Erm, personally, at this point in my life, playing squash is probably twenty times more fun than running a long slow distance. There is greater variety and competition in any game than there is in running, so, no, it is not "for fun", even if the music and company is good.

Is it for fame and glory? Not unless you can finish the race in a superhuman time.

So what is it?

For me it is this:

because flying to the moon defies common sense too.

Week 3: The beached whale run

Monday, September 25, 2006
The beached whale run

Die lah. Cannot make it. How to run a full marathon at the end of the year? I'm having a severe case of cannot-do-this-itis.

Smole's knee gave out very early during this run -- I think it was at the 10km mark. From Yishun Ave 1 all the way to the end, it would suddenly buckle every 500m or so. We walked the very last bit because of the pain.

We also got hungry. Who gets hungry on a long run??? We actually stopped at the 19km mark to eat a sandwich and piece of carrot cake because of the general tiredness. I thought we would have to stop there and take a bus back, but Smole sucked it in and kept at it until we got back to where we started.


[By the way, who says running is free? Amount consumed during run: $1.40 Ribena; $1.00 100-plus; $0.90 bottle of water; $1.40 can of lemon tea; $1.40 can of 100-plus; $1.80 sandwich; $1.00 carrot cake. not including the 3 water refills of water. Who has to eat this much during a run???? Die.]

[By the way, Edgware is positively as un-Singapore-like as you can get. Stepping into that neighbourhood is like stepping back to colonial times. If I lived there, just going home would be stress-relieving. The first time we ran through Edgware was in preparation for the half marathon last year. That was only the head of the beached whale. Now we have to do the whole freakin body and tail as well. Die lah.]