Tales of a Triathlete #6 – Work, Life and Sport

Work Ready

Benjamin Ooi – “I don’t have time to train!”, goes the common refrain for a working adult in Singapore. It’s a fair statement, and something I’m receiving first-hand experience with since I started work and (to) pay my bills. Attaining serious fitness and skill requires dedicated effort and extended commitment. This is clearly so for endurance sports, but just applicable if you were to be learning dance or a new language.

The following tips are drawn from my experiences as a competitive amateur athlete:

Goals and Planning

Whether you are an experienced athlete or not, I cannot overstate the value of setting a target and laying out the plan to get there. Our demanding lives and matrix of priorities often present significant obstacles to achieving regular, effective training.

Overcome ambiguity by setting out your training plan and sticking to it. It can be as simple as a commitment to exercise 60 minutes every other day, or a target weekly mileage. It can also come from a coach, online, or from Ben Moreau’s weekly #STRun Column. A simple plan works much much better than no plan at all!

Managing Routine with Agility

Post-Work Views

Next, we all know building a routine helps but we often hate to schedule our life around training! That’s fine, life is better with balance and flexibility. When juggling multiple workouts (and life) it’s important to grasp whatever chunk of available time and do something with it.

For example, when building up for my Ironman while on exchange in Sao Paulo: I had numerous planned and easy runs, a couple gym sessions, bike rides, swim / water polo sessions each week. Concurrent with that, I had classes, cooking, chores of living independently. Top all these up with social drinks and BBQs, 2 AM parties, travelling and a month-long Carnival (read: street party) — things that don’t seem to mesh well with athlete requirements.

A mix of flexibility and routine allowed me to utilise my time fully, meet my training goals — all while enjoying my time on exchange. So, understand the big picture of your training plans and adapt from there. Start spending less time thinking about logistics, and get right into the work!

Focused Efforts

Run and Run Some More

Finally, however you plan, there are only 24 hours in a day, 168 hours in a week and so on. As above, I have many contrasting priorities and I cannot satisfy them all. We all want to, have to, find the balance of effort, achievements, and sacrifices that is suitable abd appropriate for us individually – and that is difficult.

Focus your efforts on the most productive areas. For me, in triathlon, that has been running with its minimal logistical barriers, more time-efficient workouts. Hence, swimming and cycling have to take a backseat and reduced emphasis during parts of my training cycle although I’m committed to performing in a triathlon. I make my reduced workouts count (and not as junk miles); compensate with more functional strength and core workouts.

However, of course, one can’t simply neglect the other disciplines as not all fitness is transferable! Exercise sensible judgement!

Ben Ooi is an Ironman Triathlete and younger sibling to two national water polo sisters. He qualified to compete in the World Ironman – World Championships 2017 in Kona, Hawaii. The SMU alumnus is currently working in the private sector and would love a South American holiday, anytime.

For inspiring stories related to running and sports, as well as discounts to local races, subscribe to ‘RunONE’ by adding +6588347638 to your Whatsapp contacts. Then send us the words, “Run With Me.”

Tales of a Triathlete #6 – Foodie-athlete/Nutrition

Benjamin Ooi – So, one of the perks of athleticism is that I can eat anything I want, and as much as I want. Right? Well, (technically) yes, but not quite!

A snapshot of a typical meal before my Ironman World Championships race in Kona, Hawaii

When it comes to nutrition, there are various competing schools of thought. Most athletes follow strict and professionally-administered meal plans. Some avoid certain types of foods perceived as unhealthy, while others invest heavily in daily nutritional supplements.

As for me, I’m too much of a foodie to do any of that. I do have two principles that sum up quite aptly my outlook on eating as an athlete. While I hope they don’t sound trite to you, these simple concepts have genuinely taken me through a swimming/water polo childhood, and continue to be relevant as a long-distance triathlete.

  1. Calorie intake
  2. Balanced diet

Calorie in, Calorie out. I’m a firm believer in this – how much food one takes in vs. how much energy one expends forms the basis of every weight-loss/gain scenario, athletes and non-athletes alike. By this logic, I don’t consider avoiding delicious fatty or fried food as critical to keeping in good shape, but I would indulge in lesser quantities to compensate for the relatively denser caloric content in these ‘sinful’ food. This is also probably how I manage to shock many fellow athletes by continuing to eat my favorite foods right up to race-day. A close parallel would loosely be the late Mr Lee’s philosophy of ‘eat(ing) till you’re 70% full’. Also, try not to eat too close to bed time.

Balanced Diet. Having said the above, a balanced and nutritious diet is essential for the body to cope with a heavy training workload. Many hawker dishes here contain very little protein or greens, and this needs to be actively managed. It is also important to take in some food soon after a workout. Personally, I would have 4 (or more) eggs at the food-court nearby and a healthy amount of soy milk if I am not able to have a meal immediately after my workouts.

Coffee is surely part of any (sane) athlete’s diet!

Finally, a learned self-awareness and discipline is an overarching factor when speaking about how diet impacts athlete (and athletic) performance. Google may provide simple easy answers to questions of what to eat, how much to eat, but what really matters is when you internalise these habits. While not the easiest thing to do, truth to be told, this self-control comes quite naturally with self-awareness and understanding of what is necessary for your goals.

Ben Ooi is an Ironman Triathlete and younger sibling to two national water polo sisters. He qualified to compete in the World Ironman – World Championships 2017 in Kona, Hawaii. The SMU alumnus is currently working in the private sector and would love a South American holiday, anytime.

For inspiring stories related to running and sports, as well as discounts to local races, subscribe to ‘RunONE’ by adding +6588347638 to your Whatsapp contacts. Then send us the words, “Run With Me.”

Tales of a Triathlete #5 – Injuries, Recovery and Prevention

Often, injuries aren’t quite as straightforward to deal with…

Benjamin Ooi – Injuries. The bane of all athletes. One moment we could be riding a high after clocking a new PB, and before we know it, we are down, out of the game, and forced to re-evaluate all our sporting aspirations going forward. 

Injuries arise from a multitude of causes with the strain of overtraining being most common. It can also be due to an accumulation and manifestation of bad form, or simply from freak accidents completely unrelated to training. I’m definitely not an exception to this misfortune having had my share of them over the years in various sports, and I shan’t bore you with the endless details. But these setbacks have left me with 3 takeaways that I feel are broadly beneficial to most athletes, serious or recreational

Pay (a lot of) Attention To Form

Yes, quite often our motivation in sports is to go faster, get further, be fitter. There is a natural tendency to overlook fundamentals in our pursuit to achieve this. However, this would not be sustainable except for the most fortunate of athletes. Our human body is formed with natural imperfections and sometimes the simple preference of one arm/leg over the other contributes to an asymmetry which, when exacerbated, becomes an injury.

Good form in itself is also an essential component of performance. As a long-time swimmer, I feel a significant drop in form and efficiency whenever I’ve been away from the pool for a few weeks even though I’ve been keeping fit on land. And when it comes to running, simple as it may seem, the best runners don’t simply get that good by just running more and running faster. What goes on behind the scenes are the endless behind-the-scenes strengthening exercises, activation exercise, stretching, gait analysis etc. All this is done in the awareness that poor form is not only a limiter to performance but also a serious injury risk

Focus On The Rehab

So what happens then, when one suffers that inevitable injury? It will be a setback, certainly, but it definitely doesn’t quite entail a few weeks of couch-potato lifestyle. Take professional advice and then stay committed to your assigned treatment/rehab exercises. While this is easier said than done, recognise that injuries ranging from a strain to a ligament tear don’t generally just go away without help. Even when they do, one tends to be left in a weaker state and further prone to similar injuries.

In addition to rehab exercises, one should engage in other exercises that target other muscle groups. Being able to cross train in other sports is not a perk that applies to multi-sport athletes only! To varying extents, fitness is transferable across sports/training. Make full use of your time off to focus on other aspects of your performance. During the periods I had to stay off running, I was heading instead to the gym every other day for my rehab exercises. And while I was there, I managed additional strength and flexibility trainings without the burden of running.

Know Your Body

One of the senses we can develop as an athlete is knowledge over our body comprehensively. This awareness of form provides an acute intuition of our current fitness, abilities, and most importantly bodily limits. With experience, one learns how the body should feel after a hard workout, and also, what constitutes a strain that demands attention.

Stave off injuries with adequate complementary preventive measures such as foam-rolling, stretching, strengthening, progressive training etc. Even on race-day, having put in the months of sweat and tears (and necessary preparation). Even as you grit your teeth and push your boundaries, recognise promptly when your body signals its limits. Know that no race is worth potentially serious (and permanent) injury. 

Well if you do suffer an injury, then, look on the bright side— you’ve now joined a club that consists almost all your favourite elite athletes and heroes. So afford your body some time, patience and serious rehab. Get ready to fight another day 🙂

Ben Ooi is an Ironman Triathlete and younger sibling to two national water polo sisters. He qualified to compete in the World Ironman – World Championships 2017 in Kona, Hawaii. The SMU alumnus is currently working in the private sector and would love a South American holiday, anytime.

For inspiring stories related to running and sports, as well as discounts to local races, subscribe to ‘RunONE’ by adding +6588347638 to your Whatsapp contacts. Then send us the words, “Run With Me.”

Tales of a Triathlete #4 – How (In)compatible Are Sports and Travel Really?

Benjamin Ooi – In all honesty, I have always enjoyed sports overseas. May it be the relief from the humidity and heat here, or simply a refreshing change of environment. But I also recognise the logistical difficulties of moving into an unfamiliar place, or that sometimes we just really desire a break from the routine while on holiday.

#Trainolidays anyone?

Over the years, I have taken my training along with me to a few continents and based on my experience. There is nothing while travelling or holidaying, that categorically rules out training. Yes, the raw unfamiliarity and local conditions may be obstacles, but insurmountable difficulties they are not.

What I am going to preach here, is that travelling is not a deal-breaker, to bring you along on the adventures and great experiences that my holiday training has allowed me.

Running brings and shows you off-the-beaten-track places

1. new perspectives

A few years ago, I was working in Dubai for a few months that extended into the scorching summer and it made training a literal living hell. The seas felt like a hot tub, and even running at night felt like facing off with a massive hair dryer. However, my time in Dubai blessed me with the opportunity to meet a group of extremely dedicated triathletes who also showed me new perspectives of training and of sheer perseverance in sport.

In the face of such harsh climate (and urban conditions), one popular endeavour every weekend was to make a 2 hour drive to the Hatta mountains at 2AM in the morning, start riding at 4am in order to be done when the sun rises at 7AM. I had no inkling how I would manage my training when I accepted the opportunity in Dubai, but when you look hard enough there is usually a way!

2. new systems

Dubai is still an extreme example though. What if we’re just enjoying a short holiday getaway for a few days? Well that presents a different set of challenges. We have less time to get familiar with the locale, the ideal routes. My perspectives remain the same. Even in places as hazardous and difficult as Bangkok, simply getting up an hour before the city wakes up earns you clear streets and peaceful surroundings to get your training done. In the most dire of circumstances, find a park, or a gym; improvise. And what then if you’re travelling with non-athletes? Well, make it work. Or sacrifice some sleep. I think that we can all understand that surely.

3. new environment

Singapore is a small place— there are only so many ideal running routes, and far less still if you’re a cyclist. One tends to get bored out of their minds. But beyond that, new environments bring new experiences that are hard to fathom beforehand.

4. new experiences

One such experience I had was while exploring Ho Chi Minh with Mok Ying Rong. We had basically decided to run from the hostel to our place of interest, the zoo. Along the way, we came across this alley which has this really traditional and residential feel. “Let’s check it out”, I said. What I couldn’t have expected then, was that a local family down the alley whom we had asked to take a photo with, would actually invite us to sit down and have a beer with them in their home!

if there is a will, there is a way

These are only limited anecdotes that I am recounting now. I’ve had many other good experiences from training while backpacking across Europe and on other travels. My point is, perceived obstacles to exercising while travelling are by no means insurmountable— in fact, more often than not, they have added value! So, pack a pair of trainers and attire for your next weekend jaunt. I’ll bet that you won’t regret it 🙂

Ben Ooi is an Ironman Triathlete and younger sibling to two national water polo sisters. He qualified to compete in the World Ironman – World Championships 2017 in Kona, Hawaii. The SMU alumnus is currently working in the private sector and would love a South American holiday, anytime.

For inspiring stories related to running and sports, as well as discounts to local races, subscribe to ‘RunONE’ by adding +6588347638 to your Whatsapp contacts. Then send us the words, “Run With Me.”

Tales of a Triathlete #3 – Kona in Photos (IM World Championship ’17)

Benjamin Ooi – The road to Kona was a (relatively) lengthy journey stretching across my qualifying race in Hefei the year before, and subsequent intensive preparations for the World Championship. Actually arriving on the Big Island for the race was another huge adventure in itself.

This trip involved a little more complexity than your typical overseas race. With the WC being the triathlon event of the year, the sleepy beach town of Kailua-Kona — if it can be considered a town — welcomes thousands of top pros and age-groupers, media, vendors, fans and supporters. Rooms in the surrounding areas are usually booked out months in advance. The streets bustle with incredibly fit-looking people, while traffic slows to a crawl.

Then, there’s a need to acclimatise to the infamous race conditions on the island. Most amateur athletes arrive in Kona at least a week before the event to settle in. They’d take a dip (literally) in the waters, experience battling the crosswinds, and familiarise themselves with the route that they’d be suffering on, in a few days. The weight of expectations to perform demands that no detail be spared in this final lead-up.

In my case, I was very fortunate to have the support of Mok and Bel who accompanied me and were a great help with my travel and race arrangements! This allowed me additional capacity to prepare without distractions and to (simply) enjoy and immerse myself in the process. Here are a few photos for the curious 🙂

Checking in… Lots to set up!
Post flights shake out swim
Mandatory coffee at sea
Ready to roll — Scouting ride to Hawi
Replenishing with Poke!
Rookie with Kona veteran Ling Er!
Face to face with ironman legends
Underwear run
Pros’ transition corner
Warm up is done!
How to ‘aero’ in crosswinds
One foot after the other. 9hrs in, 30km through the marathon — I think?
A painful jump shot…
Final call at the boarding gate
Anything is possible! I’ll see you at Kona soon!

Ben Ooi is an Ironman Triathlete and younger sibling to two national water polo sisters. He qualified to compete in the World Ironman – World Championships 2017 in Kona, Hawaii. The SMU alumnus is currently working in the private sector and would love a South American holiday, anytime.

For inspiring stories related to running and sports, as well as discounts to local races, subscribe to ‘RunONE’ by adding +6588347638 to your Whatsapp contacts. Then send us the words, “Run With Me.”

Tales of a Triathlete #2 – How to not have “Grown Old”

Any day, Anywhere.

Benjamin Ooi – Often when the subject of sports comes up in formal conversation, much of it revolves around the values it is said to imbue — you know, ‘mental resilience, competitive spirit or achievement’. While I agree wholeheartedly, of late I have come to advocate exercise quite simply for its role in supporting a healthy and wholesome life. Most people recognise good health and its accompanying benefits as something we truly deem priceless, that is clear. Yet, whether arising from of a lack of awareness and knowledge or a simple lapse in focus, many of us are surprised subsequently to discover that our bodies have undeniably deteriorated or ‘grown old’.

I myself have a fear of losing any silver of my independence and mobility as time passes. I dread to have to second guess myself: can I get from A to B, will the stairs be too strenuous/painful; will I be able to continue to adventure with just one overloaded haversack? Or with bulky 20kg bike box in addition?; am I able to swim/bike/run whenever I wish?

‘Bike-Packing’ Trip to Oxford

I’ve learnt, keeping a conscious awareness of your physical condition and current state of capabilities is essential. I once met at gym, a family friend in her early 50s who was adamant about her fitness because she had been very active when she was younger. She wanted to experiment with weights again, but that day, she was astounded to she realise that she could no longer perform certain simple body weight exercises! This friend of mine had shifted her priorities heavily into her work and her kids, forgoing her physical fitness, eventually losing all track of herself in this respect. While aging takes a toll on our bodies, and that’s normal, we can take control if we are aware and actively put in the requisite effort to maintain ourselves.

Here’s where sports comes in handy. When athletes engage in a challenging physical activity, we inevitably have an encounter the limits of our current abilities. However, as we internalise that these are merely soft-limits we start to understand how to push our capabilities. Over this process, we get stronger, faster and better at the chosen discipline, but not merely that. As we worked on building strength, endurance and technique, we developed a better understanding of our bodies and an awareness of it that transfers into everyday life.

Take for example, when I go up a particularly long flight of stairs (say at Batu Caves), I consider the following: 

How does my aerobic system feel performing this task? Is it unusually strained?; 

Am I engaging my glutes or quadriceps appropriately; 

What about the form of my weaker leg?; 

How does my chronic knee feel? Am I moving too fast?

These instinctive considerations form a basis of benchmarking and continuous improvement for me, much like a routine time-trial is a measure of running performance. Attaining an aware mindset provides input that helps us to keep track of our physical capabilities in areas that matter to ourselves, and take the highlighted steps towards our goals. Then still, there are little intuitive skills that one picks up in sports, such as learning to fall safely and understanding good form/core engagement when lifting heavy objects. While these aren’t achievements we might share about at an interview, their benefits are inherent and far-reaching

You might think that as a triathlete I would have more than enough disciplines on my plate to perfect. It is true, but over the years I have also dabbled in other sports completely distant to the realms of water, running or endurance races. I feel I have emerged better for it. Attending yoga had me truly realise that my inflexibility was ultimately a result of insufficient attention paid to stretching, and that it had caused me unnecessary strain to attain efficient techniques in swimming and cycling. Starting dance lessons finally activated my calves to function more fully and symmetrically in a way no amount of calf raises seemed able to achieve.

On-going Battle with Flexibility

My point is this, we all know (or at least acknowledge during CNY) that health is something we treasure deeply. Many of us also probably spend long hours standing or seated at work, and hardly on activities that bode well for our bodies. Athletes or not, if we neglect physical activities long enough we are sure to lose a sensing of our own health and fitness which then perpetuates a misguided cycle. So, rather than be caught surprised by how we have ‘grown old’, get out there, try something new and challenging this month, keep active and keep aware!

Ben Ooi is an Ironman Triathlete and younger sibling to two national water polo sisters. He qualified to compete in the World Ironman – World Championships 2017 in Kona, Hawaii. The SMU alumnus is currently working in the private sector and would love a South American holiday, anytime.

For inspiring stories related to running and sports, as well as discounts to local races, subscribe to ‘RunONE’ by adding +6588347638 to your Whatsapp contacts. Then send us the words, “Run With Me.”

Tales of a Triathlete #1 – The sun, the sea, and the sand!

BENJAMIN OOI – Stepping out into a light ocean breeze, an air of familiarity swept over me. I reminisced the countless early mornings I spent here as a budding triathlete with SMU Aquathlon. This was where we came to for most of our Swim-Run brick training, more than a couple of races, and featured often in my earlier triathlon exploits.

7AM, CNY Day 2 – Tanjong Beach, Sentosa Island

It has been a while, though, since I was last here.

(c) ONEathlete

I had meant for the day to be a catch-up of sorts with some of my closest supporters (and expert advisers) who had my back as I traveled to Hawaii for the Ironman World Championship in 2017. With that in mind, it was fitting to have this CNY catch-up over an easy run and relaxed swim here at Tanjong Beach.

(c) ONEathlete

Conversations usually begin around our training, recent/upcoming races as we limber up, and it continues to flow as the kilometers unraveled. We vented about injuries, shared the latest in sporting advances, discussed race plans and pretty much everything under the morning sun for an hour, because that’s how a ‘conversational-pace’ session is done right?

(c) ONEathlete

Post-run, we work on our various strengthening exercises on grass then head into the water to cool off and loosen up. It’s my favorite part, perhaps borne out of a childhood of competitive swimming and water polo. There’s something simply so tranquil and pleasant about a lazy backstroke across the bay. Perhaps I am still more at home in the water than on land.

Cooled down and washed up, we completed the morning with a satisfying brunch. In the company of fellow foodies, I had only one concern — just please, good air-conditioning!

(c) ONEathlete

Ben Ooi is an Ironman Triathlete and younger sibling to two national water polo sisters. He qualified to compete in the World Ironman – World Championships 2017 in Kona, Hawaii. The SMU alumnus is currently working in the private sector and would love a South American holiday, anytime.