Sunday, September 14, 2014

Yellow Ribbon Prison Run 2014

Group picture with the famous 'Cat woman' at the finishing

It was my third Yellow Ribbon Prison since its inception in 2009.  This Yellow Ribbon run will cap my last run for year 2014 and for the first time, I am not participating in Stanchart Marathon since 2007.  I did not have the chance to run for two weeks due to my busy schedule but did some step training though.  I was still hoping I could clock a good time and barring any foreseeable, I should prevail.

Picture with Jonathon, Shirley and their son at the flag-off  

The run was scheduled this morning near Changi Village and as usual, the finishing is in the prison compound.  The distance was 10 km.  I was to pace Winnie but she had stomach upset in the last few days, thus had to forgo as much as she would like to run.  I had arranged to meet up some members of Aranda Country Club the likes of Peter Yeo, Simon, Poh Kuan and Richard Foo (the latter was doing 6 km) at the club and our buddy, Steve Wong who was not running will send us to the flag off point.  We left the club at about 0615 hrs and it was still dark when we arrived at Changi Village.  We then settled down at a coffee shop.  I heard Jonathon from my Painkillers cycling group shouted at me from a distance.  He was running with his lovely wife Shirley and 16-year old son.  We even took picture at the start point.  I even ran into Brenda and Kessler (Kevin Soh's brother) at the start point - what a coincidence.

When we walked to the start point, it was almost 0745 hrs.  I did not get to see Peter and the rest who had moved way in front and very soon, the horn sounded.  Richard flagged off together with rest in the 10 km wave.  There were more than 9,000 runners in 6 km and 10 km category.  The first km was choked-a-block with human traffic and I decided to follow some by running on the pavement to avoid running into those in front while overtaking them.

Solo picture at the finishing

I realised I was running faster than my usual pace in the first 5 km.  The route is nice though fairly undulating throughout.  We ran past the museum, the chapel, Johor Battery and the women's prison in the idyllic Changi district.  At the 6 km u-turn mark, I saw Peter who was just running in and I shouted to him but he did not hear me.  I slowed a bit in the last 5 km.  I am not a morning person as I prefer to run in evening.  I was not sure if my condition can allow me to push my pace.  I was mostly just behind one male Caucasian runner throughout.

At the 8 km mark, we turned into the prison compound.  From there on, it was an easy run as it was downhill for long stretch.  I did not accelerate my pace though it was near the finishing.  I just maintained my pace of 5 mins plus per km.  The weather was getting a little hotter by then.

When I was near the finishing, the clock was still showing 55 mins plus and after crossing the finishing, I gave a thumbs-up for the camera.  Taking away the gun time of 3 mins, I should clock under 53 minutes I think.  Though I have yet to go under 50 mins in my 10 km run, this should be my best time by far.

The three musketeers at the start point

After the run, I waited for Peter who came in some 2 minutes later, Simon, Poh Kuan and Richard.  We hang around for a while and we took more pictures.  We then walked some 5 km back to Aranda Country Club.

Good run in the morning with friends and thumbs up to the organisers for a good job.      

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Hari Raya Haji

To many non-Muslims in our multi-racial society, it does not come as a surprise if many still cannot differentiate the symbolic days between Hari Raya Puasa and Hari Raya Haji.  Simply put, Hari Raya Puasa symbolises the end of Ramadan (fasting month) and Hari Raya Haji is in remembrance of the sacrifices made by Prophet Ibrahim on his son, Ismail.  Both days are public holidays in Singapore and more often than not, after celebration of Hari Raya Puasa, Hari Raya Haji will follow suit some months later.

Tracing the sacred journey, Hari Raya Haji is usually celebrated over a period of four days by Muslims in Islamic countries and the festival starts on the 10th day of the month of Zulhijjah which is the last month of the Islamic calendar.

Aside from the sacrificial theme, Hari Raya Haji also marks the end of Hajj where thousands of pilgrims converged on the Holy Land of Mecca to perform a series of symbolic rituals.  Before the 8th of Dhul-Hijah (sacred month of the Islamic calendar that marks end of the year), anyone who wants to perform pilgrimage (Hajj) pronounces the intention to perform Umrah while approaching the Miqat (specific places to do Hajj or Umrah).  A second intention for the actual Hajj is then pronounced at a later period.  The rites of Umrah and Hajj may include putting Ihram (the state of sacred purity Muslims must adhere to); performing supererogatory prayers; making several types of Tawaf (moving in anti-clockwise direction & in harmony); doing Sa’ee (ritual walking) between Safa and Marwah; trimming and/or cutting hair, praying and staying in Mina, praying and standing in Arafah, praying and staying in Muzdalifah, throwing pebbles in three Jamrahs (stoning of the devil); sacrificing an animal; praying behind Maqam Ibrahim and drinking from the well of ZamZam.  On completion of the Hajj journey, the pilgrim asks Allah to accept the rituals and promises to abide by the divine commands.  Prophet Muhammad had said, “Whoever goes to Hajj without obscenity he or she will be forgiven as a new-born.”           

During Hari Raya Haji, male volunteers will congregate at the mosques to offer their prayers and reflect upon the sermons that are read out.  This serves as a timely reminder to share one’s wealth with the less fortunate people.  After the prayers, sheep, goats and cows are then sacrificed and that symbolises Prophet Ibrahim’s sacrificing his own flesh and blood for God.  The meat is then distributed among the Muslim community. As a customary, the Muslims would then pay a visit to their parents, families and friends where they come together for a hearty meal. 

Surely Abraham was an example, obedient to Allah, by nature upright, and he was not of the polytheists. He was grateful for our bounties. We chose him and guided him unto a right path. We gave him good in this world, and in the next he will most surely be among the righteous." (Qur'an 16:120-121)

Sunday, September 07, 2014

TRI-Factor Series 2014

Group picture with Alim, the star (man in the middle) before the flag-off

I participated in this morning's TRI-Factor series by "default" and it was my first in three disciplines, swim, bike and run.  One of my kakis from the 'happy group', Edmond who signed up for this event but at last moment, he pestered me to take over his bib.  Some of us suspected he could have developed 'cold feet' syndrome though he told us that it clashed with another event of his.  Reluctantly, I took over.  It was just a "Freshmen" entry, swim 200 metres, bike 10 km (yawn) and run 2.4 km (more yawn).  For the first time, I was running in the name of Edmond.

Group picture with Tan and his "Happy Group"       

Due to tight schedule, I did not do any exercise for the whole week and this one at least can allow me to burn-off some calories - thanks Edmond hor.  I had arranged to meet Tan and his "happy group", the likes of his wife who is my idol, Jane, Wendy who is another of my idol, Doreen and their two other friends at 0800 hrs.  Wendy and Doreen had downgraded to the "Freshmen" category leaving Tan, Jane and Carol impersonator (the real Carol is still nursing an wrist injury) to do the more challenging "Sprint" entry, swim 750 metres, bike 20 km and run 5 km.

Wendy and I finished almost the same in the swim leg 

Doreen, Wendy and I were in the same wave scheduled at 1025 hrs while Tan, Jane and Carol impersonator were flagged off earlier than us.  I met some familiar faces too.  Feng who was not feeling well in the past few days had downgraded to "Freshmen" entry despite advices from many of her friends not to race, she just did not listen.  Jacqueline from Hougang cycling group was there too.  While waiting to be flagged off, someone tapped me on my shoulder and it was David, my former colleague.  I almost could not recognise him with his cap on.  Good for him.

Wendy and I almost to the finish 

When the horn was blown, off we went.  Admittedly, I had not been swimming for many years and I was not comfortable with the swim leg.  Either you were kicked by someone or you kicked someone in the water.  Though it was a short 250 metres, I did not find it easy though.  I used the breast stroke throughout.  Soon, I was up and running to collect my bike.  Wendy was just behind me and I then told her to tag with me.

We were cycling just under 30 km/hr and Wendy was behind me throughout.  It was two laps around the circuit.  In the cycling event, I did show off some what.  When there was camera focusing on us, I released my hands from the handle bar to do a pose.  And very quickly, the 10 km bike event was over.

On the final turn with Wendy 

Wendy asked me to carry on without her but hey, how can I leave my idol behind leh.  Actually, I planned to run with Alim (the amputee athlete) but he was flagged off in the earlier wave.  Also, I did not want to clock a quick time in the name of Edmond who has to do his own personal best next year.  It was an easy run for us.  Along the way, we saw supporters from Dan, Patrick, Jenny and rest from the Hougang cycling group.  I even caught Edwin near the finish and he managed to take some pictures for us.  Wendy and I finished the run together.  Tan was already at the finish line rooting for us.  We waited for the rest to complete, Doreen, Jane, Carol impersonator and Nelson.  It was a fun event and I truly enjoyed it..  I met so many friends from other cycling groups too.  Thanks to Edmond who gave up or else, I could not have enjoyed it so much.

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Ride For Rations 2014 (22 to 24 Aug 2014)

Group picture at Hatten before rolling off

I was a newbie when I heard about Ride For Rations event from some friends and that year was in 2011.  I brought a cheap Raleigh mountain bike for the ride.  I had always thought those who ride on road bikes are risk takers but not knowing after this event, I bought my first Giant roadie too.  In the first edition, I was joined by some of my outdoor kakis for this event.  Kevin Soh brought his Dahon foldie and he rode for three consecutive years, Hooi Yen who was the first one to inform some of us of such a meaningful event rode for three consecutive years too.  Corina and Vivien rode for the first two editions.  CK and Dora joined us on the second edition and they did twice in a row too. TS Chua joined last year and this year again.  My kaki Long Chua did one ride, had a bad fall while preparing for the second year but he continued to provide support back up until today.  I got to know the two Tay brothers, Tomas and Peter and went on to become their cycling mates.  I was struggling on my mountain bike then, almost pulled a cramp on the last leg to Singapore while climbing up one of the bridges.  I truly enjoyed the first event and the subsequent ones too.  I was impressed with the spirit of volunteerism and best of all, the sincerity of the organising team especially the husband and wife team in Shoeb and Shireen and the founder of Bike Aid, Manjit Singh.  Shoeb was not even a cyclist then and Shireen does not look like someone into sport or adventure stuff but they left a lasting impression on me with their superb oganising and administrative skills.

About to roll off

I participated again in 2012 with more friends.  In 2013, both Tomas and I were invited by Manjit to join Bike Aid where we helped to organise the event.  Dan came onboard with us too. Each year we witnessed more participants and with more participants, more funds were raised too.  This year is not exception.  We decided to cap it to 150 cyclists and upped our target to S$280,000 - a lofty target to say the least.  We are still consolidating the total fund which will be announced in our appreciation dinner on 19 Sep at Aranda Country Club.  As promising as it looked, we did have more corporate sponsors this time around and also, we have more new cyclists signing up too.  This is the power of social media and words-of-mouth.  We were even pleasantly surprised to learn that Tote Board has agreed to increase the sponsor sum to S$50,000 maximum from their usual S$20,000.  This will certainly help us to achieve our target baring any unforseeable, that is.

Celebrating Dr Kevin Lee's birthday at Katrina Hotel

Ride For Rations 2014 was scheduled on 22 August 2014, Friday where we took the coach ride to Malacca.  There were 6 coaches designated at three different pick up venues, namely Aranda Country Club, Hougang Stadium and West Coast McDonald's.  Some drove up.  Our hotel in Malacca is Hatten, our second time with them and they were already familiar with our arrangements.  Everything went smoothly on our arrival.  Check in was done swiftly and briefing for support team by Shireen was crystal clear to all.  I did not join my other kakis to roam the town but had a quick dinner with Chua.  We slept early to prepare the long ride ahead.

Showing off for the camera with Fenny in front

Breakfast was taken early at 0600 hrs by most and by about 0700 hrs, almost everyone was ready at the entrance of Hatten to be flagged off.  We were to flag off by the hotel's general manager in  batches led by appointed pacers.  The fastest riders will roll off first followed by the rest.  At about 0745 hrs, we were finally flagged off.  It was a cool morning.  The total distance is 100 km to Katrina Hotel in Batu Pahat.  After lunch, Fenny was mostly with me.  She was on her one single-crank foldie.  She is not a fast rider but she has good endurance and most importantly, a positive attitude.  By mid day, we were very near Batu Pahat town but dark cloud had started to build up.  I was hoping for the weather to hold for another half an hour but alas, my wish was not answered.  On reaching the bridge that leads us to Batu Pahat, it suddenly poured heavily.  Fenny was just behind me.  The wind was blowing very hard and the branches started to fall from trees.  Roaring thunder can be heard too.  It was raining very heavily and there was no way we could ride on.  Fenny and I quickly took shelter at a hawker centre which had yet to open for business.  We waited for about 20 minutes for the rain to subside.

On our way to Batu Pahat

When we reached Katrina Hotel, I was told that there were two falls.  One of them was Arthur.  Fortunately for him, he did not suffer any fracture.  It was just bruises and abrasion on the wrist and legs.  The other cyclist was not that fortunate though.  He fell on his shoulder and had to be sent back to Singapore for urgent operation.  Not a good piece of news to greet us on our arrival but we have to press on and hoping all will be well on our second day of ride.

Our respected senior cyclist, Kuldip Singh who joined for the 4th consecutive time  

We had group dinner at the hotel.  During the dinner, I managed to auction off a complimentary cruise voucher sponsored by Star Cruises and it was Tomas who bid the highest price for it.  The auction raised S$950 which will go to the fund raising.  After dinner, it was straight to bed for me.

My back view with the word "Pacer" on my helmet

The second day of ride is always the most challenging especially the busy stretch from Pekan Nanas town to the immigration and customs side.  The total distance on the second day is about 140 km.  This time, we had standby a 21-seater coaster at Pekan Nanas for those who do not wish to continue on.  EZ Rider group too had a coach on standby at Pekan Nanas to bring them across the causeway to Marsiling.  The weather was nice in the morning.  By about 0730 hrs, we rolled off.  Some of us stopped at Long Chua's place in Muar which was along the way.  We plucked the longan fruits from the tree, had some fun poking at each other.  Chua's mother, his niece and nephew were home.

Group cycling

Again, Fenny tagged along with me for the most part.  We were among the rear cyclists.  At about 70 km mark, we stopped to replenish our drinks.  There were another 20 plus km to our final lunch point at Pekan Nanas town.  When we were ready to go, I noticed the brake on the front wheel of my bike was pressing on it.  Kevin from Rock and Roll group who was providing the support stepped in to help and finally, we decided to swop with another bike.  When I was ready to roll off, Fenny who was on own was way ahead of me.  I tried to catch up with her and I missed the right turn which proved crucial.  When I finally caught up with her, I knew we were not heading the right direction.  I can still see Gunung Pulai from a distance and I told myself as long as I can head there, I should be able to find a side road that will lead us to Pekan Nanas.  I was wrong.  There is no road that can lead to Pekan Nanas town except the turn that we had missed earlier.  By then, we had cycled some 10 km.  Rendered no choice, we made a u-turn back meaning clocking another 10 km more.  It was near noon time and the weather was getting hotter and hotter.  Fenny gamely rode with me, not a single word of complaint or grumbling from her.  I knew she was tired but she just pressed on.  There were no support cars for us too.  We were on our own until we reached Pekan Nanas lunch point.  When we finally reached, the last group of cyclists was about to roll off.  Fenny decided to stop and take Long Chua's car back while I cycled on with the last group, the final 40 km to the finish.

Just before Johor customs, I stopped before the last descent from the bridge to check on the last few cyclists.  When the last cyclist cleared that final part, I hopped on my bike to continue on.  My front tyre just went flat.  Fortunately, the last support car driven by Robert was just behind me.  I decided to take a hike from him to Marsiling instead.  We were the last to arrive at our destination and most cyclists had already left for home by then.  Everyone had arrived safely and that is key.

Group picture at the finishing less me (I was still cycling)

This event had scored few firsts for us.  We had the highest number of cyclists since our inception; our founder of Bike Aid, Manjit Singh cycled with us after laying off from cycling for good many years; we had more corporate sponsors; we had ambulance through out the 2 days of ride; we had trained medic and nurse with us too, thanks to Dr Kevin Lee; we had bike mechanics and we had a team who did 1,000 km which was led by Dave.  The oldest among our cyclists is a 71-year old gentleman and there were quite a number of cyclists aged above 60.  To thank our cyclists and supporters, we will have an appreciation dinner on 19 Sep at Aranda Country Club and we will make official announcement on our final figure for Sunlove Home which will go to the monthly purchase of essential rations for the needy families in Marsiling and Chai Chee.  For now, the total sum remains a mystery but I remain positive.