Saturday, May 31, 2008

Saturday Swim

Glutinous rice dumplings (粽子) are popular at this time of the year as the Dragon Boat Festival is fast approaching (this year on June 8) and there will be boat races all over the island. The dumplings contain sticky rice, peanuts, meat, nuts, and various other things. They are wrapped in these leaves, tied up with string and steamed.

Today, being Saturday, since I could not participate in the Honu 70.3 race in Kona, Hawai'i, I just went about my swimming as normal. Since I had a little more time, I more or less swam 6,000 meters straight (12 x 500m on approximately 10 minute sendoffs -only getting about 15 seconds' rest on some of the slower swims), so I completed the whole distance in exactly 2 hours and no more. This is still slow by any standards, but I have felt fairly tired this week, and a little worried at times about soreness in my shoulders. While that distance may sound like a lot, it is only 3.7 miles, so not even enough to be ready for a four-mile swim in the ocean. After I finished I applied the jets of water in the adjoining jacuzzi to my shoulders for a few minutes, before getting out my (smaller) hand paddles and doing 300 meters easy to get the feel of them again. Then time was up, and I had to go.

Lychees (荔枝) ready for eating on this tree in the neighborhood.

When I got beyond the 5,000 mark, instead of my shoulders feeling sore, I started to feel my stomach muscles ever so slightly. Occasionally near the end I would surge past someone who was sharing the lane towards the end, and so I probably used muscles that I didn't use much before, or else I was just a little tired. This makes me realize that if I want to enter a 6-mile swim race next year, then I'd better swim six miles in one go in practicing. It is not quite like running. If you have to run a long distance in a race and you don't train enough, you always have the option of walking if you can't make it running all the way. However, if you run out of gas swimming, there is only one way you can go, and that is down. I also need to develop a set of exercises I can do, preferably at home on the bed when I rest in the afternoon, in order to increase my flexibility and strengthen the places where I am still weak.
Chickens for sale at the local market. These are not fat ones reared in inhumane conditions and pumped full of chemicals, but ones that freely run around in the mountainous regions of southern Taiwan. At least you can see where the meat comes from.

Honu race coverage: Probably no live video feed, but there should be written news updates on, as well as an athlete tracking service, which will be updated each time the athlete passes a timing mat.

Friday, May 30, 2008

Tips on Bread Making

A breadmaker purchased in Taiwan, and the end product below.

Today was mostly sunny and the people were back in full force by the Golden Lion Lake doing their various morning exercises. As usual I went to swim, and swam much like yesterday, a bit slower than normal, but the stroke felt smooth. My shoulders still felt a little sore, so I focused mostly on technique. Since I arrived at the pool a few minutes earlier than yesterday, I was able to complete 5,000m by 7:50am, and then I kind of raced myself (but more slowly) as my friends weren't there. So in all I covered 5,200 meters.

I realize that a lot of people who are into triathlons train during the week but do at least one kind of race at the weekend. Since it is not easy for me to do proper races here, I am perhaps missing out on an important aspect of my training. Still, on the other hand I am trying to build my training base, so I guess what I am doing is still helpful.

In Taiwan, we in our family make our own bread. It is not only cheaper but it saves a fairly long trip to a store that has good enough bread for us to eat. For those who wonder how we make it, well, we use a bread-making machine (as ovens tend to be pretty small here). In the bread-maker there is a metal pot, the mold in which the loaf is formed. Into that we add:
300 ml of water
2 table spoons of vegetable- or olive-based cooking oil
1 teaspoonful of salt
About 2 large spoons of sugar
One large spoon of milk powder (or equivalent in fresh milk)
2 teaspoonfuls of yeast (be careful here - don't overdo it)
2 small cups of white flour
1.5 small cups of brown (wholemeal) flour
Measures don't have to be exact, as you basically get what you put in (either something fluffy or something hard as a rock)
You can also add any other things you like, such as nuts, raisins, etc. according to taste.

On the bread-making machine there are various buttons for selecting the type of finish you want the loaf to have, and how long you want it to bake. We usually have to leave the thing on for 2 to 2.5 hours, but we don't have to make the dough, the machine does that. Just pour all the ingredients in, put the lid down and press start, and the bread will take care of itself.

As I write this, it is a little more than 24 hours to the start of the Honu 70.3 in Kona. This is a big race for a lot of people, and I bet they are all trying to get as much rest as possible. Well, good luck and have a great race!

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A Rainy but Good Day!

View from the steps of the swimming pool after I finished today's swim. Apart from the last few days, it has hardly ever rained in the nearly 4 months we have been in Kaohsiung. The rain will bring a lot of good to this area.
There is a typhoon somewhere not far from Taiwan and there has been quite a lot of rain the last two or three days. The weather has been very changeable, it raining hard one minute and hardly at all the next. This morning I biked to the pool in my swimshorts and a T-shirt, some of it in the rain. There were a lot fewer people by the Golden Lion Lake doing their exercises (some did come to dance but under cover there), and there were also less people at the pool, so swimming was a little less congested. I was a little tired (mainly through lack of sleep due to being busy the last few days). My left shoulder was a wee bit sore, whether because of swimming or due to not doing the land exercises properly, I don't really know, and so I took it more easy and paid a lot of attention to where I applied force during the stroke. I felt I was swimming smoothly, and still managed to cover 5,000m in 1hr 42mins (that included a few relatively short breaks between sets), before racing my friends over 100m. I lost by about a body length and did not know the time. Probably low 1:30's, but not an all out effort. So today I covered 5,100 meters.
As I thought about all my friends getting ready for the Honu race in Kona, Hawai'i, and feeling a bit out of it as I could not be there or do something comparable to show that I might still be capable of a triathlon, I reflected on my former life in Kona and on my life in Southern Taiwan. I think what I like most about Southern Taiwan is the friendliness of the people, and that I feel valued for who I am and not just for the work I can expected to do. I think there is a lot of Aloha here, only that we don't talk about it in that way. When I am with people, I feel welcomed, and don't feel I am intruding into their lives. People are prepared to take an interest in me, instead of just ignoring me. Living here is a lot cheaper, and more comfortable, and there is a greater feeling of security. I don't feel I am at the mercy of a landlord or the chain smokers living downstairs (not here of course). If I wish to travel, Japan is a lot closer from here, and Hawai'i is quite reachable from here. So, while I miss my friends in Hawai'i and elsewhere, at least I feel happy being here.
Since I am busy these days, I am not necessarily able to write something in Chinese on the blog. The swimming requires that I have a more single focus - there just isn't the time to get good and be too involved in too many other things.

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

On Popov and Butterflies

On Popov and Butterflies

I am not trying to draw a connection between Alexander Popov's swimming technique and the way butterflies fly - just posting these two things on the same day - but if you stretch the imagination you can possibly see a link between the two.

As I swim by people in the swimming pool, I often notice they struggle with freestyle and while a few have good technique, most don't. Not having a good technique will often lead to soreness and discomfort, so that by trying to swim a lot, they may end up with a lot of shoulder pain. This is what I sometimes struggle with. Hopefully not serious, and possibly because I did not warm up well before swimming, or else I added a few awkward movements to my swimming practice. While on a short swim one may not feel very much, I find that when you get beyond the 3,000m mark in a workout, that is usually the time when you can feel some soreness. By then you may be feeling a little tired and the stroke loses its smoothness and firmness, thus opening the door to poor technique and possibly injury.

I often think that human beings were not primarily designed for swimming. A frog is a far better swimmer, and a fish moves rapidly with ease. For this reason, we need to learn good technique and by watching Popov and other swimmers we can observe how their hands move through the water and how the body rolls in one direction and then the other, in such a way so as to maximize efficiency and hopefully minimize injury. As I noted the other day, in the 400 plus days between now and next year's Hapuna swim race, I want to avoid missed practices due to injury as much as possible. To do that, I not only need to do appropriate stretching exercises, but also to focus on good technique as much as possible.

Today, I felt slightly more tired than yesterday, partly because I swam yesterday after having a day of rest and because of the busyness of work and a little lack of sleep. We cannot do everything, I guess. I also felt a little soreness in my left shoulder and so I took it more easy on my arms, using my feet a lot more when it came to accelerating to pass someone where I needed to be quick. That reminded me of the fish, which propels itself forward through the strength of the area around its tail. Our feet are in some ways like a propeller on a boat. I am unlikely to hurt my ankles kicking freestyle, although rash movements with my arms and shoulders may lead to damage somewhere in my upper body. While I was slightly slower than yesterday on the longer swims (finishing the 5,000m in about 1hr 42min), after a few minutes of resting (in the jacuzzi) and an easy "warm-up", I almost won the 100m "race" today, covering the distance in 1:29, while trying to keep my stroke flowing. My friend, who was not at his best today, beat me by less than half a length. He is someone with pretty good freestyle technique. If he trained more, he would get faster and faster. My friend and others here say that I am getting better. I am not really surprised, as I covered 5,250 meters today.

After the swim I stopped at the butterfly garden, determined to get some footage of them, and I was quite pleased with what I got. Watching the butterflies is a nice way to relax before getting ready for another busy day of work. For those of you doing the big Honu race in Kona this weekend, I wish you all the best and don't forget to be well-rested for it. Although it is only a "half" (Ironman), it is still a longish and tiring race.

Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Blogging in Asian Languages

中文摘要: 從今日開始,我會簡單地用中文寫,讓朋友們了解我主要的意思。我今天游了五千兩百公尺,都很順利。當我奇腳踏車回家之時,在金獅湖遇到我的內人,我們一起往菜市場去買各種水果。我今天稍微忙了一些。

Just when I thought I had my blog running smoothly just like my swim training at present, I need to rise to a new challenge as far as writing is concerned. Some friends have asked if I can include more Chinese on the blog for the sake of those not used to reading English, and so I have decided to include at least short summaries of what I write about in English for the benefit of these Chinese readers. Since I am also interested in Japanese, you may also see some Japanese emerging on the site. I am trying to be inclusive so that none of my readers feel left out.

With 404 days left to the Hapuna Roughwater Swim yesterday, I made the most of today and went down the pool as usual, having done rotator-cuff stretchers while eating a piece of home-made bread in the kitchen at home. Hence, when I started to swim at about 6:09 am, I got of to a fairly fast start and found that I was swimming slightly faster than last week. I was helped by Dara Torres' video yesterday with its emphasis on ankle flexibility, and I also watched some slow motion footage of Alexander Popov swimming freestyle, noting the extension of one hand as it entered the water, while he followed through properly with the other, while all the time getting good body roll. I think I knocked off one stroke per length just by watching and trying to copy that.

So, today may have been a typical workout: 5,000 meters in 1 hr 40 mins or so, chatting and joking with friends for a couple of minutes, then racing two of them over 100m. I only just missed winning today, and I went close to 1m 30s. Then, a 100m warm down to finish on 5,200 meters, and out of the water by 8:00 am, ready to start a new day.

As I went through the Golden Lion Lake on the way home, I saw my wife who was biking there to get some exercise, so we biked around there together, where she bought some lychees, and we also stopped at the market on the way home, where I bought potatoes, onions, bananas and a large pineapple. So it was a good start to the day, one that was fairly busy. While I wanted to sleep during the afternoon, I could only nap a little as I had a lot of work to get done.

Photos (Top to Bottom): (1) My wife haggling over lychees; (2) Stairway for running (what else would Bree do on that?); (3) Cherries at the market (yummy!); (3) A very amateur footage of the dancing that goes on every morning. No sound, sorry!

Monday, May 26, 2008

Rest and Thinking Longer Term

Everyone knows the Olympics come only once every four years, and while swimmers at that level have plenty of other races year-in and year-out, they ultimately focus on preparing for the Olympic trials (to qualify) and then the games themselves.

Today was my "off" day from training, and apart from a few stretching exercises I mainly got on with my work, while also learning some valuable things from others' blogs. One thing that stood out in particular was an 8-minute clip featuring Dara Torres, the 41-year-old Olympic swimmer (she's phenomenal), courtesy of Rachel's blog. What struck me was that she spends a lot of time (apart from swimming) with trainers just stretching and working various muscles. Her trainers cost her (and/or her sponsors) some $100k per year, so the stretching appears to be an indispensable part of her overall training. She says that the stretching/conditioning and so on is particularly important for someone her age. So then how much more important is it for someone of my age?

In addition, after seeing a "widget" on Marit's blog (bless her!), I managed to successfully install a "Countdown to Hapuna 2009" counter on my blog, and I have 404 days or so until that race (I cannot make this year's race). So you may wonder, why be bothered about something 404 days away? Well, the Hapuna Roughwater Swim on the Kona Coast of the Big Island of Hawai'i means a lot to me, and I have swum it 4 or 5 times. I greatly admire its founder (Mo Mathews, I believe) and its director/co-founder (Sean "Peaman" Pagett). Sean represents the true spirit of "aloha" in triathlon and has selflessly dedicated himself for over 20 years to inspiring several generations of up-and-coming swimmers and triathletes. So besides the beautiful beach and exhilarating one-mile course, and the approximately 300 swimmers I can compete against, it is out of great respect for the Peaman that I want to fly across a large portion of the Pacific Ocean to take part in a race such as this one. And like all of Peaman's races, it is free.

Having said that, I still have over 13 months to prepare (not such a lot when some people are already training for the 2012 Olympics and beyond). So a few missed training sessions here and there probably won't matter, and I can focus on making steady improvements and learning a lot of new things over that time period. I will also make a special effort to avoid unnecessary injury, as too much of that will set me back. And I will learn from people like Dara and others whose blogs I read to train sensibly, although with purpose and measured progress.

The Chinese have a saying: "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a first step" (「千里之行,始於足下」 ). Once that step is made, there are many other steps that must be made. The snail must keep climbing the wall if it is to get to the top. If it stops making the effort, it will probably slide backwards, which will mean that reaching its goal will become more and more difficult. So I am not going out to do my fastest 400m ever next week, but through consistent and methodical training, I believe I will see times like that gradually dropping without having to get all worked up about them. Then I will start to think about race strategy....
Pictures from top-to-bottom (Theme: "The Taiwanese Countryside"): Rice growing in a small field by the side of the road, about 20 minutes by bicycle from our home. But this is another world from the big city in which we live. A red flower blooms along a hedgerow. A pineapple not quite ready for harvesting. A huge tree burdened with lychees (荔 枝 - "litchi chinensis") - these will taste delicious within a few weeks when they turn red.

Sunday, May 25, 2008

Swimming 30,750m This Week!

At the beginning of this month, I set myself swimming goals for the next 12 months or so, and, as I wrote yesterday, after four weeks of consistent training, I believe I am already swimming better than I ever did before in Kona (at least on the longer distance swims)! I occasionally use these TYR Mentor "M" hand paddles at the end of a swim to check on my alignment (my hands seem to be outgrowing this pair!)

Seeing so many good-looking triathletes as I read other people's blogs, it has always been hard for me to post something of myself, as maybe looking at myself in a picture will discourage me. However, I know I am improving and so, having been warming up the last few weeks, I have decided to post of picture of myself as a kind of "Before" shot, as I get ready for my "real training". Just a passing note, I swam 4,300 meters this morning, which makes it 30,750 meters over the last six consecutive days (Monday is "pool closed" day). I don't feel any discomfort at all.

My "real training" is, D.V., to train consistently at swimming through regular and useful workouts, while also developing the right mental attitude. For the former, I will mostly train in the 25m indoor pool (pictured here), and possibly eventually do a few ocean swims if the setting is right for it. For the latter, I will read the blogs of my friends and imbibe the wisdom of people who know how to inspire and who are constantly reaching new heights. In addition, I will try to live a balanced life (of eating, working, resting and family life, etc.) so that my training does not become an excuse for not doing the things in life that are equally or more important.

In Kaohsiung, I am slowly getting to know more people at the pool and, while we have not started an English Channel or Florida Keys training program, I have met several swimmers so far who swim all four strokes with good technique, who more or less train every day, and while they have not thought much about racing or that they could become a lot faster with consistent training, one never knows what the future may hold. I think they all know about the swimmers at the Olympics, but I don't think that they previously realized that some old guy close to retiring age like me could actually be swimming about 5k at a session and preparing to improve significantly and race the best in an open water competition in Hawai'i hopefully next year. Look out guys, here I come!

The picture below shows the friend that I race over 100m at the end of my swims (I always lose!). The red cap and speedo indicate that he is a swim coach and lifeguard, too. It is he who has helped me get to meet the other keen swimmers at the pool.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Swimming Better than in Kona

Fishing is popular at the Golden Lion Lake. I changed the "cover" photo today, because the sky was exceptionally clear - almost like Hawai'i and at least as hot.

I came to the realization that my swimming, overall, is now better than it ever was in Kona, except perhaps for a few short sprints in Kona where I could get really pumped up and give it everything. My best swimming in Kona was the year 2006 or earlier. My last year or so there, I was busy with work, I stopped going to Masters, and I did it more for relaxation than in order to improve. So my last two swims at Hapuna in the summer of 2007 (Honu and Peaman's Hapuna) were disappointing. I also could no longer keep up with my friends at the pier. I felt tired and as if I had lost it.
The dragon fruit (pictured) is delicious and is a good source of vitamin C. It also helps people with higher levels of uric acid, which causes gout, something that tends to stiffen the joints.

Based on my mathematical calculations at the beginning of this month, I estimated that if I could swim 400m in a pool in 6m 45s, I would be roughly equivalent to the level of whatever I had done in Kona during my prime time there, given that I had to convert yards to meters and slightly adjust distances. After returning to Taiwan in early July last year, I did not swim at all until early February when I had one morning ocean swim, which was rough and ended in tragedy for one of the participants. Then after we had moved from Taipei to Kaohsiung and no longer had to worry about fixing the (old) house and packing and moving 20 years of belongings, I came across the indoor pool in which I currently train and started going there in early March. The first day I swam about a thousand meters and then got dizzy and was sick in the changing rooms.

Today, being Saturday, I arrived at the pool at 9:00 am, and after a 100m warm-up, availed myself of the opportunity to swim a moderate or fast 400m given that the pool was almost empty. I went 6m 40s, without any flip turns and with looking at the wall clock every 50 meters, and maybe I was not really warmed up at that stage. I also did not taper, as I swam each of the four previous days. I then continued to swim at a more comfortable pace, and reached 5,000m after 1hr 41m in the pool. I then switched to hand paddles (500m using TYR Mentor "M" size, which appears to be almost smaller than my hand now, followed by 250m using TYR Catalyst "XL", which is a bit too big for me, so I am pretty slow with them). Then a few little swims with just my hands so that I finished on 6,300 meters.

I know on one occasion in Kona I swam about 4,350 yards in the pool, and that seemed like I was really into swimming big time. This week I swam 26,450 meters over 5 consecutive days and I felt strong throughout the whole of each swim. My last 500m each day was little different from when I started out. On May 1 this year, I wrote on this blog that my goal was to get my 400m time down from 7 minutes (my time at that point) to 6 minutes within one year. Now I have gotten one-third of the way there. Actually, I am probably somewhat less than one-third as the improvements timewise are not linear, meaning that it gets harder to improve the faster one gets. This is just the law of physics. However, what I do know is that I am getting stronger, and the improvements are coming, a little here and a little there. Rachel recently shared about kaizen, to quote her: "[the] Japanese philosophy of continuous improvement based on progress made in slow and steady gains in every arena of life." I like the way this encompasses more than just how fast one can flip turn or how much one can glide. Much more than even the swimming itself is implied: a better bed and better rest, better and more consistent food, better work for money, better family life, etc. - it all works together to help us be successful in our swimming, and sports and life in general.

A little before I started writing today's blog, I was showing my wife my blog and also one or two others, including Bree's. She remarked on all the pictures of Bree out training, and commented that on my site one hardly sees any pictures of me. I wanted to try to explain that I am not as beautiful and photogenic as Bree, but I do realize that I am getting stronger and stronger and while I will never look like a 28-year-old anymore, I may get to the point with all this swimming where I am actually willing to post a picture of myself on the blog.

I think that besides the persistent (swimming) training these last couple of months, I have gradually come to enjoy living in Kaohsiung. For me life is pretty laid back and I dress and do things just as I did in Hawai'i. It also seems that most things in life here are less expensive, which means I could afford to visit Kona occasionally for racing and hanging out. So there is a lot to be thankful for, and I am glad that I am better because of all the encouragement and helpful advice I have received from fellow bloggers/triathletes.

Padded cycling short by TYR. Cost just under $20 in Taiwan. Not sure how good it is for swimming (if diving is involved), as it does not have a waist cord (!) but it should be good for those long rides. I bought it at a store that is part of the company that makes stuff in Taiwan for TYR. Even the TYR hand paddles I bought in the US were made in Taiwan. Seems like everything is made either here or in China these days.

Friday, May 23, 2008

Still Feeling Strong: 5,300 meters

I got up about 5:25 am. Did the same as on other mornings this week, and was in the water at 6:05 am. There were quite a lot of people for the first 2,000m to contend with in the lane, but I managed to keep going reasonably well. Then suddenly, the lane cleared (I think these early guys had to go to work) and for the next 1,000m I was more or less completely on my own. Then more people, so I had to do some wild overtaking at times. Finally, I still had two lady swimmers (fortunately they tended to stay close to the lane dividers), but I wanted to make up for some time I had lost, so I swam fairly hard and did not want to stop for anything. So from being at 1hr 01min plus at 3,000m, I clawed my way back to finish 5,000m at 1hr 40m. That means my Ironman swim time would have been just under 1hr 20min (and conditions would have not been a lot different - having to contend with people most of the time). At least, I have swum the Ironman distance in about 1hr 20m the last four days in a row. Since I finished this "set" at 7:45am, I was able to get 4 mins in the jacuzzi with the sunshine coming through the UV-protected window (the jacuzzi jets are switched off at 7:50 am). So I went back to the pool, swam a little and raced my two friends over 100m. I got second in a fraction over 1m 30s.
Generally speaking, I again felt good today, but I was a little hungry the last half hour of the swim. Yesterday, I did not get all the meals and snacks I should have, as I was busy with work and ended up just skipping steaming the potato I wanted to eat. In addition, I went with my wife to do our taxes today. It went well, and we will get a refund :), but it also took a chunk out of the middle of the day, so I feel I have hardly done any real work today.
Tomorrow (Saturday) I normally only go to the pool around 9:00 am (less people then). It could be a longish workout, but I will try to do more of a variety of things. I don't care about the distance too much. I am already up to 20,150 meters in four days so far.
After swimming I went to the (enclosed) butterly garden, which again is next to the Golden Lion Lake. I managed to get a few nice shots. Some species of butterfly seldom sit still, so it is not easy to get a clear shot. It is a nice way to recuperate a little after a swim. I was amazed at how hard the butterflies worked.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

Shorter Good-Paced Swim: 4,600 meters

The water lilies greet the new day at the Golden Lion Lake

I looked at Gordo Byrn's website yesterday, and when reading about his coaching services, I noted that he emphasized three requirements for improved performance at triathlon: mental attitude, recovery and consistency, with mental attitude being the most important. In my swimming training I have been trying to concentrate on these. I am trying to do what is within my capability so that I feel positive about it. Then I am trying to get good rest, making up for lost sleep at night (due to getting up early) with a nap after lunch, and I am trying to be consistent. The swims are a little boring and repetitive, but I am getting on with them while at the pool and getting the distances covered.

This morning due to finally waking up a few minutes later than normal, it was 6:15 am when I started swimming. Although I started by sharing a lane with three other swimmers, I was at about 1,550m after the first 30 minutes (having one or two hair-raising experiences overtaking with swimmers moving in both directions). As it was kind of the middle day of the week, I did not want to just spend all my time swimming, so at 4,250m I went to the jacuzzi for a few minutes, and just wanted to feel relaxed. I then finished off with a few warm-ups and a 100m race against my friend, which I did in about 1m 33s, finishing about one length behind him.

I just had a great feeling all day. The swimming makes me feel great, even though I feel that I am not as dedicated time-wise to my work as before (the extra time needed to recuperate and the added distractions of blogging, etc. have left me with less time to work, but overall I think it is a good trade-off if it does not get out of hand). Maybe swimming practices should be like torture - I don't know - but I sense that I have a lot more freedom to swim here in Kaohsiung than I did in Kona. While pool conditions can be cramped and trying here at times, as compared with the huge ocean in Kona and reasonably empty pool there in the mornings, here at least I can take my time getting started on my work. In Kona, I sometimes got feedback from people where I volunteered about how I was still swimming out (towards the King's or Ironman buoy) when I should have been on my way to the office. Well, we have to be at peace with ourselves.

The upstairs of the green building is actually an air-conditioned reading room provided by the government as a free study area for students or anyone needing a quiet place to work. Since I pass it every time I go to and from the pool, it is another convenient place I can make use of to get my work done. It has fairly generous opening hours.
In addition, in Kaohsiung I am currently not trying to include a biking and running workout into my daily schedule. This is just a matter of economics. I need to work and avoid stressing myself out - I have already had too much of that in the past. There is a trade-off for everything. The rest will come later.
This afternoon it rained really hard for at least a couple of hours. It was my first opportunity in over three months of living in our new home to see how well the roofing and gutters, etc. were functioning. This evening I heard a frog croaking for the first time as I sat at my computer. There is a small fishpond in a garden opposite our house next to a big apartment block. I think the frog would have enjoyed the rain and we all badly needed it. I don't know if it will rain early tomorrow morning - probably not - but if it does I can just bike in my swimming gear so it won't matter too much.
I tried weighing myself today, and while it may be hard to get a really accurate measure (as the scale has a few problems), I think I was about 2 kg more than I expected. Any weight gain (given the training I do) is good for me. I am around 85 kg now. So the training and eating is helping me look a little more like a triathlete, too.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

The Same Swim!

I pass these people every day on the way back from swimming. They are engaging in "normal" exercise - modern dancing. The Chinese are very good at doing things together, with everyone fitting in, and no one trying to be a "one person show". By contrast, I am just the opposite, swimming on my own, and trying to be better than others, if there is anything left in me to do that.

I ate about the same before leaving the house and started swimming at 6:13 am and reached 5,000 meters at 7:54 am, and then did a faster 100m in about 1m 35s on my own to finish at 5,100 meters. So what is there to write about? Two days in a row. I thought I would be more tired today. I was a little, but it did not affect my swimming. Today I also had more people in the lane to contend with, meaning that I had to frequently be looking out of the water. I even accidentally grabbed on to a lady's foot - she slowed down too quickly before the wall and, with me being a turtle, my reaction was too slow. Well, I did not get hit by her, so I guess she realized it was a mistake.
The rest of the day today was uneventful, just getting on with work, having a short nap after lunch. Maybe you would consider my life very boring, and I guess it is. Not a lot of excitement, even at the swimming pool. I miss the swims at the (Kailua) pier, when on most days I could actually swim with someone. Chris would ask me to meet her in the mornings to swim, so she could have company in case we met a jellyfish or something bigger. And she could swim about the same speed as me, so it was easy to stay together.
Tomorrow, I may not try to swim so much distance, but at least I will try to push it a bit more. I think part of the problem is that if I stop, say, to leave on a "send-off time", I will get more tangled up with the other swimmers. When I keep on swimming, at least they know what I am up to, and will usually accommodate me (which is probably sensible, as I am bigger than them).
Today, I looked through some of my early blogs (around 6 weeks ago) and, apart from realizing that I have written a lot over the weeks, I can see some progression, not just in my swimming, but in how I do the blogs (i.e., in terms of the usage of photos, and the written content). From writing and reading others' blogs, I have learned a lot, and will continue to learn. I also had a big achievement two days ago in that 4 different people (excluding myself) wrote comments on that day's blog. That does mean a lot to me. When I started I more or less just assumed I was writing just to myself. In my training and work I mostly spend my time alone and so do not communicate much with people. In addition, most of the friends I had in Hawai'i and trained with are not the writing kind and not necessarily very computer savvy. So I especially thank you youngsters for your patience in reading and occasionally responding. O, for the good old days!

For those who want to do something more slowly, just across from the modern dance is the tai ch'i group. Joining them would be a good way to alleviate stress. Again everything is done together. I guess it is like a Kona Masters' workout with one person orchestrating and the rest following, only a lot less rushed.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Strongish 5,150 meter Swim

Mangoes in abundance at the local market. These are relatively cheap during the summer months here, and are a good source of carbohydrates. About US$0.5 each for an "average" one at present.
Yesterday I wrote about rest (implying needed recuperation), and mentioned a little about eating. I also felt quite lethargic, a state that one feels when one doesn't do any training and merely observes others being successful in the things they like to do, not that that is a bad thing. After all, we need to get the focus off of ourselves sometimes.
Well, this morning I woke up slightly earlier and that gave me several extra minutes that enabled me to do a few "rotator-cuff warm-up exercises" as well as eat half a large banana and drink a cup of water. Maybe not much, but more than I am used to. I biked to the pool and was in the water at 6:13 am, sharing the lane with three others at first. I felt comfortable, and swam neither fast nor slow, but comfortably. I managed to pass the slower swimmers fairly easily most times (without meeting another head on), and by the time I reached 1,000 meters, there were only three of us and soon after two. So I rarely had to "wait" behind someone to pass. For quite a while (at least for about 1,500m), it was just me and a lady who swims quite well and consistently, and so I was able to maintain the momentum. At 3,000m I still felt good, and so I continued. When I reached 4,000m, I realized that I only had 25 minutes left, and so I even tried picking up the pace a bit. I reached the 5,000m mark at 7:54 am. I then did another 50m (just in case), then rested about 30 seconds and swam a 100m on my own at a "light-moderate" pace in 1m 35s. Not so fast, but I wanted to stay in my comfort zone. Then I was "pau".
I have rarely felt so good over a swim like that.

The pinkish fruits in the wrappers are "dragon fruits" and I bought one today for about US$1.25. They were imported. The yellow fruits - I need to do more research and maybe eat one first.

Today I almost swam continuously and maintained more or less the same pace. I only occasionally stopped to rearrange my cap, flush out my goggles, or say Hi! to a fellow swimmer. I think in the past, including in Hawai'i, I was often hungry on long swims and even Masters' workouts. I did not eat such a lot yesterday, but I think over the past few days I have been eating more. For instance, for lunch today I ate, boiled potatoes, onions, tomatoes, chicken breast (which I fried), and two apple bananas, which I prepared myself. The cost of the ingredients was a little over US$3, and so I was hardly breaking the bank. My wife is buying meat at the traditional market from chickens that are skinnier than most, i.e., they are not pumped up like so many one sees in the supermarkets.
In the pool, the early morning lighting was not too good (or was it my eyes?) when it came to keeping an eye on the clock's second hand, and my googles were often quite misty, so I did not worry about what my splits were. I knew that I felt good and that was all that mattered. Of course, if I am getting better at swimming, then inside me there is a growing desire to go out and race some people, and so times are important there. However, I will probably have to go to Kona to do that, and so that is a long way off. For now I will try to find a happy balance between training, eating and recuperation, and hopefully out of that I will find a magic formula that will make me faster. Certainly, as the photos of the mangoes show, there is plenty of good stuff to eat round here, at relatively good prices.
Lastly, today was a rainy day in Kaohsiung. I was so pleased with this. It rained quite hard a lot of the day, but not when I biked to the pool, nor when I biked back. The house was a few degrees cooler today. When the sunny weather comes back, probably in the next couple of days, the air should be a lot fresher and I should be able to see the distant mountains from our house.
A mango tree that I pass each day on the way to the swimming pool.

Monday, May 19, 2008

Rest, Sunshine and Carbohydrates

A fruit stand by the roadside in Kaohsiung - papayas, water melons, pineapples, and so on, not to mention bananas which are easily found just round the corner. Since many of these are locally grown, they tend to be seasonal, so for a while mangoes will be really cheap and then later expensive, and there will usually be at least one fruit that is currently in abundance. I think it is pineapples at the moment. (To see the fruits more clearly, please click on the picture).
I think the people who feel the most tired are the couch potatoes who watch a lot of sports on TV. The people they see on the box are super fit. However, when it comes to taking just a few steps to the fridge to get yet another snack they feel drained and exhausted. That is a little how I feel on my rest day. I read the news of Bree covering the Olympic distance in under two hours, and I wonder if I can successfully climb up three flights of stairs.
That is why I like training for swimming and/or other aspects of triathlon. I may not be fast, but I am accomplishing something in my own little world and generally feeling good about it, while at the same time occasionally racing with the best, like against Macca last year at the Honu 70.3. Rest is good and necessary. I will feel stronger tomorrow. I will also get more work done today, work that is going to put something in the bank, and lessen the stress I face in the struggles of living.
When things happen, like someone accomplishes something we never thought possible, or we just feel a little tired and a little out of sorts, we may wonder what our goals and purpose are in life. People are not always up, and after the excitement of something passes, they may go down for a bit. Close friends are a great source of support, but in addition I think the circumstances or environment we are in plays an important role. Sunshine is important, and I think that there are studies that have suggested that sunny days make people feel happier and more optimistic (which in turn raises stock prices!).
I am thankful that just about every day in my home town is a sunny day, so much so that I really wish it would rain. So I go off to swim bright and cheerful in the mornings. Fortunately, the pool is indoors. I would be absolutely fried if I had to swim all the time outdoors. My skin isn't the same at that of people who have grown up in the tropics.
I realize from looking at some of the blogs of my friends and their friends, that some people wish they were sitting on a tropical beach when instead they are having to wear a thick overcoat just to walk down to the local store or even seeing snow in May. Yet in many ways, these people have it all - they are beautiful, have wonderful families, then can afford the occasional vacation to an exotic destination, and can basically do whatever they want to do. Only, they cannot have almost continual sunshine as you have on the Kona coast or in Southern Taiwan. I may sound a bit extreme, and there are many "beautiful sunny days" even in the UK. However, my recollection is that most people complain about the weather there - nice sunny days are few and far between it seems.

As part of my effort to eat more but without going broke in the process, to increase my carbohydrate intake, I like to make potatoes and onions for which I use the microwave. Of course, I don't have to cook all my food myself, but few wives have time to make the number of meals that people who like to do a lot of training need each day.
Bananas are also good for carbs as are mangoes. The ginger on the top right is used in cooking. It is not my favorite, but is used a lot in Chinese cuisine, at least in our house.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Short Weak Swim - Only 3,650 meters

A red hibiscus, which is quite common in Taiwan. A constant reminder of Hawai'i apart from the weather.
I was obviously tired today as I felt it when I woke up and when I got into the pool, I did not feel I had much energy at all. So I just continued swimming in a fairly relaxed manner until I had just passed the 3,000 meter mark, at which point I tried doing some fairly all-out 50 meters with about 30-60 second rests in between. At the end my friends challenged me to a 100m race, but I could only manage about 1m 34s. So I ended my workout at 3,650 meters. Nothing special, but at least I trained.
I don't know if swimming when I am tired will actually help me. In case it might not, after the swim I went out and bought a vitamin drink with 45 gms of carbs in it, and ate a good breakfast when I got home soon after that.

Today I actually feel OK, but have been a little busy for Sunday as I had some fairly urgent work to do, so could not nap as much as I wanted.

This week the big news was the Sichuan earthquake, although the Myanmar cyclone was equally devastating. I saw some of the TV coverage on the earthquake rescue effort. I am glad that Taiwan apparently donated a huge sum of money for the humanitarian relief effort in China. In times like this, it does not matter what political views people hold, but it is important to help others in need. Had it been easier in the past for me to live and travel in China, I would probably have spent more time there. The people after all are Chinese, and I can speak with them in their national language (Mandarin). In many ways, they are no different from people here, and are not any more deserving of what happened than anyone else. It could just as easily have happened here, as there. An earthquake in Taiwan in 1999 claimed over two thousand lives.

Tomorrow will be my rest day from swimming, although I will probably bike a little just to get out and about. I will need, however, to get on with work tomorrow as I am pretty busy at the moment. Bree will race in Honolulu in a few hours from now. I probably will only be able to look up the news reports after the event when I wake up tomorrow morning. I wish her the best.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Saturday Swim: 6,500 meters

Being back in Kaohsiung today, I have still been thinking a lot about my trip back to Taipei, especially the couple of hours or so I spent walking and enjoying the hills. I referred to the "Garden of Tranquility & Recuperation" (靜修園) and here are a couple of photos of the various plants and flowers there.

On this occasion I took a photo of the Chinese calligraphy that is displayed on the little pavilion that is built next to the garden. It is a poem written by an elderly Chinese gentleman (a Mr. Tan (譚) as indicated on the left of the poem) to thank the younger person who created the garden (I remember visiting the garden almost 15 years ago, so it is not new).
The poem speaks of the tranquility of the garden, the jade-like verdure of the plant life, the variety of colors, the freshness of the air, the smiling flowers, the health and strength that the paths through this garden bring to those that frequent it, as well as the profound thanks that the poet has for the garden's creator. I also heard that the gentleman who built the garden and is now in his fifties had very recently had to be admitted to a hospital. I hope all is well with him.
As I walked further through the hills (about a good 20 minutes later), I noticed how the hills that I frequently visited (and sometimes ran in) in the latter half of last year often looked different. This was because of the many blossoms that no doubt only come at certain times of the year.
Lastly, near the end of my travels, I met up with "El", my buddy on many an occasion last year. He is a young, energetic and very friendly dog with two different colored eyes and he appears to still be growing. In the past he has followed me and stayed with me for hours on end as I walked or did my work in the hills. He has a good home at a small temple in the hills and likes to wander all over the place.
Coming back to the subject of swimming, as on Saturday I have a little more time to swim and had missed two days due to the traveling, I felt really good the first 2,000 meters of so and kept a pretty good pace over that distance, which I did 500m at a time. As I approached 3,000m I realized I was no longer so fresh, but I kept going anyway, despite feeling a little drained, and only at 5,500m did I go a get my hand paddles from next to the pool. I used the ones I am used to first for 500m (TYR Mentor 'M'), and then after just using hands for 100m, I tried a new pair of TYR Catalyst 'XL' paddles (a little big and to be used only with care), and it was good to get across the pool in two strokes less than with the normal paddles. After 200m with those paddles and the same with "hands free" swimming, the time came to close the pool and so I stopped at 6,500 meters.
What I learned today was that I might have benefited more if I had eaten something, say, half way through the swim. I did eat some breakfast about one hour before going to the pool, but then I trained in the pool 2hr 20m without consuming anything. So I kind of felt a little depleted the last hour and wondered whether I was doing myself harm or good.
After I got changed I biked 100 yards to the convenience store and bought a couple of energy/vitamin drinks (feels like frog's spawn), and ate more when I got home. However, I felt tired and slept about one hour. It reminded me of my longer workouts in Kona when I had to go to bed after I finished about 6 hours of training. I felt a lot better later in the afternoon, but will make an effort to eat more at least before I swim tomorrow morning (which will be an early swim).
Today I would have probably done OK if I had swum to the King's buoy and back had I been in Kona (1.2 miles). The last two or three days was a kind of forced taper, and I would have been flying at least given where I am at at present. The stroke, mechanics and breathing all felt really good those first 2k.
Presently, I am just experimenting a little, to learn what kind of things I need to do to get better. I don't really recommend these workouts to anyone. If you are aiming to achieve something, they might mess you up just when you need to be in good shape.

Friday, May 16, 2008

Taichung and Taipei Trip

In Taichung, as in much of the central and southern parts of Taiwan, it is common to see rice paddies by the side of the road, often next to factories or residential houses. These last two or three days I did a lot of traveling on buses, on a train, in taxis, even on a bike which I borrowed from my friend. This bike reminded me a little of my bikes in Kona, especially the first one. Until I found out Matt Reed is 6ft 5in tall, I just assumed I would spend much of my life on bikes like these.
While in Taichung, I did get to visit a carbon bike manufacturer. They make nearly everything on a bike in carbon, except for the cassette and cables and a few obvious things like tires and tubes.
They even sell seats made of carbon. Perhaps OK for an indoor track race, and maybe not for Hawi and back. I don't know, but they are quite expensive. What's more, they have a 61cm carbon time-trial frame made to order, plus various styles of aerobars, brakes, cranksets, etc. Later this year, I hope I will be able to afford to buy enough parts so I can actually have a proper racing bike. If I get that to Kona, say, next year, I should be able to have some fun riding it.
After returning to Taipei fairly late last night, I got up fairly early and actually took breakfast with me on my walk in the hills. I visited the beautifully designed garden which is a long walk from anywhere and so very few people go there, but the flowers and trees are amazing. This is the one thing I miss about living in the old apartment in Taipei, which we will probably try to sell this year, as it is quite a lot of trouble to keep it. I will post more on this walk later.
It takes the best part of an hour to get to the middle of Taipei from our apartment which is on the outskirts of the metropolis. The older part of town, where I worked for many years, while very built up, is also quaint in places. For instance, in this relatively quiet alley just off a busy main street, the store owners have spread their bedding out over their bicycles to take advantage of the strong sunshine during the lunch hour.

While in Taipei, I had to sort out quite a few things related to our old house, like paying an overdue bill or two, visiting a police station to pick up a court document (fortunately just an action by a large group of neighbors that includes us because we own the property), sorting out my last year's taxes at the tax office, and going for a routine visit to the hospital, etc. Fortunately, I was able to get everything done in time to take a bus to the main train station where I caught the bullet train. Leaving Taipei at 17:00 hrs, it travelled 300 kph most of the way, and arrived at the last stop in Northern Kaohsiung, which is two miles from our home, at 18:36.
The reason I came back quickly is so that I can swim tomorrow morning, and get back to my "normal" workouts hopefully.

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Trip to Taichung, Central Taiwan

View from within the grounds of the Morrison Christian Academy in Taichung, a private high school for international students with high academic standards.
"Spell the word 'Duck'." This is what my younger son was asked by a teacher when he went for an interview at the Taipei branch of the Morrison schools in Taiwan. At that time he was 9 years old, and to a large extent because he was part of a family that was well-integrated into the Chinese community and had only attended Chinese schools, it was extremely difficult for him to answer this kind of question. So, despite the fact that he had been christened with the name "Morrison" at birth and held an overseas passport and his parents upheld everything that the school stood for, going there to further his education was not an option.
Now fast-forward through eight years in Hawai'i where he graduated from a Hawaiian elementary school, and attended a cooperative school before doing home school and also learned to skateboard, today Morrison gets to go to this campus in Taichung to take an AP (advanced placement) examination, as he wraps up his high-school education, having only a few "bits and pieces" to finish off after this in a few other subjects before he completely finishes around the end of this month.
While in Hawaii in some of the earlier years there was some "educational drift" in that life was very laid back and studying was definitely not cool, Morrison worked relatively hard his last two years in Hawaii and as a result got pretty decent grades. During the last year in Taiwan, during which we have moved house and he has had to adjust to two new environments in terms of making friends, he has worked really hard and very responsibly. While I cannot predict what the outcome of the exam will be, he has certainly put in a lot of effort, and I believe a bright future will await him. As a younger child in Hawai'i, the cooperative school he attended for a few years attributed the character trait of "determination" to him, and while his older brother has tended to be more laid back (but equally gifted in his own right), when Morrison wants to do something he is really determined to accomplish it, and is very disciplined in going about it. So I wish him all the best. I have not helped him with his schooling nearly as much as I should, but at least now I know he can now succeed without my assistance.
No swimming today as I am away from home. I am just realizing how nice it is living in Kaohsiung. Life there is simple and I can get on with the things I need and want to do.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

5,150 meters and "Chase Your Dreams"

View of Gu Shan from the Love River, Kaohsiung. I just love looking at the symmetrical relationship between the actual mountain itself and its reflection in the still water.

Today I made an effort to start swimming a little earlier as I will have to miss the next two mornings of swimming as I travel in Taiwan. So I got started at 6:10 am, and by 7:53 am I had completed 5,000 meters, all freestyle, and mostly relaxed swimming except when I occasionally "burned" by someone when passing. I did not try to do anything particularly hard. Once or twice when passing someone, the extra surge in energy and effort made me feel my right shoulder and triceps a little and so I mainly concentrated on swimming smoothly. While at times I was joined by slower swimmers at other times I had to maintain a pretty good pace just to fend off a reasonably good (and perhaps fresher) swimmer. So there was a certain amount of variety. I was not just on my own.
After a couple of minutes break, I raced three other guys over 100m. I did about 1m 3os, coming in second behind my friend who went about 1m 26s. I guess I did not feel very strong on the swim, my arms feeling a little tired. 50 meters more of easy swimming brought me up to 5,150 meters.
My former coach in Hawai'i, let us call him "Steve-O", was training at the pool there a few years ago for the Masters' world championship 100 & 200 fly and freestyle. I noticed he would do a lot of steady freestyle swimming, as a kind of conditioning as it were. Then, near the end of the workout, he would rest a little, and then a friend would time him on a few all-out sprints, or else friends (who were also very accomplished swimmers) would race him over these short distances. So I guess the slowish steady swimming is all helpful and, at least for people like me, there are no short cuts to getting faster.
Macca has a slogan on his website that reads "Chase Your Dreams". While it is easy for someone like me to think that such a statement only applies to world changers like him or Bree, I think it is well worth anyone spending time to think about. For me, it is not just about entering and finishing an Ironman race. Of course, doing well in a race of some kind is an important goal for me. However, being able to make a living for me and my family doing something I generally enjoy and also having the chance to combine interests (like learning an East Asian language and getting healthy exercise and seeing beautiful scenery all at the same time) are also worthy goals. It is not a matter of waiting until I retire to do things. In fact, I will never really retire, and I don't want to either. So I am now in a kind of state of semi-retirement, keeping busy doing things productive and that I like, and trying not to let my life be run by other things, be they jobs, volunteerism, training schedules, or debts.
With the necessary travel over the next three days, I will have less time to train, but perhaps a little more time to reflect, even though the nature of my work means that I can get on with it even when waiting at a bus stop or train station. Certainly, to "Chase Your Dreams" is important for all of us and I thank Macca for blazing the trail and giving me the inspiration.

"Have bike, Will travel." Don't wait for that US$6,000 bike. Just use whatever you have, and start biking and enjoying the outdoors.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Starting the Day with a "Normal" Swim

As I mentioned yesterday, the Martyrs' Shrine in Kaohsiung (壽山上的忠烈祠) is a place with much historical significance. The Japanese-style architecture is a legacy of Taiwan's Japanese colonial past, when Taiwan was ruled by Japan for a period of fifty years (1895-1945). After that it was transformed into a shrine to remember the many patriots who fought and lost their lives in various wars, including resistance to the Japanese occupation.

Ever aware that there are many things that I need to do today (like most days), I tried to make the most of the relatively limited time I had to swim today. I started swimming at 6:21 am, and was up to 2,950 meters within one hour. I continued at that point, since there were fewer swimmers in my lane and I was able to keep up the momentum, until I reached 4,000m. Earlier on there were about 5 people at one time in the lane, and occasionally I had to stop at one end of the pool and just wait ten or more seconds while the ones in front of me got further away.
I generally felt relaxed the whole time, and mainly focused on an even consistent stroke, that remained the same even though I had been swimming almost non-stop for over an hour. In Kona, years ago, I would often swim fairly well getting out to the King's buoy, but often after I started to come home, due to weakness and being a little fatigued, my stroke would be poor, in that after my right arm entered the water, my hand would go down, and then up again so that I sometimes caught air bubbles before I pulled through. Sometimes when I pass another swimmer swimming freestyle, I see the same mistake that I used to make (and hopefully do not make now). No wonder they don't get much forward propulsion.
The last 15 minutes or so today were spent in the jacuzzi (about 5 minutes), and then a few easy "warm-up" swims, and then a 100m race against my friend. He was not that committed or focused today, and we finished together within 1m 31s. I got a pretty fast start today, but kind of lost it the second half and he caught me up. My total distance today was 4,425 meters. I still felt I could have continued, but the pool had to close as is always does at 8:00 am on these early morning swims.
Yesterday there was a huge 7.9 magnitude earthquake in Sichuan, China. I did not really notice anything while at home at 2:28 pm local time when it happened, but my wife who was attending a meeting on the 14th floor elsewhere in town felt a little dizzy, thinking she might be about to faint until she realized what it was.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Day Off - Some Relaxing Biking

I took this picture about 20 minutes from our house by bike in the middle of the city of Kaohsiung! To reach this point, I mostly followed cycle paths alongside the river. The small mountain to the left is Gu Shan (鼓山), which I partly climbed on my bike further on in the ride.

This morning I left the house only at 7:00 am, and as the pool was shut, rode my bicycle to a part of town I have not visited for many years, and the first time by bike (seen on the right). To get there, I only occasionally had to ride with the other traffic. Most of it was along bike paths next to the Love River in the main part of town, and then up a very quiet road as I climbed a small mountain. As you will see from the pictures, some of the scenery was quite beautiful. In the past I wondered if I would get a trainer and just bike on the lanai at home. However, unless I am really so concerned about what time I do in a race, maybe I will just go for rides like this.

I am used to seeing a lot of purple bourgainvillea (重葛) here, but I don't see orange flowers quite so much. If you look in the distance, you will see large ships (click on the picture to enlarge). That is Kaohsiung harbor in the distance.

As I rode along the windy roads up the mountain, I reached the Martyrs' Shrine, again a place with a lot of historical significance. It was also interesting to meet a group of Japanese tourists who were visiting this quiet and restful place. I had the privilege of saying おはようございますand げんき です か to a few of them. If I spoke more Japanese, it would not be hard to find opportunities to practice here.
Going up the hill, I was passed by a few mountain bikers, all of whom had nice bikes. Maybe I could eventually get a better MTB, and at least I could try to push it up the hill a bit harder. I also hope to look a little at the off-road trails and try and have a bit of fun without breaking my neck.