Thursday, July 31, 2008

Pollution and Performance

Actually the original draft of this post was more or less a personal rant about how bad I was feeling in the past 5 days because of the heat, humidity and pollution.
But making some research, I did come out with a very interesting set of data (taken from the HK Government website) that could give you also an idea of what the athletes in Beijing could face.
(Note: the actual pollution data in Beijing might be very different from those released to the public and also the standard of interpretation of the data is different from the one in Hong Kong)
BBC News keeps their own monitoring station, very interesting pictures and data) ...

So here I list:
  • date/time of workout
  • pollution index (API) at that moment (based on HK standard)
  • personal feeling and actual workout result (it is not a biased opinion, the personal feeling was written in my log right at the end of each workout, while only today I matched them with the pollution data ):

Tuesday 22/7 (6am): felt very easy, HR very low ==> pollution Index (API) was 19 (low)
Wednesday 23/7 (5.30am): excellent workout, felt great, speed/HR ratio was excellent ==> API was 16 (low)
Sunday 28/7 (5am): awful, felt very tired only after few Km of effort ==> API was 63 (High), during the day reached even 170 !! (very high, outdoor activities are discouraged...)
Monday 29/7 (6am): even worse, felt like crap after few km ==> API was 79 (high)
Tuesday 30/7 (6am): mixed feeling, better than the days before but still not good ==> API was 53 (High)
Wednesday 31/7 (5.30am): felt very good, completed a good workout ==> API was actually only 19 because of some changes in the wind pattern.

The bottom line is that:
- Quality of air in major cities in China is crap (including Hong Kong)...
- for Beijing, it all depends on the meteorological condition of the day. If there are light winds or winds from the interior, it will be very tough for the competitors
- from now on, I will also record the API at the time of workout ... it seems affecting my performances more than I expected...

Wednesday 31/7

Monday, July 28, 2008

37C, "real feel" 41C (100F ... heat index 110F)

that is the current temperature for Dongguan from

actually the government website reports also 39.3C for some city district. Combined with humidity at 60% should give a 45C/48C feeling ...

this morning I was simply dragging the feet for the heat (at 5.30am...)
A Typhoon is approaching, should bring some cooling rain

wk29 Summary

- 6 workouts (missed one for job related reasons)
- 99 km
- 3 serious workouts:
  • Wednesday : 2 x 3km @ AT effort (HR target was 180bpm). Scored a 10'00" and 10'08" that is great. Felt really good. A km split was excessively fast at 3'13" ...
  • Friday: 3x 10minutes @MP effort (nice run, good feeling), total 18km
  • Sunday: 10k easy, than 10k @MP effort. It was a half disaster. The weather was crappy, maybe already 29C at 5.00am. Because of some changes in the wind direction due to the approaching typhoon, the pollution skyrocketed to record levels. I do know know if it was lack of sleep, fatigue or the pollution + heat, but the 10k felt very very long. I closed in 38'10", the same level of 6 weeks ago and with a perceived effort and HR that was much higher than the same workout done 4 weeks ago (which by the way, marked a 37'45" felt very easy)
15/June: 38'11" (HR average: 173)
29/June: 37'45" (HR: 168)
27/July: 38'08" (HR: 170)

the real "weak spot" for the success of Olympics

Because Olympic Games are approaching, some post will be covering the topic.
For a bizarre arrangement, the Games are mainly in Beijing, but the Equestrian Events are held in Hong Kong, right in front of my home, taking advantage of the pre-existing facilities of the Shatin racecourse...
so I can enjoy the Olympic atmosphere, just by going for a run (not for long, I suppose they will block any access to the area very soon...)

Honestly speaking, I do not see the Pollution as the main risk for the success of the Games. Unless some very nasty combination of winds from the West, bringing dust from Shaanxi to Beijing, the air should be passable...

so what is the real "Achilles' tendon" ?

..."crisis management"...

as far as I knew the way of operating of Chinese Authorities, their real weak points is the non capability to manage appropriately all the crisis and situation where the power of the crowd can go beyond their control.

So I can write here a "check list" of what will happen in case of a small or big crisis. Keep it in mind if there will be a chance to use it, because it will give you a told to analyze the situation as it really happened, without the unavoidable deformation of the press.

to take a fictitious framework from our sport, I draw the case from this news (very likely, since a direct contact between Japanese and Chinese supporters can easily degenerate).

In our fictitious case, we have therefore 2 groups of University students (one local and one of exchange Japanese students) gathered at the 35km of the Woman Marathon, with both Mizuki Noguchi and Zhou ChunXiu still in contention for the Gold Medals

phase 1) Ignorance of the "weak" signals
may be some student is drunk or maybe they start to sing offensive slogan, but the Police will not take cue from what is happening to start to "soft" action to defuse the tension.
Maybe it could be enough to ask the documents to some guy or going into the groups and speak directly with the people there in a polite manner, but it won't happen.
Frontline officers are not trained to decide on their own and usually wants to avoid to meddle into troubles if not asked. Being the situation involving foreigner, it is even more sensitive.
So the time pass by and Police at the spot asks for direction at different level of command, while maybe the situation is degenerating: the students start to dispute.

phase 2) Slow response
because of the time needed to take a decision and being worry of the political repercussion, it will take much longer than needed for the Police to act.
In the mean time, a fight broke out among the Students groups.

phase 3) tough reaction from the Police
usually the reaction of the Police is totally out of proportion with the situation: maybe teargas or armed police will try to restore the order, causing the event to completely degenerate
Since the Police is acting very tough, it may become a complete street fights among the 3 groups (Police, Jap Students and locals).

phase 4) local and international Press and TV shows up at the scene of the crisis
this is the most feared moment by the local authorities.

phase 5) attempt to stop the Press/TV from reporting
for sure, Police will try to stop the Press/TV in any way from reporting the event. Even worse, the main cause of concern will be rather to stop the TVs from broadcasting rather than tackling the real problem. Based on the smartness of the Officer in charge, it may be done smartly (maybe it is enough to place a Police cordon to keep the reporter away) or attacking directly the reporters, with a PR disaster...

phase 6) total degeneration of the situation. Police calls for additional resources and huge mobilization.
Usually at this stage it will not take long to restore the order, but the PR fiasco is already done...

I hope that the case give you a good vision of what could happen. I really hope the local Police got good direction on tackling immedatly the "weak sign" and avoid the usual PR debacle (only in 2008, they did a complete flop in several local "incidents").

For a starter, read what happened just 2 days ago when the organizer put on sale in Beijing some remaining tickets for the Games, with a poor arrangement and even worse queue management.
It could have been a small "glitch", but the poor management by the Police did generate a "disaster"

Friday, July 25, 2008

How information is handled in China

Not related to my running, but in view of the incoming Olympics...

from the news:
"the decision on whether the pollution in Beijing is too high to go on with the competitions during Olympics will be taken not by IOC, but by the local organizing committee BOCOG"

Now a simple example on how information in China is manipulated at all levels to second the government's plans:

Yesterday I was commenting with a local colleague that the weather forecast for the following day was always much milder than the actual temperature reached during the day. Forecast is always with 34C max, while the actual temperature in that moment was well over 36C. Several days in a row like that.
My colleague was adamant to say that the local government does not want to issue a forecast over 35C, because, by law, if the temperature is expected to go over 35C, they need to shut down schools and factories (most of them without air-con). So to keep the business going, it is better to release a "accommodating" forecast and just let the population suffer the extra 2C...

for the Olympics.... I can bet the house that the official data will be of "medium to low pollution, thank to the effort of the Government to clean Beijing's skies"

the "treatment of information" is already starting, as for this article from SCMP...

Beijing applauded for clean-up effort, then the haze floats back
Al Guo
Jul 24, 2008

Beijing's air quality fell yesterday as environmental experts, Olympics officials and the mainland media applauded the city for its efforts to clean it up.

Beijing's composite Air Pollution Index reached 89, following readings of between 50 and 60 on Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, the first three days of traffic restrictions.

According to the index, compiled by the Beijing Municipal Environmental Protection Bureau, all but five remote suburbs in the city had air pollution levels higher than 80 yesterday, with a couple of districts registering up to 99. Any figure recorded above 100 is considered harmful to health.

Gilbert Felli, the International Olympic Committee's Olympic Games executive director, was quoted by Xinhua yesterday as saying he had been pleasantly surprised to see the improvement of air quality in the past few days.

"I'm very surprised because I thought it would be different but it's much better, much better. You don't feel bad when you breathe, so it looks good," Mr Felli said before the release of yesterday's readings.

State media also praised the city's efforts to curb air pollution in the past few days, saying Beijing could keep its promise to offer Olympic athletes clear air during the Games.

Xinhua published a chart that showed the capital was expected to have 256 clear days this year, compared with 246 last year, 241 in 2006 and just 100 in 1988.

But the official praise was not enough to eradicate doubts that even taking half of the city's vehicles off the roads may not be enough to guarantee better air quality.

"Situations like this could happen even during the Olympic Games, but hopefully we will see air quality continue to improve as we probably need at least a week to 10 days to see the effects from this traffic restriction," environment expert Zhu Tong said.

Mr Zhu said the rise in the index yesterday may have been caused by unfavourable weather conditions in Beijing.

IOC chief Jacques Rogge has warned that some endurance events at the Games may have to be rescheduled if air quality threatens the health of athletes

Thursday, July 24, 2008


Dongguan, 6am
Weather: 27C, 80%rh, sunny sky
13k in 58'

easy run on the countryside trail. No barking dogs at my chase (as it is usual on that countryside road)...
Running on soft surface along the rice fields was very relaxing and 1 hr run out very quickly compared to looping around some ugly industrial area...

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

23/jul "AT workout"

time: 5.30am
weather: 28C/80%rh (it felt vey good, I believe it was because of the "lower" humidity. Also the air was much cleaner than usual)

target: 3k + 3k at AT effort (HR around 89/80%max ==> hence 178/180bpm), with 1k recovery

1st 3k: 10'00" (split 3'26"/3'20"/3'13"). The HR was not hitting the target until 2,5k so I was continuously increasing the pace... it was incredible to see a 3'13" for the last split with a max Hr only at 181bpm (91% max...) felt great
2nd 3k: 10'11". (split 3'22'/3'23"/3'26") pushed from the start and hit 180bpm after 0,5k. Felt a bit tired at the end. Obviously I was paying for the 3'13" ...
very likely my ideal pace would have been a 3'20"/3'22".

once more a good demonstration that a good base preparation brings you directly in "fast gear" without too much interval training. Now for some weeks I will progressively increase the amount of lactate threshold trying to reach the 60 minutes by end september

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Breakthrough (?)

This morning I guess that I reached a "breakthrough" in my training progression.
For the first time since I got back to training, I felt like I would have been able to run indefinitely.

In my very modest opinion, the best "fitness test" is neither a race or a tempo run or whatever. I rather got my best indications of fitness from the value of HR and overall feeling in an easy run.
So this morning it was really a good signal that my HR stayed easily below 150bpm and even after 45min I was still very fresh, ready to run for other 20km...
So hitting 17km @4'20" pace with average HR only 147 is very promising sign.
NOTE: all this obviously must be inserted in a context where this morning at 6am the temperature was already 29C. At the time of writing the "accuweather real feel" marks a 39C/110F.
More about current temperature in Dongguan here:
In the next weeks, I will move to a more intense phase of training, mainly targeting to increase the Lactate Thresold and Aerobic Power + strenght.
Less long runs, but many harder workouts

Wk28 summary

-6 workouts

After 3-4 days of feeling the legs tired and general lack of energy (I guess due to lack of sleep), Sunday I did have good feeling and the workout went very smoothly.

wake up 4.30am, at 5am it was already 29C/85%Rh, we set for a mixed pace long run.
30km with 2k easy/1k @MP. It is really a good workout because it helps the body to tolerate the sense of fatigue and depletes the glycogen reserves fast, so the last fast intervals are really a big stimulus.
I did not want to push too hard from the start because the weather was scaring... really very hot even if the sun was still resting...
we closed with 27km @4'15" average pace. I felt pretty easy to complete all the intervals, there was still something left in the tank.
For reference, I did add some carbohydrates powder to the drinks plus a powergel and it did make the difference in terms of energy levels in the last 30 minutes..

Thursday, July 17, 2008

the SUN is back...

after 2 days of easy runs, it was time to get back to serious, so this morning the alarm clock went out at 4.30am: the plan was a 25k run with 5x1km @ 10k race speed (hence 3'30") for me.
The purpose is such workouts is to mix together an endurance stress (for the marathon build-up), together with some good LT workout, without getting exhausted.

Being on much lack of sleep in these days, I spent at least 10 minutes in bed asking WHY I was doing this..., rather than just turn the lights off and go on sleeping.
Unfortunately I had already took agreement with E. about running together (details: I was in HK this morning), so I was forced to got up and go (the power of peers pressure...).

We did 15km easy at around 4'20" (luckily, I was feeling like a zombie), taking a path that could keep out of the Sun. Than is was time to start the intervals and I felt not too brilliant, but still did manage to complete them (for each of them, the pace according to the Polar was 3'31-3'33", but I guess that the actual speed was a bith higher (maybe 3'27" something) because I set the calibration for slower speeds (if you own a Polar Rs800sd, you certainly know that the calibration is affected very much by the speed, so calibrating at 4'15" would result in slightly understated speed/distance if you are running much faster).
total 24k, average 4'20", 5x1k included
Weather: week of "nice weather". Give a look at the Accuweather widget on the left side of the blog to understand the "real feel" of 30C/90%Rh.
I add here the excellent chart updated in real time by HK Observatory with the temperature/humidity in the past 24h for each of the district of Hong Kong... (it will go on like that until end September...)

Sunday, July 13, 2008

10k TW race - report

so today was back to racing flats!

first my congratulation to fellow italian, friend and reader Stefano who did a fantastic race, establishing a new course record and beating really the best runners around here. Running 33'15" in such heat leaves me at disbelief of his potential (he is also a "fresh" runner).

At the unusual start time of 5.30pm, the weather was as good as you can hope in this part of the year: 26C/80F and 95% Humidity (it rained all day, stopped just 1 hour before the race).

we started fast .. much faster than any of my expectation ... a first km in 3'20"saw me back in 10th place with already 10/15 seconds gap with the first !!
for my current fitness, I really did a good race: I run very steady pace, sticking until 500m from the end to the back of another runner. After the 2nd Km, we set on a 3'30" pace and picked up runners little by little until crawling back to 4th and 5th place.
I hate running in the afternoon because I always have digestive problems and today was no exception. luckily 3-4 burps along the way did hel me out of the unconfortable feeling.
I was ok with breathing and the general feeling, but the legs were not used anymore to run fast, so I felt a bit like "powerful engine, but can not transfer power to the ground".

At the end I closed in 35'02" (5th place), that is astonishingly much better than the 36'40" of 2007 in the same race.
This time is also a further demonstration that is not really related how fast you go in training and the race results... in the past months I never trained faster than MP pace, never did any speedwork, but just did solid mileage base. If you have a good base, good racing comes by itself.
Overall I feel much ahead of my planned fitness because such a good time (for me...) at 26C/95% so early in the season means I am really in the right direction

Saturday, July 12, 2008

A race, eventually...

I forgot to mentin that tomorrow Sunday 13th is race day.
After 4 months, I can wear a race bib again.
It is a 10k, last year I closed it in 36'40" (with 33C/85%rh) after a month of steady but light training.
This year I should be in better shape, but I lack completely of any indication of my current capability in terms of speed and maximal aerobic power.
Looking forward to the start gun...

Friday, July 11, 2008

"Swimming" workout

If you put the alarm clock at 4.30am for a long run, got up and found out that is raining hard, what would you do ?
A. go back to sleep
B. go out running anyway

Since I would never be able to fall asleep again, I opted for "B".
The worst part is that I was also able to cohort my neighbor E. to come along and some sms messages "forced" him to come anyway (even if he was more prone to "A" option)

Jesus.... it was really raining. The HK Observatory put up the "Amber rainstorm" alert and was really justified. We basically swam for 1h45', until we jointly decided that it was really enough for the day
25km, with 10x1' @10k speed to speed up the legs and gradually get used again to speed work.
I need to increase gradually my faster workouts because otherwise the legs get always stuck in going slowly...

for the record, a nice pic taken from the car while I was going to work later (the brown stream of water was actually the road)

Monday, July 7, 2008

Wk27 summary

Apart from the weather being nasty most of the time (many rainy days with humidity in the 90s%..), here some data from last week

- 7 workouts
- 105 km
- 2 Long runs: 30k "easy" on Wednesday and 25k with intervals on Sunday

Sunday, I run with a good friend and we took the chance to push the pace: after a good hour around 4'15"/k pace, we set for 3x3k intervals at 3'50"/3'45" pace.
The first one was pretty easy because the sun was still down, but the last 2 were hard, I felt the legs pretty beaten up from the increase in mileage, the 2 long runs and the extreme humidity.

For July I am still building up mileage so I can not expect my legs to be anywhere "sharp".
The plan is to reach a consistency in mileage and a good base for my long runs, so that in August I could start more demanding and intense workouts to improve the AT and speed.
The good think is that I am much ahead in my training progression compared to same time last year, so let's hope that in September the seeds will start to give sign of a good plantation.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

"Green" long run

As I mentioned last week, I found by chance a track in the countryside (incredible, here in Dongguan).
On Google Earth, I found out that it may have stretched for several kilometres, coasting several water reservoirs and green areas.

So this morning, alarm clock at 4.30 at I went out with the aim to go until the end of the track, a good 30km return.

I was not disappointed: it was by far my most interesting run in mainland China in the 9 years of my stay.
The forest road went on and on coasting small farms and some tropical tree forest.
After 8km, the track become paved, and lead me all the way to Longgang ,  a district of Shenzhen. 

At the end of the forest area, suddently again the view of factories as far the eye could go...

The return was quite pleasant, I felt very energized even if the heat was getting oppressive as soon as the sun popped out from the hills. In the final miles, I had to stop every 2-3km to get some rest on shaded areas...
I must say that I was glad to feel the air-con once at home

Technical data
- 30km @4'25"/k pace
- average HR : 155 (78%) I was much lower at the start, but in the last miles the dehydratation and heat made my HR be constantly in the 160s even if I was going easy
- water loss at the end: 2.5kg + 1.5kg of water intake during the run (4kg of sweat... 1 gallon)
- temperature: 26C rising to 30C at the end, Humidity around 85%


Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Secret weapon (part 2)

Just a small post to sing praises to the Technogym Runrace treadmill, that I just owned

- even if mine is a 8 year 2nd-hand stuff, it works smoothly and silently. It is really sturdy stuff.
- can also simulate downhills (up to -5%), so very good for a Boston Marathon training ... goes up to 25kmh (I did not try this, for fear of being swept away out of the window)
- You can program and record also personal workouts, etc
- Lastly, there are many functions for medical and fitness tests (VO2, Conconi, Arstrand) that I am dieing for to try out.

And a special word for the Technogym Customer Service. The treadmill came without instruction manual, so I did send a mail to their customer service center, hoping that they could maybe send me at least a scanned sheet of the section relative to servicing and maintenance.
Well, the feed-back was beyond my most optimistic imagination.
Not only they took care of a request related to a dead old product of which I am a 3rd-hand owner, but they sent me by courier the complete multi-language original instruction manual !!
really Kudos to Technogym !! The company really deserves the good reputation built around their brand.

Wk26 Summary

Undefeated by the rain, the week had good running achievements:
- 7 runs
- 96 Km
- 2 quality runs: a long run of 27k and a very good "Marathon Effort" run on Sunday. I was planning to run around 3'50"/k, but I felt very easy at such pace and soon we stabilized around 3'45". Very good to see that the HR was much lower than 2 weeks before, even at a slightly higher pace. Closed in 37'50" with HR lower than 170bpm until K6 (weather was 26C/95% Rh)

this training period is very mentally tough ... running in the heat, no races in sight for the next 2 months. I feel so tiring to go out and be covered in sweat only after few minutes...
I need to find a good balance between making a solid base and do not getting stale for lack of stimuli. So in the next weeks I will introduce some relatively "harder effort" to give some new stimulus to the body and get progressively reacquainted with fatigue.
The weather forecast is now for nice, hot, humid weather for the next days. The Accuweather widget on the left side shows a current "real feel temperature" of 39C/110F ...

Rain -- will it stop ?? (1346mm/53inches in June)...


June rainfall a new record in 125 Years
(30 June 2008)

Up to midday today (30 June), the total rainfall recorded at the Hong Kong Observatory in June 2008 has reached 1346.1 millimeters, breaking the previous monthly rainfall record of 1241.1 millimeters set in May 1889 (since records began in 1884).

The heavy rain in Hong Kong in June was associated with the active southwesterlies over the south China coastal areas and Typhoon Fengshen.

Other areas in the Pearl River Delta were also affected by the heavy rain in June. Up to 29 June, the total rainfall for June 2008 recorded at Guangzhou and Macao have already reached 872.7 millimetres
* and 1200.8 millimetres# respectively. These figures also were the highest monthly rainfall records at the two places.