Day 21: Top three running routes in the city

I just finished a short jog near the Opera House and no matter how many times I take the same route, it never ceases to amaze me how lucky I am to have the harbour view so close to the office.

Last week, Fil-Oz celebrity Anne Curtis Smith was here in Sydney taking photos near the Opera House. A keen runner, she would have enjoyed the route I take if she had the time or knew about it. Anyway, for all you walkers, joggers and runners out there, here are my top three half-hour to one-hour runs that are just as exhilarating as a staycation.

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Three reasons yoga made me smile tonight

No tension here!

No tension here!

I just did yoga tonight, for the second time in my life. Working in financial services, I can’t help but draw comparisons. Here’s three:

1) There are no ‘bulls’ or ‘bears’ in yoga. Tonight I did the downward facing dog and the gentle (gentle?) cobra. Both poses relieve stress, strengthen your spine and don’t cost you any money (nor make you some).

2) In finance, you need to be in the right head space. In yoga, you need to be in the right heart space.

3) Finance creates tension. Yoga releases tension.


The days of 6am call times

The best part of going to my 6am training session three times a week at EnjoyHF is leaving the damn place at 6.50am – with a pulse.

Every training session is a humbling experience. It reminds me that life is precious and you can die any moment from something as random as a rogue kettlebell.

You don’t know what a hip thrust is? With a kettlebell? Well, neither did I before my training session this morning. As I swung the kettlebell with both hands, my life flashed before me and my dying words were, “This kettlebell is too heavy!”

But news of my death is grossly exaggerated and, yes, you do not actually die after ‘Tough Tuesday’ tabata. You just learn that, sometimes, just when you think you are “above average”, 100 skips on a jumping rope followed by 400m on a rowing machine then a 400m fast run – repeat three times – will lead you to a life of being among the bottom feeders – always finishing last.

I look around me and see everyone doing better than I could, working harder than I could, and finishing their sets faster than I could.

I am – this morning – dead last on all the exercises we had to do.

Still, I did get out of bed at 5.05am in the morning, put on my gym gear and braved the cold, bitter wind of winter to face my demons a.k.a. fat.

Three months from now, I hope to be fitter than I am today. Tomorrow, I will turn up to another training session.

It’s all about the three Ps: Presence, Practice and Proficiency.

It doesn’t matter that I finish last. At least for the next three months, I’m putting my fitness first.

Legs about to fall off

It’s week 2 or 3 of my training and I am definitely feeling it in my calves. I can barely walk.

I figure it means I’m working my legs hard enough.

I’m still doing runs at around 1 hour max and I’m hoping by week 6 I can get to two-hours, which would be a 12k jog/run for me.

The good thing is that I get to enjoy Sydney. Tonight I passed by St. Patrick’s Cathedral all lit up and the Sydney Opera House is definitely looking empty now that the Vivid Fest is over.

What I’ve noticed is that I’ve been eating like a MAN. I’ve been craving beef burgers and eating bowls of pasta like there’s no tomorrow.

Oh well, let’s see how far I follow through with this running regime.

Confusing running with strolling

When I run, I forget who I am. I simply become a series of vivid and vague memories.

One of the most common unsolicited comments I get from people when I tell them that I run is that they hate running. Hate it. The idea of being on your own. Solo. Moving one foot ahead of the other is just mind-numbingly repetitive and boring and isolating that they couldn’t figure out why in the world anyone would do it.

I nod my head and give my standard comment: “I agree. It’s not the most fun thing to do.”


It takes me back to the days when I was a kid. It’s my grown-up version of ‘play’. It is my moment of freedom from the daily grind. When it is just me and the footpath. The thump, thump, thump of my shoes on the ground as my favourite music keeps me going at a rhythmic pace.

To be honest, I don’t actually run, per se. More like an energetic stroll. I enjoy taking the scenic route where I cross the bridge, go down towards the Opera House then to the Botanical Gardens, cut across to Mitchell Library and then back again to the city.

Even if I don’t finish the marathon, one thing’s for sure: I’ll know every nook and cranny of my beloved city by the time the running festival rolls around in September.

There are setbacks. Like the time when I went for a run and suddenly craved roast chicken when I swung by a Spitroast shop. I stopped my runkeeper app and sat there for 20 minutes, eating roast chicken and cous cous, before resuming my run again.

I’m making slow but steady progress, partly helped by my new shiny gadgets: my jabra wireless headphones, my nike waist bag and my jawbone UP. I truly love what we can do with technology these days.

It’s week 2 or week 3 of my training. So far, so good. Let’s keep it going.

By Michelle Baltazar

The Bridge. Photo By Michelle Baltazar


How to wing a half marathon

Finishing the Blackmores Half Marathon today at 2:33:06 puts me at the bottom quartile of all the runners that finished the race today. If I were a fund manager and I performed that bad relative to everyone else, I’ll be out of business tomorrow. But this wasn’t about finance, and this wasn’t the Olympics neither. I am not an elite runner but among the thousands who love running and have decided to do the race against all odds.

Which made me draw the parallel between what happens on a race and what happens in the world of saving and planning for your retirement. Some of us are super-prepared for it and totally blitzes it all the way to the finish line, where a yacht and a villa in Tuscany awaits. But for the majority of us, the intentions are there but other things get in the way, like life, work, family, other commitments and Friday night benders.

Not that I was coming into a 21k-run cold. I try to run 7km on Sundays and on a good month, I go to the gym three times a week. But relatively speaking, I’m not in the league of those who wake up at 4am in the morning, stretches done and with an articulated plan on how to attack the race when the gun goes off at 6.20am.

In fact I broke some of the basic rules that I was supposed to follow before a long run. First, I didn’t store up on slow-burning carbs, I ate rice and Filipino dishes yesterday, plus three bowls of coconut-based dessert (called ‘ginataan’) and before I went to bed, I didn’t prep what I was going to wear and bring the next day. And I also forgot to buy bananas for brekky. Instead I woke up, slightly disoriented at 4.45am (the first alarm was set at 4am), spent a good five minutes finding the right pair of socks, then fast-walked it to Central station with coffee and a slice of white bread with peanut butter on one hand. It was a wee bit cold but I forgot to find a sweater I was willing to throw away on the day so ended up wearing one of my favourite green sweatshirts (it cost me $15 so I figured I’ll just have to buy another one – but it’s not the same!)

So what was the plan of attack? I kept it simple:

Rule Number One: Relax. Had I psyched myself to running the entire 21k-plus, I would have broken down at 2k. Instead, I knew that I can comfortably run/jog 5k so I split the run in four achievable target distances.

Rule Number Two: Try not to develop a stitch in the first third of the run. Once you’ve got a stitch, it’s all over. Every step would just be painful. I kept my pace tight and didn’t weave in and out of the slow and fast runners. I tried to run a straight line all the way to the first cut-off point.

Rule Number Three: Get a decent playlist, with your favourite songs playing during the final third leg of the race.

I got the first two rules covered but – and this is what happens when you don’t prep the night before – I was rushing this morning and, of the 20 headphones I had at home, I had to pick the dodgiest one. Result? No music on the third leg of the race because the headphones were cheapoes and my running broke one of the wires. This added at least a good 10 minutes to my time, fiddling around with it and trying to make it work!

Still, I finished. As for the photos, I just have to wait. If I get one decent shot (or two), I’d be very happy. I was, however, stoked, that on approach of the finish line, the announcer called my name. The wonders of technology.

I have now completed three half-marathons and after the first time (which was my best time), I always say to myself that I’ll train more and run harder. But it never happens. Like I said, life gets in the way. Just like in finance, we all want to save more, invest more time in learning about our investments, but we end up spending more time doing the things we also love, like watching reality TV shows and going out to the beach (hah!).

The important thing is you do NOT quit, you just keep running, even if it’s on a slower pace than you want. In the same way, you can’t just give up on doing what you need to do, to make sure you save enough money, even if it feels like an insurmountable task.

Having not trained, I could have just said no. I could have just skipped today’s run and said to myself: “I’ll go on the next one when I’ve got more time.”

Had I done that, I would have missed out on enjoying the beautiful day today: running under the early morning sun, on one of the most picturesque half-marathon routes on the planet. I would also have missed out on seeing my friend and his family, who flew all the way from Brisbane to Sydney just to participate in the run!

Reaching the finish line today taught me once again that you can achieve your goals if you put you’re mind to it.

Okay, there’s a catch. My legs are killing me and I’m pretty sure I’ll be walking funny tomorow, limping alongside others who, like me, have decided to take on the challenge.

But back to finance. Saving for later isn’t a sprint. You can’t just plan for your retirement when you’re fast approaching it or over short periods of time. It is a long, challenging and sometimes agonising pace towards your end-goal. As they say though: no pain, no gain. Not everyone can own a yacht or a villa in Tuscany, but you’ll never know unless you’re in the race, whether you can make that dream come true.

The one about my possible ear infection

Have you ever had to sit down in the waiting room of the Emergency Unit of the Royal Prince Alfred (RPA) Hospital on 50 Missenden Road Avenue in Camperdown? Let me save you the trip. If you suffer from a major ailment and need treatment immediately, then it’s the perfect place to be. If, on the other hand, you have a minor affliction, like an earache so ridiculously painful you’d give away your unborn child for the right treatment, then prepare to know the real meaning of “waiting” in the waiting room. At the RPA hospital, they take the meaning of “emergency” in the Emergency Unit seriously. Because I can still breathe and I am not bleeding, my pain is only an emergency to me.

I arrived at 7pm full of unbridled hope that my earache, which has bugged me for five days and has caused searing pain not even 32 tablets of Panadol could numb, will be relieved. I walked out seven hours later, at 2.15am, without the will to live. And still with an earache.

The only good thing that came out of this whole experience is that it inspired me to write this entry. Seven hours is a long time, especially the last four when my iPhone was dead and I didn’t have Facebook to amuse me. I was forced to observe what’s around me, and I kid you not, the RPA emergency waiting room is where stereotypes come alive!

There was the female teenager with messy hair, dyed pink but looking tatty. She was there with her mom and the two of them looked like the mom-and-daughter pairing of Kath & Kim. Then there was the doctor’s assistant wearing runner shoes, unshaven and looks like he just came from a massive bender the night before (and coming to work the next day, yaiks!). Then there’s the homeless man who’s decided that the waiting room is far more comfortable than the outside. Then there’s the annoying, rude and obnoxious man demanding that a doctor see his girlfriend asap. I was also surrounded by a lot of young teenagers with really bad skin – like they’ve been on ice or something.

Seven hours and all the doctor gave me was a Nurofen tablet and “sorry you have to wait that long to find out we don’t do ear siphoning here”. So it’s off to more painkillers tomorrow. Joy.

Centennial Parklands on a fine Sunday afternoon

With my iTunes playing dancehall, my iPhone on the ‘Interval Run’ app and my mind a world away, I set about running the Grand Drive Circuit (3.5km) – three times.

It was around 4.30pm-ish by the time I got to the park. It was still full of people doing all sorts of activities – horse riding, bar-b-que, footy, birdwatching, talking, walking … all the stuff Sundays are made of.

I, on the other hand, had another thing on my mind. The colossal breakfast I had at my mom’s only a few hours ago. It’s a classic Filipino breakfast. Corned beef and onions, eggplant omelette and a bucket of just-cooked steamed, white rice. I also had three cups of French vanilla coffee with dairy creamer. I’m pretty sure the calorie intake from that one sitting alone was twice what I should consume over two days.

That ‘meal’ was enough for me to set a new goal today. Instead of my usual two laps (7km run), I thought I’d do three laps and go harder.

Well, I reached my goal of completing 10k-plus but I didn’t run as hard as I wanted to, nor as long as I should have (I alternated 10min run/5min walk over and over and three 1-minute sprints over 80 minutes). I do have a good excuse: it was too good a day to run without pausing long enough to observe what was around me. Sore, but happy!

Start of first lap. The sign 'No Lunging' caught my eye.

Start of first lap. The sign 'No Lunging' caught my eye. Are they referring to the horses or humans?

Running inside the fence. Late afternoon running is great. It's not too hot but not too cold, either.

Running inside the fence. Late afternoon running is great. It's not too hot but not too cold, either.

Family and friends having a picnic. Best things in life still free!

Family and friends having a picnic. Best things in life still free!

A refreshing contrast to the urban jungle only half an hour away.

A refreshing contrast to the urban jungle only half an hour away.

Second lap: people starting to leave. Pond looks serene.

Second lap: people starting to leave. Pond looks serene.

Capturing the magic of sunset with a low-res iPhone camera

Capturing the magic of sunset, even if it's with a low-res iPhone camera.

Was this the third lap? I can't remember. Bliss.

Was this the third lap? I can't remember. Bliss.