The Free Dorje Campaign: A Timeline

15 05 2013

Free Dorje Gurung

Dorje Gurung , a chemistry teacher from Nepal who had been teaching at an international school in Qatar, was jailed on 1 May, 2013 on charges of insulting Islam.

When news of this broke on Thursday, 9 May, Dorje’s friends and contacts quickly came to his support.

What ensued was four days of frantic, energised, round-the-clock campaigning.

Then, on Monday, 13 May, Dorje was released from jail.

How was international pressure built up so quickly and effectively? How did the campaign evolve? What was done, at what time and to what effect?

Piecing together bits and pieces all over the social media trail — Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Change.Org and news reports —  this timeline attempts to tell the story of the international Free Dorje campaign.

Read the timeline HERE

You can also click on each of the photo below, then enlarge and scroll along.

The International Free Dorje Campaign

Note: There was a lot of equally important ‘behind the scenes’ action that is not documented here. Many people worked tirelessly, tapping into Dorje’s different networks, working around the clock to follow news from Doha and Nepal, contacting international organisations and media outlets, pulling together updates and ideas from people on different platforms, sifting through ideas, pursuing credible sources and venues of appeal, and constantly communicating with each other to avoid the duplication of efforts. 

 





Free Dorje Gurung

12 05 2013

URGENT: FREE DORJE GURUNG

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Dorje Gurung, a chemistry teacher who has taught all over the world (Hong Kong, Norway, the USA, Azerbaijan, Malawi and Qatar) has been jailed in Qatar on charges of insulting Islam.

 

I believe that a grave injustice has been done. 

 

 

 

Because he is Nepali, some 12 year old students were making fun of him, stereotyping.

 

Among other things, the seventh graders poked fun at his appearance, calling him “Jackie Chan,” a famous Chinese actor, the Washington Post reported.

 

He asked a rhetorical question, and they reported it as a statement. Now he is in jail for insulting Islam.

 

This is a petition to free Dorje Gurung. Please sign it. Then share and get the word out.

 

SIGN THIS PETITION

 https://www.change.org/petitions/government-of-qatar-release-dorje-gurung

 

‘LIKE’ THIS FACEBOOK PAGE

http://www.facebook.com/FreeDorjeGurung?fref=ts

 

TUMBLR : FOR MORE INFORMATION, LINKS,  ACTION PLAN AND MORE

http://freedorje.tumblr.com

 

Dorge is a United World Colleges alumni and embodies the UWC ideals: respect, compassion, mutual responsibility, integrity, the celebration of difference.

I stand for and believe in the UWC values. I will not stand for injustice.

Sign the petition: for Dorje’s freedom and for justice.

 

Free Dorje Gurung  

 





Troubleshooting My Biomechanics of Running 101

23 04 2013

HK International Diamond Mile: Race Report & Form Analysis

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These days, I’ve become increasingly fascinated by the biomechanics of running.

Tempo runs and hard intervals give me endurance and speed; squats, pushups and plyometrics give me strength and power. But underlying it all is the biomechanics of running movement. If cardiovascular endurance is the engine, and muscular strength the horsepower, then biomechanics is the car frame. And I want structural integrity: a sturdy, high quality car frame, Ferrari standard – not some beat up pick up truck.

Last Sunday’s race, the HK International Diamond Mile, was held smack-bang in the middle of Central. With its sharp hairpin bends and gradients to navigate, it did not make for a fast course. I ran the two laps, 1609m in total, in a not-so-respectable 5:39, placing first in the Women’s Junior category. The race was later televised in full. Here, for the first time, was my chance to scrutinize my running form. (Watch from 7:00 onwards)

Running form: what’s the big deal?

I believe running form can make or break a runner.

Take Alberto Salazar, for example. He’s a former marathon runner and now coaches, amongst other athletes, Mo Farah and Galen Rupp. At the age of 21, Salazar won the first marathon he entered, the New York City marathon in 1980. He would win it again in 1981, and again in 1982.

And then things started to fall apart. At the 1983 Rotterdam marathon, he pulled a muscle in his groin. Patellar tendinitis came next, followed by a torn hamstring. It was the beginning of the end. As Jennifer Kahn wrote for the New Yorker:

Looking back, Salazar blames his form for his decline. “The way I ran, it wasn’t sustainable,” he said. “The attitude at the time was: if you were gifted with perfect form, great. If you weren’t, you were just kind of stuck.” While a runner with an awkward stride might win a few races, Salazar argues now, he’s ultimately doomed to break down: “The knee injury, the hamstring injury—in hindsight, these were the things that killed me.”

Thoughts on technique and form

Arm Swing

This is a problem I’ve been trying to fix for a while now: excessive lateral arm-swinging – a total waste of energy because I want to propel myself forwards, not left and right. Take a look at these freeze frames.

Arm1

My left arm is coming right across my body. Ugh.

One way Salazar describes the arm swing is going “nipple to nipple“, meaning that your left fist should be in front of your left nipple, and your right first in front of your left nipple. The blue line above shows where my fist would line up with my nipple. As can be seen, I’ve over-swung to the centre, as marked with the red line.

Arm2

My arms are swinging laterally in front of me, creating this triangle that would not be there if I were swinging backwards and forwards.

Toe Off: Hip Separation

For me, this is not so much of a problem as an area for improvement. My back kick looks strong enough from the video, but my knee drive needs a bit more work.

Ideally, I’d have a knee drive as strong as this runner below.

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Right now, though, my knee isn’t coming quite high enough.

ToeOff2

Blue line: where I’d like my leg to be.

The freeze frame below, from the video Changing Stride, explains hip separation at the point of “toe off” nicely.

On the left you have Dathan Ritzenhein, an American long distance runner whose running form Alberto Salazar drastically overhauled. On the right is Kenenisa Bekele, an Ethiopian runner with the 5000m and 10,000m Olympic and world records under his belt.

Ritzenhein’s angle of hip separation, on the left, in blue, is smaller than that of Bekele’s on the right. You want a greater degree of hip separation because it increases the length of your stride so that you can cover more ground with each step.

ToeOff

Here’s an absolutely b-e-a-u-tiful example of hip separation.

Mo Farah leads Cam Levins (left) and Galen Rupp (centre) in training Photograph: Doug Pensinger/Getty Images

Wrap Up

There’s so much to be said about the biomechanics of running form. I have very little knowledge in this area – all the information above was gleaned from YouTube, articles and Googling around – but I’m enthralled. My hope is that approaching running in a comprehensive way – clocking miles, running hard intervals, stretching, building strength and power, and paying attention to the details – I’ll become the best runner I can be.





I Want To Be A Supple Leopard

7 04 2013

I Want To Be…A Supple Leopard. 
Credit: I Want To Be by Tony Ross, published by HarperCollins

What is a Supple Leopard, you ask?

To be a Supple Leopard is to have speed, power,  endurance and strength – but in such a way that athletic performance is optimised and human performance maximised without the pains of injuries and stiffness. It is to go faster, higher and farther, maintaining one’s body and harnessing one’s genetic potential, as Kelly Starrett explains about his book.

But before I say more about my dreams of being a furry, flexible feline, here’s a little report of my racing at Round 2 of the Xtep Hong Kong Athletics League.

Race Report

1500m

I had two events lined up today: the 1500m in the morning, then the 3000m steeplechase in the afternoon, five hours later.

What I was aiming for was to break that pesky little 5’00 barrier. That means running 3.75 times around the track at a pace of 1’20 per 400m lap. Not exceedingly fast, but as a distance runner who for a long while neglected speed work, it was a challenge.

Last July, I ran the 1500m in 5’09. In February, I got tantalisingly close but lost it in my head on the last lap, coming in at 5’02’60.

Today, I finally broke the five-minute barrier: 4’58″67. WOOHOO!

*Cue the Happy Mary Dance, to be made up on the spot* 

I still have a long way to go and I want to keep shaving off the seconds. How?

Build speed.

But how to build speed? My plan of action will be multi-pronged, much like my flexibility program. On top of more speed work on the track, I will try to look at the neuromuscular training, plyometrics, increasing strength, and the biomechanics of sprinters. More on all this in a later post. For now, two links that have piqued my interest of late:

What Distance Runners Can Learn From Sprinters, by Caitlin Chock from Running Times. 

Speed Development by Jay Johnson, also from Running Times. 

 

In between my two events…

 

I jogged to cool down. I headed home to stretch out.

A quick lunch followed: congee with a poached egg in tomato sauce, a bit of bread and a nice cold glass of red date tea.

Then I lay down, put my legs up and tried to take a cat nap, but my zzz’s were slow to come. Before I knew it, I was up putting some finishing touches on a birthday cake for my coach, and before long, it was time to head out to the track again…

From experience, I need at least 3-5 hours to digest a proper meal. It also needs to be low in fibre. There must be no dairy products – not even a single nibble. And so for lunch I stuck to easily digestible food: a poached egg in half a can of tomatoes, plain white rice congee and bread with a bit of apricot jam, washed down with red date tea. All to be eaten slowly too, in small portions. 

 

3000m steeplechase 

The steeplechase – would I be able to run a personal best and break my own Hong Kong junior record? I was feeling fresh and the 1500m hadn’t left me drained. Training had gone well, I’d been practicing my hurdling and was feeling confident. All I had to do now was run the seven and a half laps and negotiate the 35 barriers.

I didn’t quite make the record in the end. I clocked a 11’36″85, more than seven seconds off my record of 11’29″11.

While I didn’t break my record, I did set a different record of my own: hurdling all the barriers (bar the water jumps)! I’d never, ever hurdled the steeplechase barriers before, opting instead to step on them. It was very much a psychological thing: I always pictured myself ramming my trail leg on the wooden beam (ouchies), or scraping my shin all along the edge of the barrier (even more ouchies). Well, today I hurdled all the barriers and my legs felt fine. So now I know I’m capable of hurdling throughout the 3000m, and if I can fix up my run-up to the hurdles, eliminating the energy- and time-wasting stumbles and falters, I should have a few more seconds to shave off yet.

Here’s a video of me practicing my hurdling, three days before the race. In the coming weeks, I’ll be looking to deconstruct the steeplechase, analysing the techniques and biomechanics of the hurdling movement. More on that in a later post.

 

What I need to work on between now and the next race: 

Speed, strength, skill and suppleness. Keep up with the stamina.

Be a supple leopard. Meow. Roar!





Eggs-quisite! Egg Recipes

28 03 2013

5730-Chicken_Or_The_Egg

Which came first, the chicken or the egg?

Apparently, they’ve finally cracked it (ha!): it’s the egg.

But that’s beside the point.

For me, eggs beat chickens, most of the time – in the culinary sense, anyway. They’re easy to whip up. Cheap. Versatile. Nutritious. And did I mention delicious?

In one humble little egg, you will find: a lot of high quality protein, all 9 essential amino acids, choline to keep your brain happy, lutein and zeaxanthin for healthy eyes and selenium, which is to prevent cancer, though the jury is still out on that one.

Eggs really are a smart fuel, as Mark over at Mark’s Daily Apple explains.

Microwave poached egg on toast.

Microwave poached egg on toast.

 

Here are some of my favourite egg recipes. What are yours? Please do share!

Super Easy 1 Minute Poached Egg (Crack an egg into a bowl. Add 1/3 cup of water. Microwave on HIGH for 60-70 seconds. Done.)

Egg-in-a-Hole (Cut a hole out of your slice of bread. Lightly butter it. Slap it buttered-side down on the skillet. Place a little butter in the hole. Wait for it to sizzle. Crack in egg. Cook for about 60-90 seconds. Flip. Wait. Dig in!)

Chinese Style Steamed Eggs

Chinese Steamed Egg Pudding

Lunch on a recent day: pasta with fried eggs.

Lunch on a recent day: pasta with fried eggs.

Spaghetti with Fried Eggs (a.k.a. poor man’s spaghetti)

Egg and Tomato Stir-Fry

Egg and Bitter Gourd Stir-Fry

The super versatile poached egg makes its appearance everywhere! Here, eggplant and tomato sauce pasta, topped with the almighty microwave poached egg.

Egg and Char Siu Pork Stir-Fry (Slice up char siu. Cut up some scallions. Beat up some eggs. Heat up oil in skillet. Tip in scallions and cook for a while. Then tip in char siu. Now pour in your eggs. Swirl. Serve!)

Bacon and Egg Stuffed Eggplant

Super Easy Microwave Oats Muffin 

 

Bonus: How to Scramble Eggs Inside Their Shell 





The Quest for Flexibility

25 03 2013

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Here are two linear equations.

Flexibility + Range of Motion = Running Economy

Running Economy + Cardiovascular & Muscular Fitness = Faster Times

Some people can effortlessly slide into splits, then twist and contort their bodies into all kinds of bizarre looking positions. Others find it hard to even touch their toes. And yet we are all made of the same stuff: muscles, tendons, bones, ligaments, fluids.

My question is not why, but how: how can we maximise the full potential of our bodies to achieve greater flexibility and range of motion, with which comes higher running economy and consequently, faster times?

MY SCENARIO

I am a runner, clocking 80-100K per week.

My flexibility leaves much to be desired. I often wake up with very tight hips. My shoulders have a poor range of motion due to stiffness: they often swing side-to-side when I run, a complete waste of energy because I want to be propelling myself forward, not sideways.

I have been building yoga into my training program, practicing it at least twice a week, but have felt no significant improvements in my flexibility or mobility. The return on investment (return = greater running economy; investment = time) has been low.

There has to be a better way.

MY APPROACH

I don’t believe in the single Magic Bullet. Our bodies are complex organisms with an infinite number of variables. To get our bodies to respond, we need to talk to it in its language: the multi-pronged language of diversity.

My approach is therefore a diverse and varied one, and my flexibility program includes all of the following:

  • Old school stretching
  • Yoga
  • Active Isolated Stretching (AIS)
  • Foam roller
  • Ballistic stretching…Martial Arts included!
  • Massage
  • Cross training
  • Posture
  • and the almighty REST and RECOVERY

OLD SCHOOL STRETCHING

Old school static stretching

Old school static stretching

The oh-so-prevalent static stretches. We’ve probably all seen one of these diagrams at some point in our athletic lives. Easy, quick and simple to perform – but not the most efficient way to build flexibility, particularly if used in isolation.

YOGA

warrior1-2-3

Warriors One, Two and Three – great for leg strength.

Yoga definitely helps to develop flexibility – no doubt about it. It hasn’t, however, achieved for me enough improvement in flexibility to significantly boost my running efficiency. The problem, I think, is that a lot of yoga postures are static. This poses two problems. One, you can easily overexert and overstretch yourself. Two, some postures are too hard to perform and you end up getting stiffer by forcing hard to get into the posture.

half-moon-pose

Half Moon Pose. Good for balance, and you really need to work your ankle. After my ankle sprain, I found this pose to be a great rehabilitative exercise.

On the upside, yoga does give quite a well-rounded approach in itself. I personally love the Half-Moon Pose – it’s great for balance and leg strength, particularly around the ankle. The Warrior Poses really work the legs. The Frog Pose is great for stiff hips (primarily the adductors), and although it may look a little awkward, I actually sometimes sit in the pose with a good book and just let the stretch sink in…

Oh, and the Sun Salutation combines strength, cardio and flexibility all into one.

Sun Salutation Pose Sequence

But still, yoga alone has not been enough for me.

ACTIVE ISOLATED STRETCHING (AIS)

I love Active Isolated Stretching. In a nutshell: ever done a whole load of stretching, only to feel tighter the next day? I have. Want to know why? Because a lot of our muscles work in antagonistic pairs – while one contracts, the other relaxes. So you could be stretching one muscle, but at the same time, contracting – and hence, tightening – another. With AIS, each stretch lasts no longer than two seconds, and taps into reciprocal antagonistic muscle contraction to activate and isolate muscles, so that the opposing tension that inevitably comes with static stretching is altogether avoided.

Here’s a good introductory video to AIS.

And here are some links to various AIS exercises that you can try.

Shoulder elevation stretch

Rotator cuff stretch & strengthening

Hip adductor and groin stretch

Hip flexor stretch

Opening the hamstrings

Back relief

FOAM ROLLER

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Over at Runner’s World, the humble foam roller is deemed “(almost) Magical” – and I would agree. Think of the foam roller as a DIY sports massage, without the hefty price tag. They can stretch out muscles and tendons, but more importantly, help to get rid of pesky muscle knots that can accrue from extensive use. Foam rolling also increases blood flow and circulation, speeding up recovery. Read more about it here.

BALLISTIC STRETCHING

What does a ball do? Bounce.

So what is ballistic stretching? Well, you bounce a little to get a limb into an extended range of motion, over and above what it would ordinarily have been able to achieve statically. Think bouncing up and down to touch your toes.

I used to do a bit of kungfu, and that included a lot of ballistic stretching. Front kicks. Side kicks. Sweeps. My range of motion improved, but often I would feel stiff afterwards because I had overstretched.

Here I am, a couple of years back, practicing a few kicks. Notice all the ballistic movements involved.

There are dangers, of course, most prominently the risk of jerking too sharply and straining – or worse, tearing – something.

MASSAGE

After a hard workout or a race, my teammates like to massage each other. One of us would lie down, while the other, taking on the role as a masseur, carefully steps onto our hamstrings, glutes and back. The masseur may use their ankles to press down and add pressure, or shake their legs to give a vibrating motion, and really flushing out the stiff soreness out of our muscles. It feels really, really good.

Of course, this is a pretty delicate procedure. Experience and care is required. But with a bit of practice, buddying up and getting a massage from a teammate is not a bad idea at all.

CROSS TRAINING

Body_planes-1We runners run forwards. We are pretty uni-directional. We stay on one plane.

But, as you can see from the diagram on the left, we are anatomically designed to move in three planes: the sagittal, coronal and transverse.

What we want to do is make sure that no plane is neglected. If underused, muscles largely responsible for the neglected plane of movement will become weak and unconditioned, piling on a disproportional amount of stress on a limited number of muscles and increasing the likelihood of injury. Yikes.

This page lays out the case for multi-planar training quite nicely.

Doing a range of different sports that encourage multi-directional movement will probably go a long way to make our bodies more resilient, agile, injury-free and happy.

My cross-training sports of choice: badminton, golf, tennis, parkour, football and basketball.

POSTURE

Sitting-Kills-preview

Are you sitting in a chair right this moment? Get up! That chair is your enemy! Sitting is killing you!

That might be exaggerating it a bit, but the hard facts damning:

  • As soon as you sit, the activity of enzymes that break fat down plunge by 90%
  • As soon as you sit, electrical activity in your leg muscles completely shut off. As a runner, you don’t want your legs shut off, do you?
  • After 2 hours of sitting, good cholesterol drops 20%

And, if you think about it, did we homo sapiens really evolve to spend long hours sitting in a chair? Probably not.

Anatomically, sitting does not seem to me to be the most natural position for our bodies to take. And if we consistently force our body into such an unnatural posture for much of the day, can we really expect to be able to maximise our body’s physical potentials on the running track? Probably not.

REST AND RECOVERY

Train hard. Rest hard. That just about sums it up.

SO…

For me, I’ll be building all of the above into my weekly flexibility program. The human body gives infinitely many signals and, I think, responds to infinitely many stimuli. And to converse with your body, you’ve got to speak its lingo: diversity and variety.





A Birthday, A Death and Two Celebrations

17 03 2013

What is your most memorable birthday celebration ever?

If I had to describe mine, it may go along the lines of one of the following:
  •  Revolving doors. One entering, the other exiting.
  • Yin and yang. Black and white.
  • Two sides of a coin.
More concretely, a birthday spent attending a funeral – that of my paternal grandmother’s, who passed away peacefully last month after a long, tenacious fight against cancer.
The contrasts and juxtapositions are, of course, jarring.
For a boisterous birthday party, substitute a sombre gathering. For birthdaysong-singing, substitute traditional Buddhist chants and prayers. For birthday hats, substitute white traditional costumes. And for candle-blowing, substitute bowing with incense-sticks clasped between hands.
But there were also close parallels despite the apparent polarities.
I was none too pleased when I first found out about the arrangements. Spending my nineteenth birthday at the funeral parlor was not exactly my idea of a celebration. Early in the morning, I had gone off for a celebratory 10-kilometer running race, then quickly dashed off for a bit of hurdling practice before rushing to catch the train to the funeral parlor. I was tempted to snarl and growl my way through it all, but the more I thought about it, the more I realised how both my birthday and my grandmother’s funeral were both celebrations of life.
One, a celebration of a life to come. The other, a celebration of a life that was.
Two celebrations for one birthday? You bet. It’s like having two double-chocolate fudge birthday cakes to myself.
A line of poetry comes to mind. I first came across these wondrously phrased words when reading Virginia Woolf’s To the Lighthouse. 
And all the lives we ever lived
And all the lives to be,
are full of trees and changing leaves.
           – from Luriana Lurilee, by Charles Elton
Lives lived. Lives to be. Trees and changing leaves. Here, on my nineteenth birthday, was a reminder of transience and ephemerality. But more importantly, it was a celebration of not one, but two lives.