Jan 7, 2008

The Unfortunate Major

A letter to the Straits Times Forum:

ST Jan 7, 2008
Modify 2.4km IPPT run to ease strain on heart

I REFER to the report, 'SAF officer dies after 1.2km run' (ST, Jan 3).

There has been a spate of deaths recently with the victims collapsing while running. Most national servicemen have to complete a 2.4km run in order to fulfil their annual Individual Physical Proficiency Test (IPPT), so I think it is high time the Ministry of Defence looked into revamping this segment of IPPT.

On average, in order to obtain a Gold standard in the IPPT, a national serviceman has to obtain a minimum of four points (out of a maximum of five points) for each of the four stationary fitness stations and then run 2.4km in about 10 minutes, plus or minus half a minute.

Anyone who has ever achieved a sub-10 for a 2.4km run can attest to the power of endurance needed, and the pain and fatigue undergone. Of course, the excitement and sense of achievement are what push one through.

However, it is unrealistic to expect the majority of national servicemen to reach that level of fitness. Many have unintentionally injured themselves trying to break the 10-minute barrier by overtaxing their bodies.

Hence, it is not advisable to set such a short time limit for a 2.4km run.

Fitness experts recommend that we engage in a cardiovascular exercise continuously for at least 20 minutes in order to maximise its benefits. Running a sub-10 does not seem to serve that purpose.

My suggestion is to extend the distance of the run to 4km or 5km, with a time limit of 30 to 40 minutes, thereby focusing more on the endurance and general fitness than speed. This should put less strain on the heart and body, while giving the runners some time to warm up and ready their bodies for the run in a less gruelling manner.

We cannot delude ourselves that these 'running deaths', which have led to the demise of healthy men in their 20s to 50s, are coincidences. Neither can we attribute the concerns expressed over these occurrences to 'sensationalised news' by the press.

Instead of a sudden burst of energy to complete a run in a short time, a longer run may be all it takes to prevent a cardiac arrest.

Rick Lim Say Kiong

Rick Lim was referring to the recent death of Major Tan Yit Guan. It was probably the TODAY newspaper which reported this incident most thoroughly.

TODAY tells us that Major Tan did not even manage to jog the full distance of 1.2 km. He ran only about 600 metres and then walked the rest of the distance back to the finish. This suggests that Major Tan was already unwell that day.

Rick Lim says that it is unrealistic to expect the majority of servicemen to achieve the Gold standard time. However, I don't think that the majority of servicemen are expected, or expect themselves, to achieve the Gold standard time (barring servicemen in certain elite vocations like the Commandos or the Guards).

Rick also says that the standard recommendation for cardiovascular exercise is to do it continuously for at least 20 minutes in order to maximise its benefits. Of course it is always possible to relook the way the IPPT is done. However, at the same time, I would say that the IPPT in the SAF isn't done for the sake of your cardiovascular fitness or personal health goals. It's done for the purpose of ensuring a certain level of fitness in the soldiers, for military purposes.

Also, it's not clear to me that extending the IPPT distance and increasing the time limit would help reduce incidences of sudden cardiac arrest. The real point is how hard you are pushed to exert. Is it really any safer for your heart, to complete 4 or 5 km as fast as you can, than to complete 2.4 km as fast as you can? For that matter, are people less likely to die from a 100-metre sprint, than they are from a 42-km marathon?

18 comments:

Blogter said...

I wished the IPPT standards could be relaxed a little for the 2.4km run, because life it's getting a little too tough to keep up with earning a living and being of soldierly fitness both at the same time. Fitness could be easier for the rich to achieve, but not so for the not so well-off.

As an aside, could you also comment on Temaseks's plans to sell Tuas Power? What's the motivation for that move, could it result in reduction of service standards, eg. more blackouts in future?

lost said...

from conversations with some of my (regular servicemen) campmates during my ns days, i'd got the feeling that specialists (sergeants) who wish to get promoted do try to get gold for ippt, because after SSG they don't get automatic promotions anymore and every little bit on their record helps. which is also why they are very eager to go for courses which earn them extra badges.

i'm not sure if this is true for the officer corps as well, but my point is more that even if the majority of servicemen are not expected to get a gold, regular servicemen who want to be promoted often want to get one.

Anonymous said...

Agree. IPPT is designed for military purpose first and foremost. Like many policies etc in little red dot, individual or personal interest don't rank first and if they do it is mere coincidence and your good luck. "National" interest or survival come first. If you are unlucky (due to genes, etc) too bad and you pay the price and sometimes the ultimate one like this case.

Anonymous said...

unlike those "elites" or "uncaring faces", "peasants" like us are "expendable" and readily "replenished" by imported FT when we are "expired". our gahmen are even more worried if we dun die before 85.

nerdie said...

Maj Tan YG already has hypertension and was a smoker. As it is he already had risk factors for coronary artery disease. Could have had more, like obesity and diabetes which the article did not elaborate on.

Also, the run was 1.2km, and self paced as well but he could not finish it, which could indicate that
1) he was unwell, for which he as an officer should have "sounded out" (an overused SAFism) or..
2) he was already unfit in the first place.

For all intents and purposes, he could have died while having sex (no disrespect to him)

As for the problem of sudden cardiac deaths, they are largely unpreventable unless detected prior by more advance cardiac imaging devices and ECG.

As for changing the 2.4km to a longer 5km 30-40min run, there really is not purpose as the 2.4km was set to test for fitness, and besides, a 30-40min run will take too long to conduct. I don't think a person who fails (as in really fail, not failing to attain a silver or gold) a 2.4km run will pass a 5km run, unless a really sub-standard passing time is set.

BIllybong said...

Actually, IPPT is designed to measure specific sections of your body fitness. The various tiers are meant to catagorize you...conversely, if you can achieve gold, you should be able to do so effortlessly, because you've either been training like hell for it or you're naturally fit.

People tend to mistake endurance for speed...which is why most end up breathless at the end of their 2.4km run, when you should actually be pacing yourself.

thor666 said...

>> However, I don't think that the majority of servicemen are expected, or expect themselves, to achieve the Gold standard time.

Not true. Some servicemen out of elite groups are expected to get Gold standards. I will not elaborate further, but I guess you can try guessing.

The case of Major Tan obviously does not justify Rick's arguments though.

Rick said...

"Also, it's not clear to me that extending the IPPT distance and increasing the time limit would help reduce incidences of sudden cardiac arrest. The real point is how hard you are pushed to exert. Is it really any safer for your heart, to complete 4 or 5 km as fast as you can, than to complete 2.4 km as fast as you can? For that matter, are people less likely to die from a 100-metre sprint, than they are from a 42-km marathon?"
To complete a 2.4km run in 10 mins, you need a running speed of 4m/s. The speed for completing it in 12 to 13 min is about 3m/s. But you need only a speed of 2.7m/s if you run 5km in 30 mins. It does not tax your heart as much as a 2.4km run due to the lower speed BUT still strenuous enough to get a workout due to the longer distance.
The objective is to exercise the heart and body without putting undue stress. Competitive marathoners who are poorly trained put themselves at risk if they push themselves at the end point. Just like those who push themselves to achieve a sub-10 for the 2.4km run.
For those who find the 2.4km run tough, spending 30 to 40 mins to complete a 5km run is a much better alternative than spending hours serving RT.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Oh, by any chance, are you the same Rick who wrote the Forum letter?

"To complete a 2.4km run in 10 mins, you need a running speed of 4m/s. The speed for completing it in 12 to 13 min is about 3m/s. But you need only a speed of 2.7m/s if you run 5km in 30 mins. It does not tax your heart as much as a 2.4km run due to the lower speed BUT still strenuous enough to get a workout due to the longer distance."

Quite hard to say, lah.

2.7 m/s, of course, does not tax the heart as much as 3 m/s, on a per second basis.

However, 5 km taxes the heart longer than 2.4 km.

So it isn't obvious to me that taxing the heart less per second but for a longer time, will reduce the risk of sudden cardiac arrest more than taxing the heart more per second but for a shorter time.

"The objective is to exercise the heart and body without putting undue stress."

Yeah, if you were exercising as a civilian. Then whether you run 2.4 km or 5 km, you can run as fast or as slow as you like.

But in the SAF, because of military culture etc, every individual soldier will be pushed to finish his run (whatever the distance) in the best time he can.

You can think of it aa a competitive race, where athletes all push themselves to the max in order to try to win the gold medal. They will all push themselves very hard, whether it's a 400m race or a 5,000m race. No one would say that the 5,000 m Olympic runners exert themselves less than the 400m runners.

onlooker said...

But really how many more death Do we need to see before they realize that health aka fitness does not really need a scale.I'm very sure many people failed in chin up or standing broad jump.
Well if I'm a bureaucrat (working on desk ) who make millions and have time to play golf instead of thinking of better policy maybe I will be IPPT gold instead of silver too :)

Anonymous said...

Don't laugh. I have this pet theory about the spate of sudden deaths of so many apparently fit and healthy men. By now, the drinking water from our reservoirs contains at least 5% of Newater. Regardless of the claimed efficacies of the filteration system, some unknown microbes of undetermined nano-dimensions is being consumed by you and me, unless you are one of those fortunates who can afford to drink only Perrier or Evian. In the old days, the shit water was discharged to the vast seas, which was diluted more substantively, and then vaporised into clouds before falling down to earth, and into our water catchment areas. Think about it.

Anonymous said...

2.7 m/s, of course, does not tax the heart as much as 3 m/s, on a per second basis.

However, 5 km taxes the heart longer than 2.4 km.

So it isn't obvious to me that taxing the heart less per second but for a longer time, will reduce the risk of sudden cardiac arrest more than taxing the heart more per second but for a shorter time.


Give my two cents worth. I think it depends on how fit the person is in the first place. If a person is less fit, a longer distance at a lower pace will be more beneficial since he gets the workout and the heart is not working htat hard. Granted that the heart will have to work not as hard but longer but because the rate is under control, there is less chance of cardiac arrest.

Yes, for the 5 km run, the energy consumption might be more but the point is the heart does not have to sustain as high a heart rate as a run. The difference in the heart rates might mean the difference between cardiac arrest and just exhaustion.

Obviously there is no difference if the person doing the running is fit in the first place but it might make all the difference in someone who is very unfit. Ppl are less likely to push themselves throughout the entire 5 km (more likely to start slow, pick up and so on) as compared to a 2.4 km (where they start fast, run fast and end fast).

The point is not so much in energy consumption but in the heart rate.

Philip

shimure said...

As a reservist, i need to take IPPT every year.
We need to keep fit and be in a state of good health.
If we jog at least once a week or work out, passing the 2.4km run should not be an issue.

The problem here was that the person was a regular. He was a major and he wanted to be promoted. As such he had his KPIs to meet. we do not know exactly what he did the nite before prior to the test which would be a major factor in the determination of his condition on the actual day.

The Crux of the question should be we should be aware of our condition prior to the test and be responsible for our own bodies.

Mr Wang Says So said...

Yamizi relates an account of how one of his obese army mates collapsed and died, during his IPPT 2.4 km run.

Anonymous said...

My wife used to scream at me "Getout & run!!! you're turning into a good for nothing house bum!!!!"

After she read these "News" ...

Well, why do you thing I'm still sitting here writing this comment?

peace at last....

G said...

Running a timed 400 meters on time has far more risk of having a hearth attack than any of the long distances. (I was a national sprinter in my sub-20 years, nowadays a marathoner.)

Even if you have not tried both, pretty simple to see:

during a marathon, your hearth hardly beats faster than let's say 160. It is so, because if you would go faster than that, you would start accumulating lactic acid, plus would run out of energy by the end of the race, and so on.
So a marathon is a race of endurance, how well you system can be balanced and manage the long-term energy needs, convert fat for energy, etc.

On a 400m, which you need to do the same fashion as a 100m sprint, your heart rate is instantly over 180, and then reaches your top by the end.
Energy does not really matter, except that already existing glucose in your blood.

So 400m is the race where you really top out your heart, a marathon is more pleasant, but taxing in an other way.

Rick said...

Yes, Mr Wang, I am the same Rick Lim who wrote the Forum letter.

Philip (Jan 9) and G (Jan 18) has succinctly explained the rationale behind having a longer, safer run as opposed to a shorter, swift run.

As an ardent runner, I know the difference between exercising your heart reasonably and squeezing it to its breakpoint. A run of any distance can kill the runner if the heart is stressed beyond control (eg, irregular heartbeat, cold sweat and numbness). A longer distance coupled with a longer time limit will hopefully still keep our soldiers fit and yet not compromise on the fitness standards. It is just a different kind of training with the same results intended.

I am very glad this matter has generated much discussion on the internet as it affects most NSMen.

Rick Lim

Anonymous said...

IPPT for reservists could be a challenge... I am talking from the perspective of a Cat-Z serviceman switching over to Cat-Z1 pretty soon... If one is from a combat unit..one probably is used to training very little but wacking the body to get the result one desires... as a reservist probably has less time to train and may still wish to rely on the Cat-X style to train which is entirely unsuitable for Cat Y, Cat Y1, Cat Z and Cat Z1. Throughout my reserve cycle ...I have ranged from just 1-pt to 5-pt almost reaching Gold standard (age 39+ time)....I could safely say the MAJOR did not train for his IPPT and was aiming to just train as minimum and pass ..... strange enough ... I heard from SAF regulars that they have to obtain at least silver results to have job security... I am almost his age and I played very safe by running the 1/4 marathon before I started my speed training for silver/gold as a reservist.