Monday, July 13, 2015

Aiming For A BQ: Gold Coast Marathon 2015

5 July 2015, Sunday, Gold Coast, Brisbane, Australia. I crossed the marathon finishing-line in 3:17:43: Another Boston Qualifying (BQ) time and, hopefully, a shot at the 120th edition of the Boston Marathon.

I was, nowhere close to a 3-hour finish, and I was not expecting to do so. What with less than five weeks of run-specific preparation, I was aiming for a sub-3:25:00 finish (for my age-group). In my mind, a 3:20:00 finish would have been gratifying and cleansed me of the disappointment of my first-ever, DQ/DNF at Ironman Lanzarote in late-May.
Race Morning: I awoke a little later at 4.30am. The race was 7.20am. It was chilly, but with no sign of rain. I wrapped myself warmly up, and made my first cup of Bullet Coffee (coffee with coconut oil), a daily ritual for the past two years. I had a microwaved cheese-bun, a CrampFix salt capsule, and some water. I took some time to dress up, using a new silicon-based lubricant on possible chaffed areas. I used my Jabra-sponsored two-piece tri-suit (a norm at all my races), double-tied my laces, and adjusted the fit of my visor. I took the G-Link tram, which was free for runners and family, to the race-site.

Start-Pen: After queuing for a last pee-break, I positioned myself  in Pen A, which was for those who were aiming for 3:15:00 or less. Two pacers were there with blue balloons; they were friendly, but contained their excitement. If I were a pacer, I would be concerned about my end of the bargain – to lead runners to within their race goals. I swallowed a packet of Hammer Nutrition Gel with adequate water, and proceeded to warm up. I jogged slowly on the spot, to get my heart-rate up, and warm my muscles and raise my core-temperature. I stopped when a lady sang the Australian national anthem. I continued jogging until the countdown. No familiar runners were near me, so I was going alone.

When the gun went off, I jogged towards the start-line, activated my Garmin 910XT watch. I was mindful to keep my pace within my race-pace of 4:37min/km for the first kilometre. I set my watch to remind me of every kilometre (and pace) completed.

At the 2km-mark, I had to dodge deftly past runners to pee. I knew I was building up tension at the starting-pen and had to remove this distraction. Upon my exit, I told myself I had to recover time to get near the 3:15 Pacers. In the next few kilometres, my splits were hitting 4:30min/km and even 4:20min/km. From my experience, I knew I could not keep up with this pace unless I wanted to risk premature fatigue. After crossing the 10km mark (and overtaking a few Singaporean runners) in about 46 minutes, I held back my pace.
From then onwards, I used every subsequent 5km as my pacing intervals. When I crossed the 21km mark in 1:38, I knew I was on-target for 3:20:00. Whether I could hold this pace was a question-mark. So focused on my situation, that I did regular mental and physical checks: gait, relaxing my upper-body, hydration, fueling, foot-strikes, breathing, and more. Keeping sight of my pacers was crucial, if I were to secure a BQ. I never caught up with them, eventually, however I was just behind 400-500 metres behind them.
My strategy was simple: Hold a pace of 4:30-4:50min/km, throughout the race. Accelerate past runners when I can, especially on the slopes. My training on the Fort Road long bridge (in Singapore) gave me the confidence and competency to take on the last 10km worth of mild slopes that I was familiar with. When you can overtake runners, and consistently so, you are certainly in grand territory. However, with about 6,000 runners with a deep field of fast and strong runners, my ranking was about 463rd.

I was hoping to maintain 4:30min/km pace, however ended up with 4:40min/km. My last 2.2km was done at 4:30min/km. It was unpleasant, as I had to dig deep, and suffer the onslaught and assault of fatigue. I remember the words of Ironman triathlon champion, Belinda Granger: 'Prepare to suffer. Prepare to suffer even more!' What she meant was the race will test you, and you will need to push yourself as far as you intend to go. I assure you, it will hurt, or have a degree of pronounced discomfort.
I was elated, yet relieved to achieve my third BQ. Nutrition-wise, I drank a cup of water (only) at all aid-stations, four electrolyte capsules, and three packets of gels during the marathon. I did not walk at all, and I was pleased with that. I had achieved my goal of securing a BQ and getting my demons of disappointment off my back. I was only 54 seconds off my previous BQ/PB of 3:16:49. The difference between two marathons on the same course was narrow. Plus, my pee-break could have attributed to my perceived 'lost of speed'. In theory, I could have done a 3:15 and earned a new PB/PR. Nevertheless, I was stoked to achieve this performance with limited training period of six weeks. Most marathoners spend about 16-20 weeks to prepare adequately.
Training-wise, I was glad that the 3-4 sessions (only) per week worked well again. Seriously, the Return on Investment (ROI) was high for my training investment. My longest run was 28km split into two sessions. My short runs were 12km done at tempo, or time trial pace. My few running sessions with Andrew Cheong (a Boston Marathon 2012 finisher) were useful, even though I could not keep up with him at the end. My residual fitness from training for an Ironman gave me the aerobic base to do more intense run-specific workouts: no junk-miles, included cross-training and strength-building, and adequate sleep.
With this healthy performance, I look forward to Ironman 70.3 in Cebu, The Philippines in early-August; and Ironman Western Australia in early-December. Meanwhile, I will not run in any more marathons unless it falls within a 226km multi-sport endurance format.

I will report on my performance in Cebu soon. Let us assess how the ‘Run Less, Run Faster’ can be applied to long-distance triathlon. Onwards to finishing my first Ebook related to this field of endeavour. Stay tuned!

Friday, June 26, 2015

The Art of Precision Writing

Are you languishing in your language?
‘Precis writing’ is a tough skill to master. In effect, you summarise an article or essay into its key components. To do so requires critical thinking skills in analysis, convergent thinking, and synthesis. To encapsulate such thinking is to possess crystallised thinking, and applying your linguistic/language ability into a readable format.

How can you approach such skills?

Do Write Regularly
With the social media platform, write your thoughts on your postings on Facebook, Twitter, and blogs. Share your comments, instead of clicking on ‘Like’. Write with/on any media: prose, poetry, reviews, recommendations, comparisons, and feedback.

Create Useful Lists
Summarise with a list. Use PowerPoint bullets. However, write with at least three words. My favourite exercise is to create a Top-10 list. That is why bestsellers tend to use numbers between 5-9 principles. For example, 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, The Eighth Habit, The Power of 3, and the 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing.

Formulate Your Opinions
What did you like? What did you dislike? Opinions are theories and they reflect our thinking at one stage in our life. Film reviews are the best. Write about your experience at a hotel through their Feedback page. Twitter challenges us to compose our thoughts, all within the 140-character, framework. Edit, by replacing, eliminating, words and phrases. Avoid shorthand that enhances confusions and wrong assumptions. Generation X may not understand enough of Generation-Y/Millennials’ language of brevity.

Review What You Wrote
Looking back, on reflecting, you can appreciate the wisdom of your hindsight, or the naivety of youth. There can be much to glean from previous thinking, and assess how far we have progressed. Use your vocabulary to your advantage and exactness.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

10 Things To Do When You Have 24 Hours Available

Do you frequently un-clutter your notebook, or update your Twitter account?
What do you do when you have 'spare time on your hands'?

There are only 24 hours in a day. It is a myth that we can save time, make time, call for time out, invest in the time, et al. We can do these with our relationships - initiate, engage, build on, explore, strengthen - and time is merely an expendable item. Once the moment is gone, it is, and was. If you have a few hours to a few days on your hands, how could you use it valuably. Prioritise your use of time, tasks, and relationships. [Refer to Steven Covey's 'Time Management Model' from 'First Things First' for guidance.]

Instead of sitting on our hands, we can do much more (effort versus results) with our time. These are lessons I learnt over the last few weeks. Do consider engaging in a few of them. Your results may be startling!

1) Start writing an EBook (Start with the first page; I completed two in a fortnight and ready-to-publish).
2) Give yourself an active-passive treat (sports-massage, read your books, have coffee with dear friends).
3) Clean your room (library, bathroom, shelves).
4) Do a short workout session (stretch, yoga, strengthening, balance, aerobic fitness).
5) Stick to your time-line (compress it all in).
6) Re-arrange something (wardrobe, library, kitchen, sports equipment).
7) Clean out your PC (eliminate out-dated information, sort out files, create more storage space). 
8) Learn something useful (about how things are made, simple skills, useful skills).
9) Post an article, share a link with your community, recognise somebody on the Social Media platform.
10) Rest or sleep if you must (especially if you feel fatigued).

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Geek, Nerd or Fan?

Who is telling the truth? 
I am a fan of Star Wars and Star Trek. More the former, as I do have a few pieces of figurines, a light-saber, and tee-shirts with Star Wars prints.

A friend of mine is a 'trooper' and is part of '501st Garrison', based in Singapore. He enjoys dressing up (cosplay) and appearing as the iconic foot-soldier in charity events. I admire his spirit of generosity, as he gets to troop and give back to society. He also plays Stars Wars Miniature game. So, is he a larger fan than I am?

I read that, in the Geek Hierarchy:

GEEK: Understand, create and fixes really cool stuff.
NERD: Understands and collects really cool stuff.
DORK: Confused by really cool stuff.
I am a Nerd in Star Wars. I am a Geek in Magic. I am a Dork when it comes to smart-phones and high-tech gadgets. But we can chat about slider technology, nanotechnology, and socio-linguistics.

Leadership Lessons: Which are you? Knowing oneself, and making that distinction is an important part of progressing and growing as a leader. Discernment, and the ability to make distinctions in details is a core skill of leadership, as are diligence and decisiveness. Think about it, and decide.

A Legend, Or Legendary?

In the fine company of Singaporean 'legends', who completed the legendary Ironman in Kona, Hawaii in the 1990's and early-2000's. I managed to do it in 2013, after eight years of attempts. 

What is a legend? Usually, a famous person who is deceased. Think of legends like Elvis Presley, James Dean, Steve Jobs, and other celebrities.

However, legendary achievements may create the reputation of  being a 'living legend'. Thus, the things that you do become something of legendary proportions. These achievements could reflect a defiance of your age, physical capability, and social status. The classic 'from rags to riches' and 'phoenix rising from the ashes' stories are such hyperbolic description of philanthropists, entrepreneurs, and wealthy people. Yet, these labels stick indelibly as they do, effectively, describe a person and their exploits.

I am not comfortable with the moniker of 'legend', however, it may suggest a person who has achieved greatness, or completed challenges that defy doing or attempting. Or worst, that was the last great thing that person did before succumbing to sloth, despair, or death. 

To have climbed Mt. Everest, or all Seven Summits; finished all World Marathon Majors; completed a deca-Iron distance triathlon (10 Ironman triathlons in 10 days); completed a Triple-Deca (30 Ironmans in 30 days); run 50 X 50km marathons over-50 days; these are examples of mega-achievements that earn the achiever the unofficial title of 'legend'. In the esoteric world of ultra-endurance athletes, there are many legends who have become iconic through their grand, unbearable, and unthinkable achievements.

To do something new, or seemingly impossible, might be your first step towards achieving personal greatness. If 'legend' means attain personal mastery or personal greatness, go for it. We have one life to live well, and living it truly and thoroughly may be one approach. Be legendary, be 'epic', and rise above your true potential. Enhance your capability, capacity and credibility. Be incredible, ultimate and super-human. To live up this superlatives and hyperbole is to continue to demonstrate values of leadership and relevance.

As my late-friend, Dr Winston Koh said: 'Life is not about how many breaths we take, but how many moments that take our breath away.'

Leadership Lessons: What are doing to become legendary? Who do you know who is legendary, and you can learn from them?

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Boston Strong: Boston Marathon 2014

Boston Marathon was not on my bucket list (and I have one, which has been updated umpteenth times and is now in the nth version). I completed Berlin Marathon 2010, enjoyed it as I crossed the line in about 3:37. What I did not know was 7,700-plus runners were ahead of me. Talk about depth of field in European marathons!
So, after two BQs later I took the lottery (after an excited yet excruciating wait of several days), waited a couple of weeks, and I was stoked when I was admitted into the 118th edition of the race. Friends who had completed the 2012 edition assured me that my margin of difference would be highly certain.
What did I enjoy about the Boston Marathon?
1)    It was special, as I felt I was celebrating not only a personal journey, however a shared one. One million spectators, 20,000 marathoners, and an entire city - an extended family.
2)    The days leading up to the marathon was extensively covered on the local television network. It was scary, courageous, and inspirational. The resilience, recovery and optimism was ever-present and ubiquitous. Very touching!
3)    When I walked back to the hotel, okay, as I limped back to the hotel, the locals congratulated me on my achievement. I felt like a champion – something never experienced at home. I was deemed an idiot back home for doing the 42.195km (it is a cultural matter).
4)    Most memorable moment: Running the Boston course.
5)    Next most memorable moment: Kissed by the Wellesley Girls. Admittedly, I was hesitant to approach them however I yielded to massive peer pressure from other runners (who were obviously having too golden a time).
6)    Running alongside fast runners in my Pen (‘That will do, Pig. That will do…’). Some were so comfortably attired in t-shirt and shorts, yet flew past the first downhill 10km. It is not the look or appearance, but the fact that these were amazing age-grouper who qualified by the strength of their performance. Respect!
7)    The warm-up/warming tents with hot cocoa and coffee. They also dispensed energy-gels.
8)    Meeting Boston-veteran, entrepreneur, and Primo-Coolness Celene Loo (a Harvard graduate) who was reading a magazine while waiting for her turn in the pen: ‘Enjoy the race. Time to celebrate!’ She was business-like correct. I had earned my way there, so respect the runners and the race, and complete it comfortably.
9)    Most golden and inspiring moment: When a few ladies said to me: ‘Thank you for saving our city!’ I had to hold back my emotions.
10) The organisation of the event (in its entirety) was efficient, effective and exciting. I heard The Hoyts speak and run for the last time. The race exhibitors were generous with sampling and friendly. I felt that we were truly among friends.
What would I have done differently?

a)    I would have pre-booked accommodation in advance. I sat on my hands which developed sole-like callouses.
b)    Accommodation is very costly nearer the Finishing Line. This extends to a 5km radius. My room cost me US$250 per night. (But it was worth every dollar).
c)    I would focus on running the route faster on my second, and subsequent attempts. It is a world-class course and it is not easy or the faint-of-heart. A must-do in the Marathon World Series - done in any order.
d)    I would stock up more of Trader Joe’s foods, and bring more home (short of it akin to smuggling and becoming a sub-distributor).
e)    Too cold! I was freezing and shivering. After using the porta-loos, I had to re-queue to use it again. I will be higher in body-fat count next year.
f)      I will certainly do more (uphill) hill-runs, strength-work, core-stability enhancements, and run with faster runners.
g)    Not my best time, or even near my BQ, but 32 minutes off my best performance was not too shabby. You can assure me later (I hope).
Would I do it again? Absolutely. As surely as I would love to drink the special edition beers of Samuel Adams*. Not during the run, although it would be a splendid idea. (Note to self: Add to Bucket List). As definitely as I would bring a camera to take we-fies and selfies with the Girls from Wellesley. And, as badly as my grammar and sentence construction (destruction) have been in this paragraph.

Next stop: Gold Coast Airport Marathon 2015, in July. I will ensure every footfall matters and translates into better performance. I just booked my flights  30 minutes ago with frequent-flyer points and dollars-in-taxes. Nevertheless, we will prevail. Okay, that was my Morgan-Freeman moment and minor misuse of artistic licence.

Thus, I wish the very best to you at the 119th edition of the Boston Marathon. Best of running, and enjoy your experience on Patriots Day! One million spectators lining the street from start to end, is a major motivation for any runner present.

*Time for more visualization, and a bottle of chilled Samuel Adams Boston Lager.