Sunday, February 28, 2010

Travel-Blogs New Zealand

Just to assure you of my commitment towards maintaining and sustaining this blog, I will be posting shorter pieces. I will attempt to add photographs and videos, as a means of enhancing the content. I am excited by the potential of new media and its modalities, so if I go missing for a day, or two, I will come back with a vengeance.

Tomorrow, I will spend the entire day flying. Just booked an overnight accommodation as we arrive midnight. We will crash over, and then go back to the international airport to get a rented car. My bike-case will be a puzzle to into the boot of the car we choose.

Back to packing...

Last Ride Before The Big Show

This morning, I rode 75km with a few friends from the Triathlon Family Singapore. My purpose was to get my legs going, after an unexpected break from a road accident. I have not swam a stroke as I was advised by my sports-doctor, Ben Tan to not risk infection of my sinus (I have a fractured cheek bone) if I inhale water. This is one of several relative contraindications I am mindful of. I will, thus park myself from aggressive and enthusiastic swimmers who may pose a kick-in-my-face threat.

My old Orbea Vitesse was fitted with a Profile Design CX3 handlebar with aero-bars. My bike now looks ivory white, save for some dark tattoos that are part of its original identity. The last time I used this bike was in Ironman Korea in 2006. That race saw the swim cancelled at the last moment because of rain, strong winds and choppy waters.

I have noticed that my bike performs slower on the flat roads; it is utterly brilliant when taking the step slopes. This is due to my integration of a compact crank, which I never really used since I had it installed. I can live with this compromise of speed for ease of ascending slopes. I just need to spin like crazy. I trust my few years of high-cadence cycling will back me up when I need the speed.

Yesterday was Ironman Malaysia; it was a helpless and hopeless day to race due to the significant heat and humidity. Six days from now, Taupo will host Ironman New Zealand for more than two decades. I am excited to return, and enjoy a full race after fluke weather modified the Ironman triathlon into a biathlon. Once more, Ironman emcee Mike Rilley returns and I hope that he announces my name when I cross the line – hopefully, with daylight to spare.

I would cherish and lavish in his words: ‘Enrico Varella from Singapore – You’re an Ironman!’ Fingers crossed (Note to self: Stay away from packs of runners entering the finish chute).

Saturday, February 27, 2010

Ironman Malaysia (Langkawi) 2010


Our recent interviewee, Tobias Frenz finished in about 10:13:56 to edge the brilliant Simon Cross into fourth place. Tobias, who made it clear to us that this was a race to assess his fitness, must be pleased with his result. He was not gunning for a Kona slot, which qualifies podium-finishers a near certainty of competing in the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii in October. Tobias had a sub-3:50 marathon to cap his performance.

We congratulate Tobias, and the Triathlon Family members who are up there now finishing the hot and humid race! More news will follow...

Limits on Creativity

‘If you think you can, or cannot – you’re right.’ ~ HENRY FORD

Too often, we have been taught in creativity and innovation classes to not place limits on our thinking. Limits hold us back. They restrict our thinking. They lead us back into our mental models, mental blocks and mental boxes.

In reality, people may impose their limits and limitations on us. In fact, limits may challenge us to be more creative when solving problems. Thanks to (school teacher) Shade for pointing that out!

In 1994, I innovated (and perhaps, invented) a way of vanishing objects without a jacket. Traditionally, magicians have produced and vanished objects and livestock with classy wear. Wearing a coat/jacket in outdoors Singapore can be hot and stifling. I decided to dress casually, with folded sleeves and a tie – functional, yet smart casual. Sixteen years later, I have enhanced that basic idea and had it copyrighted, and recently a young American magician has claimed credit for ‘independent thinking’ and marketed his ideas on a DVD. I have several versions of my invention and multiple applications recorded in my manuscript in 2005. My fellow magician merely used it to mainly vanish small objects like coins.

In November last year, despite a busy travel schedule and participating in the Ironman 70.3 World Championships, I managed to write 50,000 words for a novel in 30 days. It was an insane act, but I did it and I am glad I pursued the task relentlessly. There is another creative writing challenge in April: write a screenplay or stage play in a month. Care to join us?

Here is my collective attempt at working around some of my limits. This is my new bicycle setup for next week’s event: Ironman New Zealand. I have fixed up a bike, with new aero-bars, a new geometry, and borrowed wheels (thanks, Reeves!). I trust it should help me do the deed of completing 180km reasonably well. Thank you, my triathlete friends for proposing to lend me your bikes to race! I am grateful for your generosity and friendship!

There is still time for me to tweak the bicycle; not much I can do for my residual fitness and techniques after my accident about three weeks ago. There are some limitations we just cannot force on our human body. Some things require patience and time to develop.

Friday, February 26, 2010

Inspired by Verbal Insights

‘Screw it. Just do it!’ ~ Richard Branson

Either you run the day or the day runs you.’ ~ Jim Rohn

‘To be aware of a single shortcoming in oneself is more useful than to be aware of a thousand in someone else.’ ~ Dali Lama

‘Get a good idea and stay with it. Dog it, and work at it until it's done right.’ ~ Walt Disney.

I adore quotations! In the past month, I have read tweets by friends that included quotations from famous people. I have re-tweeted them, that is, sent them out to my friends. These quotes come from people, past and present.

Quotations may be an insight or hindsight of observed behaviors. Insight is what we receive at a certain point in time in the present. Hindsight is what we can reflect on from experience, and includes wisdom. That why we say that the wisdom of hindsight tends to be clear.

I have found that some quotations can become one’s beliefs or strategies for success. I have picked up investment, sporting and innovation tips from these bursts of sharing – be it personal or commercial. Some are great reminders for what to do, be mindful of, and consider.

Inspiration can be found in such sayings and utterances. Sometimes, even off the cuff remarks may contain slivers of brilliance. These are the ‘a-ha’ moments you wished you owned or originated.

Sometimes, it is just a one-liner that slays our intellect and scratches our sense of humour. So, lead with a quote. Make sure that you buy into it first.

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Fitted To Lead?

If the shoe fits, wear it. But make sure that you have a pair; otherwise, you will walk funny.

I paid a visit to the new Elite Bicycles bike-fitting office in Singapore. Over the last two days, this niche bicycle fitting shop has been featured in several online websites including SlowTwitch and XTri.Com.

As I chatted with one of the three equal owners and directors, F.I.S.T.-certified Daphne Wee and her lead bike mechanic I learnt why it takes four hours to thoroughly fit a bike to its rider. A poorly fitted bike can undermine the serious rider’s capability, and even put him/her at a serious risk of injury.

In effect, do you want to adjust your bike to your natural body structure or adopt a whole new posture while riding a built to generic standards? In an old Guinness Stout television commercial, the protagonist states: ‘Man must change his environment to suit himself!’

As a staff in an organization, you will need to consider this: how do I fit in, or how do I adapt to the new environment? The same goes for job fit. If the job description and scope is not what you really want, then your performance may suffer, eventually. Why do we subject ourselves to the torture of doing something we dislike? Why not take the time to find out what we are passionate about doing, and excelling in it?

Some new employees quit if they do not fit into the company culture. If your personal style is outrageous, your conservative colleagues may ostracize you.

Fit in, get fitted or be fit.

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Can You Teach Awareness?

Awareness: 1) Having knowledge; conscious; cognizant; 2) Informed; alert; knowledgeable; sophisticated.

What is awareness?

It is the ability to sense your surroundings, being attuned to the signals from the environment. Unless you focus on your body, you may not be aware of too many things that may affect you. Physiological needs like hunger, thirst, the heat, cold and pain can arouse our attention.

I have noticed that some people are not aware of their own presence. They are not cognizant of how they may be physically too near a person, or if they invade another person’s personal space. Just tonight, an elderly lady bumped into me as she walked and did not apologise or even notice my presence. Apparently, I was not part of the information her brain collected.

I have encountered Learning Objectives that include ‘Be aware of…’ or 'Develop awareness in...' How do you teach awareness? After all, it is an individual’s choice to be focused about themselves and on others. You will not be aware of something unless you know what you are looking for. Your knowledge of first aid is only useful when you are aware that a person is injured, or not responsive to stimuli. The guides of ABC (Airway, Breathing and Circulation) are only relevant when you conduct the diagnostics. Without such knowledge, we may not be aware if it may be an emergency situation.

Yoga practitioners focus on their breathing and how their body responses to postures. You can be aware of your physical discomfort, or you focus on your breathing. When you are focused on one area, you may miss other areas. Oftentimes, when we are confused or panic, we lose awareness of certain things. Thus, you may be unaware of other sources of information and stimuli that may be present. So, awareness is a form of presence of mind.

Teachers are important in your study of your awareness. Until your swim coach points out your unnatural swimming style, you may not be aware of the degree of corrections you have to make to your swim-strokes. Unless you can identify and calibrate a person’s tells, you may not really know if they are being honest. If your interviewing skills are not thorough and comprehensive, you may lack the awareness of whether your staff is ready for a promotion, or yearn for a switch of departments.

Thus, it is important to be aware of your immediate environment. More importantly, it is vital to relate to the people around you. They have their awareness about us, which may be our blind spots.

Are you aware of how your staff feels about your management style?

What is your awareness of the changes in your marketplace?

How aware are you about the unspoken language of dissent in your company?

Are you aware of what is available on the company’s grapevine?

Are you aware of the concerns that your team has about the implementation of the new initiative?

If you are not aware, then you are not. Start noticing. Leaders have strong presence of mind.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Using A Sense of Humour to Lead

Sometimes, we merely have to laugh it off!

When you may not get the results you want, perhaps a good laugh can shift your perspective. A joke is all about perspective – looking at things from another point of view.

I mean, what else can you do? Sulk? Be resentful? Be serious? Get constipated? It is better to feel good than bad. It is good to feel better, and a joke or riddle can put us in that place of heightened alertness, euphoria and appreciation. Thus, comedy can be therapeutic and treat depression. Raise people’s spirit, morale and interest – and we can influence them to do remarkable things for themselves, and others. As comedian Russell Peters would say, ‘Hey! Be a man! Do the right thing!’

If Happy Hour is about feeling happy once, or twice every hour – then we should have more of it. Would it be possible to laugh once every hour? Save up a collection of jokes, and read one when your energy wanes or spirit flags. Hear a colleague (with a great sense of humour) tell a joke. These are the ones who can tell a joke umpteen times, and it is still funny!

Here are some things to tickle your funny bone! From my Twitter Folks…With Thanks!

Beer doesn't make you fat. It makes you lean (on the bar, on the wall, on the...)

I thought I was indecisive; now I'm not so sure.

Why is the time of day with the slowest traffic called rush hour?

Without geometry, life is pointless.

A laughter a day keeps the apple away.

Monday, February 22, 2010

Led By Quick Fixes and Instant Gratification?

I have been widely exposed and bombarded by the strategies of online marketers (some do sell, of course). I have been impressed, inspired, confused, puzzled, insulted and stumped by the onslaught and assault of my senses and sensibility.

Here is one recent example of affiliate marketing:

“How to write and publish your own OUTRAGEOUSLY Profitable eBook in as little as 7 days – even if you can’t write, can’t type and failed high school English class!”

I like the blatant heading. I am not sure about how much the marketer can/will deliver.

What is the bottom line of this outrageous claim?

1) It is process-driven (‘how to’)

2) The headlines grabs your attention (in bold, large typeface, and CAPITALS)

3) Easy and convenience (people love to make things easy)

4) Do I suspect a subtext that says ‘Idiot-Proof’?

5) There is a promise or premise of ‘miracles’. Write in 7 Days. I’d rather 6 days, and rest the next. When I wrote 50,000 words in 30 days – I took pockets of breaks, some lasting a few days.

6) If you failed English, I would be wary of your communication. I can’t wait to send you e-mails and determine your comprehension.

7) Outrageously profitable? One sale? 10? 100? From zero profits to $10. That is outrageous for a clone letter that connects with the real masters of online communication. I would consider the guys on the upper rungs of the process.

8) Is this the death of face-to-face marketing and selling? The push and pull of commerce, business and trading. Is there no need to negotiate anymore?

9) In many countries, and educational systems, ‘if you can’t write, can’t type and failed high school English’ that would make you suitable uneducated, incompetent and a worry!

I wonder how readers would feel when they read the header. Do they feel assured? Will they feel comforted that there are people with language deficiencies? Will those who read the eBook be misled by the cleverly, formatted and chosen (I believe that is based on selection of words, if you cannot write well) language? Are readers stupid or gullible?

I always thought and believed that online content was king online? If eBooks are so easy to write, what about those sincere online authors whom genuinely offer useful material and guidance? I wonder how it would feel to be elbowed by these ‘week-old-authors’ who offer cloned, or pilfered material, or have their books written by ‘ghost writers’?

What about this heading instead?

“Learn to confidently write and publish your own eBook in about 30 days and help many others in the process.”

Let me know what you think.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Do Leaders Need To Be Remarkable?

I read Seth Godin’s Purple Cow, and he describes the concept of being remarkable in personal branding and marketing. But this concept extends further into the areas of innovation, creativity, reengineering, reinvention and redesign.

Being remarkable means doing a significant dose of the unusual, extraordinary, and that is worthy of attention. You can be notable, noteworthy, striking, and wonderful in your thoughts, words and deeds.

Fellow Twitter, Diggy wrote a useful and relevant piece on being remarkable.

Reeves Leong’s blog is dedicated to the idea of spreading ideas on branding and tribal experiences. Tribes are groups of people with a shared sense of purpose, values and identity. Sportspeople (which includes almost everyone who does anything physical) are tribes of people with a fascination for exercise, games and activity.

I have been thinking deeper and broader into the notion of staying relevant. How do I reinvent myself to stay relevant and sustain my motives and motivations? Am I remarkable in what I do? Do I inspire others into doing remarkable things? How do I stand up for others, and stand out from the rest?

A few days ago, we featured Tobias Frenz and Kua Harn Wei – two amazing ultra-endurance athletes. It may be unthinkable to venture into physical challenges and adventures that test the limits of human endurance. Yet, as we have found, these ‘limits’ are not absolute; they may be self-imposed and determined by convention or benchmarks. Being remarkable need not mean doing insane things, but doing seemingly insane work with preparation, clarity and a sense of purpose. You can position remarkable through humility, humbleness and hilarity. Those presenters on TED are unique and attractive because of their radical and tangential perspectives and positions on technology, entertainment and design.

Expect more commentaries and stories of remarkable people here, in the weeks to come. If you know somebody remarkable, please blow their horn here on this platform.

Saturday, February 20, 2010

When Slower Seems Faster

Nigel Chua posted this on my FaceBook Wall:

‘It is the illusion that we can go no faster that holds us back.’

KENNY MOORE, American athlete and journalist

In systems thinking, sometimes slow can mean faster, and vice versa. Fast or slow – these are interpretative terms for time. How we pace ourselves, move with our rhythm, and manage our overall sense of time determine how we value our time.

In recent days, I had to exercise a copious amount of patience. I had to learn to express this value differently – in my healing, recovery and my athletic performance. There are some things in life that you just cannot rush, as they have to abide by the laws of nature. You cannot force-feed your body with exercise, nutrition or rest.

Having read the interview with ultra-Ironman Tobias Frenz, I have learnt to appreciate more the notion of patience. Tobias rode for 280km in then double-Ironman triathlon before he overtook the ex-professional cyclist. That was his prize after many hours of painstaking stalking of his prey. If you are a hunter, bad news for the hunted!

I have waited for almost two weeks, to let my body heal and scars form. My physical scars may be indelible, yet it has not left a destructive permanence on my psyche. I am open to riding again, albeit carefully as my hands are stiff and rife with pain. No swimming until next weekend (doctor’s advice) for that means an earlier taper. There is little point to batter my body into hopeless submission. In this case, this pain signals my recovery and not my incapacitation. I will need to stretch my skin and joint back to normalcy, albeit gradually as I cannot force this process.

I hope that, despite my slow road to recovery and recuperation, I will still perform at a higher level of physical and mental excellence on race-day. By pacing myself slowly now, I should in effect pace myself faster on that day.

I look forward to that Day and its Outcome.

Afterthoughts: By the way, we received our highest number of readership hits for a day through Part 2 & 3 of the interview with Tobias Frenz. Thank you all for making time to recognize and appreciate a humble yet amazing athlete!

Friday, February 19, 2010

Tobias Frenz: Triathlon’s Teutonic Triple Threat (Part 3)

Tobias’s approach to racing, training and living is very – German!

Enrico: What did you do to prepare for Kona? Which sacrifices did you make?

Tobias: Like every Kona rookie I was very excited and wanted to do a PB in Kona. The training itself was not much different from what I’ve done before: A long and fast run (building up from 20km to 30km) on Saturday, and a long and fast ride (with intervals thrown in) on Sunday (150km to 180km). I very much believe in not doing slow long runs or ride, except when you are fatigued.

One or two swims on the weekend (2 to 3km) and during the week two runs (10-13km) and two rides (60km). The weekday evening rides were at time-trial pace, quite hard for about 40km. The morning runs were ‘fillers’, not run hard.

But training didn't go well as I strained my hamstring (it has always been my weak spot as I don’t stretch enough) and couldn't run the last 10 weeks leading up to the race. The first time I ran again was a 3km run in Kona, two days before the race. I was quite worried if it would hold for the whole 42km (it did).

Enrico: What was it like to do three Ironmans back-to-back over two days in UAE? Describe that experience.

Tobias: It was without doubt my proudest sports moment, something I’ll never forget.

I felt very strong in 2007 as I had a very good built up, winning the MR25 Ultramarathon 2006 by miles and setting a new personal best at the IM Langkawi 2007.

The decision to participate in an ultra-Ironman was a spur-of-the moment decision in early March, inspired by the ultra-accomplishments by our good friend Harn Wei. Whilst googling ‘ultra-ironman’ I happened to come across the Triple IM event in Ras al-Khaimah in May 2007. What appealed to me was the fact that the swim was not in a pool, which is normally the case for Ultra-events, but in the sea. Furthermore, the bike and run course was also a rather long 6km stretch, unlike the 2-3km loops you have at other events.

I did increase my trainings volume slightly, especially the weekend workouts: Saturday morning a 42km run, followed by a 3km afternoon swim at Tanjong Beach, Sentosa. On Sunday a 180-200km ride, again followed by a 3km swim. I also added a third weekday run and trained twice a day. Training twice a day made a big difference in my performance and so did the weekly marathon distance I ran. I did six of these leading up to the race and it gave me a lot of confidence going into the race.

On race day, I didn’t know what to expect. I was the rookie, whilst most of the other competitors were seasoned ultras. My only goal was to finish. Day 1 started with the single IM distance, followed by the double IM distance on the second day. Initially, I wanted to take it easy on day one to ensure that I will somehow manage the double.

When the gun went off, I quickly feel back on the swim, as I was one of the few participants that didn’t bring a wetsuit. Now why would I bring a wetsuit to the UAE with temperatures at 40°Celcius? Well, they were allowed due to the jellyfish.

Out of the water, I felt extremely strong on the bike. So I threw out my game plan and decided to push and come in first into T2. And so I did, with quite a gap. On the run, I decided to shift down a gear so as not to be too fatigued for the second day. I cruised at a steady pace and managed to maintain the lead until the finish line. I did a new PB of 9:38h.

Day 2 was a new game. We had new and fresh competitors (those that didn’t do their single IM) and so this turned out to be the biggest mental and physical struggle in my life. I was again handicapped at the swim and lost a fair bit of time. On the bike, I realised that my legs were weak and I couldn’t really push hard anymore. It took me quite a while to get into the rhythm. Whilst I was still overtaking one rider after the other, I couldn’t quite catch up with an Italian rider (who didn’t do the single IM the day before; I learnt only much later that he was a former-professional cyclist and still training with the national cyclists). Whenever I gained some ground, he kept fighting back and I simply couldn’t close the gap. It started bothering me as I felt that nobody could beat me on the bike. So, I made a commitment to myself to catch him at all cost, as I wanted to be first in T2 again. I rode the ride of my life, suffering like I never did before (sounds corny, but it was like that) and I finally caught up with him after about 280km.

I took another 10km out of him before we hit T2. Unlike most other competitors I didn’t rest or eat at T2 and continued straight with the final 84km run leg. The Italian was, meanwhile, overtaken on the run by a Frenchman, who was the race favourite and a fast runner. Still, by then I had a lead of about 15km and I was not willing to let this race slip away. The run was hell, I was exhausted, and my stomach was so bloated that I couldn’t take any solid food or drink. I managed to hold on and if one can speak of a life-changing experience, this was it! I won in 21:50h with a solid lead to the runner-up who clocked a 24:28h.

Enrico: Who are your biggest influences in your life? Why them?

Tobias: There are two persons in my life that will always be close to my heart. One is my brother in-law, because he brought me into cycling and running. He was always very supportive and we had a very close, almost father-and-son-like relationship. Where I’m, sports-wise, now is because of him. Then there is my brother Stefan, who is 2 years older and with which I have an inseparable bond. It is not so much of an influence in my life, but a soul mate I fully trust.

Enrico: What is your strategy for racing? Is it ‘all or nothing’, or ‘one step at a time’, or ‘be the best’?

Tobias: It depends on whether it is an, ‘A’ race or not. Qualifiers for Kona have always been my focus and I've achieved what I was aiming for with a ‘one step at a time’ approach and a bit of ‘all or nothing’. ‘Be the best’ is not reflective of my rather good-hearted nature. I never race against others; I only race against my own goals. Though I do have a competitive strike inside me that naturally forces me to drop others, especially on the bike, where I excelled in.

For ‘B’ races, especially in later years it was more of a ‘see how it goes or I want to enjoy it’ mindset, which is a reflection of the level (or lack of) motivation. The more goals/to-dos I managed to tick of my virtual to-do list, the commitment to going all out decreased sharply.

Enrico: What mental skills/anchors do you use once you really start hurting (in a race) and the grizzly bear climbs on your back telling you to just walk or quit?

Tobias: When cycling as a teenager I happened to be strong in the hills, and to live up to that, I told myself ‘to never ever get off the bike, regardless of how steep the hill is or how exhausted you are’. Sounds silly, but I’m a very hardheaded person and there was no way I would break that promise. Whenever it got tough, I could pull up that promise and it worked well for a long while.

But life has its up and downs and we all have to eat humble pie at some point in time, and so have I. But it never happened in my A races.

Enrico: How do you stay motivated to repeat similar challenges once you have ticked the box, i.e. Ironman Triathlon World Championships in Kona; Ultra-marathon; Ultra-Ironman?

Tobias: Admittedly, after I won the Triple Ironman, I found it hard to motivate myself to continue doing Ironman races, or the like. I was very contented with my achievements and I felt it was time to move on. But I'm a very driven person and need challenges. So, the new job in KL came along and it is a challenge I've taken on whole-heartedly. Within the first two years of our operations, we have become the market-leader and it took a lot of energy out of me, mentally.

Sports-wise, I had no big plans until I was asked by a colleague to participate in the 250km 4 Deserts Run, through the Sahara in October 2009, as part of a three-men team. It is, basically, a self-supporting run over six days with roughly 40km each on the first four days followed by 89km on Day 5 and a short 2km sprint to the finish on Day 6.

Honestly speaking, I wasn’t too excited about a long distance running event because it is, probably, a most boring sport to do. I can very much sympathize with Andre Agassi who stated in his biography that he truly hated playing tennis, but what do you do if you are good at it? Despite my recent running-allergy, I decided to join the team in order to get a break from work and to do some ‘sightseeing’ in Egypt. I had to run the team’s pace and that gave me comfort that I would not be under ‘soft pressure’ to run fast. However, my two teammates had to pull out for medical reasons and so I ended up in the solo category.

Training for the Sahara event was very different to what I have done before. All runners had to carry their own food, clothes, sleeping bag and other mandatory items in a bag-pack. That, basically, means that you aim to carry a minimum amount of food to keep yourself going. I carried about 14,000kcal amounting to a total bag-pack weight about 8kg. Leading up to the race I did about eight long training runs with distances over 40 to 60km with a bag-pack. It took a while to get in shape after such a long break from serious training, but it felt good. The pre-race favourites were Mehmet from Canada, who won the Atacama (Chile) 4 Deserts Run and Christian (Austria) who came in second there. Christian was sponsored by RedBull and had his own film crew following him throughout the race. There was quite a bit of tension as both so badly wanted to win this race! I simply could not relate to this and was rather put off by this kind of atmosphere. I was here on a vacation, do my run in the morning, and then enjoy the camaraderie in the camp.

The first stage was a showdown by Mehmet who went all-out and took 15 minutes out of the runner up, Christian. I just ran my own steady pace and, rather surprisingly, came in 3rd. Even more surprisingly on stage 2, I was in the lead until 2km before the finish, without trying hard. Mehmet was behind me in some distance and I could have easily brought it home. But, funny enough, I told myself that ‘I’m here to get a break from work and not to compete.’ This is supposed to be vacation! I came in second and found it very odd that things were going so smoothly. On stage 3, I was again in the lead without much effort and won the stage ahead of my dear tent-mate, Italian Paolo. After stage 3, an equipment check was done and it turned out that some competitors where not carrying all mandatory items (some forgot, some lost items during the run, or others might just have taken by chance), which carries a time penalty. So after day 3, I had a lead of about hour over my competitors. Day 4 was uneventful and I came in 3rd. Day 5, the long stage 89km stage went well until the halfway mark. I was running together with Paolo with a lead of 15 min over Christian, i.e. a 1:15h lead overall. The overall win was doomed to be mine. Well, not quite so.

All of a sudden, I got severe diarrhea and it forced me to stop running. I had to walk for the rest of the stage, dropping to 4th place, finally. The female leader from South Africa joined me during the run - walk that is - as she had ITB pains. It was an almost magical experience to be in the middle of the Sahara desert in the middle of the night, something I’ll never forget.

Enrico: What’s next on the list of ‘To Do’ or ‘To Conquer’ list?

Tobias: Swimming the English Channel is something I have high on my list and I would like to go for it in 2012. But there is no swimming club near my home in Kuala Lumpur, and training for it on my own in my 25m condo pool would simply be too boring. So, it is on the back burner for the time being. But the good thing about that goal is that I can still do it at an older age. I have a couple of 5 to 25km open water swims on my list that I’d like to do in 2010/11, to see if I’m really up to it.

I’m also quite excited now about diving - freediving - in particular. But I have yet to see how my ears and lings cope with the high water pressure.

Enrico: What is your philosophy towards life? The host of ‘The Amazing race’, Phil Keoghan wrote a book ‘NOW – No Opportunity Wasted’. What is your take on that?

Tobias: When the movie Carpe Diem [Dead Poets’ Society] came out, it was all about living life to the fullest and not wasting any opportunities. Well, we are all inspired by such is easier said than done. A lot of it has to do with your character - you dare or you don’t. Sports-wise, I have developed a level of confidence where I can't think of something I wouldn’t dare trying. But actually doing it is the tricky thing, as many sportsmen (that includes myself) tend to be ‘lazy’ or find it hard to make time (a cheap excuse; often, it is).

Enrico: What methods do you use to monitor the onset of fatigue/flat spells/de-motivation during training for such events that come down to you performing at your best on a single day?

Tobias: As for fatigue, when I started training for IM I was using a heart rate monitor; that gave me a good indication when it was time to rest. But after a year, I got rid of all gadgets, notably the heart rate monitor and my bike computer. We all develop a fair feeling of how hard we train and when we feel fatigued.

De-motivation/flat-spells are the evil ALL athletes are facing. Those two minutes at 5am when the alarm bell is ringing, and you are arguing with yourself that it might be okay to skip the morning run, as you had a hard training session yesterday or an important meeting in the meeting where you shouldn’t look too tired. Whether you can fight it or not, depends a lot on your self-discipline and commitment. I have loads and loads of that I can probably count on one hand, when I skipped a planned training over the past 6 years. Very German!

Photo-credits: Tobias Frenz

Tobias Frenz: Triathlon’s Teutonic Triple Threat (Part 2)

I will preface the second part of Tobias’s interview with Harn Wei’s essay about that stratosphere of über-athletes who yearn and live for that title of ‘ultra’. - Enrico
The Ultra-Sports Fraternity
By Dr Kua Harn Wei
All too often, especially within the sports media fraternity, we place too much attention on the 'absolute' at the expense of the significance of the 'relative'. Oftentimes, appreciating the 'relative' teaches us much more about the true meaning of sport than the 'absolute'.

Think about it, how many times have we read news articles idolizing the absolutely fastest, furthest or highest achieved mostly by professional athletes? And how many times have we read the same about elite age-groupers who may even be better than the professionals 'pound-for-pound' (as in, if these age-groupers were to have as much time to train as the professionals)? Elite age-groupers, like Tobias Frenz, face the daily challenge to juggle work with training; yet some of them can achieve results as good as some professionals. On relative terms, in my view, they achieve more and can teach us much more about the perseverance needed to excel in a tough sport such as ironman and ultra triathlons. It is a pity that no one seems to be very interested in these potentially-rich storylines, which once again reminds us of how we prefer to idolize the fastest and carelessly neglect the potentially richer life lessons elite age-groupers can teach us.

Tobias achieved many things that not many people - sadly speaking, including those in our fraternity - can really appreciate. Besides acing the Ironman distance and qualifying for the Hawaii World Championship many times, he went on to record phenomenal back-to-back wins in the triple Ironman in UAE. That is, he won the Ironman distance race on the first day (in an amazing 9:20 plus!), followed by the double Ironman the next day in another impressive time of 21:50 plus hours! These wins, alongside his pleasant personality, tremendous talent and dedication to the sport, opened the eyes of the international ultra triathlon community to a strong contender and rising star in ultra distance racing.

In fact, around the same time, the ultra triathlon community began to see a few other 'ironman crossovers' taking the double and triple ironman races by storm. To our delight, we interpreted this as the specialized sport coming to age. However, sadly, not many of them chose to stay on. This is understandable. In ultra triathlon, age-groupers compete with the professionals, even though professional ultra triathletes are far and in between. Even these professionals don't typically enjoy the relatively more lucrative rewards opened to professional ironman athletes. Given that not many people can appreciate the true beauty of ultra triathlon and the achievements of elite age-groupers, it is no surprise that not many great athletes stay on to compete after a few seasons. Perhaps the real reason is not that they have grown tired of competing over long and arduous distances; to a degree, it has to do with how we choose to write a piece of sporting story, guided by a sense of taste and conditioned by social norms that do not encourage deeper appreciation for life's meaning beyond the obvious. - DKHW

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Tobias Frenz: Triathlon’s Teutonic Triple Threat (Part 1)

‘Saddle, saddle, saddle! A man with a big heart and a very talented amateur racer! He adopts the right training at the right time.’ ~ CLIFFORD LEE,
‘The guy beats some of the pros. What else can I say? But when he trains - no nonsense. No junk miles.’ ~ TEE BOON TEONG
Tobias Frenz is a generous person. Perhaps, it reflects his namesake: ‘God is good’. As busy as he was in his professional position as a CEO for his new company in Kuala Lumpur, he made a great effort to complete this interview. After a long hiatus due to work commitments, he resumed his training late last year as he was doing the Sahara Desert run last October.

For that, he ran a full marathon every Saturday for training. Despite hating the training, he did reasonably well, and at one stage was the leader in this harsh and grueling race. As you will discover shortly with Tobias, training for endurance races can be considered extreme. Time is one of the major indicators of personal success, next to patience, tenacity, perseverance and determination.
This interview took months to realize, but I was determined to pursue it with passion. I believe that you will agree that it was worth it.
Full name: Tobias Frenz
Age: 41
Status: Divorced
Profession: Reinsurance
Years in profession: 8
City of Residence: Kuala Lumpur
Years in triathlon: 5
Pet peeves: unpunctuality, unfairness, racial/religious bias
Hobbies: reading
Enrico Varella: Hello, Tobias. Walk us through your lifestyle. You are a CEO of a reinsurance company based in KL, and are an active and competitive sportsman. How do you do it?
Tobias Frenz: Actually, I've taken a step back from sports since 2008 when I was tasked to set up a new company in KL. It took up a lot of my time and there was little left for training, not even racing! On top of that, pretty much all of the items on my sports ‘To-Do’ list had been ticked off during my Singapore days: World championships in Kona, sub-10 timings, Ultra-Ironman and Ultra-marathon wins. The only to-do on my sports list that keeps me from becoming a couch potato is the crossing of the English Channel. But that is a long shot as KL is not a suitable training ground for this.
Now, bad habits die hard, and I get itchy feet if I don’t practice for a couple of days. So, I still get up regularly at 5am for a 12km run or a 40km ride on weekdays. Being an early bird, I reach work at around 7am and leave at about 5pm. I’m quite particular about how I structure my workday and tend to be focused on what I do during the day. It is all about time management! This allows me to slot in a short 1km swim after work in my condo pool. I always swim with medium-sized paddles to build up my strength (actually because it is more fun), though it might spoil my technique - not much to spoil though.
On weekends, I go for one long run (20-30km) and a short ride, between 60-100km. This pales in comparison to what I did in Singapore, but then again, currently it is all about enjoying it and sweating it out, every now and then. So, sports currently fits nicely into my schedule as it is done on a leisurely basis.
Enrico: Other than triathlons, what else do you do to keep active?
Tobias: I don’t think reading books qualifies as sports, so I have to say that I do very little other sports. If you do three sports seriously it is hard to slot in any other sports. I played a bit of tennis in Singapore and enjoyed it, despite being hopeless at it. Currently, I enjoy swimming the most and with my Big Dream (swim the English Channel) in mind, it motivates me a lot. I also have just taken up diving and get excited about freediving.
Enrico: When taking on these physical challenges, how do you maintain your work/life balance?
Tobias: Times have changed as mentioned before. During my competitive days, there was not much of balance as it was all about getting up early: training, work, training, eat and sleep. A routine common to all endurance athletes - and as boring as it sounds - it is a lifestyle I truly enjoyed (most of the times at least). Endurance training, naturally, requires a lot of commitment, self-discipline and comes together with lots of sacrifices. Juggling work and life is a constant struggle, but I think I managed it well and never let one get the better of the other. Mainly because I have never taken sports too seriously and I'm not stressing myself out unnecessarily. I take things as they are thrown at me - this makes life so much easier. This is not to say that I’m not nervous before a race (I am!), but when the race is on, I’m like a happy puppy, trying to engage with the competitors and spectators, enjoying it whilst still doing a good race.
When I'm not travelling, my training routine fits in nicely into my workdays and helps to keep the work stress off my back. When travelling, the training is rather sporadic and comprises, mostly, morning runs. Whenever possible, I prefer running outside but in some cities (think Jakarta or Karachi) there is not much choice but to hit the gym, which I truly dread.
Enrico: How does an active physical lifestyle tie in to your work as a corporate leader/key executive?
Tobias: Personally, it helps me to maintain my balance, mentally and physically.
Enrico: Do you think doing endurance sports and multi-sports builds leadership qualities and skills?
Tobias: Yes, I think that this is absolutely the case. As an athlete you have to be disciplined, committed and mentally strong. There is a competitive streak in athletes that drives them to constantly improve and not be content with the status quo. At the same time, they gain self-confidence, learn to be patient and not easily give up or be frustrated if things don't go their way. Successful sportsmen often develop a positive attitude that can be infectious to others and this makes a perfect recipe for an upcoming leader. Sounds a bit cliché, but more often than not, it is like that. Personally, sports have shaped my character significantly and I fit perfectly into the above cliché.
All these are ingredients for a good leader, but it certainly does not mean that all athletes are good leaders. Sports only complement your personal and social skills. Personally, I think that you are born with true leadership qualities and it is difficult to acquire it, athlete or not. While competitive sports can bring the good leadership qualities out of an athlete, it can also do quite the opposite: We have all seen the sour loser, the selfish bully, or the über-ego.
I recently read a book by Warren Bennis where he stated: “More leaders have been made by accident, circumstance, sheer grit or will than have been made by all the leadership courses put together. Leadership courses can only teach skills. Developing character and vision is the way leaders invent themselves.” I very much buy into this. Applied to sports, it underlines that sports can be an important part in developing your character, but vision cannot be trained on the bike or in the pool.
Enrico: Why the Ironman triathlon? What started you on that?
Tobias: Well, I didn’t start from nothing. I had done competitive bicycle road races as a teenager; every Saturday and Sunday, I’d either compete in road criteriums or participate in 100-150km endurance rides that are quite popular in Germany. During winter we did long runs and weightlifting. With hindsight, this period of intense training shaped my character and taught me the basics of training seriously. When I turned around 16, training didn’t fit into my partying lifestyle and so I more or less quit overnight. In my late twenties, I started running marathons/ultras and I realised that I was coping well with long distance events.
Now, the idea to participate in an Ironman came up in late-2004 when I met an elderly cyclist on my weekly Sunday morning ride (who was training for Ironman Korea). This got me thinking: ‘If he can do it (with due respect), I can do it as well!’ I had never before seriously thought about it. It was like an Eureka moment. I remember watching as a kid the Germans like Lothar Leder and Juergen Zaeck racing in Kona on TV and I was amazed at how somebody could run a marathon after the swim and bike.
So, after some deliberation and reading up on the Internet about Ironman, I decided to give it a try. I knew I could handle the cycle and run leg, but the big question mark was my swim. I didn’t swim in Germany and only learnt swimming freestyle when I came to Singapore. My condo had a tiny 18m pool and so I started off with crawling half of it. Half become one, one became two and so the story goes. With hindsight I should have taken some classes as my technique is far from perfect and swimming is still my weakest discipline.
My plan was to do Ironman Western Australia in early 2005 and so I signed up for the Half-Ironman in New Zealand in January 2005 to get a first taste of triathlon. But I had a bike crash on Boxing Day and consequently had to cancel that race. Plan B came into effect and I decided not do any shorter distance triathlon but to go right into the Ironman distance. IM Austria in June 2005 was my first triathlon and I was content with my timing of 10:14h. Indeed, I was so surprised and happy about my time that I said, ‘That’s it, I don’t really need this anymore.’ Well, I would have to eat my words…
Enrico: How many years did you train before you qualified for Kona?
Tobias: I qualified for the first time for Kona at my second Ironman, the IM Langkawi in February 2006. So, it took me about 1½ year.
Enrico: What was it like to qualify for Kona?
Tobias: The first time (2006) it was simply great, and I'll never forget the moment when a friend sent me a text message that I got a slot. I felt blessed (a word I hardly use, being a free-thinker) and could hardly believe it.
The second time, I was kind of expecting to qualify again and I delivered with my then personal best of 9:49h (which I lowered to 9:38h two months later at the Triple Ironman in the UAE). The third time (2008) it was a bit of a pleasant surprise as I had hardly touched my bike for over 6 months before the race!

Photo-credits: Tobias Frenz