Wednesday, November 30, 2011

It Couldn’t Have Come At A Better Time!

Trust my body to succumb to the subtlety of stress. I caught a mild cough and running nose a few days before the big dance. Teaching in enclosed places such as classrooms can invite malicious microbes to launch an assault on my mucous membranes. I could only ward off the influence for so long, and now I am innocently paying for it.

I recall suffering my pre-A Race bout of pre-racing, stress-related diseases such as a cough, running nose and stomach flu. Two weeks ago, I had my first case of gastrointestinal distress, and it cost me some downtime in training. I was tapering from a few long-distance runs such as the 50K and 30K, and thought I could get away with doing any more boring Long Slow Distance (LSD) sessions. My speed-work was affected by these interruptions that upset my body’s equilibrium.

This evening, in Bali I ran my first session this week after two days of intense teaching and traveling. I ran on a relatively flat stretch of beach in the Jimbaran area for 40 minutes, inserting short spurts of sprinting. I intended to exorcise the latency out of my legs, which surprisingly was not docile after Sunday’s 150-minute bike ride. I had to dodge casted fishing lines, soccer-playing kids, and couples strolling by the evasive sunset. Running a semi-wet beach was akin to trail running, with a sense of alertness to the surface I was traipsing across.

Generous shots of vitamin C-laced water later, I hope to rest abundantly and recover soon to be in relatively good shape for a good marathon. I have gathered a few serious age-groupers (such as Melvin and Han Low) to run their BQs, and I hope to have enough motivation to stay on-target and in sane pace to limbo-rock under the 3:25:00 barrier. If all goes well, I should have stories and strategies to share.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Meeting Your Marathon Mark

It is five days out from the Big Dance; the remaining time is crucial if you want to earn a decent showing for your 42.195K. Start thinking about what will go right on race day. Rehearse the plot for your big day out. Focus on images and sensations of how your ideal day will turn out. Here are some reminder and visualisation tips for preparing smartly and effectively for your long-distance endurance race:

1)    Decide on a pace and religiously stick to it.
2)    Your second 21K may be slower, so make allowance for it. A negative-split is possible if you are disciplined.
3)    Be mindful of how you feel. Use measurements like RPE, heart-monitor, the official-pacers, and your intuition to guide you.
4)    Drink from every aid-station, whether you are thirsty or not.
5)    Stop and walk at the aid-station. There is no shame. Better to slow down and ensure proper nutrition, then to miss each mouthful in style.
6)    Keep to the left when not over-taking. Give a gentle verbal warning if you need to over-take; never show your frustration.
7)    Break your race goals into smaller, manageable bits. Every kilometre covered is an achievement.
8)    Derive and seek inspiration from around you. Draw upon the positive energy of the supporters, cheer-team, official-pacers, and fellow athletes (including the physically-challenged).
9)    Focus on the finisher-medal and t-shirt. These will be your badges of honour. You will wear it with pride after you cross the finishing-line.
10) Write a list of mantras that you respond positively to. Avoid ‘Don’t’ and rule-driven words. Focus on purpose-driven self-talk.

Whatever the results, have an amazing out there. You are already a champion for training and showing up on race morning!

Monday, November 28, 2011

Focusing On Key Factors

Many runners I spoke to have claimed that they gain clarity and focus when they run. Even if they experienced a bad working day, the exercise seems to make things feel better. We can attribute that to neuro-chemicals and hormones that purge the body of mental distress and physical discomfort. Also, running is a form of positive distraction that relieves the body of the negative aspects of life. You may have read about runners whose short runs became long ones. Recall the scene from Forrest Gump where the idiot-savant announced ‘One day, I decided to go for a run…’ and it was three years later when he decided to stop.

How do you create focus for yourself?

1)    Focus on what you can control on.
2)    Shift your attention to smaller parts of the larger experience.
3)    Pay attention to your surroundings and environment instead of your body.
4)    Manage smaller chunks, instead of the entire larger experience.
5)    Learn from others. Gather different perspectives. Macca interviewed as many of the best athletes that he could and learnt what worked for them.
6)    Collaborate with others, and take turns to lead in the event. Cyclists take turns to ‘pull’ the pack along when there is strong headwinds.
7)    If you cannot use electronic musical devices, then play your favourite songs in your own head. Everybody has the capability to do that since we dream in multi-sensorial ways.
8)    Imagine that you are your favourite athlete, and emulate their attitude of racing. Adopt their posture, racing attire or facial expressions.
9)    Have some fun! If not, what’s the point?

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Dreaded Meeting

Why do you have meetings? Have you heard about meeting marathons that last 3-5 hours, and these were merely routine meetings? How about those that meetings that consume the entire working day, and the evening?

Have you ever felt left out in a meeting? Do you dread attending meetings? If you could change how meetings were run, what would you do differently?

Meetings are, simply, conversations. The question we need to consider is: is the conversation helpful and useful? If it is useless, make it useful. Focus on behaviors that enhance the presence and potential of people in the room.

Short of a crisis – meet when relevant and necessary! Be mindful and considerate about how these face-to-face interactions consume company time and resources. Think about how you can add value to the meeting and to each other. Evaluate what you could improve in term of the team dynamic, environment and ambience. Humans are sensitive to their surroundings, so how do you lead with positive and meaningful energy. How do you reduce doubt, worry and anxiety? How can you inject and create a pleasant experience?

Leadership Lessons: Think thoroughly about how you would design your next meeting. Have an agenda. Have a sense of purpose. Have people leave your meeting feeling bigger, bolder and brighter.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A Goal Is A Dream With A Plan

So wrote Macca in his book ‘I’m Here To Win’.

Goals are the basis of motivation and motives. Goals give us a purpose to advance and progress in our lives. Which are some of your recent goals?

Here are my collaborative marathon race strategies my runner model and pacer, Melvin How; we interviewed him a few months ago on aging athletes.

Plan A: First 2km at 5:00-5:15 minute/km pace to ease into a race pace. Hold the heart-rate at 155BPM +/- 2% for 30km, then open up in the final 12km and ignore the spike in HR. We hope to hold our pace and heart-rate for a race-day average of 4:42min/K as many factors can affect performance.

Plan B: If Melvin’s heel condition flares up, then we switch to damage control and attempt for a target of a revised Boston Qualifier (BQ) instead of the 3:20:00 goal. For our age group, a BQ has to be 3:24:59 and faster. As of 2013, all BQs have been reduced across the board by five minutes.

Plan C: If it is too painful for Melvin to continue, I will be on my own while he just attempts to finish, or target the SAFRA CRT time of 3:45:00 for veterans.

I am thankful that Melvin agreed to pace with me, as I believe that this may allow me to pace with more discipline. I have a tendency to race with my heart instead of my head in the initial portion of my races. If I aspire to earn a negative split on my second-half, then it will involve me sticking to my plan and not just sticking to my guns.

I posted on the Facebook forum that I am tapering for next weekend’s marathon. Actually, it is business as usual as this 42.195K is part of my preparation for IMNZ 2012. This is my final A-race for 2011, and a time trial in itself. Next week is my second training block after my Build Phase. My Endurance building block is next, focusing on managing a higher workload.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Visualising Run Styles

12-time Ironman Clifford Lee has told me, frequently, that I am recognizable during a race by my running style. I tend to adopt the puffed-up chest posture of Chris ‘Macca’ McCormack. Interestingly, that is my mental picture of my running style during training and races. Focusing on my running gait directs my attention to useful things instead of physical discomfort.

This evening, I opted to assume the running style of Ironman world champion, Mirinda ‘Rinny’ Carfrae. She has wide strides during a marathoner, which suggests very strong legs. My friend, Wilson Low (a 70.3 & Ironman world’s finisher, and adventure racer) also runs like that, with gazelle-like strides.

Here is a video analysis of Rinny during the Rev3 Half race in 2009. This is her mechanics of her run at Eagleman 2011.'

During last night’s run, I had an epiphany. I thought I would like to compete in next year’s 70.3 Ironman World Championships. The last time I competed in this series were in 2008 and 2009. I scored my PB in 2008, and then focused my efforts on the full Ironman triathlon. I would enjoy racing in the new competition venue of Las Vegas in 2012, as the previous venue was in Clearwater, Florida.

My ‘tapering run’ was a useful one; actually I am not tapering as I am in the midst of my 12-week Ironman training. It was just after a downpour, with occasional flashes of lightning in the sky. I think I am regaining my marathon mojo, so next weekend’s marathon should be an interesting one. Already, I have arranged for an unofficial 3:20 pacer (Melvin How, who has done 3:19 in 2008) as the official pacers end at 3:45. I will use my watch as a guide, although I will run by ‘feel’, intuition, RPE and breathing. As Adam ‘One-Armed Runner’ would say, ‘Toes crossed!’

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Mental Gymnastics & Mind Games

‘Train hard. Dream harder.’ ~ Kobe Bryant

It is less than 10 days to my next marathon, and already I have begun dreaming about race-related matters. I believe that this is my mind’s attempt to deal with my unconscious pre-race anxiety.

After seven years of training and races (more than 24 stand-alone marathons and those completed within Ironman triathlons), I have managed my pre-race jitters pretty well. I place hard training above most things, and this means under various prohibitive and inhibitive conditions. Having trained in the heat and rain, raced in the chill and windy, I think I am open to whatever shape the weather on race day takes. Be bulletproof, and take the hits as the day unfolds. It would not be easy at times however every step or metre you make and take prepares you for the next one.
‘The journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.’

If you experience pre-race jitters, you can reduce their impact on you. Instinctively and intuitively, your body is arming itself for a major physical challenge involving discomfort. Pain is a signal for the body to slow down or stop, however in endurance races like the Ironman triathlon or the marathon, it indicates that we are punishing and pushing our bodies too hard. Yet, we can coax our bodies to handle and manage the discomfort within its means.

List in your journal those things that you are anxious about. Categorise them into the headings of nutrition, attire, footwear, mental stress and physical pain. To each category and issue, assign a strategy or method to attend to this concern. For example, if it is an issue about cramps write down ‘Bring salt-tablets and energy gels, and take one packet of gel every 30 minutes and two salt-tabs per hour. Drink at least a cup of water at each station, and two if it is a very hot day. Use STOP CRAMP if cramps persist.’
If your concern is related to mental distress and the likelihood of walking too much, then you may write ‘Run at a manageable, familiar training pace. Use my Pace Chart. If experiencing fatigue, slow down my heart-rate by 5BPM. Take a RPE measure every 10 minutes, and monitor laboured breathing. Walk only if experiencing cramps, and then begin jogging once breathing stabilizes. I am not alone. We are in this together.’

John Cooke writes a piece on the mental preparation for his eighth Ironman, on 4 December in Busselton, Perth.

I hope that these mental strategies may help you. Design your own based on experience. There is no shame in walking. Imagine the best day you can have. Happy daydreaming!

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Expanding Your Thinking Outside the Blogosphere

I have been enjoying my online time with friends via Twitter and Facebook. There is much to be gleaned from the postings, be it links to websites, blogs, music and film trailers. In recent weeks, the amount of humour has also increased and there is certainly room for laughter at every moment.

I also identified leaders within our midst. They have started discussions; focused on safety, care for the environment, fair play and values. If you are willing, you can begin reading and make the connection. Sometimes you agree; other times, you disagree. Sometimes, you just enjoy the arguments and proposals. We have choices. Make good decisions to write, make better decisions to post. Sometimes it would be better to read and lurk, than post and regret.

New media (or Social Media 2.0) can be a powerful tool to educate, eradicate and entertain. However, like a double-edge sword this electronic pen can be mightier than the digital sword. Be upset, and you can upset others with a few deft strokes on your keyboard. Nothing is sacred for discussion. Dirty laundry gets aired, and gets dirtier on a colossal scale; digital imprints are left over this universe of information and infamy.

Think before you hit the ‘return’ key. Make sure you check before you post for inappropriate content and tone. Ensure there is a delete function so that you can make corrections rapidly. Be a responsible Netizen. With great bandwidth (and applications) comes greater responsibility.

Expand your consciousness of thinking and connecting, not your notoriety.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Doing That Thing You Do

I am referring to rest. You know – that thing that you do (sounds like an oxymoron) when you do almost nothing physical.

Athletes need rest when they are not training; this excludes actual rest days in a week. The older the athlete, the more rest they require as their recovery and recuperative abilities diminishes with age. In your 20’s, you can probably recover reasonably well within 24 hours. In your 30’s, it is about 24-48 hours; in your 40’s and beyond, about 48-72 hours after an intense workout or race.

Rest is not defined as complete inactivity. It may mean spending a few days off from the actual cause of the soreness and fatigue. A long season of training can take its toll on your body through neural and physical fatigue. Physical fatigue stems from muscular stress and depletion of energy stores (over-arching), whereas neural fatigue is about the boredom and fatigue that stems from repetitive action and being adaptive to one type of sport. Cramping has also been attributed to neural fatigue due to overuse of the same muscle groups.

It is about two weeks away from Ironman Western Australia 2011, and the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon 2011. Some runners are still doing their long runs of up to 30K, which do not leave much room for full recovery. If our recovery experience and injuries can teach us: it is better to rest more, than bludgeon the body more. That is why a tapering period was designed prior to a race. It is a systematic way of reducing mileage but retaining the intensity of the activity. Just before the race, you can do short, sprints to activate the muscles lest the passive recovery and rest reduces muscle tone. You want to taper yet keep your muscles attuned to racing conditions. I tend to spin on the stationary-bike for about 20 minutes and do a 10-minute treadmill run, focused on my gait and landing. This is a pre-race rehearsal that prepares my muscles for the run about 12 hours before the race; I applied this approach over my previous two 3:30 marathons.

To ward off delayed muscle recovery, consider the formula for exercise known as FITT: frequency, intensity, type and time. This systemic approach to designing exercise programs can also be transferred to leadership and workplace processes such meetings, giving feedback, coaching, and measuring performance.

Leadership Lessons: How FITT are you as a manager? How often do you make time for proper rest? When do you know when to engage in argument and then ‘give it a rest’? How often do you call for a ‘timeout’ when things do not go well within your team?

Monday, November 21, 2011

Does Peer Pressure Power Your Communication?

Peer pressure can be an overwhelming thing when you are a teenager. To belong to a group, and to carve out your identity you bow to the team’s ideals and rules. Socially, peer pressure or majority-ruled actions determine if you are in, or out. The Inclusion/Exclusion principle operates, whether we like it or not; either we are in, or we are out.

In adulthood, peer pressure can be a positive force of influence. Directed and led properly, this style of influence can engage others outside of the circle of influence. Also, he impact of peer pressure will be determined by choice. The more choices we have, the more flexible we are. Other people’s influence can be only so effective when we lack choices, and thus cannot decide on our outcomes.

Social running groups are a recently emerging phenomenon. Neophytes join these clubs, which offer basic instruction on endurance running; they progress gradually until they complete their first 10K race. These groups are Tribes, and they propagate and promote their cause with alarming enthusiasm and fervour. Peer pressure can act through mass participation of a local or overseas race.

The same goes for those who seek extraordinarily longer distance, and across varied and challenging terrain. These foot races carry the subscribers through mountain trails, desert, man-made structures and water. Having stated the challenging conditions, those who complete relish in their sense of accomplishment and achievement.

Who says peer pressure can be all that bad?

Leadership Lessons: How often do you cave in to peer pressure? Where are your sources of peer pressure? How often do you rally these sources of peer pressure to assist you in building value, such as acts of charity and altruism?

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Rainy Day Conversation

This afternoon, I met my friend and schoolteacher Shade and I learnt several things about films, anime and authors.

1)    IMAX films in 3D are the highest quality, so book cinema seats as far back of the screen and in the centre of the hall, whenever possible. This is due to the parabolic design of the screen and you do not want to lose peripheral details. Plus, the spectacles are expensive and therefore capture all the clarity and details.
2)    The production and standards of musical soundtracks in animated films are as elaborate as a mainstream Hollywood film. Here is singer Angela Aki doing her song ‘Kiss Me Goodbye’ for PlayStation 2’s game, Final Fantasy.
3)    There is some lack of clarity about the Harry Potter films, as it would take more screen-time to explain the reasons behind the motivation behind the key characters like Professor Dumbledore and his death.
4)    There is tremendous detail in each of J.K. Rowling’s seven Harry Potter books; The Order of The Phoenix is not her best work among the collection. The books can be described as adult fantasy-fable.
5)    Many of the latest role-playing games (RPG in another time) are rated for adults, like M-audience only. Be warned that some have strong adult content and language.
6)    Transformers 3: Dark of the Moon is best seen on an IMAX theatre. The new girl, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley is hot; Megan Fox is hotter!
7)    Steven Spielberg directed The Adventures of Tin Tin: The Secret of the Unicorn (2011); the next film would be directed by Peter Jackson. Andy Serkis is the link between the two directors as he provided the voice talent in The Lord of The Rings (Gollum) and Captain Haddock. Serkis will reprise his role as Gollum in the 2-part The Hobbits film in 2012 and 2013.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Your Accomplishment Is Your Achievement

All the best to the runners doing the Penang Bridge International Marathon tomorrow morning! Congratulations to those who completed the Oxfam Trailwalker Hong Kong, too! More importantly, thanks to the latter they raised funds for a worthy cause.

Amateur sports can be competitive, however it need not be unduly serious. Most of the time, participants train seriously for their races aiming to complete or compete. It does not make a finisher any less worthy when they choose to aim for a completion certificate, finisher medal, and post-achievement jubilation. If you make time from your routine to train, you have demonstrated your personal leadership for being ready, able and willing!

My friend, Marathon Mohan has completed in excess of 130 marathons; completing them is a foregone conclusion. Instead, he elects to be the unofficial Cheerleader – encouraging new runners to complete their first race. Another friend, Ai Lin has done about 80 marathons over the years and continues to race for the sheer joy of it. Others race because they wish to raise funds for a charity cause. Yet, others participate to show their personal support for something they truly believe in, be it for cancer research, health or for survivors.

Last week, my swim-mate Dennis and many others raced and raised funds for the Wheelathon 360. The goal was to raise funds for physically-challenged athletes to participate in overseas competition. In spite of the rain, it was a successful event that saw a very supportive community.

I have decided to assist the Cystic Fibrosis for Children of New Zealand raise funds again for Ironman New Zealand 2012. Why? Because I enjoyed the last time I engaged in this process. Fund-raisers were invited to meet the children and their parents, and celebrate in their progress. Exercise was a key intervention for keeping these children active and alive.

To each his/her own – and may you still enjoy your sense of purpose!

Leadership Lessons: Run, walk or crawl – just finish what you started. You can, occasionally, race by feeling instead of timing. Enhance and expand on your experience.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Purposefully Peaking For Your Performance

Over the last few weeks, I have been focused on building my base fitness for my next Ironman training cycle. My training cycle for IMNZ 2012 is based on a 20-week cycle. The first 4-6-weeks was spent building my aerobic-engine, with long-distance running and cycling. I was aiming to consistently do up to three sessions each of the three disciplines of swim, ride and run. Each discipline will include moderate, medium and mad sessions (terms I learnt from Chrissy Wellington’s former-coach, Brett Sutton). In mileage, I will have one long, lower-intensity session, and two shorter higher-intensity workouts.

The remainder of my preparation time will be based on meso-cycles, lasting three weeks each. Each meso-cycle is based on two hard weeks of training, followed by an easier recovery week. I will build up my fitness through the building blocks of endurance to strength to speed to power. The recovery week will be crucial to my ability to give another strong hit to my fortnightly, hard sessions. A few, short but specific B-races will give me the competitive 'drive' I need to stay mentally prepared for racing.

My reality check is emphasis on my weaker stations and focus on form and fitness. For my swimming, technique will reign supreme. By focusing on my 'feel for the water', specific drills and swim-sets, I should be able to earn a wetsuit-based PB in Taupo. I will focus on over-distance for my riding, and the build interval-based speed as well as hill strength. I will maintain my run fitness once I complete the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon 2011; I hope to earn a PB in the local course.

Core-stability and strength workouts comprise an additional 2-3 sessions in my week. Each session includes 2-3 sets of calisthenics (bodyweight-based) and weights-based exercises. I have worked up to 5 exercises of push-pull exercises done with no rest. Post-exercise stretching and massage completes my mega-equation for Ironman readiness. This additional core workouts helped me tackle the hilly course of the Hong Kong Marathon 2011 where I secured my first BQ; I had no hill training, except step-ups and lunges as my strength exercises.

I continue to work closely with my coach, Fox who is headed to a possible sub-10:00 hour at IMWA. He recently earned 6th placing at the Port Mcquairie Half-Ironman 2011 race, and top in his club-level sprint triathlon. He finished with 126th (sub-5:00) out of 817 participants: In his age-group, he was 1st in the swim in 26:35, 3rd off the bike in 2:39, and finished with a 1:49, predominantly-hilly run. He is teaching me how to use Powertap-based, specific power wattage, high-intensity interval sets, training to enhance my bike legs. Fox certainly knows when to peak for his races and his numbers have been quite close to his expectations.
I decided to check ‘leadership lessons’ on Google, and surprisingly, I earned the #1 placement. This is temporary, just as fitness is a temporal thing that needs to be maintained and challenged at times. In Search Engine Optimisation (SEO), consistency is one of the main keys of being noticed. You can stay in race-standard, peak condition for only a short period, so timing is crucial in order to do well on race day. For those doing IM Western Australia, may you achieve near-peak fitness on 4 December and have a memorable race!

Leadership Lessons: What is your performance cycle like? How do you attain peak performance at work? How do you ensure that you meet all your Key Performance Indicators (KPIs), and more? What happens to your performance after you get your promotion, bonus and incentive?

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Ten Trends in Endurance Sports

Although biathlons, aquathlons (swim and run) and running races are relatively affordable, triathlons are not for the meek of pocket. The initial outlay that stresses one’s finances is, probably, due to the purchase of a good road-bike or triathlon bike. One can be creative with the use of sports supplements, sourcing inexpensive or homemade alternatives. Running and cycling shoes can be stretched beyond their recommended retail shelf-life. Race-fees have risen through the years due to the commercial viability of key events. The good news is that new event companies are promoting their versions of tougher and more exclusive races; terrains and use of existing infrastructure are configured into the course design.

1)    Seeking the counsel of physiotherapists, chiropractors and alternative medicine specialists to recover from sports-related injury.
2)    Strengthening the core muscles through additional sessions of yoga, core-stability work, and Pilates.
3)    Seeking the expertise of 1-on-1 coaches or attending group clinics for swimming, riding and running.
4)    Enlisting the help of online coaches to design personalized programs.
5)    Facebook-based, Q&A from seasoned athletes.
6)    Getting your bike fitted (to your body) by a professional.
7)    Sold-out, overseas races. The M-Dot series sell within hours certain key Ironman triathlons.
8)    Minimalist shoes and barefoot running are growing in popularity.
9)    Ultra-marathons, adventure races and days-long-trail running expeditions are attracting a wider audience.
10) The increasing number of new runners using compression-wear during training and at races.

With such major movements within the Endurance Movement, it is no wonder that confusion prevails with neophytes. Costs can escalate if we are misguided or uneducated about the reasons for such interventions. Peer pressure to participate can be an expensive proposition. Pace yourself to one race per month, so that your body recovers between races. It also allows you to tweak your pre-race training sessions. Pick your A-race poison!

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Films, Fans & Fortitude

My friend, Adam sat through almost 100 hours of films during a movie marathon and won S$11,000 and earned his spot in the Singapore Book of Records. I wonder if they played any abstract, art-house films that may either intrigue or annoy one’s senses. Consider this: you are already tired. They screen a plethora of films that are not your cup of tea (or Nescafe Coffee, in this case). Previously, the well-known elite-level, physically challenged runner-ultra-marathoner touched a car (with hundreds others) for several days before fatigue forced him to bow out; the prize was the car itself that the eventual winner earned held ‘in touch’ for four days. Congratulations, Adam!
Onboard my flights on my recent trip to India, I watched a couple of films: Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Part 2, Friends with Benefits, and Larry Crowne. All are watchable, with the final Potter film is, probably, the most relevant film for fans since it was the last in the installment of boy wizard-to-adult wizard series. Made at a hefty budget of US$125M, it grossed more than US$1.3B worldwide. It reveals what happens to the boy-wizard who was destined to find his place in the magical universe, and have his burning questions finally answered. The dynamics of the firmly established characters makes this film highly watchable even if you missed a few episodes along the way. 'He who shall not be named' is now uttered openly as a formidable threat to the school of Hogwarts and its denizens. 
Larry Crowne is about a mid-life divorcee who is shockingly retrenched, and has to seek further education despite being highly competent in his long-time job in retail. He becomes smitten with public speaking, economics, and his teacher, while his likability makes him stand out among the younger students. Life-skills do help!
There is a celebrity snow-boarder on Friends with Benefits. Shaun White is a twice-Olympic Gold medalist in the half-pipe snowboarding over two Olympics in 2006 and 2010. Last month, we featured swim coach Sheila Taormina who is a 4-time Olympian and gold-medalist in the 1996 Games; she was also the ITU world champion in 2004. Yesterday, Singaporean swimmer Joseph Schooling qualified for our team to the London Olympic Games, when he broke the SEA Games record. The 16-year-old did very well for his showing in the pool in Indonesia. It takes heaps of hard work, sacrifice and commitment to train for years just to compete for your country.

You can glean many lessons from films – provided you focus on the abstract components. Films use a variety of devices including analogy, metaphor, fable, and allegory to express its story. Some films have noteworthy scripts, and these may be used to tie in with your presentations, meetings or classes. A film attempts to bring the conversations of worth to life to a larger audience. In the case of these three films I watched, the common thread among the onscreen characters are the values of resilience and fortitude; values that reflect many world-class athletes, too.

Leadership Lessons: What are your ‘touch points’ with your colleagues today? How much of social media do you use to connect with people you know? How often do you track the ‘signs of our times’? How sensitive are you workplace changes, environmental shifts, people’s emotions and global issues?


Photo-credits: Adam 1Armed Runner & Tony Ang

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

My Bags Are Packed & I’m Ready To Go

Packing for a race can be anxiety-causing if you go about it carelessly. Forgotten items may be hard to secure even at a race-fair. Plus, it can upset your equilibrium for the event.

Prior to your next overseas Ironman or 70.3 race, here are some packing considerations:
1) Get a ‘what-to-bring’ list drawn up first. Source it from seasoned competitors if this is your maiden race.
2) Place your race-kit aside (racing attire, helmet, race-belt, shoes, flip-flops, heart-rate monitor, speedometer, Bento-box, sunshades, wetsuit, Ziploc bags, body-lubricant, spare water-bottle, and plastic carrier bags for gaining entry into your wetsuit). Note: Lay out your race-kit and nutritional aids according to the three bags (S, B & R) so as not to leave anything important out.
3) Check the condition of your race-kit for potential wardrobe malfunction, or mechanical malfunction (stuck zippers, tears in the fabric).
4) Bring extra socks, running-shoes, energy gels, energy-bars, goggles (one dark/one clear), and salt-tablets.
5) Pack your bike into the bike-case at least two days in advance (dismantle/loosen cockpit, saddle/seat-post, and pedals) in case you face mechanical difficulties like stuck pedals. Ensure that you have adequate bubble-wrap that you can purchase from your local bike-shop. Better still get your bike-mechanic to pack it properly into your bike-case. 
6) Nutritional package for your ‘Special Needs’ bag (Bring Your Own stuff that you trained with; fresh solid/comfort food can be purchased from the nearby supermarket near your race accommodation). There is one bag each for the Ride and Run.
7) Prepare both wet-weather/cold-day attire (arm-warmers) and additional nutritional support (your raised metabolism from shivering, will require more calories).
8) Pack your tools in the bike-case (Allan-keys, spare-tubes/tyres, duct-tape/masking tape, foldable scissors, and old water-bottles to discard at aid-stations). If you use tubular tyres, then pack used and flexible ones as race-spares (easier to dress on your rims during a flat).
9) Re-check your list (see if you left out anything).
10) Buy your CO2 canisters at the race-fair (anything else like duct-tape, international socket, bring from home). Bring enough money for the pre-race and post-race merchandise shopping. If you are an iPod person, bring your digital music along on race morning.
Packing can be a stressful process. By doing it early, you can determine if anything is faulty or missing. You still have time to borrow or purchase the items. Once you travel, you want to minimize your pre-race stress levels to a manageable level. Race with assurance and presence of mind!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Pre-Race Preparations for An Ironman Triathlon - By the Fox

Editor: This was posted sometime ago, and I felt it warrants a reprint, as there is a large group of participants for Ironman Western Australia 2011 and IM New Zealand 2012. I requested my Coach, Craig ‘Fox’ Holland to share his pre-race preparation with fellow participants of Ironman Western Australia 2010. This year’s race falls on 4 December, in Busselton, Perth. Fox, 50 years old – who finished the World Championships in Kona in 2005, will be racing again in Busselton – secured two sub-11 finishes last year. He is an international consultant, and online triathlon coach. We posted an interview of him last week.
Much has been written about taper time. However, all athletes respond differently. As with coaching individual athletes, I believe there is no one solution that will suit all. Every one reacts differently depending on your genetics, athletic ability, recovery time, work/life priorities, and the way you handle stress.

However if you are in doubt, don’t do it! REST UP…!

Tapering allows the body and mind to recover and freshen up, replenish glycogen and motivation levels. Enjoy the moment and start visualising yourself succeeding on race day.

I do not recommend doing nothing. Past experience indicates most athletes will benefit from a reduction in training volume in the last week by around 50-75%. You may feel frustrated but, realistically, you don't need to do much except keep the system alive and sharp. Some short sharp intervals will be sufficient. Cramming in extra sessions now will be detrimental.

If you can, have a sports massage and stretch as often as you can. Stay relaxed.

Maintain normal sleeping patterns, and get quality sleep. In the morning before race day, take your bike for a last short spin/check out incorporating a few surges to lift the heart rate.
Rest and get off your legs for most of the day. Do not stand around all day at the expo or do a tourist adventure, mountain climb, etc. with your loved ones. Save it for post-race activities.

Do not do anything in taper week in terms of diet and fluid intake that you do not do normally. There are no special supplements or drinks that are going to increase your performance, except for a little increase of carbohydrates.

Stick with what your body already knows. Race-week is not the time to be experimenting.

Essay & Photo-credit: Craig Holland & Mel Chan

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Making Clear & Calculated Preparations

This morning, I took a 90K midday ride. Having touched down early yesterday morning, I had to fulfill my lack of sleep. In recent months, I have benefitted fully from slightly longer sleep and naps. When you are in your forties and competing in sports, you will want to gain as much advantage as possible from your recovery. Your fully recovered body can perform optimally and to your expectations when it is completely topped-up.

This morning, I am aware that some of my friends are doing their last long rides, before they begin their taper. My concern is, many of them (who are self-taught and self-directed) are not scientific in their training efforts. Some have bludgeoned their bodies with too many intense running races 8 weeks out from the big dance. Running does the most damage to a body that is already struggling to regain its health after weeks of endurance training. More red blood cells are destroyed from every footfall than with any other sport. Here to four weeks before your A-race, you should be completing your power workouts rather than taxing your aerobic fitness. More can be impeding. Less is impending.

Our personal ‘engine’ is vital to our athletic achievements. Feed it well, nurse it back to health, take it to task occasionally and it will reap rewards on multiple levels. You cannot continue to break the cardinal rules of starving it during training and competition, and depleting it continually with long-duration, high-intensity, physical challenges. Include rest and recovery when you are injured. What is up with the pain-stricken runners, who bind their knees and ankles with artificial support and sports-taping? Do they expect to improve by race-day wrapped up in pantyhose swathes? They could possibly benefit much more with cross-training (lower-impact sports selection) and active/passive recovery.

I am certain that some will continue to turn a deaf ear to such suggestions, so they will make their fair share of mistakes (thus, earning wisdom). Others will rely on their faith in mechanical technology; a few will really listen to their inner voice and outer voices to establish a clear sense of purpose. Do ask ‘why?’ occasionally to affirm, confirm or dismiss our hunches and thoughts.

Leadership Lessons: What do you do if when you have experienced static performance results for a while? How open-minded are you to changing your plans? Make breakthroughs with tweaked preparations instead of punching through each workout with dogged determination. Sometimes, less is more and it applies to aspects of our lives.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Floating On Your Performance

I love watching runners who seem to ‘float’ when they run. It is as if they possessed the winged heels of Mercury. This is especially more so with lighter runners, who may be less muscled in their torso, however have dynamically efficient legs with high turnover. You recognize the style: small strides yet large cadence. This morning, at the East Coast Park I witness a few runners with such running prowess and abilities.

Last weekend, I observed that all the elite runners at the New York City Marathon 2011 were frequently floating over the challenging five-borough course. Excellence in long-distance is measured by economy of movement, finesse, and a distinct gracefulness that hard training and frequent racing creates. Such ‘fleet-footed’ and ‘light-footed’ runners seem to skate over invisible ice, and move like fast animals. Think of the gazelle, horse, fox, panther and cheetah – functional muscles that move with power and certainty.

In the FINA Swimming World Cup 2011 held in Singapore last weekend, the top swimmers were skimming on the surface of the water. Singapore’s Tao Li lost to the world-record holder by half a second, and she was certainly floating over the dense and splashing medium.

Our body’s ability to sense ‘floating’ can be attributed to many conditions. Being on cloud nine, being in love, having a sense of recognition, and enjoying a sense of achievement can be a heady feeling. The sense of euphoria that comes from the ‘runner’s high’ or the sense of ‘winning’ can be addiction-forming.

Leadership Lessons: When was the last you floated on a splendid performance? What do you do to create natural moments of euphoria? What have you done for your staff that created a shared sense of accomplishment? How often do you celebrate your team’s success? Do you often catch people ‘doing right’?

Friday, November 11, 2011

11.11.11

It only comes once in a lifetime: 10.10.10. Today, it is 11 October 2011 and the numbers line up to create a sense of coincidence. Next year, we have a shot for 12.12.12 or 12 December 2012.

My students alerted me to this fact this morning during class, and I excitedly requested that we wait 11 seconds at the stroke of 11:11 to commemorate the special moment. It lasted momentarily, a brief moment in time that passed by rapidly and without regard and regret. However, since we anticipated it – it meant something to us. To numerologists, when you add up the three ‘11’, they add up to 33: the Master Number, based on 11, 22 and 33. There is a body of arcane knowledge that describes the abstract interpretation behind specific numbers resulting from adding birth-dates: days to months to years. Could be your cup of tea-leaves, or not. T mathematicians, numbers are an empirical way to make sense of the world. Patterns in nature can be justified and explained with numbers, and especially prime numbers; like prime rib when ordering a steak.

We did a feature on numbers some time ago, where I discussed the importance of numerals with regards to measurement and symbolic significance. How important are dates to you? How do you measurement on a daily basis?

Yesterday, I posted the individual timings of three Singaporeans in the NYC Marathon. They were not their fastest timings however for a tough course like the five boroughs of New York City the timings were impressive. Each measurement of speed (finishing time) indicates a reference point, of one’s athletic performance. It also marks a significant date for a race that the group of serious runners took months to prepare for. When you meet your expectations, it marks another level of achievement. When you exceed that, it can be attributed to factors of your choice such as effort, dedication, discipline, bonus, luck and fluke.

Leadership Lessons: How often do you take measurements of your progress? How many of your coincidences are pre-determined? How much of your success is related to luck? How much of your achievements are attributed to sticking to your plan, having foresight, and investing in your development?

Thursday, November 10, 2011

NYC Marathon 2011

Congratulations to Singaporean Dr Ben Tan, Dr Benny Goh and David Tay for completing the tough New York City Marathon! They achieved it in splendid times, with Benny completing it in 2:52, Ben in 3:10 and David in 3:44, for a hilly course that covers all the five boroughs. Entry is by your previous fastest times, or by the luck of the draw in the NYCM Lottery.

The late-Norwegian track star and Olympian, Grete Waitz won the NYC Marathon in 1978 (with Bill Rodgers in the Men’s section). The, then unknown, runner  or  #1173 won the NYCM a total of  nine times, setting three world records in her first marathon. The legendary story told was that she threw her shoes down after completing her maiden 42.195K, which actually was directed at her husband Jack, because she hurt in that race. The track star, Grete ran the race ‘blind’ never exceeding 12 miles for her longest run. Nobody knew who she was for she was a late entry.

Today, the woman’s race begins first; the rules changed in 2002 when originally it was a co-ed, mass start. As reported earlier, the late-Fred Lebow masterminded this race and never ran it until just before his death. Grete came out of retirement to run with her dear friend Fred, side-by-side, for his completion. Grete attributed Lebow for getting her initiated to the marathon, where her potential shone. Ironically, both icons had cancer and we lost two influential leaders in the global running community.

Leadership Lessons: When were you ever a ‘late entry’? What was it like to fill in somebody’s shoes at the last moment? What was it like being ‘blind’ to the conditions of an event or challenge? Which personal values do you draw on when you plunge into a new challenge? How do you face a challenge of epic proportions?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Want to Attempt A Race With Stretch Goals?

Want to Attempt A Race With Stretch Goals?

A stretch goal is a goal that tests your abilities, and taps on your potential. Limits are meant to be exceeded. Otherwise, they serve as mindsets – prisons of our minds – which we stubbornly cling to, and create excuses for. If you cannot reason through your ‘mental brakes’, then you are making excuses to fulfil your sense of mediocrity.

Arguably, completing an Ironman triathlon is one of the toughest endurance races in the world, yet many of us shy away from races like St George (Utah) and Lanzarote. There are many reasons for avoiding such courses, mainly because the routes are gruelling, painful and hard to earn PBs. Yet, there are reasons for doing such races:

1) These are early-season races and if you miss a Kona slot, you can choose another with time to spare.
2) If you are one of the privileged to rightfully earn a slot, you will have time to prepare adequately for the extreme conditions (strong winds and heat).
3) Time to step up to the plate and challenge yourself beyond fast or flat courses. Finishers earn the right to brag about the tougher courses they completed. Monikers for races include ‘Toughest day on earth’, ‘Hottest day’ or ‘One of the toughest bike courses in the world’. The now-discontinued Ironman Korea that I completed in 2006 had a challenging, one-loop bike course; IM Lanzarote boasts a higher elevation; St George was a rolling course with cold conditions. What is your poison?
4) Be the first (few) to attempt and complete these unpopular courses. I have friends who completed Norseman, Ironman Lanzarote, Ironman Canada and Ironman St George. The harder the course conditions, the more slots tend to remain months after the race opens its doors.
5) Attempt a Double-, Triple-, or Quadruple-Ironman. The toughness and fear factor increases in multiples. A long-term training strategy is involved for those attempting longer races, such as crew assistance, resting and recovery time.
6) Attempt new races like the non-M-Dot brands including the Challenge series and Norseman (boutique race, by selection only).
7) The chances of reviving Asian races like IM Malaysia, IM Korea and IM China are remote.
8) New qualifying rules for the Kona Lottery will lead to those who have successfully completed at least 12 M-Dot races, to have a better chance of qualifying at Kona. Non-M-Dot long-distance triathlons do not count.

Apply early as most M-Dot sanctioned races are sold out early, some as soon as they are released (and within hours). The sold-out races in early-2012 include IM New Zealand and the inaugural IM Melbourne. IM China and IM Korea have been discontinued because they received poor evaluations from participants. Or, take the road less travelled and take on off-road or extended races. Dare yourself into an early-season race!