Monday, May 31, 2010

Leadership Lessons from Training for an Ultramarathon

Yesterday marathon was a new experience for me. As I write this post, my legs are naturally aching although not as badly as it used to after a marathon or Ironman triathlon. Here are some lessons acquired from training for this grueling race.

1)    Train beyond what you are used to (over-distance and long slow distance training are integral to your success).
2)    Stick to your plan (with determination, persistence, tenacity and patience).
3)    Nutrition matters so eat and drink adequately.
4)    Take time to experience the moment (including vomiting your precious Power-Gels).
5)    Be aware of your environment (if you are not, you are fatigued or not feeling well).
6)    Stop if you have to (a transition break between marathons is useful; eat, drink, change your socks, and take stock of your current state).
7)    If you are injured, check it (in).
8)    Enjoy the finish (that’s what a race is about – plus the medal, finisher t-shirt, and photo-opportunity).
9)    Thank those who made it happen (family, coach, training buddies).
10) Move forward, and leave your disappointments behind.

I hope that you will enjoy the fruits of your labour. Triathlon is merely a metaphor for leadership.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Extreme Measures

I finally did it! I completed my first 84km ultramarathon. Previously, I completed two 52.5km races as part of the MR25 year-end race.

I did 9:30:35 in my foray into the domain of ultramarathons. In summary, it was harder in the second marathon; my body seemed spent, and my stomach was acting up. I had gastrointestinal issues at the 60km mark, and I had to expel the contents in my stomach. Ironman NZ, David Chambers kept me company for a few kilometres before that; he did 11:30 in March. We also both raised about $2,000 each for the Cystic Fibrosis for Kids fund of New Zealand.

My first marathon was done in 4:12 with 8 minutes transition to change my socks and refuel. I placed 123 in my category of 187 people. That keeps my ranking intact as top-10 percent in the local races. I missed the Men’s Masters category podium by 3 places, so that’s one for the drawing board should I consider doing such a challenge next year.

Why did I do this race then? I wanted to test myself, and determine how strong I am mentally. It is so easy to lose your head when you are fatigued and stressed. The conversations in your head are the one that either advances your cause, or holds you back. My friend Ian said that he called out my name because by recognizing somebody during the marathon, he stayed focused on completing it.

The supporters were awesome and they encouraged us on. You need these external inputs to sustain your efforts and performance. Eastern Night Rider buddies Edward Kor and his family snapped pictures of when I was on my second leg; Danny Wan and his wife waved to me when they were driving out. Emcee (and international Ironman voice) Whit Raymond did a splendid job again for ushering runners in and creating a festive mood. Thanks, Whit for the introduction as I brought it home to the finish.

That was thirteen hours ago. So much happened during the long and arduous run that all I could observe goes into my memories. What would life be like without experiences and memories? My Facebook responses to my run have been positive, encouraging, and assuring. Some of them believe that I will take on another such physical challenge once I heal completely. Their prediction is one week from now I will resume my decision to run a long distance race again. Never say never!
Photo credit: Kueh Hock Chye

Photo-credit: Nigel Chua

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Larger Decisions From Large Ones Grow

I have been reading Dean Karnazes’s book 50 Marathons in 50 Days in 50 States, and it contains his journal of all his daily races, plus lessons he learnt during the mega-challenge in 2006. I assure you that you will discover the many mistakes that this seasoned ultra-marathon guru and champion has made. Yet, we may benefit form his vignettes of wisdom (of hindsight).

Each challenge that we take on, builds a premise and promise for a future one. You start by running short distances, building up to a 10km run; this may progress to a 21km run, and then a marathon. Then, if choice and opportunity meet, aligned like planets in our solar system (your choice of dramatics, and powers of exaggeration), you may perhaps take on the ultra-marathon challenge or an Ironman triathlon. By which time, you have a shoe-box filled with finisher medals and a drawer of finisher tee-shirts to seriously dwell on (and wonder how you would recycle them).

My personal leadership choices for tonight will tie in, intimately, with my strategies for success. I want to complete the full distance, injury-free, comfortably, and I will. That is my mental program with personal algorithms leading to crossing the finish line. I will decide, along the route, when is a yes and when is a no. My priorities of actions will be:

1)    Pace at 6 minute/kilometre or slower.
2)    Be generous about refueling my body (300-400 calories an hour of Power-Bars, Power-Gels, Sponser gels, water, and electrolytes).
3)    Take bathroom breaks, if I have to.
4)    Change my socks/shoes after the first loop.
5)    Stretch and self-massage, when necessary.
6)    Be aware of discomfort on body, and attend to it.

I am excited for the participants and myself (mainly runners of AniMiles, SGRunners and Triathlon Family). Having done the midnight marathon last year (my first nocturnal marathon was in Bangkok in 2007 where I earned my first sub-4 hour PB) in this marquee event and earning a sub-4 hour finishing time over rolling terrain, I am looking forward to almost flat route. I will post on my lessons learnt tomorrow. Have a great evening.

Thank you, in advance, to friends and supporters who will brave the stench of an oil spill (along the beach route we will run) to provide us with moral aid and nutrition! I am anticipating the welcome respite of cold Milo at the 28km mark.

When: 6.00pm, Singapore, 29 May 2010
Where: Changi Exhibition Centre/East Coast Parkway
What: adidas Sundown 84km Ultra-marathon
Who: 600 participants (only)
Why: Various personal reasons and challenges
How: Running (with head, heart and heels)

Friday, May 28, 2010

Utilising Data Scientifically for Performance

I ran in a 25km race last Saturday. Since then, I was waiting for the results to appear, and for days it proved futile until I searched for the measuring authority and got successful. My Runpix results were such:

My overall was 107 out of 2487 runners (in the 25km category).
I was 8th in my age group.
I was 87th in the Men’s category.
I completed in 2 hours 8 minutes and 37 seconds.
As such, I placed in the top-4 percent.
I ran at a pace of 11.7kph.

This set of recent data gives me adequate information to plan for my run on Saturday. Although I was training near my race-pace of about 6 minutes/km, I raced much faster and held the pace although my legs were sore for three days. My menu leading to tomorrow’s evening’s marathon includes generous amounts of sleep and rest, stretching, and watching DVDs of triathlons and marathons. I am focused on staying calm and centred, and having my eye on my goal: to complete my first ultra-marathon safely, without injury, and in a time of about 10 hours. We start running at 6pm, and I hope to complete around 4pm, when the single marathoners will be coming in. Last year, I managed to do a 3:58 marathon over a hilly route. With this year’s flat route, I hope to keep to a pace that is manageable and kinder to my feet and knees.

In essence, I will race as I have trained. Nothing new on race day! I will execute my nutritional plan in a scientific manner (with special needs bag). I will race in my regular running attire (tri-suit), same new shoes (with a spare pair that I am familiar with), shades (no caps as it is too humid), extra pair of socks, and a 6-6.5 minute/kilometre pace. I have included a compulsory brief rest break after my first 42km, to change my socks, and fuel up with solid food.

When I started running seriously about 6 years ago, I placed in the upper 30 percent. Today, I am consistently in the top-five percent and I am thankful for my progress. In the past six months, I completed two ultra-marathons and one Ironman triathlon. This is part of my bigger plan to qualify for the century-old Boston Marathon next year, and to also achieve a few PBs in the Ironman triathlons I have signed up for.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

Seeking Inspiration For Running

I received my shipment of books and DVD from Amazon recently. As part of my mental preparation for this weekend’s adidas Sundown Marathon, I finally got ultramarathoner Dean Karnazes’ latest book and DVD. Watching DVDs and reading books are my supplementary to my endurance training.

Director JB Benna’s inspirational film UltraMarathon Man: 50 Marathons - 50 States - 50 Days, features renowned endurance athlete and bestselling author Dean Karnazes, in his attempt to run 50 marathons in 50 states in 50 consecutive days to raise awareness for youth obesity and to get America active.

This is a blow-by-blow account of Karnazes’s personal journey across the United States, during which the unusually well-built, Dean pushes the limits of human endurance, inspiring thousands across the country to join him along the path while uniting people of all ages and abilities to take the next step. His charisma is clear, as runners want to run alongside him and be close to him after each of his state-specific marathon. Karnazes' motivation to run: He started running the same night he turned 30 years old, and ran 30 miles after his birthday celebration at a bar. The rest, of course, is history.
In his book, Karnazes has run 350 continuous miles through three sleepless nights, ordered pizza during long runs, and inspired fans the world over with his adventures. So what does a guy like this do when he wants to face the ultimate test of endurance? He runs 50 marathons in 50 states - in 50 consecutive days. With just a road map and a caravan packed with fellow runners and a dedicated crew (and dedicated sponsors like North Face), Dean set off on a tour that took him through many unique sights and sounds. He was training twice a day for this challenge: 4.00-7.00am, and 9.00pm till midnight

Dean reveals the story of the Endurance 50 marathons to share his invaluable secrets and advice for athletes of all levels. These are the tips that kept Dean going during the 1,310 miles he covered and 160,000 calories he burned while averaging sub-four-hour marathons and often sleeping fewer than four hours each night. Learn how to:
  • Recover more quickly
  • Adapt to extreme conditions
  • Prevent muscle cramps and overheating
  • Pace yourself when you "hit the wall"
  • Stay motivated
This book is filled with practical advice and includes training regimens for walking around the block, running a 10K, or completing yet another Ironman.

As I am fairly new to the ultra- game, I have spent many occasions chatting to seasoned endurance athletes to glean their knowledge and hear their stories. It is through their personal accounts that we begin to appreciate their commitment, confidence, and clarity for doing what the uninitiated would consider as insanity. Well, one man’s insanity is another man’s annual fixture.

Years ago, when my friend Walter Strach III, Ph.D. (who completed Ironman St. George in Utah this year) asked me how I got started in triathlons and marathons, I answered: “I was influenced by idiots!’ I guess that I have been carrying the tradition.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Being Confident Through Sports

Leaders serve others better when they demonstrate confidence, commitment and clarity. These attributes complement other core competencies like decisiveness, creative problem solving, taking the initiative, pro-activeness and being fair.

Competitive sports allow us to bring out the best and the worst in our leadership potential. Individual sports and team sports have different orientations in how we relate to others. A triathlete, marathoner or weightlifter performs by himself, and his performance is dependent on his results. The training and post-race celebration calls upon others, so that we connect with others on a more social and less competitive platform. We become more adept at adapting to unfamiliar surroundings, and relating to strangers. Our confidence is fuelled with each new connection and contact with another person.

Sign up for a 10km race, an open water swim, biathlon, half-marathon, marathon, Olympic distance triathlon, half-Ironman triathlon, or Ironman triathlon. I endeavour to complete two Ironman triathlons and a marathon, every year; these events give me stronger reasons to train regularly and with focus. Above all, each completion of an event bolsters my confidence and feeds my self-esteem. I appreciate a personal and shared sense of achievement and accomplishment. Friends and family add meaning to these personal milestones.

Train hard, and race harder. You may get to engage some of these skill sets and competencies of leader. Challenge yourself and succeed, and enjoy your confidence.
Photo: Post-race camaraderie with seasoned ultra-marathoners from SGRunners and Mount Faber Runners (100 Plus Passion Run 2010).

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Brand Leadership for Leaders

This article comes kindly from Lim Leong, of INGENS

Leadership is part of the core entity for many brands today, and especially so in the corporate world and with many good reasons. By building an aspirational role model by the leader for employees and customers, brand leadership is a tall mountain but one not impossible to scale. Leadership can be interpreted in many ways. In a myriad of interpretations, here are some of the attributes which leaders can associate themselves with.

A competent leader who uses Divergent Thinking to solve problems.  Divergent Thinking is about possibilities thinking. It’s about creative thinking. Creativity was rated to be one of the top attributes for a successful CEO. Ahead of integrity and global thinking. See the full report here. Famous examples of business leaders who pride themselves using creative thinking are Steve Jobs and Richard Branson.

Purpose comes first
Leading with a purpose is the leaders themselves explaining the reasons why tribes are formed in the first place. This is before telling what followers are going to do and get Successful organizations are built on this basis of purpose driven leadership that sustains a business and flourished by dedicated followers. High turnover at your company? Simply ask if the purpose of the business has been pronounced, communicated and successfully sold in. Purpose can take some time to sow in but also bountifully harvested later.

Setting a style
There are a couple of styles which leaders take on. Innovation Branding is about constantly striving employees to think creatively and innovate. 3M leaders are known for rewarding their staff for coming out with new innovations. Iconic Branding is about building icons that customers can identify with. Apple is known to take on such a role with products like  iPOD as an icon for mp3 players.

Leading with love rather than fear
Love rather than fear in running an organization. Building a culture where staff respect and love each other is rare today. Why? People are too occupied in ‘covering their behinds’ and not take risks. They are instilled in a work culture of fear rather than love. As John Hope Bryant in Love Leadership puts it, “What you do not love, you fear.” Leaders who brand themselves with love are often more interested in the inwards development of an employee above everything else. Employees give back to their leaders through dedication and passion through their work. Everyone wins.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Singapore Weightlifting Scene Pre-YOG

Some useful updates after my weekend's Pre-Youth Olympic Games (YOG) validation exercise with the Singapore Weightlifting Federation (SWF). It is 81 days before the Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games, and it is all systems go!

Doing What Makes You Most Uncomfortable

Have you recently done something that caused you discomfort, anxiety and displeasure? How did that affect you?

Have you worked with somebody that you despised? Have you completed something that you think is a waste of your time? Have you stuck with a project that caused you grievance? What can you learn from these events?

We can be motivated by moving towards, or moving away from something. Pain and pleasure work along this spectrum. Sometimes, we do something just to get it over with. Other times, we do something because it gives us joy.

It is said that ‘That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.’ This sounds like coping mechanisms and adaptation at work. We can learn how to do something, or live with it. Sometimes we have to just live with it.

Stop sticking to one thing. Do other things. Maintain a level of discipline in what you do. Do your chores. Do the hard yards. Leaders may not get to choose all the time. We do what we need to do. Do the right thing, is one such instance.

When is your next such challenge? Do you have a half-marathon, marathon or ultra-marathon ahead? Do you have a project review and report to present soon? Is your department up for audit? When do you have guests in town that you have to take care of? Lead with your head, heart and hands.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Twelve Hours After

The beauty and humility of Delayed Onset Muscle Soreness (DOMS)! It is 12 hours after my 25km 100 Plus Passion Run last night, and the intensity of my race is paying its toll on my body.

At about 4.00pm yesterday, hundreds of runners congregated at the Angsana Green at East Coast Park. Participants ran either in the 25km, 50km Duo, 10km or 5km categories. The Elite, Women and Men's 25km/50km Duo race flagged off first into the obvious heat and humidity of a consistently tropical Singapore climate.

I paced myself with one of the best runners in my age group, a remarkable athlete and life-coach David Tay. I tracked him donwn and shadowed him for most of the 10km before I decided to hold back, or risk erasing my resources. For me, it was an object lesson in pacing, feeding and hydrating. I was preparing for the adidas Sundown Marathon a week later, and wanted to do some final checks with my running gear.

I was playing mind games at some points of the run, especially when I was either overtaking or being overtaken. I experienced second wind twice, and I did seek nature's call once, knowing well it would eat into my time and allow those behind me to catch up. I'd rather be fit than be a lame duck after thrashing my legs prematurely. I held a 5 minute per kilometre for most of the way: 4:50 for about 11km before I dropped the pace, intentionally as it was very hot. I crossed the line, under 2 hours 10 minutes. I met my friends from SGRunners and Mount Faber Runners and we chatted about next week's run, and what to look out for. I learn much from seasoned runners, many of whom have done multiple ultra-marathons.

Next Saturday's 84km - my inaugural double-marathon - should be an experience unto itself.

Photo credits: Le Giang

Photo credits: Lau Soh Wai

Saturday, May 22, 2010

A Small Run Before The Big One

This afternoon, I will run in a 25km race. I am using it as a tune-up for the Sundown Ultramarathon - only 600 runners will race next Saturday, beginning 6.00pm. Thousands others will do the 10km, 21km and 42km races.
Yesterday evening, I collected two race-kits: one for the 25km run, and the other for the double-marathon. The queue was, predictably, long however took about 30 minutes. There was enough to look at - including the retail shops in the Raffles City Mall. The race-kits were meagre, containing the participant's race-bib, race-sensor, and the participant tee-shirt. I am looking forward to the finisher's tees and medals.
The 25km race will be my final tune-up to my longest run. This week is part of my tapering week, so more short runs with intensity. I cannot afford to fatigue my legs unduly. My nutrition plan would be my highlight of my preparation, and I am focused on sustaining my energies and interest. It will be very mental and I will draw upon my patience, determination, persistence and commitment to completing the task. I will also be aware of my fellow runners, and hope to draw upon their enthusiasm and tenacity to enable me more during the marathon.
Most of all, I hope that the humidity may not be too fierce to challenge us unduly on the pancake-flat course. All the best to those running today and next Saturday.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The Heart of Volunteerism

You may hear that ‘volunteerism is a thankless job!’ Sad but true, to some extent. If you do not know how to hold on to your volunteers, you can easily loose them.

If your manager volunteers you at work, it is not true volunteering. It is delegation. Volunteering comes from the word volunteer, and it involves a self-directed, motivated approach to wanting to help someone. If you are arrowed, you were probably delegated. Delegation requires the manager giving away to the staff some degree of authority, while still taking the responsibility. Most managers do it the other way around.

Here are ways to be a useful volunteer:

1)    Choose to do it, not because you were told to do so.
2)    Find your passion, or area that you can be passionate about.
3)    Apply your strengths.
4)    Use the opportunity to develop your areas of lesser competencies.
5)    Seek other volunteers out and identify their strengths.
6)    Rally other like-minded individuals and find a common cause and band together (start a tribe).
7)    Create opportunities to accomplish and achieve results of various descriptions and intensities (example: Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games; charities; fund-raisers).
8)    Engage values like care, consideration selflessness, generosity, performance, responsiveness, respect, and recognition.
9)    Do something else when you experience volunteer fatigue, or when you want to experience and learn new things.

Go out and volunteer, seek other like-minded people, and do your best!

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Meaningful Weekend Activities

In the light of fallen cyclists over the past few months, perhaps you would like to participate in the global Ride of Silence Singapore? Having been hit by a taxi three months ago, I can relate closely to the dangers and plight that riders are constantly exposed to. This ride is in memory of our fallen brethren and injured members of our cycling family.

May 22nd 2010 – 10.00am: Merlion Park
Registration 9.00am

Male and female lifters from Canada, Hong Kong, Indonesia, Thailand and Singapore will compete as part of their preparation for the Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games. As part of the validation exercise, the technical officials of the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) and Singapore Weightlifting Federation (SWF) and venue will be tested for its operational readiness. Do drop by to experience the power and grace of this timeless Olympic sport. Tan Howe Liang won Singapore’s first silver medal at the 1960 Olympic Games in Rome.

Singapore Weightlifting Competition
Toa Payoh Sports Hall
Saturday & Sunday

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Leading With Your Reading

I love reading, except I don’t make enough time for it. I realize that this is an excuse, yet that is the reality for me when I am immersed in projects. Travelling offers me a chance to accelerate my reading pace, and cover a wider landscape of learning and imagination.

Reading can help enhance our imagination, a fiendishly deceptive thing that appears to disappear when we grow older. Einstein did state that imagination was as important as knowledge, and perhaps even more. So, keep making those pictures and sounds in the privacy of your head. My current list includes:

Smoke & Blue In the Face by Paul Auster (first edition)

The Unauthorised Guide To Doing Business the Jamie Oliver Way: 10 Secrets of the Irrepressible One-Man Brand by Trevor Clawson

Linchpin by Seth Godin

Leaders of their own lives read, and learn by applying their knowledge. That’s how they become learned. Words are our medium of communication: speak, write and read. Words matter. In business, it is our word that binds an agreement. Be consistent and stick to your words. Make your words come alive when you use them. Word your thoughts carefully when you intend to communicate your message well. Never be limited by your vocabulary. Speak your mind. Mind your words.

When was the last time you read a book? Attempt to complete one, or re-read it. Make the discipline to do that, and enjoy it.

Stepping Into History

I captured a few pictures from my recent trip to Xi’An, PRC. Certainly, I had to make a trip to the Eighth Wonder of the Ancient World. Here were a few pictures that made it all worth it.

It takes about 45 minutes to travel from the inner gate, from the city to the site. You will witness many walls within Xi'An city. The whole, self-guided tour, for the Terracotta Museum takes about one hour. As it is a popular tourism spot, expect huge crowds to jockey with your for the best photographic positions. It takes about 30 minutes to walk from the entrance to the 3 pits, however you do get to shop or get a meal. A tram ride is available, however it enjoys long queues so I walked. Do get on a guided tour; my tour-guide was very knowledgeable and she spoke very good English. I also got to practise my advanced Mandarin with her; in fact, she spoke mainly Putonghua with me.