Tuesday, August 31, 2010

The Leadership Style of Subtlety

Some experts in leadership do not think the leader should be a servant. Granted, there are leaders, and there are followers. They are distinct positions and we need to be able to discern them.

Can you practise a leadership style that is subtle? Subtle means many things including ‘fine, delicate, and mysterious’. It also refers to one’s mental acuteness and penetration.

Some team-leaders I spoke to believe that it is about being humble. It is more than that. It is about having humility. Humble may lead to grumble. Play it too low and you may not be noticed. Sometimes you lead in the run, and sometimes you follow. If you feel that you can set the pace, move up to the front of the pack. There is no insult as some may be grateful for teh change in pace.

Leadership is also not about being loud, intense and unbridled. Action can speak louder than truths. You can walk the talk. Practise what you preach. Lead with results. Lead through your team members. Team involves everybody that is in it.

If your team member leads you, so be it. When a staff steps up to bat, you can be sure that there is transformation at work: change, develop and grow. Leave them be. Subtle leadership is about letting the leadership qualities emerge. An analogy would be tending a garden, but not over-pruning or over-fertilising it. Be mild. Be mild mannered. Subtle does it.
Photo-credit: Ashley of Team FatBird (cool guy in foreground)

Monday, August 30, 2010

Starting Off With A Schedule

Schedule with sessions: This is an extension of a daily or weekly list. Whether you accomplish all on that list is unimportant as getting some things done. Outcomes are what schedules are about, and after.

Today, I had a swim session at noon and followed up with a ride session this evening. I committed to these two physical activities on my schedule, and did them. I am glad I did as to have procrastinated or postponed them due to inclement weather would have caused me suffer regret. Today’s session allowed my legs to heal after yesterday’s run. While preparing for a triathlon, we include sessions for all three disciplines, as well as more for a weaker discipline.

Scheduling is a task that we need to do. As leaders, we need to schedule regular meetings with our staff. We may schedule routine and project meetings, yet how often do you schedule a performance appraisal meeting, coaching or counseling session? Above all, do you stick to your schedule? Do you also respect your staff’s schedule? We should not expect them to drop everything just to pander to our flexible timelines. These are some activities worth scheduling:

1) Complete key tasks (including mundane matter, like chores).
2) Quiet time, meditation or prayer.
3) Meeting an old friend or business associate.
4) Learning one new thing, professional-linked or a hobby.
5) Reviewing your career plan, and list of dreams/aspirations.
6) Leading in a group meeting, or making a presentation.
7) Assisting in a charity cause.
8) Helping a staff out in a major task (by coaching or assisting).
9) Meet a leader and share your thoughts with him/her.
10) Commit to a daily exercise session.

What do you have scheduled for tomorrow? This week? Next week? This year? By the way, Ironman Canada 2011 applications open in less than three hours’ time.

Congratulations to Singaporeans - Daphne Wee, Adeline Khoo and Pauline Pang - for completing the grueling Ironman Canada! It was a hard day at the office.

YOG Moments fondly remembered.

Speedsters - what a fine club name for 5K specialists of all ages!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Practice Makes Perfect?

Anybody can play the violin – badly!

I like this saying, as I do this anecdote. A young musician once asked a performer: ‘How do you get to Carnegie Hall?’ To which the answer was: ‘Practice. Practice. Practice!’

When I teach my students juggling, I always bring to their attention that ‘Perfect practice makes perfect. Wrong practice becomes permanent!’ There is a danger when training is over-rated and smart training is under-rated. I cannot over-emphasise the relevance of getting professional coaching advice.

I have become a stickler for proper technique. Although I appreciate shortcuts to results, I still believe that hard work matters. I surveyed runners who use Vibram Five Fingers shoes and found that they still experience sore calves after using them. I appreciate that running biomechanics is vital, and learning how to run with Chi Running or P.O.S.E. Method is relevant. It takes time to learn how to run again. In learning, we consider the processes of learning, unlearning and relearning. Learning sleight-of-hand magic (which I think is the purest form of the Art) involves these decisions and diligence. You need to be able to discern that which is useful for leading you to your results, and that which does not.

Test out theories. Avoid taking things at face values. Facts change. Paradigms can shift. Most bestseller books are based on dated research, and their idea postulated may be relatively untested in some industries. Too often the models proposed are based on specific industries, or confined to a particular geography. What works in the West may not be easily integrated into the East. It would be convenient for these theories and models to flourish abundantly elsewhere. Communication, including education involves generalisation, distortion and deletion.
This weekend was a revealing one for me, with many Eureka moments. I have integrated Ironman disciplines into my predominantly running-based session. I believe that my muscles became too comfortable in the gross biomechanics of pure running. Thus, I injected intervals into my mainly tempo-based menu. I still pay close attention to my running gait, noticing any discomfort and injuries that may surface. I also included swim drills and cycling recently. Yesterday’s 2-hour ride on my road-bike was exhilarating as I discovered I did not loose too much cycling fitness. In fact, I was capable of short bursts of high-cadence pedaling. What surprised me was after a midday interval session followed with an evening cycling session I was able to complete my 18km run with Team Fatbird (whose members were preparing for the Army Half Marathon in a fortnight’s time) the next morning.
Practise what you preach. Practise till you achieve Personal Mastery in something.

Photo-credits: Team Fatbird, Operation Kingfisher. The team trains at least twice a week, assisting neophyte runners aspiring to complete their first endurance run.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Thriving on Paranoia

"You only get out of the valley of death," he says in his book, "by outrunning the people who are after you. And you can only outrun them if you commit yourself to a particular direction and go as fast as you can. Hedging is expensive and dilutes commitment. Without exquisite focus, the resources and energy of the organization will be spread a mile wide -  and they will be an inch deep." ~ ANDY GROVE, CEO, INTEL

The founder of Intel, Andy Grove wrote this book ‘Only the Paranoid Survive’ (1996). Usually associated with abnormal psychology, paranoia is about an unfounded fear about people, places and events.

I did a short session of running intervals at midday, not the best time to do it, but a useful mental strengthener when you complete it. The relevant thing about running on the path at noon is that, runners have an aversion for the intense heat and risk of sunburn. I was mindful to run within a semblance of shade, as I was not wearing the gooey sunscreen – it does overheat my body and clogs up my sweat pores. It was a hard session, and I was glad I did it. My Coach, Fox is spot-on when it comes to training in the trenches; smart, hard, training reaps dividends at the most challenging times.

This evening, I decided to go for a ride. I haven’t ridden my pearly-white, custom-fitted, Orbea Vitesse for a few weeks, so decided to check out the condition of my ride muscles. I bumped into my friend Michael (who just finished his sets of 1.5km intervals), who I trained with and ran at the Sundown Ultra-marathon. I asked him if his legs were exhibiting symptoms of injuries about a month after the race, but not before. He agreed, and we chatted about my observation and his experience with injuries in his first ultra-marathon in 2008. Michael believed that prolonged rest (i.e. away from hard running) was imminent or else injuries could become chronic. I was assured that my rehabilitative exercises were helping me so far.

As I rode solo, which is pretty much de rigueur for me, I noticed that the heavy-laden construction trucks were, occasionally, very close to me. I trust my riding skills and compliance to road-rules, yet I could not say the same for the hurried drivers. Having assumed a sense of paranoia for the duration of my ride on the long stretch of tar road, I think I kept myself safe from any distractions and potential risks. The pockmarked and scabrous road surface made my ride bumpy and irritable at times, however I focused on the road ahead and respected it by slowing down when I suspected something troublesome. In a way, it was akin to a road less travelled by me. I did three loops of the 10km route, which I am familiar for its strong headwinds during the monsoon season.

This session was a follow-up to my earlier piece about split sessions. Train twice a day, however, reduce the session time but increase its intensity. This approach can also be applied to workplace tasks, projects and meetings. Marathon meetings are, unarguably, painful and unpleasant; split them, keep them focused and meaningful, and assess the difference. Decide and determine what works best for you and your team.

Run, not hide. Ride, with paranoia.

Do we need to avoid caffeine? The verdict is out-side the box.

Friday, August 27, 2010

How Often Do You Thank Your Staff?

Last night, I was fortunate enough to be invited for the closing ceremony of the inaugural Youth Olympic Games. I was seated with my colleagues on the management committee of weightlifting, amongst the 27,000-strong audience. The ubiquitous presence of the purple-shirted volunteers was significant and unavoidable. This helpful large team went through its paces as rehearsed as any major international event should.
Before we departed, I noticed a trend in my motley crew of leaders – they thanked the volunteers. Could it be because we served as volunteers a week earlier and we could relate to those on duty? Or, was it our personal values? We certainly connected at a values level, and also the act of appreciation made us feel good – for both volunteers and ourselves. It was not easy to manage non-compliant audience members who may have been there for different reasons. They were ‘live’ but not alive in the spirited sense; yet, the volunteers stirred us out of potential stupor by guiding us or goading us on, in song or dance or cheer. It takes courage to express yourself in public without making a fool of yourself.
Why thank a person? Do you do it because you have to, or it is the right thing to do? How do you feel when you profess that gesture? How genuine and sincere were you in that act or seemingly mild nature? Are they just words, mouthed as impeccably as a trained service staff at a retail store? How do we turn lip service into livid service?

How do we show our recognition of someone’s competence, results, and behaviors of worth? We were taught early in life to say these magic words: thank you, please, and hello. Are these simple words worth reciting in our daily lives? Would a leader gain more influence if he/she openly pronounced them to the staff? Can you thank a cleaner at a food-court for clearing the mess on your table before you dined?

What I recalled mere hours ago was that the volunteers seemed surprised by our thanking them. All smiled their heartfelt appreciation. The behavior could have passed unnoticed, however it was not. If you were not involved in the entire process of assisting in the mega-sporting event, would you feel inclined to thank a youth or mature volunteer for their generous gesture to help? Would you post a note on Twitter or Facebook just to express your sense of recognition?

Thank somebody today!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Race Bandits & Respecting Rules

I received this announcement via Twitter: The new USAT rule 3.5

Essentially, if you did not pay for a race and crashed – or raced under somebody else’s name - you have violated the rules and can be banned from future competitions. We have Wedding Crashers, and it was good for a laugh. But it is no laughing matter if you got yourself or somebody hurt, and was not a registered entrant for a race. The legal ramifications and social implications are too complex to shrug off nonchalantly. Having gotten involved in a road accident before, I can attest to the fact that the process of legal recourse can be slower than running an ultra-marathon. 

Character audits may be what we need – personally. Reflect and genuflect. I always found the value of integrity very hard to do thoroughly. For companies boasting integrity as their core value, do review it now and  again - do your work ethics and practices reflect this value strongly? The rules of engagement for business and the workplace must be aligned with expectations from colleagues, clients and community. 

Former-hirsute Ironman, Hui Koon shaved his head for cancer awareness. He now looks as polished as his writing. He wrote: Should we compromise our character over our achievements? Penn Gillette of the famous magical duo, Penn & Teller (and host of the funny Prime Time’s Bullshit!) cut nine inches off his trademark ponytail for a similar cause in Las Vegas. I visited this brilliant showman and expert juggler/fire-eater at his house in 2004, and its architecture does not corridors!

Do you have random thoughts you have when running; my mid-lifer friend blogged his many observations and reflections when taking those plethora of steps forward. Hot on the heels of running authors (Pamela Reed, Amby Burfoot, Dean Karnazes) or authors-who-run, running can be a philosophical journey, albeit subject to distance pursued.

Just found out that the term I coined a decade ago ‘Fe-mail’ for the politically correct version of ‘e-mail’ is used by Daily Mail Online of the UK. I guess it is a case of independent- thinking. Oh well…

David Greenfield is in town for a few weeks, so if you have not met him (except through my interview with him) in person head over to 3 Duxton Hill at Elite Bicycles Asia. Many of my triathlon friends (including my neighbour with a fixed-gear bike) either had their bikes fitted specifically for their unique body, or had their bicycles custom-built for them. My Elite Razor tri-bike should arrive in the next few weeks.

Thought for the day by Jeanie Marshall: If you wish to be a writer; write!" ~ Epictetus

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Champions As Leaders

Watching the Youth Olympic Games over the past 11 days has yielded for me many moments of thrill, suspense, drama and epiphanies. The many sports have a way of melding your ‘armchair mind’ to actively think on many levels about the individual and team performances. Every point scored or placing earned was done with decisiveness and deliberateness. Flukes and coincidences are few, and carelessness can be highly punitive.

Sporting competition is tense. The athlete undergoes an emotional rollercoaster as complex and tongue twisting as the colourful vocabulary of a passionate commentator. It is stressful, and the athlete draws upon his cache of values including resourcefulness, resilience, determination and passion. If all goes well, he may emerge the champion.

The champion is the eventual winner, who stands on the pinnacle of the rostrum. He bows the deepest as the gold medal is hung on his neck; he stands the tallest as he is both outstanding and stands out from the rest. The corporate champion is significant as he leads with new initiatives, interventions and implements them in innovative and intuitive ways.

The champion’s mindset is complex, a cerebral cauldron of intellectual, emotional and social intelligences. When corporate initiatives are introduced, he has to engage his sense of clarity, commitment and confidence to sell in ideas  (sometimes, farfetched), and gain buy in by the masses. It is a transaction of expectation and effort, married with optimism, aligned visions and sense of relevance. The champion must have a mindset of a winner, of imagining that the race is won before it is started. Why compete if you don’t want to win? Competition is vital for deciding standards, excellence, and ambition. Be the best, or not!

You can champion the cause of learning, top-notch service, healthy lifestyle, and a courteous and gracious culture. You can champion a cause or charity, and raise funds to support other initiatives. However, you will need to stick to your guns and blast forwards, clearing a way that makes the pathways clear and safe for others to follow through. Hannibal the Conqueror said: ‘If we cannot find a way, we will make a way!’ We need to take aim, like the youth archer and marksman, before we can release our arrow or round onto the target. We must ensure we hit home with our message, the relevance of our cause, and then vision of our intended future.

How do you become a champion of your corporation? How do you actively lead with your ideas, initiatives and strategies? How do you uniquely champion your cause? How pronounced do you make your target?

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Too Busy to Train? Split!

If you have a busy work or school schedule, how do you minimize disruption to your training? How do you not compromise your training schedule and competition plan?

Split your workouts. Do it 50:50. Or, AM/PM. Essentially, you schedule an earlier session and a latter session. Most elite and professional athletes approach training, with intensity and purpose, this way. If you have a long run session of 24km, you can split it into two 12km sessions, or a 10km and 14km session. As a triathlete or biathlete, another option would be to have two disciplines spread over two sessions. Ride in the morning for an hour, then head for a swim or run session in the evening. You can do drills on one session, and speed work in the following session.

This approach allows your body to recover and recharge itself in-between; you train your body to recuperate, as you do not tap your reserves unduly.  On weekends, you can even afford a nap between intense workouts. You tend to have a better training gait when fatigue upsets your posture as your core stability collapses. These pockets of training accumulate into your total training investment in a week. Total time for training contributes to the development of your physical and mental fitness. Even if it is a 30-45 session, you will still benefit from such a flexible approach.

Start splitting!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Masters-Class Training, Part 2

7)    Nutrition is another KEY. Ensure adequate natural foods and supplements. I am into more vegetable/fruit in my meals, and I find it to be strangely useful for more energy. A vitamin/mineral supplement helps to ward off nutrient deficiencies as our immune system is vulnerable to weakening. L-glutamine (an essential amino acid) after each run/session and before you sleep helps boost your immunity so we do are less prone to colds. I haven’t had a cold in more than a year.
8)    I have a deep tissue massage session at CORE CONCEPTS (Novena or Tras Street) for 90 minutes once a week 6-8 weeks leading to an A-race. I developed very tight calves, inner thighs and ITBs and this definitely helps heaps. As prescribed by my coach ‘Fox’ I also do self-massage regularly while at my desk or watching TV. Little things add up. Loose muscles function better at races. Be aware that you lose muscle tone after these deep and sometimes painful sessions. So, if you must train light that day, do it later but not immediately after.
9)    Training alone. It helps us stay focused as our sport is very inward-looking. We are comforted by our discomfort. I train without music. However, I enjoy riding with a pack for safety reasons. I pick a few ‘pacers’ and stick with them for as long as I can.
10)    I do mostly long and short runs at tempo pace. I rarely do intervals and speedwork as tempos fit my schedule and location. I run 11km or 21km at 5min/h pace minimum and aim for 4:30min/km as these are my target race paces. For the Sundown Ultramarathon, it was 6min/km for the first loop (thus, a 4:12 timing), and it went 6:30-6:45min/km after stomach issues. I never run more than 2.5 hours as it is hard on my legs. Frequency of run is more useful than duration.
11)   Talk to elite Masters athletes and learn from them. I ask a bunch of questions and adopt and adapt to what I think is useful for me.
12)    Above all, smaller races keep our racing ‘edge’ up. It hurts for sure, but you get confident when you over-take, or stay patient.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Masters-Class Training, Part 1

There is a close correlation between training harder and injury as a Masters-class athlete. Once past your 40’s, you are more prone to injury due to degeneration of joints, through wear and tear. Training longer and harder (which is an inescapable feature of endurance sports) accelerates this process – we can only delay its onset.

1)    Training divided into twice a day. Same distance, split into two portions in morning and evening (if it is a long distance day). What I learnt from training with local running group AniMiles is that we must do whatever it takes to be prepared. Rain or shine, do your 50-60km before an ultramarathon. Run or walk. Be psychologically prepared.
2)    Change the running surface. Running on tar is better than concrete/cement paths. Grass, sand and trail are options to consider if your feet get sore.
3)    I recently incorporated barefoot running with Vibram Five Fingers. These are shoes that are shaped for your feet; each toe has a sleeve so that its stays snug. It hurts a bit, initially, as it is mainly forefoot/ball of toes running, yet it helps strengthens your feet. Take it easy for a few weeks. It trains you to keep good form. My friend, Marathon Mohan (who recently completed his 100th marathon) has run his last 17 marathons in VFF. My friend, Eng Boon ran for four hours on trail yesterday. Both are converts to the barefoot philosophy.
4)    Watch your technique and gait ALL THE TIME. I observe Chi Running posture, which I was trained in. I run forefoot and midsole only opting to select shoes that are less developed in heel, and more on the midsole.
5)    I do CORE STABILITY exercises regularly, and NO weights. I use only my bodyweight as I do not have access to a gym. I believe weight training helps with the swim and ride. I think developing my core was my recent success factor in races. It definitely helped my swimming these days. Elite Bicycle’s founder, David Greenfield prescribed for me a comprehensive menu of core strengthening exercises that suit my unique posture.
6)    Sleep is KEY. We need about 6-8 hours minimum every day. A nap before a workout help heaps. We need our bodies to heal and its takes longer for the mature athlete. Aim to sleep at a similar time each evening.

(Continued tomorrow)

Saturday, August 21, 2010

The Power and Purpose of Print

I am old-fashioned in many ways. I believe that every kid needs to get some fresh air and physical activity every day. Staying indoors to develop your intellectual prowess need not be limited to digital entertainment and online gaming.

I love print. I grew up reading as my preferred format for relative inactivity. My myopia may have been attributed to my lying on my back and holding my book above my head. I may have activated my core stability and strengthened it in the process, but I infer too much. The power of words and the stirring of my imagination in my youth, attest to my fondness to write books, articles, blogs and plays.

Subsequently, I created my opportunity to work in publishing and was on the beat as a trade reporter, working regionally on diverse industries such as sports, entertainment and processed food and beverage. It was coincidental that reporting on processed food and beverage industry led me to working in an international brewery. Yet, I digress.

I respect print as the press-machine was a major invention for humankind and it allowed education to spread. Paper was the other invention that provided a medium upon which we could hold - the predecessor of the 'hard copy'. The Guttenberg Press was the beginning of the information age as far as I am concerned.

Granted that new forms of reading via the Internet, Kindle and iPad are catching on yet I believe that few things beats the flipping of pages of a book of newspaper. Can you imagine reading a copy of Readers’ Digest in the bathroom on a digital book? You won’t be able to dog-ear mark a page that you paused at! There will be no use for beautiful bookmarks. Greeting cards will become redundant through time with eCards. I like to open my bedside drawers for an actual copy of the scripture. I like to read a hand-signed welcome letter from the general manager of the hotel I am checked into, rather than a message on my screen.

I am enjoying the books that I buy from Amazon. I have a genuine excuse to catch up on my conversations with my friendly newsagent when I collect my copies of Triathlon, Triathlete and Runner’s World. Most of all I hope that books and magazines will continue thriving.

Having said all this, I still enjoy reading blogs of friends and receiving e-mail. Do you think that the certificate of qualification for the Ironman 70.3 World Championships was mailed or e-mailed?
Congratulations to Triathlon Family member Redzwa for completing Ironman UK in 13:57, his best time so far (his second in five months and a massive three-hour improvement)! It is a cold and tough bike course and he aced the ride with a PB. We are happy for you, mate!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Leadership Through Sports

I have had the pleasure to meet many leaders in sports. Within the endurance sports community, I am friends with many encouraging and inspiring personalities.

Despite the fact that the sport of cycling and racing overseas constitute the largest cost to this long-haul sport, the sport is relatively inexpensive. There are a significant number of PMETs as there are youths and students.

Leaders emerge from the packs by leading in training sessions in the swim, ride and run. I have had a youth rider leading a small pack of aging masters-class triathletes in short evening rides. We have older riders lead the younger ones; the leaders switch position like they do in the peloton of the Tour de France. On our Saturday open-water swims at Sentosa Island, our stronger and experienced swimmers organize, coach and lead the lagoon swim.

The leaders in running set the pace, and hopefully sustain it. Sometimes, the shorter distance specialist lead. Other times, the marathoner does. Patience and purpose are integral to the process.

Leaders lead in their competencies. They demonstrate their prowess through their skills, confidence and experience. And this prowess can be developed through coaching, practice, training and rehearsals. It may take time, yet patience will invariably pay off. Building substance, reputation and credibility requires time and evidence. It is evident that staff need convincing as they do persuasion.

Sometimes, leaders know when to rescind or surrender the position, without losing the challenge or game. If we are to believe the plea or credo of sports: winning isn’t everything. Or, is it the only thing?

Lead with your head, heart and hands.

Photo: Leading the pack with my packets. My race attire was the talk of the Sundown Marathon. Those were not toothpaste, but energy gels in a new packaging. Surprisingly, I qualified for the NF100 race with this seemingly bizarre set-up.

Update: Vin Diesel in the Disney film ‘Pacifier’ can be seen with a waist-belt similar to mine, except it has fruity drinks and milk-bottles.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Leadership with Coaching & Counseling

There is so much discussion about coaching in the corporate world, and little about counseling. One is associated with developing skills, and the other tends to be related to adjusted attitudes and dysfunctional behaviors. Both interventions require skillfulness and experience. We don’t have answers to everything we seek, including staff’s problems. We can only be part of the collaborative approach to moving forward and making progress.

Perhaps it is time to move away from bestseller approaches and redefine what these two processes mean to you. Define then refine methodologies and approaches. Merge fitness with finesse. Let us move towards results drawn from productive conversations, purposeful dialogue, real interest in people, and shared experiences of worth.

We can teach skills and monitor learning and competencies; however shifting attitudes and beliefs is harder. Yet, we can influence by action and conversation so that we promote better and useful things. Emotional issues can be affected by other emotions, shared values, and behaviors of value and substance.

Having said all this, the two processes of coaching and counseling can be applied and attended to with some basic guidelines.

1)    Be in rapport with your staff. Always demonstrate respect.
2)    Stay connected throughout the process.
3)    Engage the person and be engaging.
4)    Ask and tell. Direct and facilitate.
5)    Use evidence and observations of behaviors you would like to start, continue or stop.
6)    Be professional, never personal.
7)    Marry motive with motivation. Good intention gets lost in being intentional.
8)    Be open-minded, honest and straightforward when giving feedback.
9)    Request that your staff also offer options, and create choices together.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Going Solo or Secret Training?

There have been occasions when my training buddies accused me of secret training. What is secret training exactly? Does it mean training in isolation? Does it mean training more intensely?

Why are some bothered by your secret training? They may pass remarks like ‘You have been training hard!’ and ‘Somebody has been training secretly!’ What is the intention behind these statements? Do they disapprove of your actions? Do they feel threatened by you? That you may exceed them in performance one day? Or, are they concerned about possible compulsive obsessive behavior on your part? I have learnt that people may balk at how long endurance-athletes train.

I am amazed by friends’ shocked reactions (on social media tools) when they read announcements of my training. Or, they may infer that you have been training hard, because they bumped into you, or saw you pass them by on hurried heels. The chances of being noticed in public are high enough if you travel on regular routes used by many others. It is not like you are sunbathing on a remote part of a deserted island. If you announce your race results or training activities on Facebook or Twitter, it is not private anymore.

So, when did you last train on the quiet? How did it make you feel? How secret did you maintain your exercise regime?

Secrets have their allure. Being confidential is a skill worth developing. It means knowing when to keep confidences. It is about keeping mum. It is also about keeping quiet at the right moments. So, do you partake in secret training?

Photo-credit: Page of article on emusclemag.com

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Professionalism & Professional Behavior

Professionalism is a challenging value to demonstrate. I am surprised to see it plastered over the walls of retail outlets or companies as one of their core values, but little has been shown in their way of professional behaviors. Being categorised as a professional (PMETs) does not mean that we are one. A professional is a title, and professionalism is about the expression of one’s profession.

What is professionalism? Before we answer that, we will need to appreciate what professional means. A professional is a person who has decided on his profession, and professes to it being his meaning/purpose in life. Your profession is more than your occupation or job; it is what you believe in and feel, strongly about. Most people have jobs but it may not be what they are passionate and engaged about.

Professionalism is about reducing inappropriate behaviors. What is appropriate will need to be determined for each culture. Be aware and be respectful of those questionable and irrelevant behaviors. Some considerations for appropriate behaviors will include:

1)    Respecting distance between another person and physical contact
2)    Minimising touching and knowing where to touch
3)    Using appropriate language (even when emotional or disagreeing)
4)    Dressing that is not revealing or reflects poorly on the organization/profession
5)    Being respectful to the person, their property, thoughts and actions
6)    Living up to your personal values, and demonstrating your company’s core values
7)    Being competent and showing that you know your work very well and can get results
8)    Avoiding personal attacks and offensive remarks

How will you express your professionalism?

Monday, August 16, 2010

Switching Lanes and Shifting Priorities

Just for the next two weeks, the centre lane for local expressways has been reserved for the YOG vehicles. In the event one of these special Olympic Games buses or designated cabs comes into view, motorists are advised to give way to allow athletes easier access to our sporting venues.

Last week, I began a schedule of training before work (this refers to my volunteer duties as a national-level technical official). I trained before my shift, as it may be late by the time I finish work.

Yesterday, I did almost an hour of swim drill; the day before, I ran 21km before I attended a technical briefing. My body held up, except that my legs was a little stiff. I just completed a short session of calisthenics and core-stability exercises. This evening, I will run another 16-21km, as I need to keep my race fitness up. I have less than six weeks to Berlin so time is of the essence. Two more A-races separate this PB-seeking marathon. This switch between swimming and running allows my body to recover from my cumulative pounding on my legs, and relieves it with the cushioning effects of water. In effect, I am also switching muscle groups yet working my cardiovascular system.

Cross-training is beneficial as you work different muscle groups; in my case, upper boy versus lower body. Ultra-runner Dean Karnazes does 400 sit-ups, 200 pushups and 50 pull-ups, twice a day, when training for all sports, including ultra-marathons.

Do whatever it takes to enhance your body and spirit. You decide and act. Hesitation does lead to inaction. It is so easy to postpone your tasks and responsibilities. When you lead by your actions, passions and ambitions you may inspire others.
Singapore runners, Adam One-Armed Runner Khamis and Mohd Shariff Abdullah aka Blade Runner will be running the Beijing Marathon in October. I had the privilege to run alongside them in local marathons and they are highly inspiring athletes. We wish them all the best!

Picture/article: courtesy of Men’s Health magazine and Adam Khamis’s blog.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Keeping Your Cool Under Pressure

Leaders are expected to lead by example. We are expected to be consistent. Say what you do, do what you say. This was exactly what I experienced today facilitating Day 1 of the weightlifting YOG.

I had students from my volunteer-leadership class acknowledge my presence. One of them came up to me to ask for interpretation of the various nationalities, described as cryptic three-letter acronyms. There were many countries, out of the 205 participating, that we were unfamiliar with. This volunteer staff was attempting to assist the right liaison officers to attend to those who did not speak English. Many of us were not familiar with South America and the new nations that arose after the splintering of the former-USSR, and certainly had no clue to the specific language spoken. She asked a relevant question that may pre-empt future delays and expedite smother flow of actions and decisions.

I heard and encountered several awkward and tensed moments when well-intentioned international officials expected to buttress their way through certain areas, when the competition was on. Those in charge of validating entry passes had to disallow them because of failure to produce the required passes. This led to unpleasant expressions of emotions and disrespectful behavior. Thankfully, our volunteers and officials kept their cool and made their informed decisions. Sometimes, we have to err on the side of diplomacy, tact and security to let things pass.

Officials are in a leadership position, yet if they choose to flout established rules, then they fail to appreciate the core values of Respect, Excellence and Friendship as touted by the Olympic Games. It is disgraceful to present oneself as an elected leader, yet behave inconsistently.

The courage to stand by your beliefs and word is an admirable one. Staying cool under duress is also a skill that is worth exercising.

In triathlons, staying calm and collected is critical as it can spell success or disappointment. If you get a flat tyre, or experience muscle cramps, or have gastrointestinal issues, you will need to manage the moment. When German professional triathlete Norman Stadler suffered two flat tyres during the World Championships, he reacted then responded by having replaced his tyes and then peddling to Transition 2 with a record-breaking 4:18 in the 180km bike leg. The Normanator won his second Ironman World Championship title after he regained his cool head.

Thus, rehearsals, training and practice matter. It prepares us for contingencies. If you simulate race conditions during training, you will stand a better chance of surviving surprises during race day. That is why, training must be close to race conditions so we do not depart from the plan on race day. Nothing new and nothing unfamiliar!

In the heat of the moment, stay cool and think straight in the face of new situations and issues. My team of A1 volunteers and committee members kept their cool throughout today, and I very pleased to have worked (and through all the kinks in the myriad of processes) with them. We learn as we go. It is important to adapt, adopt and be adept in each interaction with others. Thanks guys* for being level-headed!

* Soo Yong, Tom, Colin, Jeanette, Charles, Helen, Pepper, Wan, Alan, Damon, Sandy, Anne and Alex.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Locked and Loaded For the Games

Last night I watched the rerun of the Matrix Reloaded on television. I still consider it to be an awesome film that is part of a triumphant trilogy.

This morning, I ran an easy 21km before I headed home for a quick shower and then to the Toa Payoh Hall. During my run I saw many runners from the military that I believe were preparing for the Army Half Marathon/Bay Run. We acknowledged each other in a teasing manner as we passed by each other; among these was Victor Chan and Muscle Poon, both Ironman finishers and highly competent marathoners. Somewhere on my sixth kilometre, the front of one shoe decided to peel of like aged paint. I ripped it out carefully without creating an unsightly hole, and then continued with my purpose. I also saw David Tay talking to his large coterie of marathon pacers.

It was all official and respectful at the technical officials’ meeting this morning. The air was positive and focused on rules, respectful behavior and ensuring a safe and fair event. The room was filled with many seasoned and highly experienced international referees, marshals and jury members. We had a tour of the facilities then headed off for lunch. It was a hearty meal, with a free flow of fruit, cake and beverage. In the afternoon, our national technical officials moved furniture and equipment and briefed our staff.

I received my certificate of participation for the Youth Olympic Torch Relay on Thursday from my Secretary-General, Mohd Dali. This is a new piece of recognition for me, and a definite keeper and will sit alongside the special lapel-pin made especially for all 2,400 torch-bearers.

Tomorrow is the first day of the six-day weightlifting meet. I am looking forward to some excellent performances. Mostly, I want to experience the energy and enthusiasm of the youth athletes and volunteers. I hope that we express ourselves as gracious hosts.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Ruminating On the Road Rarely Travelled

‘Adventure is worthwhile in itself.’ Emelia Earhart

I am reading Dean Karnazes’ book Ultramarathon Man and am engrossed by it. Karno describes his running journey, and in particular, there was a period of 15 years 1977-1992) where he stopped running completely. Why? It was the taunting and patronizing remarks of a track coach that left him disenchanted and disenfranchised. His previous cross-country coach taught him to ‘run with your heart!’ Fortunately, Karno returned to his other love and embraced multiple marathons.

Yesterday, I ran the Youth Olympic Torch Relay – all 100 metres of it – with a motley mixture of experiences: I am still processing it. I started day 2 of my workshop for teachers, left them with permission briefly to change, ran my leg of the relay in Jurong, and then returned to teach before time the afternoon’s portion. My invited colleague and authority on product and marketing innovation, Reeves stood in amiably and admirably for the morning portion of the program – thanks mate!

Getting a stand-in to assume authority and leadership over your program demands trust, a sense of purpose, and risk – and I was fully assured with my previous working experience with him. Now, compared to that, running with a temperamental flaming torch - with darting fiery licks every now and then - imposes a sense of undue vulnerability, yet you run with it hoping that safety measures stand up to scrutiny.

I was fortunate and privileged to have received the cool-looking torch from a 14-year-old national figure skater; there was no gap between Generation X and Y, I assure you. I could sense that she was excited and nervous at the same time. She must have more breathless with 200 metres run (as she replaced the missing runner) than I. When she arrived, I was anxious as I wondered how well our rehearsal would yield the outcomes we wanted. Before you know it, the escorts to the runner gave me instructions of what to do, where to stand and how to do it. I felt that my actions were somewhat contrived and premeditated, almost marionette-like in nature until I actually held the torch exclusively.

Upon running, I felt that I regained some control over my spontaneity and expressiveness as I jogged slowly behind the camera-crew’s truck. They urged me, once, to slow down and smile; my security posse also instructed me to hold the torch higher lest the flame kissed me in a most unfortunate way. So much for spontaneity – for I may have forgotten how I looked as I held the flame away from my face (it seemed to thrive in the mild running breeze I was creating). Upon handing the torch to Mohd Dali, my Secretary of the Singapore weightlifting Federation, we enjoyed the seconds of silent, synchronicity. After our special handshake I choreographed earlier on, I bade him on his short albeit sweet journey. It would be special for him, too.

Whether I live to tell this tale of fire and water (the emblem on each of the 200 torches in existent) to my grandchildren or my friend’s grandchildren is to be decided later on. Like all first experiences, they feel unfamiliar yet exciting. It engages aspects of your personal resources that are both conscious and unconscious. Sometimes, it would be better to surrender to the leader’s instruction.

After my return from Elite Bicycles Asia today, I am committed to designing my new tri-bike. I am, essentially, a non-technical person (by preference) electing to work with the experts and deciding on collaboration. I confess I am a practical and pragmatic person. I am not into aesthetics (as my taste in fashion will attest) but into functionality. I like things that are hardy, resilient and tough – values that reflect my approach to life. I will be going through my Pantone guide and bike graphics now that I have decided that my bike frame is customized to my body and abilities – aesthetic prevailed over its potential packing challenge.

I’m sure expert bike-fitter David Greenfield (formerly from Jamaica – not the one in New York) will do a splendid job with our co-creation. I will be taking some risks with my design although it may depart from my usual sensibilities. It’s high time I got outrageous with my designs. After all, it is my bike and I am entitled to my freedom of expression. I will express myself fully at Ironman Western Australia and get the bike speed I dreamt about.

You fly with what you have when you determine the criteria of your actions. Like a 100-metre jog, you go with the flow and the instructions and, hopefully, live to tell the tale of several generations. For some, these stories could be bearing a torch for less than a minute. For another, it is an artfully handcrafted carbon bicycle. Yet, for others it is like running barefoot, and wondering how far you can wander from your home before your thirst overwhelms you…

Live well, and enjoy your beautiful weekend. I start my official duties at Singapore 2010 Youth Olympic Games tomorrow.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Doing Them Drills

I was doing swim drills tonight, and focused more of my sense of the water. It is funny how something so subtle and soft like water can pose great resistance when you push hard through it. I did the usual sets: kicking, bilateral breathing, catch-up drills, and side kick drills. I had difficulty staying afloat on my side, and drank some chlorinated water but made it.

I will be reading my new book, probably the largest magic book ever published: Magic 1400s-1950s. The book, written by four co-authors, costs a whopping US$200 and I assure you I will lay it open on my bed to read. It is the size of a small coffee table (19.8 x 12.8 x 3.1 inches), and weighing a whopping 16.7 pounds! It contains mostly reprints of old posters and playbills.
I will be running the Olympic Flame Torch Relay in about five hours’ time…I will be decked in orange shorts and tee-shirt and doing the Jurong West Avenue 1 route. To me, it is still the Olympics and the closest grand event outside of officiating a sport competition for now.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

That Fondly Familiar Feeling

This evening, I return from an 11km run with sore calves. I have been running ‘barefoot’ for a few sessions, with my thin-soled Vibram Five Fingers Bikila.

I did not experience an appreciable loss of speed. I ran at 4:55 minute/km pace, which was surprising. I was nursing my sore calves, triggered off by Sunday evening’s excursion to a new running route. Despite my discomfort and painfulness of my lower legs, I observe that my legs are stronger as I can do free-hand squats with stability. My core stability has also improved over the last three months. Other than a mildly clicking left ankle (old injury), there was no puffiness or pain with my knees.

As I hobbled along like a cripple for dinner tonight, an hour after I ceased running, I was reminded of my post-Ironman races. I tend to be an incapacitated mess 24-48 hours after the 226km challenge, especially my calves and thighs. Yet, days after I swore never to participate in such a race again, I invariably consider another triathlon or marathon. Unfortunately, I do not get addicted to the ‘runner’s high’ anymore – not that I don’t want it. It is purely a personal challenge and yearning for achievement.

I am certainly reminded of the tough training and sacrifices to be made yet these are not buried in the deep recess of my mind. They remain as memories and fond reminiscences. Pain and discomfort may not be deterrents, as they can be used as relevant lessons. That is what this blog is about – lessons from endurance sports like triathlons and corporate life.

How do you remind yourself to do your chores? How do you engage your discipline? How do you remind your team to do the necessary? What are your priorities?
I am reading ultra-marathoner and twice Badwater winner, Pam Reed’s biography The Extra Mile: One Woman's Personal Journey to Ultra-Running Greatness. It is very good and she wrote about her motivations to run well, and reminders about her eating disorder.