Friday, September 30, 2011

Re-Calibration & Measuring Up

'To give anything less than your best is to sacrifice the gift.' - Steve Prefontaine

As a society, we are fond of measuring ourselves: body weight, status, salary, achievements, number of friends, goals and performance. Many of us allow ourselves to be possessed and obsessed with scientific measures. We live with weighing-scales, heart-rate monitors, bodyfat measures, cholesterol and triglycerides levels, measuring tapes and stop-watches.

What we measure determines our future direction. When we have not reached our desired targets, we tend to explore ways of reaching them, or make compromises. It is so easy to make excuses, when it is more useful to attribute reasons to our shortcomings. Measurements help us reconcile our perceived gap of ‘what is’ and ‘what ought to be’. Working with coaches, we also accommodate verbal feedback – analysed from our measured performance.
I missed my Boston Marathon entry by 73 seconds. It was a case of ‘made it however it was not good enough’. That being the case, I will now focus my energies and strategies on my next Boston Qualifier, aiming to smash my current personal best time by a larger margin. As of 2013, my age group BQ will be 3:25:00 with no allowance for a second more from this cutoff time. As such, I am determined to crack this new ceiling, and by a memorable margin of at least 5 minutes. I hope to do a 3:20-3:25 at the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon in Singapore – a humid and hot course.

I have my work cut out for me, yet that does not deter me from reaching my potential. Based on current performance, I am on-track for a sub-3:30 timing. My 1:33 at the SBR/AHM 21K about three weeks ago, gave me some confidence for doing a 3:20 in about eight weeks’ time. I just need to inject more strength and speed workouts to achieve this new formidable, but possible, target.

I am looking forward to my new achievements. It is useless to focus on my disappointment as it is a thing of my past. There are always new hurdles to surmount, and new mental mountains to climb. We can work with results, as they are outcome-based. There are not foregone conclusions.

I also look forward to Ironman New Zealand 2012, where my psychological and physical limits will be challenged. I intend to earn my all-time best performance, where I arrive in my best physical fitness, and highest health. The last three outings on the 226K were made on nominal fitness and accident-based injuries. In 2010, I suffered fractures (car accident) and sprains yet raced and completed all my ventures. My adventures were my accomplishments and milestones in my, otherwise, challenged and challenging year.

I am patient still, and will bide my time as I anticipate a better competitive year, filled with promise and premise. I will give my best and race with my heart.

Photo-credit: Yellow Ribbon Project 

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Be A Salmon During Re-Branding

With the impending downturn of the global economy, how will you be re-branding yourself? How would you redefine your business, your profession and yourself?

In negotiations, will you continue to negotiate downwards instead of upwards? The contemporary approach would be slide down and meet the client in the perceived ‘middle’. What about the other way around? Can’t we lead the client to a higher price point? If you provide high actual and perceived value, then pricing becomes less of an issue.

In other words, would you buck the trend and defy gravity, challenging the rapids like salmon fish are wont to do. Their naturally strong homing instinct lead them back to the exact place where they were born to spawn. Returning to one’s roots can be a useful exercise in resilience, perseverance, and determination. Most salmon are born in fresh water, move to the sea, then return to fresh water.

The principles of marketing are Price, Place, Product and Promotion (Philip Kotler). To this, I add Positioning and Purpose. What is the relevance and purpose of your business? Which need does it fill? How is your business positioned?

According to Forbes Magazine’s, one of the top-earning musical entertainers of 2010 was the eccentric/eclectic Lady Gaga (just behind Beyonce). These are the marketing strategies of Lady Gaga. Go mainstream or stream off?

Do you wish to up-scale or down-scale? Become bigger, or play it down? Down-sizing is the favourite strategy of mega-corporations and even Small & Medium-Sized Enterprises (SMEs). When the market is flooded with available, skillful and experienced staff – wouldn’t this be the best time to hire? Instead of slowing down your business rate, generate more power and momentum in your selling and marketing. Go for expansion instead of reduction. Be dynamic instead of static. Be uncomfortable, not comfortable.

Swim upstream!

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Wisdom from Bart Yasso Over Twitter Chat

This was gleaned from the boisterous blasts of tweets at 12.00am, Tuesday, Singapore time. It was akin to seasickness with the avalanche of questions rolling in large discrete packets; Twitter chat has it limitations. Bart Yasso (@BartYasso) is Chief Running Officer of Runner’s World magazine, and he co-hosted an hour’s worth of Q&A. He wrote his biography ‘My Life On the Run’.
Here are the highlights of Bart’s wisdom (he has run over-1,000 marathons) during the hour-long ‘chat’:

1)    There are fuel and food every 4 miles for most ultra-marathons. Carry water all the time and refuel at all stations.
2)    Do speed-work if you are to reduce your half- or full-marathon times.
3)    I would eat at any fuel zone, and only ate what looked good.
4)    Time in the bank doesn’t work.
5)    Longest training run for a half-marathon should be 10-12 miles.
6)    You can only do 2 or 3 key workouts per week – long run, hills & Yasso 800s – something like Tuesday, Friday & Sunday.
7)    Walk-runs work just as well. Do it on your long runs.
8)    You need some morning runs to let your body get used to running at the race-start time. Just once a week.
9)    Use the foam-roller and the stick to ease knots out of your calves.
10) Running is all about community.
11) Dress warmly when it rains.
12) Eat something light about two hours before the race. During the race,
13) Eat every 30 minutes – gel, blocks – test it in training.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

DNF: Down But Not Finished!

Things go wrong sometimes. That is life! There is, however, much we can possibly do to salvage things before they go sour or go south.

In sports competitions, a DNF is a ‘Did Not Finish’ – an unappreciated designation to participants who drop out of race due to mechanical failure or physical fatigue. When a DNF is attached to a participant’s name in the results list, it may be hard to swallow. It is, after all, a blemish on one’s ego – however healthy it may be. It is akin to ‘giving up’ despite the conditions under which one is forced to submit to pain, discomfort or imminent danger to one’s health.

In an earlier piece, I wrote that I did not have a DNF in my DNA; it was meant in a positive, and not arrogant way. If I know I have a bad day, and I can still complete the race, I will. I would not thrown in the towel, as I have nothing to lose, and I still have a tail to drag between my legs. I have been provoked by my ‘demons’ during an endurance event, and considered taking the shortcut to comfort but reversed my decision, as I would regret my moment of weakness.

My good friends had a tough weekend doing the Desaru Long Distance 116K Triathlon. Kevin Siah had to call it quits as mechanical issues from his bike tore into his fierce-some fitness, and Reeves decided to complete it while walking most of the 21K. I recalled suffering cramps (because I failed to consume electrolytes) on my first race there, and had to walk a sub-3 hour half-marathon. It was humbling, yet educational for I learnt to value proper and regular nutrition during a long course event. I have internalized these painful lessons and converted them into gratifying progress.

A DNF can be a humbling but grateful exercise in appreciating our physical and mental limitations.

Leadership Lessons: When do you let things go because it cannot be improved? How do you feel when you have to make compromises? What were the lessons you learnt when you did not achieve your targets? How do you respond to failure?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Lessons From Linkin Park Concert

Ironically, my F1, pole position.
Last night, I attended the finals of the F1 Singapore Night Race. It was a loud experience, with super-fast, high-performance cars.

The 1.5-hour concert by Linkin Park was well worth waiting for; my student, Yasser from the UAE was touting the band’s concert in Abu Dhabi, and he convinced me to attend. Thousands of fans thronged the Padang (a grass field popular for national and international-level sports like rugby and cricket) whilst the Formula One race was near-ending. As predicted, Sebatian Vettel won, with a close second by amateur triathlete Jenson Button, and Webber in third. So, it was a fantastic one-three finish for Team Red Bull. Lewis Hamilton had quite a few pit-stops and made risky manoeuvres to move from 16th to fifth, just behind Fernando Alonso. There was enough drama to keep newbies to this race enthralled.
The humidity was about 65 percent with temperatures hovering around 25 degrees Celcius. Thus, after staying in close proximity with fans of Linkin Park it got to the nerves of some. Some vacated their spots, as they could no stand the heat; others occupied these newly found space with no aplomb. I was mildly irritated with the abundance of photographers snapping photographs during the concert. Were they there to photograph or enjoy the music? Their digital cameras cast a veil that blocked some of our view. I overheard a few frustrated fans tell these avid photographers (off) to lower their arms. I suppose the errant fans had a different way of enjoying a live concert. In a nutshell, Linkin Park's stage show impressed with its lighting, clever graphics (as a dynamic backdrop), its popular lead singers, and talented musicians (most of them play an instrument). 

I was quite proud of my ability to stand steadily (I activated my core muscles thoroughly) and withstand the crowd and hot conditions. I had abundant practice running in this heat in recent months, and the last time I was at the Padang was a fortnight ago when I scored a PB in the 21K AHM/Singapore Bay Run. It can be overwhelming on your body as you will be drenched in sweat in a low-evaporative condition.

Leadership Lessons: How aware are you of your personal space? How do you respond when others intrude into your private/intimate space? How open are you of letting people into your area of operation? How willing are you to let your hair down, and go with the flow of others around you?

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Bids and Bidding Our Time

London will host the Olympics 2012. Last year, Singapore hosted the Youth Olympic Games, a bid that the small island republic won a few years ago for the inaugural fourth installment of the five-ring franchise. This is the third year that Singapore is hosting the F1 Night Race; I am also looking forward to my first concert with Linkin Park tonight (10.30pm-12.30am). It will be preceded by my first experience as a spectator in tonight’s finals.

Whatever the outcome (in a few days’ time) of my bid for Boston Marathon 2012, I am still optimistic to do a good time at the Singapore Marathon on 4 December. With the revised BQ times (minus five minutes across the board) for 2013, it just means that I will train systematically for continued progress. A wider margin of qualification enhances a marathoner’s chances of being accepted for the following year’s race.

Yesterday, at my fortnightly open-water swim session I received useful feedback from Matthew about my freestyle strokes. It appeared that my right arm tended to swing outwards instead of near my head. I attributed it to my previous injuries in that shoulder – caused by two falls (one where I was hit by a taxi) – which made it unstable during dynamic action. Later, Richard shared with me his recent improvements in his swim; he has done extensive research into this particular swim stroke. The salient points from his generous sharing were:

1)    Keep you arm relaxed throughout the lift.
2)    Reduce unnecessary muscle tension.
3)    Take advantage of the bough formed when you scull water as it is an air-pocket (we need not rotate our need much to breathe).
4)    You need not fully straighten your extending arm when you glide (tension again).
5)    Pull your arm to your hip, but not beyond (additional tension that wastes energy when your elbow extends fully).
6)  Inhale enough air, and exhale fully.

Some things just take more time to learn, and longer to master. However, once we learnt it ‘muscle memory’ locks it in permanently. The initial process of ensuring proper techniques and methods comprise the largest investment of our time. Given time and purposeful effort, we can develop our capabilities and competencies. 4-time Olympian and gold-medalist swimmer, Sheila Taormina will be in Singapore in mid-October to lead swim clinics so consider if you would like to do 1-on-1, or group sessions with her.

Leadership Lessons: How well do you bide your time? How often do you make a bidding for things that matter to you? How long can you wait before your patience is tested?

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Roundup of A Good Week

I attended my first F1 race - the Singtel F1 Singapore Night Race - last night. Actually, I was there to watch the hour-long Charice concert that was good. Her muscular vocals were, unarguably, credible in a live situation. After her ‘standing-room-only’ concert we proceeded to watch the ‘dry-runs’ by all the racers. As we did not bring along earplugs, the high-decibel, high-frequency, roar by hyper-horsepower race-carts made it harsh on our hearing.

I am enjoying my reading of a few books; I reviewed Neil Gaiman’s ‘Smoke and Mirrors’ early this week. I bought about five books, mainly biographies at 70 percent discount at the Borders’ Clearance Sale. They were not the latest books, as some dated back a few years. Nevertheless, the ailing store achieved its goal of cleaning up a significant fraction of its backlog of unsold books.

I delivered two short sharing sessions, and I enjoyed the experiences. Working within an hour’s limit can be challenging as it encourages you to dive deep into your resourcefulness. Sometimes, we can enjoy gratefully creative linkages of ideas. They flow gracefully, like water on polished pebbles, creating a liveliness that animates the surrounding. Fresh ideas and perspectives can exorcise the demons of doubt and suspicion.

This morning, six of us headed for our fortnightly lagoon swim. A few will don their wetsuits, in preparation for Ironman Western Australia; others will begin their preparation for IM New Zealand. We swam between four to six laps, with the usual transitional break between laps. In the afternoon, Richard Leong (who helped us design our blog and twitter masthead/covers) and I went over to Singapore-based Elite Custom to chat with its US representative, Jason Schiers and distributors of ENVE Composites (pronounced as ‘envy’ or ‘NV’) – manufacturers of carbon wheels and tubes for custom-crafted bicycles from Parlee and Elite. They recently worked with hard-hitters of XTerra including Tim DeBoom - winner of Norseman 2011. The Utah, Salt Lake City based company of carbon-based bike-forms is ubiquitous with off-road and on-road. This weekend, Lance Armstrong will compete  (his first triathlon in 23 years) in the ENVE city to compete in the Snowbasin XTerra.

All the best to those doing the long course triathlon in Desaru! I give a huge shout out to Melvin How, Reeves Lim, Kevin Siah, and the Triathlon Family.

Friday, September 23, 2011

Facing Your World Everyday

A massive tidal wave of catastrophic and epic proportion heads towards the shore.
First surfer: We are going to die!
Second surfer: Run!
Third surfer: I’ll be an idiot to miss this Big One. Surf’s up!

What’s the colour of your sunglasses? Let’s backtrack a few steps: Do you think it will be sunny tomorrow? If you take the half-full approach of optimism, then it may be sunnier than it is. Perhaps a lemonade-stand, entrepreneur, born in primary school said: ‘If life deals you lemons, make lemonade!’ A used-car salesperson turned lemons into the pre-owned car business. One-armed female surfer, Bethany Hamilton returns to competition and ranks well as a professional. 
Richard Bolles wrote ‘What Colour Is Your Parachute?’ – an analogy for your career. The aforementioned tale about the three surfers, relate to our body’s instinctive approach to fear: fright, flight and fight. Edward De Bono proposed his thesis on critical thinking called ‘Six Thinking Hats’. I met a female taxi-driver on Sunday, en route to my 10K race and she wore a leather cowboy hat; she happily shared that she did not do line-dancing, but her prominent hat kept the sunlight out of her face. Interesting! Here are some ways to wear your daily ‘hat’ and face the world with a renewed attitude:

1)    Make plans.
2)    Set goals.
3)    Explore something new.
4)    Express your uniqueness.
5)    Filter out the bad bits.
6)    Enjoy moments in the day.
7)    Relish small gains.

Leadership Lessons: How do you face each day with a sense of purpose? How do you put a spin on each seemingly ordinary day? What is your analogy for keeping you grounded, yet be in the sunlight?

Thursday, September 22, 2011

Redesigning and Re-engineering Your Purpose

Designer fashion is about personalizing your style. What you dress in, and how you express yourself, and your personality – that becomes your presence and penchant for the world. When we are suspected of having evil designs on somebody, then we have designed ourselves for being a suspect and suspicious.

Organisations undergo transformations in order to survive, strive and thrive. They apply methodologies and business interventions like re-engineering, re-structuring, right-sizing, downsizing – all the seemingly brilliant buzzwords that, invariably, end in disappointment for a few or the majority - like empowerment.

From good to great; or, from good to gone? The distinction is very clear. Will you still be around three to five years from now? Nothing is permanent, yet people do leave behind a permanence even after they depart from an organization. Leaders leave behind their legacy, an indelible imprint that others speak fondly about or with distaste. We have sustained cynicism when companies continue to pay errant CEOs large compensation packages after their resignation or re-designation.

Change involves transformation: changed, develop and grow. Which stage are you now? Companies cannot make the changes smoothly and effectively unless people also make their own decisive transformations. If people are the backbone and asset of your company, how do you develop their entire being and help them enhance their capability and careers? How do you engage the other 80 percent of the employees to create more than the expected 20 percent of the results of the company? Can we reverse Pareto’s Law, and turn the scarcity mindset (Law of the Few) into abundance?

Leave it to chance? Chance may make a random appearance – long after your demise. Whether you believe in Evolution or Intelligent Design, we need to review how we design our workspace and workplace, so that staff feel valued, appreciated and recognized.

Leadership Lessons: What will you do to stay real and relevant? How do you create your competitive and comparative edge? How do you actively design your workplace experiences that promote high morale and good work values? What kind of success is your team engineered for?
Hawaii-based, Physical Therapist, Nathan Carlson, who was here for the Singapore Bay Run (time of 1:11) completed the Maui Half-Marathon on Sunday in 1:09:44 for 1st place. Congratulations, Nate!

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Writing With Smoke & Mirrors

I am reading English writer, Neil Gaiman’s ‘Smoke & Mirrors’ now. My favourite stories in this 1999 compilation include Chivalry, which is about an elderly widow who finds the Holy Grail beneath an old fur coat in a second-hand store; the other is The Price, about a stray cat that defends his adopted family from unseen evil, almost very night. He is a very good writer (writing since 1980’s) of short stories, and his genre is mild horror, fantasy and the macabre. He is a Triple Threat: novelist, graphic novelist, and screenwriter. Among many books and graphic novels, he wrote Sandman, American Gods, and The Graveyard Book.
Smoke and mirrors are allegorical references to the art and craft of magic. Much of the apparatus of older magical illusions utilize principles of physics, including reflected images, and the use of smokescreens as a form of misdirection. Audiences have concluded that the trickery of most box illusions is founded on self-contained props, using these two principles of magic. In recent decades, illusion-builders have departed from such strongly alluded approaches to more sophisticated machinery and technology. There is no smoke and mirrors with David Copperfield’s Flying Illusion or The Pendragon’s performance of Metamorphosis (a mini-illusion attributed to the late-American magician and escape-artist, Harry Houdini).

Beyond novels, writing is a useful skill. We write almost everyday on electronic mail, post on Facebook, write reports, or post on our blogs. Writing is both a skills and discipline. To write everyday may be a simple task, yet it may not be easy. Sometimes, you may have to dig deep to uncover and unearth useful information and insights. Seth Godin has been doing that, consistently, and daily for a few years. He inspired me to take up the challenge to blog every day for the last two and a half years. I conclude, thus far, that it has been a relevant and purposeful exercise as I have learnt much. Readership has been increasing steadily, and with a healthy SEO ranking worldwide. I also wrote a full novel within 30 days in an online challenge; I learnt to work with deadlines and deliberately stimulate my creativity.

Perhaps you may want to consider writing regularly and honing this key skill and competency?

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Working With A Margin of Difference

The deed is done – just two hours after the final slots of Borderline BQs (BQ-1: margin of one minute and less) were released. I have registered for Boston Marathon, and my fingers are crossed. Across the vast digital universe, hands are clasped in prayer for me – and I hope Intelligent Design is triggered. Boston Qualifiers will have a chance till end of the week to submit their entries. Those with faster qualifying times get a better chance of qualifying with the new, multi-tier, system.
This is my registration receipt, which does not represent the actual acceptance. The results for successful entrants will emerge shortly, so it is all about being patient, or nonchalant about it. Recall how excited you were with your examination results? Or not. Earning a BQ is a fist step worth celebrating, as it is a measure of your personal excellence. To qualify for the 2013 installment of this century-old long-distance course, all age groups will need to be five minutes faster. For me, that would mean going under 3:25:00 instead of the current 3:30:59.
In any which case (without jinxing it), I am primed to attempt another BQ on 4 December at the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon 2011. I missed a BQ by 2 minutes at the Gold Coast Marathon in July. It is a humid and hotter marathon although no handicap points are awarded for finishers and qualifiers. You just stick to your guns and finish the race, as fast as you can, for as long as you can at that pace. Intuitive runners have suggested running by ‘feel’ (versus by instrument) and without a stopwatch.

Leadership Lessons: How well do you cope with margins (of difference)? How tolerant are you of others? When does your confidence buckle? How do you stay patient with others? How forgiving are you of others? What is your margin of error when it comes to standard of work? Our intuitive and learnt margins are our measure of preference, prejudices, discrimination and biases. Review them regularly.

Monday, September 19, 2011

While We Wait, The Hours Are Ticking…

We spend a significant and unimaginable amount of our time and lives waiting in queues and for others. Waiting can be described as longing, anticipation, patience, whiling away the time, killing time and awaiting. In some cultures, waiting for your clients is an expectation and you accept that it is conventional and traditional. Waiting might also be a part of the ritual of business concourse, for we justify it with the phrase ‘it is well worth the wait’. Indeed, all good things come to those who wait.
Singapore Blade Runner - he ran mano a mano with the rest of the competitive 10K field. A prominent face, next to Adam One-Armed Runner in the running community he was a Cheerleader.
Sometimes, waiting can be too time-consuming and we plunge ourselves into impatience. We hurry things up, as well of others. We impose our timelines upon others so that they may proceed with haste and a sense of urgency. We rush, expedite and accelerate others so that we can change gears and attain higher efficiency. Invariably, we risk making mistakes and jump to conclusion for we fail to attain full comprehension. Be mindful that you do not do it often.
Outside of work, I have enjoyed a full month of racing, researching and reading. I had raced in the adidas King of the Road (KOTR) 10-miler (16.8K) Run, Singapore Bay Run (21K), 2XU Mega-Tri (long course) and Yellow Ribbon Prison Run (YRPR). I earned personal bests in the first two, and a narrow miss at the third installment of the 10K Competitive YRPR yesterday. The official results showed me in 44th position with time of 44:44. What are the odds of that? Coincidence - I think, not. I also assessed my triathlon fitness at last week’s Mega-Tri and am clear where I stand, and have useful data and discoveries to apply to my twelfth Ironman race in New Zealand in March next year.
With Alvin Ho & Derek Lau (back on home-leave and this race) minutes before the official flag-off.
I will be signing up for Boston Marathon 2012 in a few hours’ time, and hopefully, I will receive good news in a weeks’ time. The new, multi-tier, system of registration does make it fair for faster runners to qualify as priority. It just makes sense, and encourages better attempts at BQs in the future. At 10.00pm Singapore time (Boston, Monday 10.00am) I will register with a few of my buddies including Melvin How, Andrew Leong and Vincent Yang. We will have till 25 September to register, and we will know our results by 28 September. The only peeve that BQs have is that some of these qualifying times were set on more challenging courses and climates. Unfortunately, there is yet to be a complex system of measuring handicaps. Well, first things first for we will assess if the new multi-tier, performance-based, meritocratic approach works better than the frenetic, free-for-all, online applications in the past.

Photo-credits: Run Events, Sky Ronaldo (Singapore Mad Runner), Tey Eng Tiong

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Yellow Ribbon Run & Weekend of Gatherings

1. An assembly or meeting.
2. An assemblage of people; group or crowd.
3. A collection, assemblage, or compilation of anything.

This weekend was about gatherings.
It began with our second anniversary buffet lunch at the Merchant Court Hotel with our Saturday Lagoon Swim group. The twenty of us who gathered, shared many laughs, and perspectives about our personal progress. I discovered that Vincent Yang and I would be applying for our Boston Marathon slots tomorrow morning; we are both on the borderline list (less than five minutes). Poor Clifford burnt his right fingers on a hot ladle; it may have absorbed the heat directly from the flame.
I then had dinner at Caroline’s place, before she skates off soon to her new UN role. Clifford showed us how his blisters had expanded in size, caused by edema (water retention) in order to cool and protect the scaled tissue. He skipped this morning’s Desaru long ride, as he cannot grip his brakes and handlebars without pain. Instead, Matthew – our other fearless leader – led a team of rowdy riders into Desaru for an edifying and unifying ride; some will be doing Ironman Western Australia this December.
The series of gatherings were capped this morning with the Yellow Ribbon Run – already in its third year. About 9,000 participants showed up to do either the Competitive 10K or Non-Competitive 6K Fun Run that carved a historical route in the east of Singapore. Three members of parliament flagged us off, through a gate that resembled the exit of the new Changi Prison. This symbolic gesture was about releasing ex-offenders from the second prison called discrimination. People deserve a second chance until they prove us wrong. Instead, allow them the chance to prove us right that rehabilitation works and we can re-orientate ourselves and seek new bearings.
Running is a metaphor for creating a new purpose. Whether we seek fitness, enhance our health, boost our self-esteem, or feel fulfilled through a sense of achievement – running allows us to feel free, and free ourselves from our mental shackles, inhibitions and self-imposed limitations. Looking at the numerous happy faces this morning, I can only pay tribute to this natural sport of moving fast on two legs. Singapore Blade Runner was there at front of the start-line, and he sprung forth joyfully in his 10K challenge.
Annoying, my GPS lost it signal and I ran ‘blind’ throughout the race. I ran, mainly, by intuition and instinct, and struggled through a blindingly fast, first 4K before I settled down into a reasonable pace, and got out-chicked and out-run by better short-course runners. The route is, challengingly, hilly with enough slopes to upset your balance. I was relieved to cross just under-45 minutes (officially, 44th, with a time of 44:44). It is slightly similar to last year’s timing (where my champion chip did not work), and I felt a little flat in my legs after last week’s Mega-Tri race (2K swim, 102K ride, 27K run). I was impressed with many faster Masters and Youth runners. Jason Lawrence and Vivian Tang emerged as top male and female, respectively. Many youth runners were tearing down the route as if their lives depended on it – such was the commitment of the competitive runners.
I was pleased to meet up with Alvin Ho, Delphine, Wee Yeh and his wife, Danny, Roy Foo, Chiang Meng Chai, David Ong (who ran and snapped pictures); Dennis Quek, Sanae Tsuji, and Sin Guan who were riding today; and members of the International Brotherhood of Magicians (IBM) Ring 115 (Singapore).

Photo-credits: David Ong, Ng Chee Meng, Runevent Shots, Vincent Yang, Le Giang

Saturday, September 17, 2011

Fighting Fit For Your Forties (Part 2)

There are measurements, and there are numbers. As clich├ęd as it sounds, age is merely a number; we can measure our physical fitness and health in other ways. The thrill of earning a personal best (PB) time is priceless. It suggests – even for a short while – that, perhaps, we can slow down the allegorical hands of time. We cannot buy time, however we can spend it in ways that matter more to us, and that it creates meaning. One thing is certain: despite the insanity of what endurance athletes subject themselves to, there is no denying that the Masters’ level athletes put in their very best. They can inspire us to look forward to our futures with a sense of certainty, optimism, purpose and adventure. I believe that these four individuals of distinction illustrate for you their spirit of camaraderie, competition and commitment.

EV: How do you deal with injuries? Which kinds did you experience?

FY: Depending on what type of injuries. I had shin splints and plantar fasciitis before. I saw many doctors, physiotherapy, and TCM. Didn't really help, not because they were no good but just that I was too impatient. I started to run when there was a slight improvement on the injury. So, the important point learnt was – Be Patient. Stop all running activities and let the injuries completely heal before attempting to get back to running. And when running after recovering, start from scratch and gradually build up the base, and not pick up from where you left off.
MH: Injury is something that all sportspeople need to deal with it as we will never know our limit until we cross it. I have been trying to manage my current injury, but due to my field-based job, even surgery (based on my specialist’s assessment) is not an option. Thus, I cut back on high intensity or any load-bearing regime to minimize the downtime by cross-training (with low impact activities).

MK: Injury is so annoying, isn't it? And, the older you get the more it happens. I never got rid of my Achilles Tendon problem since 2006. I do calf-stretching, icing, massage, or stop running completely if it gets worse. I also do cycling and swimming to keep fit.
VC: I will always ensure that I give sufficient and appropriate attention to my injuries and try to get sufficient rest to recuperate. Unfortunately, the Singaporean in me gets the better of me, very often. I tend to get back to my training before I am 100% healed. But I will work my way back to my former rigour, rather than dive straight into it. So far my main injury is the iliotibial band syndrome (ITB).

EV: How can we sustain a fitness lifestyle through our 50’s and 60’s (and even race in competitions)?

VC: A healthy diet and a fairly active lifestyle would be a good starting point. With good health, it is easier to proceed to keeping fit, and then pushing your body further.

Freddy: Just try to enjoy every run without the pressure and stress. Cheers.

MH: Listen to your body, as it is your best option to stay in the game longer. I hope my five-cents worth of feedback can assist you in your story.
MK: Forget about competitiveness! Just enjoy the exercise. Appreciate how you are. Appreciate you can still do races. Do not be afraid to pull out from races, if you do not feel like doing it. Races are for fun, not for suffering. Being healthy is most important.

EV: Thank you, Lady & Gentlemen for all your sharing. It helps us appreciate that aging can be a graceful and natural process. It can also promote the best out of our physical fitness through mutual training and competition. Train smart and safely.

Photo-credits: Boon Yeong (Mika & Victor), Marathon Mohan (Freddy Yeoh), Franxis Yong (Melvin)

Friday, September 16, 2011

Fighting Fit For Your Forties (Part 1)

In my long-term observation of aging athletes, I stay steadfastly fascinated by athletes in their forties, and beyond. The top age-groupers in triathlons and running, occasionally, return with terrifying times that match even those in their 20’s and 30’s. Sister Madonna Buder inspired me when she was racing in the Ironman Triathlon World Championships in Kona in her early 70’s. When I raced for the second time in Clearwater, Florida for the Ironman 70.3 World’s, Sister Buder was there, too packing enough heat in her strides to be taken seriously. My new friend, a 46-year-old senior officer, from the U.S. Armed Forces showed me how he can still run a sub-1:15 time, in the recent Singapore Bay Run (half-marathon). The ‘40-49’ and ’50-59’ age groups combined were, probably, as large as the ’30-39’ in the inaugural Mega-Tri race. Pronounced running groups like Team Fatbird has a majority of Masters-class runners who, regularly, run and race both locally and internationally.

I decided to interview three local, Masters category, amateur endurance athletes to find out what makes them tick and stick with their sporting lifestyle.
Photo (Passion Run 25K 2010): From left to right - Melvin How, KK Chin, Enrico, Freddy Yeoh
Freddy Yeoh is a humble endurance athlete, so it was hard to extract this interview from him. I consider him a positive force in the endurance community and he is encouraging. He runs to keep himself sane and healthy amidst a hectic life, balancing family, career, and passion. He explains, ‘Running just happens to be the easiest form of lifestyle that keeps me focused and maintain my self-discipline.’ He is an IT network-manager in a local multimedia firm.
Mika receives her podium award from Deca-Ironman Kua Harn Wei
Mika Kume is a 40-something, elite age-grouper from Japan who regularly stands on the podium. She is a multiple Ironman triathlete, ultra-marathoner and serial marathoner. By day, she works in a major accounting firm. She won a podium placing at last weekend’s Mega-Tri long-course event. She caught up with me on the last loop of the 27K run, and she crossed the finishing-point seconds before I did. I respect and admire her greatly.

Melvin How is a Resident Technical Officer, having worked in the construction industry for nearly 24 years. He longs for a desk-bound job so that he can totally rest his nagging, chronic heel condition (since 2009) and bounce back stronger to race. Nowadays, his approach to races is cautious with various backup plans. Alternative plans kick in to limit further damage, or else risk further injury or retire permanently from sport. This Ironman triathlon finisher has won the challenging vertical marathons on several occasions, and earned podium finishes in the Masters’ category in running.
Victor Chan is one of my inspiring friends, and among some of the friendly competitors I had the pleasure to race with. You may recall that, a few years ago, he was the poster-boy of the Standard Chartered Singapore Marathon. He has completed numerous long-course events including several Ironman triathlons finishes. At 59-years-young, he is still a formidable tour de force in his attitude towards training and racing. Both Mika and he earned podium finishes last weekend at the inaugural Mega-Tri long-course.

EV: Which changes did you make as you matured into a Masters’ category athlete?

Freddy Yeoh: Well, I started out in the Master category. Nevertheless, a critical change that I noticed is that as one ages, the ability to recover decreases, be it after a hard workout, or due to injury. Hence, it is important to honestly assess one’s body system, every now and then, and ensure that one does not pile on too much, too quickly, for the body to adapt.

Melvin How: You must listen to your body more attentively, as injury tends to linger longer, or maybe never heal at all until I hang up my running shoes. Recovery between training sessions seems longer and my ability to put up with the strain seems lower, too. Thus, I review my training log from time to time to tweak, whenever necessary, and to switch to more lower-impact exercises like swimming, cycling and stretching.

Mika Kume: I became more rational after I realised I was in the Masters category. Do not go crazy such as to participate in two races in a day; or attempt Ironman Langkawi one week after completing in the Tokyo Marathon. Don't be so greedy. Relax, listen to your body, and rest, eat, and sleep.

Victor Chan: I am more cautious about potential injuries that may come because of age. Other than that, the rigour of my training, my focus and the effort I put in, is still very much the same.

How often do you train – minimum and maximum number of days?

MH: My current volume is about 12-15 hours in preparation for the Desaru Half-Ironman distance and Mount Kota Kinabalu Climbathon. I rest, at least, once a week; sometimes, twice, if the fatigue does not go away. I run less nowadays, with one Long Slow Distance (LSD) session, and one interval or tempo session. I will reduce it by one day in the lead-up to a key race, and will just stick to a routine. If I had a non-important race – like the recent Singapore Bay Run – I rested a full day.

MK: A minimum of zero days a week - but still do your stretching. And, a maximum of seven days a week, and that includes yoga & stretching.

VC: I always train 6 days a week. But I vary the levels of intensity of my training, depending on different factors like upcoming race or work commitments or family commitments.

FY: My motto is very simple: just run whenever I can. Depending on my schedule, I usually do 2-3 short runs on weekday nights and one longer run on Sunday. I noticed I used the word run instead of train as I don't really specifically train – that is, doing interval training and speedwork. Most of my runs are done at a conversational pace. That is also known as low heart rate run. The formula I used was ‘Maximum Heart-Rate Minus Age Minus 50 beats. I came across this formula from some articles a few years back. Basically, it teaches the body to adapt to running at a lower heart rate. Progressively increase your cadence and pace while maintaining a low heart rate. I used to wear a HRM-belt but ditched it, and just tell myself to relax on my runs.

Which aspects of training become important as we age: core strength and stability, flexibility, nutrition, sleep, or developing muscle strength?

MH: To err on the side of caution, plenty of rest and sleep is more important then training. Strength training & core stability work are important than aerobic exercise, as we lose 1% muscle mass every year from the age of 25 for men. If we lead a sedentary lifestyle, we may want to reduce the muscle loss by continually overloading them. Nutrition is about 65% carbohydrate, 15%-20% protein, and the remainder comes from fat. The main emphasis is on moderation, as there is no such thing as sinful food as too much of a good thing is also bad. Balance or moderation on food portion is more important. I eat 5-6 small meals a day, and try to maintain my body-fat composition within the 12-15% range year-round, to stay race fit.

MK: Oh - all are important! If I can choose two – especially for aging athletes – I think flexibility and muscle strength are more important as they protect you from injury.

FY: No specific training program or nutrition plans for me. I like to have some beer and snacks during the weekends. I seldom do strength or stability training.

VC: Everything gets more important as we age, especially our core muscles. Our core muscles affect our performance and make us more prone to injury.

Photo-credit: Richard Leong & Boon Yeong. Part 2 continues tomorrow.