Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Read Novels & Biographies

‘I make things up and write them down. Which takes us from comics (like SANDMAN) to novels (like ANANSI BOYS and AMERICAN GODS) to short stories (some are collected in SMOKE AND MIRRORS) and to occasionally movies (like Dave McKean's MIRRORMASK or the NEVERWHERE TV series, or my own short film A SHORT FILM ABOUT JOHN BOLTON). In my spare time I read and sleep and eat and try to keep the blog at www.neilgaiman.com more or less up to date.’
I just completed reading Neil Gaiman’s ‘American Gods’. I took almost two months of intermittent, page turning, to complete this 600-page novel by British cult-author Gaiman. He is best known for the graphic novels of the Sandman series, as well as the film ‘Stardust’.
This version I read was his facsimile of his original submission, complete with spacing errors and favourite type/font. The protagonist, Shadow does coin magic. Interestingly, one of Gaiman’s book consultant for the magic segments was Jamy Ian Swiss, a well-known magician-TV consultant-author. I attended Swiss’s card clinic in 2003 in Las Vegas – all legal moves and skills I assure you. He is also one of the fiercest and foremost critics on magic, and the performance of magic.

As I read the story, I began to develop a curiosity for small towns in America. With each small town lies a small population, and a social order peculiar with the rural folk. Each micro-system (each diorama with its own microcosm) expresses itself in subtle or grandiose ways, like the roadside attractions it purports to have, and promotes with wanton, hand-painted, bold fonts, on signboards. Unusual food offerings, unique features, peculiar characters and social values grace this small community of usually close-knitted kinfolk. Of course, these small towns have also been the backdrops of Hollywood slasher-films – domiciles for serial killers, homicidal maniacs and students film-makers gone missing (however with strangely, easy to locate equipment with huge amount of raw footage and shaky camera-work).

Read novels for pleasure, and biographies for mind, method and madness of celebrities from actors to musicians to authors to entrepreneurs to world leaders. Get the first-person account for more dramatics and depth. Unabridged and unauthorised versions tend to be over-done with research and assumptions that do not seem to connect.

Leadership Lessons: Be discerning in what you read. GIGO. Reflect on your reading. What did you again from each literary adventure? Read for fun and for pleasure. You need not glean them for knowledge. Enjoy the writing and perspectives of the writer.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Accomplishments & Achievements In the Dragon Year

Isn’t it great to accomplish something? What does it feel like to you to achieve something difficult or challenging? It feels good, doesn’t it? Whether it is race certificate, race-tee, or finisher-medal: these badges of merit do add on to our sense of self-worth and self-esteem. Recognition is a value that many can relate to. Which were your achievements and awards in 2011?

Within the area of your profession and career, our achievements may include:

  • Promotions
  • Incentives
  • Enhanced package
  • Expatriation posting
  • Study grant/scholarship

Outside of your profession/career, you could achieve:

  • Challenging physical tasks (run a marathon, qualify for membership in a prestigious running group, swim in open-water, ride around the country, climb Mount Everest)
  • Win an award for public service
  • Win a competition in your hobby/pastime
  • Write a 50,000-word novel in 30 days
My friend, Steven Novick’s list of achievements – as a climber and mountaineer – is impressive. He has climbed the seven summits.
Steven Novick - survivor - has successfully climbed all seven of the highest mountains in the world, including Mount Everest.
What will be your achievement and accomplishment for this year? Which items on your bucket list will you cross off this year? Dare yourself.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

How Are You Holding Up?

How familiar are you with this expression? How are you holding up?

This question arises after somebody suffers a predicament, setback, injury or illness. It questions the person’s situation, sense and sensibility after personal or physical trauma. After last weekend’s careless crash into the back of a vehicle, I have been asking myself this question.

After an immediate physical status check on my body and my bike after the accident, I made a calculated decision to pedal home. Of course, I pedaled home slowly by the safest route I chose. The post-accident, post-activity, flood of adrenaline in the bloodstream can mask injury. Other than a sore left arm, right pelvis and visible scratches and abrasions (road rash), I thought I was all right. Subsequent checks indicated showed a mild bruise on my right pelvis, and a horrid one on my left elbow.

My bike frame did not hold up well, and she suffered some compression and cracks. I do swear by bike technology, and strongly believe my bike cushioned most of my impact and so I sustained minimal injury. As such, I am ordering another Elite custom-crafted bike frame. I hope it will arrive within a fortnight’s time.

After this afternoon’s 2-hour intervals sets at Ironman marathon pace, my left chest feels tight and it mildly affected my breathing (as I increased the running speed and intensity a tad). It reminded me briskly of Chrissy Wellington’s pectoral injury as a result of a bad bike crash before her world championships win last year. It affected her swim, and she felt it on her run. I suspect that my chest absorbed part of the shock, and reacted by tightening up. I hope that this minor setback will be resolved soon. Fox has provided me flexibility with this week's program, and I rested up for three days after the crash. In the last four days, I have managed about 10 hours of training, which is more maintenance-based. It is important that I stay consistent in my preparatory training if I aim to secure that triathlon PB that has eluded me.

Déjà vu? Almost two years ago, before the Lunar New Year, I was the victim of a road accident. While riding home, I was hit (from behind) by a taxi. Last week’s event certainly stirred up residual memories of that fateful day. Both bikes suffered their demise, yet I used up one of my nine lives. Live to train another day. Live to race. Live to learn and be more alert.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Assuming New Positions

I am a proponent of professional bike fitting. A proper and thorough bike fit can be delivered through state-of-the-art measuring tools, a vast knowledge of kinesiology and anatomy, a scientifically inquiring mind, and hands-on experience. Having been fitted by David Greenfield of Elite Bicycles, I have learnt to appreciate that all bodies are different and unique, and the one-size approach may not fit all. Not all bodies are designed to fit stock sizes, and adapting to these fixed measurements may upset your body's normal geometry and symmetry.

After my customized bike-frame got thrashed after last weekend’s collision behind a parked truck, I used my old (but reliable) Orbea Vitesse road-bike for my 5-hour ride this morning. Although I was not used to riding for prolonged periods on the handlebars, I did not feel too uncomfortable. David fitted me on this bike in 2010 and I have once on it at Ironman New Zealand 2010. Instead of adjusting myself to my bike, I had my bike adjusted to my unique body structure. I will be ordering another Elite Razor triathlon frame as I place my fullest trust on a well-tested and well-designed product.

My friend, Andy Ng has assumed his new role as President of our triathlon club, Triathlon Family. Although hesitant about this initially, he has immersed in his new role with the energy and gumption required of a leader. He will lead us in our first club event – Triathlon Sprint – on 5 February.

When I moved from member to committee member to secretary to vice-president of my club, I had to make quick mental shifts into each position of leadership. With each role was a loosely defined job description (JD) and job scope (JS); the rest you figured out as you moved as gracefully along with your duties. You could rely on the veteran colleagues to assist you in clarifying functions, acquire new skills, and absorbing new experiences.

Leadership Lessons: Which new positions have you adopted recently? How did you quickly learn your new function and responsibilities? Who did you turn to when you needed guidance and clarification? How did you adapt and cope with changes? How open were you with modifications and suggestions?

Friday, January 27, 2012

Starting Conversations

I have heard, on many occasions, how students, friends and associates have found it hard to sleep after an engaging conversation. That is what a great conversation can do to one’s senses and sensibilities. Creating conversations of worth at the workplace can lead to more productive performance. We relish in the meanings and moments found in these interactions, be it face-to-face or through social media.

We are responsible for whatever happens at each stage of the dialogue: beginning, middle and end. The process can be as straightforward as ‘How are you today?’ to ‘How do you do it so well?’ to ‘I like to apply some of your ideas!’ Integrate questions with useful ‘silences’ and appreciate the responses.

Conversations are subtle interviews, or interviews done in an invisible way. Introverts can benefit and be assured with asking questions, and then listening actively. Extraverts can answer with more focus, when you are specific about the comprehension questions you ask. Apply your sense of curiosity and intrigue, and delight in the discovery of new knowledge and insights. Each respond or question is another starting point for how the conversation can shift or assume new momentum.

Begin your enjoyable conversations now.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Can Knowledge Be A Cause of Paranoia?

Leadership Lessons (for yesterday’s piece): First-aid can be applied to relationships. Upon injuring somebody’s pride or self-esteem, you can reduce further injury by applying apology. Draw into the affected relationship, new value. Add value to the strained relationship by using relaxation. Learn to be less tense in future conflicts. Conflicts are inevitable, even with the best of friends or colleagues. Our choices of interventions matter, if we are to seek the results we desire. Build bridges, not destroy them. You never know if the colleague you disliked could one day be your employer.

Is this a possible cause for alarm? Extreme endurance training may be bad for the right ventricle of our heart. Could this be a cause of sudden death?

The more we learn about stuff, how much of that affects you? When you say that you have learnt, does that mean that you apply your new-found knowledge? When it comes to health matters, research material, new facts, clinical evidence, testimonials from patients and doctors, and the like can shift our equilibrium of what we belief, and how we behave. What leads us to feel anxiety, concern and fear? Can too much head knowledge be count-productive and counter-intuitive to our attitude and psyche?

Spend time with argumentative people, and you may acquire their trait. Arguments are more fun when you have loads of knowledge. A lack of knowledge leads to poorly structured arguments, with superficial grounding. If we spend too much time with people whom are hypochondriacs, manic-depressives, and those suffering from depression – can we become like them? Conversely, how do once-negative people become positive? More importantly, how do you stay positive-minded amongst a school of negative-minded colleagues?

As my student shared with me today: ‘Accidents do not occur accidentally! Our energies are transferred from person to person, from thing to thing.’ Respect things as much as you would people.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

First Aid & Post-Recovery Strategies

Most people will skip this post thinking that it is a feature on medical first-aid. In fact, it is more. It also pertains to your leadership.

Having healed from injuries, and suffering a few residual ones (stiffness, inflexibility, rheumatism) I have learnt a few useful techniques about self-healing (versus self-medication, which I do not condone especially if you have an existing disease or medical condition or are under medical supervision) that may help you accelerate or exacerbate the painful symptoms of physical injury or trauma.

The sports-aid methodology of RICES holds. RICES is Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation and Support. It helps reduce further damage to the injured part, and treats mostly the symptoms; in most case, this is the preferred result when you are suffering from pain. Pain indicates something is wrong, so pay heed to the source of pain. Is it localized? How wide is the area of impact? Which visible signs of injury can you detect?

1)    With immediate injury from bruising or physical contact, use ice as soon as you can. Ice-therapy reduces the temperature of the injured area, reduces further inflammation, tissue damage, and lessens pain.
2)    A day or two after injury, you can apply deep tissue self-massage to relieve the tightness. One trick is to apply enough pressure on the sore or tender area, for about 5-10 seconds. You can feel it relax. Acupressure – using the fingers as acupuncture needles – can help provide relieve to the tensed muscle. Upon suffering trauma, most muscles tighten into ‘knots’ that are tender spots, and can be gradually softened with direct manual or mechanical contact.
3)    Some physical activity, however mild, draws nutrient-rich blood to the injured area. You can do supported, low-impact activity in the swimming pool or do light, high-cadence, spinning on the stationary-bike or walk.
4)    We are what we eat. GIGO: Garbage in, garbage out. Focus on higher quality foods that provide all the six major nutrients: carbohydrates, protein, fats, water, vitamins and minerals. Herbs can help by accelerating the cleansing and repair processes, however seek a trained TCM specialist for consultation.
5)    Because repair of damaged tissues take precedence, consume slightly more protein for the next few days. Also, consume more antioxidant-filled foods like juices of pomegranate, tart cherry, concord grape and blueberries. If you can consume the fruit all the better.
6)    Monitor the injured area for prolonged pain, or expanded pain. Seek immediate medical attention when you detect peculiarities such discolouration of skin, sharp pains, and reduced mobility (broken bones and fractures can impede movement and breathing).
7)    Sprained (torn) and strained (pulled or over-stretched) muscles take longer to heal because these are soft tissues. Use ice to reduce muscle swelling and when stretching do not exceed its flexibility or you will trigger the stretch reflex.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Leadership Begins Outside of Corporate Life

Let’s face it: corporate leadership is being questioned for its values and effectiveness. The masses demand that leadership deliver, with their expectations of deliverables, leadership values and strength of character. Disappoint them, and the consumers and Followers can boycott a company’s products and services. Choices are ubiquitous. Companies can choose to lead with their head, heart or hands or self-implode from arrogance and conceit. Number One can slide down the spiral of self-indulgence and self-aggrandisement.

Have a holistic view of leadership: from within, and from without. Looking inwards, we glean from our hindsight, insight, and foresight. From the outside, we can learn lessons and wisdom of those who became regarded as models of inspiration and best-in-class practice. Let who you are in your personal life manifest itself in your professional life. We cannot have opposing sets of values. ‘Being yourself’ is not a pipe-dream in a corporate setting.

Professionalism is about reducing inappropriate behaviors. Start with ourselves! Lead with our actions. Talk is cheap. Theft is rampant. Control is on the rise by fearful people. Opportunists will patiently wait at every corner. Self-esteem and self-worth are taking a beating because leaders continue to talk down to their staff. Please remove archaic and demeaning titles like ‘subordinates’, ‘employees’ and ‘superiors’ from your Performance Appraisal forms and system. Treat staff like a colleague and person, not a prisoner number. Add value by creating pleasant working experiences and have productive conversations.

Communicate constantly and clearly. If your business language is not strong enough, do it face-to-face or over the telephone. Written skills are not a core competency of many, especially those who ignorantly hide behind templates, and are naïve about their lack of clarity. Reduce doubt, worry and anxiety because staff will intuitively suspect you of your dubious behaviors and intentions as a leader. Update your status and stature as a manager and do the right thing.

Earn your title as a leader. Live it. Express it. Let the Dragon within us arise!

Monday, January 23, 2012

Breathing Well In the Dragon Year

Happy Lunar New Year in the Year of the Dragon!

Here is a story to warm your cockles, and even inspire you. It comes from my charity of choice for Ironman New Zealand. Fund-raisers get a t-shirt of participation, and get to meet staff of Breath4CF and the CF children and families. One of the athletes is attempting to get his racing-top signed by all the kids there.

‘Here at CFANZ we had a huge success for one of our young people with CF – Kristy Purton, who despite her condition is a fitness FREAK and who has tried several times to do a half ironman but her health has always got in the way. Well, late last year, Kristy finally cracked the Tauranga and Taupo Half-Ironman – an achievement we are all so HUGELY proud of her for. I wanted to share with you Kristy’s email to me letting me know what she’d done. Should give you all a bit of TRUE inspiration for the weeks ahead. As the CEO, I get to see bravery each and every day of a kind that most of us can only dream of – it makes me very thankful for healthy lungs and a full life.’

Kristy wrote:

‘Hey Kate,
I, finally, managed to enter and finish not just the one Half-Ironman, but two: one Taupo, then on Saturday the one in Tauranga. I was on IV antibiotics on the day of Taupo, so was at my best and felt healthy. I so enjoyed that one the most, although the course was harder than Tauranga. In Tauranga, I was full of flu few days before event which turned my chest nasty, have some nasty bug, huge temps and spit balls of blood, so was only going to attempt the swim, but after I started I thought I would give it my best and I somehow finished it. Wahooo! But am paying the price now, booked into hospital on Thursday, managing my diabetes was a mission during the Tauranga one to.
But I am so happy I have my two medals, mark them off the bucket-list, and just the full Ironman to go! LOL. The lady with me holding my medal is my coach. Without her, I wouldn't have stood a chance. She came to all my appointments and got my diet and diabetes and everything so sorted; and came training with me, and put in so much of her time.

You must be getting all organized for Ironman coming up, can't wait to watch that again.

If you would like to make a donation, feel free to do so at our page: Ironman-Team Varella. All donations go straight to the Breath4CF and the Cystic Fibrosis Association of New Zealand. My thanks to you for reading and donating. We are two-thirds there to our initial target!

Sunday, January 22, 2012

10 Pre-Triathlon Tips

I like to share my suggestions for those attending their first Sprint this year, including the Triathlon Family (TriFam) Sprint on 5 February.

1)    Focus on your main goal. As I learnt from TriFam co-founder, Ser Luck, ‘Aim to complete. You can compete later.’
2)    Practice your transitions: From-swim-to-ride, T1 & ride-to-run, T2. Make time to wear your attire and footwear properly before dashing off.
3)    Use time-savers: elastic laces for running shoes; shoes mounted on pedals; helmet & sun-shades and race-belt (with race-tag) on bike-handles;
4)    No need for power-gels or drinks for the race. You can consume one power-gel 15-30 minutes before the race. Be hydrated. Have a full bottle of water on your bike-cage.
5)    Pacing is everything despite it being called a sprint. Do it at your best training pace, not harder or faster.
6)    Patience is a value to be mindful of throughout the endurance race. If somebody has a mechanical failure on the bike, or has a goggle-leak you can still catch up.
7)    Make sure that all your equipment is in serviceable condition. Check brakes, tyres, helmet, goggles, and shoes before you race. Race with the exact attire, equipment and footwear you trained with. NO NEW STUFF!
8)    Race only if you feel about 90-100 percent ready. Never race if you are unwell.
9)    If you have to walk it (run) or slow down (ride/swim), do so. Ask for help if you think you need. Do not be offended if an official asks if you are all right.
10) Enjoy the day. Appreciate the volunteers, spectators and officials – they help make our dreams happen. It is just a race. There will be more.

In 2006, I ran my only OSIM Bosses’ Challenge (triathlon sprint) in which I placed third. I had to fight hard for the podium placing, and missed second place by three seconds (as the spectators alerted the guy in front through their cheers). I learnt to be patient despite a moderate swim (I am no sprinter), a decent ride (the favourite dropped out due to a lose seat), and ran my heart out for the finish (thus clocking the fastest overall run-time). I did not know I placed third until the race announcer informed me. It was a sweet ending for sticking to the plan.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

In the Zone or Zoned Out?

Athletes have described their experience about being ‘in the zone’. It is a sensation of clarity, confidence, alertness and fluidity. Everything falls into place, and the body feels that every swing, stroke, step or toss is almost effortless.

‘Zoned out’ is the reversed situation. Fatigue and malaise can cause one to daydream, and lose alertness. This afternoon, after more than four hours of cycling, I found myself ‘zoned out’. Before that, I was enjoying being in the zone. This was what I posted on Facebook an hour after my accident.

Used up yet another one of my nine lives. After four hours of riding against headwinds, I ride smack into the back of a stationary, trailer-truck at a traffic light. Left shoulder felt like I got punched by a 'Real Steel' fight-robot. Aero-bar cracked, bike slightly scratched, tire unhinged, chain dropped - picked myself up, gathered my pride (what's left) and braved home. Two pre-CNY ago, I was hit by a cab while riding. Story of my life. I am laughing to myself over this with a plethora of self-deprecating adjectives. My cycling friends: Be careful when riding, especially when riding on Coastal Road or elsewhere.’

Now that I have regained my silent lucidity, I spotted several grammatical errors in that post. Emotions and adrenaline have a way of shading one’s intellect. Having iced my left shoulder, I feel better and may be taking a few days off serious training. I have 2.5 hours of distance running which I may postpone to a few days after. My custom-made bike by Elite has a few cuts and scrapes, and it certainly needs a close examination and partial overhaul; it did protect me, I am sure.
On a positive note, Iron-Team Varella have raised about NZ$1,800.00 so far. We expect a few more donors to surface shortly, so that is good news to us. Thank YOU, my caring and considerate sponsors! I am proud to represent Singapore with a team of about a dozen participants in Taupo on 3 March. To be able to train for an Ironman as we do is a profound privilege. Every breath that we take during a triathlon reminds us of those who suffer debilitating conditions like cystic fibrosis, asthma and emphysema. May they breathe better with thoughtful medical and physiotherapeutic initiatives.

Breathe well, and live well. Inhale every moment!

Friday, January 20, 2012

Running Strong Off The Bike

Coach has put me on strict training diet of ride-run ‘bricks’. Last Saturday morning, I rode for 4.5 hours and ran 40 minutes after that. Needless to say, my legs were thrashed the next morning after a 2-hour run (with 12X5-minute sets). Tomorrow, I will be doing 5 hours of paced (15-minutes X 6 speed sets) riding with a 40-minute run, immediately after I complete the ride. I am assured of my personal safety, as a few of my triathlon buddies (Chris Smith, Hui Koon, and Vijay) will join me for this extended session. The roads will be busy, as delivery trucks will be making numerous trips to the cargo complex.

Why do bricks? A brick comprises two disciplines, done back-to-back, as individual sessions. The purpose of a ride-run brick is to simulate fatigue of your recently ridden legs, for the marathon that is to follow. Running a stand-alone marathon is easier than running one after an 180K ride. The time differential for a pure marathon and one done during an Ironman is about 20-30 minutes. As my best differential (60 minutes) has a much larger margin, I will need to train specifically for this race to reduce the deficit. A strong runner may not necessarily do well during an Ironman triathlon unless he/she trains as closely to race-day conditions. Therefore, the pre-race training focuses on ‘running on tired legs’. There is a lot of psychological and mental stress on such prolonged sessions, and this is necessary to fully prepare for the actual conditions of competition. Mental preparation is the ‘difference that makes the difference’ between completing and doing a PB.

However, bricks are hard as these sessions increase in duration and intensity. What you consume on the ride determines your energy level for the long run. I will be reviewing my use of nutritional needs, so as to ensure higher energy levels and lowered risk of gastrointestinal (GI) distress during the run leg. Coach has requested I review another brand of sports nutrition by Hammer. I am currently using High-5 supplementation that has served me well for marathons and half-Ironman races.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Strengthening Your Relationships

Sports medicine specialists have long touted the importance of strengthening muscles around a weak joint. For instance, stronger quadriceps help stabilize a weak knee-joint. Developed strength on the muscles surrounding the shoulder joint, lowers its risk of being re-injured or compromised by high intensity movement.

Being aerobically fit is one aspect of developing fitness as an endurance athlete. A strong musculature provides the body with better posture (gait) both during activity, and when resting. Developing core strength has been central to keeping athletes strong enough for sustained physical activity. Weakened muscles due to under-use can lead to muscle imbalance, which exacerbates the lop-sided condition.

Include strengthening exercises at least twice a weak. Swimmers could incorporate pedal/pool-buoy, and sprint workouts. Runners could run up hills, or off-road. Working with weights can help runners balance out their relatively weaker upper-bodies, which enhances their torso posture (avoiding the collapse of their core). Riders can increase the gear-resistance and do time trials, or interval sets at lower cadence. Core strength allows them to stay in the 'aero-position' for longer. Adding resistance encourages the body to adapt to the new workload by becoming stronger, which recruits more power during races. Challenge yourself with at least one speed or strength workout for each discipline each week.

Leadership Lessons: How often do you strengthen your relationships? When did you last audit yourself for weaknesses? How do you address your shortcomings? How critical are you with your prevailing compromised condition and situation? 

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Preparing for Personal Bests

This evening, I completed a 90-minute ride, followed immediately with a 30-minute run. Last night, I completed my first (fast) 10K tempo run in two months. Last week, I completed 15 hours worth of triathlon training time. It is six weeks out to my next Ironman triathlon. The total hours of training dedicated to the 226K-triathlon may be deceptive, as consistency matters just as much as pure distance. The ability to complete twice-a-day workouts, or back-to-back disciplines counts towards the final race-day tally. Faster or slower, in daylight or in darkness – your preparation means a lot to your ability to complete or compete.

Last year, I did not take too much of a break after the Singapore Marathon. After completing Ironman Lanzarote (my second time), and canceling Ironman Canada (my first) I focused on running. I earned personal best times in my 10K, 10-mile, 21K, 30K and full marathon. I also earned my first Boston Qualifier (BQ) at the Hong Kong Marathon last February. I also experienced my first bout of foot injuries, despite a successful training regime of 3 weekly run workout that did not exceed 50K in total.

I earned some personal achievements including winning the veteran’s category in a half-marathon, several top-6 placing in duathlons and runs, and a BQ/PB in a marathon. I also maintained my top-1 percent national ranking as a marathoner.

Ironman NZ will be my biggest challenge to date, as I will attempt to earn PBs in all three disciplines, as well as an overall best timing for the full Ironman distance. I trust my Coach, I am committed to my training, and I have faith that the process will work (as it did for others). Six weeks may not seem like much time but every workout, every resting moment and every meal will add to my capability and confidence.

Which will be your next challenge and attempt for a PB?

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Drowning in the Dubious Digital Domain

The Third Wave, according to futurist Alvin Toffler, is the Information Age. This has succeeded the Agricultural and Industrial ages. We moved from farming to manufacturing to informing. News is uploaded almost instantaneously with Social Media 2.0, and reputations are varnished or tarnished with relative ease.

Content is still king! Whether you own a blog, website, Facebook or Twitter account your audience is drawn towards newness. Fresh is vital as fast. Print news has suffered from the microwave-ready, fast-food convenience, paint-by-numbers, approach to reporting. Anyone with Internet or Wi-Fi access can play quasi-journalist or pseudo-commentator and attempt to ‘go viral’. The more sleazy, nefarious and notorious the news is, the larger your captive audience. Lace it with clever or deceptive headings, and the legions will home in onto the potential prey. The ‘magic words’ still apply and intensify when you combine them with celebrity names. Shout 'caught on camera' and 'exposed' and the lurkers and voyeurs will have a field day (and night). The city doesn't  sleep... 

It would be interesting to note if a new charismatic guru were to descend from the mountains with his digital tablet with new messages from the cosmos. In the past, leaders would be burdened with stone tablets with laser-etched wisdom. Today, everything is compact including the way the message is contained and presented.

Why do we communicate in code, messages edited to the point of acronym? LOL. LMAO. LMFAO. ROTF. Has these added to clarity of thinking, or density of confusion? Many challenge the need to write in full over text messages (SMS), yet if there is clarity of thought why do they resort to multiple text messages. Unfortunately, many miss the point and fail to communicate effectively. In some ways we have become soft; in other ways, we have gone hard. HTFU.

Are we high technology and high touch? Or, have we failed to connect and communicate as humans once did. Why do we e-mail our lunch invitations to a colleague seated next to us? Have we become isolated in our electronic hardware? Are we becoming xenophobic and afraid of our own shadows? How is the world flatter when we falter on the most basic of connectivity with a human? No more talk – I mean, offline conversations. Just lots of online chat and chatter.

Looking back, we may snigger in private that we used to deploy humungous mobile-phones resembling thermos-flasks. Today, it comes as no surprise when you see a person talk into a tablet-phone that is at least six times the acreage of an android phone. In the past, we consumed rolls of film for those joyous moments. Today, we devour megabytes of digital real estate on a card just for a few high-resolution photographs or video-clips. Tradition is deemed boring and it has made way for Radicalisation.  

As long as there is a full moon, somewhere in the twilight, the lunacy prevails.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Doing What Will Make A Difference

It is one week exactly till the Chinese Lunar New Year begins. In effect, it is 15 days of festivities marked by feasting and renewing friendships in the Year of the Dragon. I will still be training despite the initial two days of public holiday, although I will be scheduling it in the earlier part of the day.

This past week, I clocked 15 hours in total for my spartan Ironman training. It is, after all, six weeks before the Big Dance at Lake Taupo, New Zealand. The last time I committed so much time to triathlon training was in 2006. The subsequent races that followed, I had to compromise total time invested on each race. I managed to successfully get by with minimal allowed time to complete each race in reasonable time (12-13 hours bracket). I also focused on the half-Ironman, or 70.3 format in 2008 and 2009. Those were the last two years I qualified for the world championships in Clearwater, Florida.

Coach ‘Fox’ has been sending me my schedule for Ironman NZ 2012 every Sunday evening. The variations have been subtle, however the riding is increasing by 30 minutes each time. The intervals sets within the long rides are longer, and more intense (higher cadence or higher gear). I need to get stronger on the hills, and be fresh off the 180K ride for a confident marathon. On Saturday, I completed a 130K ride, followed by 40 minutes running. On Sunday, I ran 2 hours (with 12X5-minute intervals at moderate pace) in the morning. I ran 35 minutes in the evening (with 12X90-seconds intervals), followed by 30 minutes of swimming with pool-buoy. I was knackered, to say the least. Just another day in paradise! All would be well after a good night of sleep. Heal and hammer again!

These weekly interventions are designed to lead me towards my race goals, which include a few personal best (PB) times. Race-day nutrition will be a major factor, so I have been experimenting with scientific applications like pre-training meal, type of complex carbohydrates to use, hydration (versus over-hydration) and electrolyte replacement. This is a delicate physiological equation I will have to balance, and that has cost Fox and I in the past with premature fatigue, cramps or gastro-intestinal distress.

Our fund-raising efforts have been positive so far. After one week, Iron-Team Varella (comprising a team of Singaporean endurance buddies) has raised NZ$1,195.00. I am grateful to friends and sponsors for believing in our cause: Breath4CF, which supports sports and physical interventions for New Zealand kids suffering from cystic fibrosis. I have a sense that more sponsorship will come as some have made pledges to our training. Our team of Ironman triathletes will race for the kids and for charity on 3 March; it has spread the word smoothly and subtly.

Read about the ruminations of a focused lawyer and multiple-Ironman finisher, John Cooke. When did you last take the road less travelled?

Leadership Lessons: Take a walk on your wild side. Be outrageous for a moment. Stop taking life too seriously for once. Immerse in, and enjoy the numerous moments that may pass us by. To struggle is also to live. Regal when you breeze through things and events.

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Pareto Principle: The 20:80 Rule

Vilfredo Pareto discovered that 20 percent of pea-pods in his garden contained 80 percent of peas; he extrapolated that to his observation that 80 percent of the land was owned in the early-1900’s by 20 percent of the population.

The Law of the Vital Few, also known as the 80:20 Rule (Principle of Factor Sparsity) is an interesting and universal one. Without delving or stirring more contemptuous disregard for the often-maligned and misunderstood Bell Curve theory, suffice it to say it describes how most processes are engaged by a smaller group of action-orientated people. 20 percent of the top salespeople draw in 80 percent of the company’s profits. 20 percent of the giving population donates nearly 80 percent of the total funds in public charity.

The newly rejuvenated Triathlon Family of Singapore will deliver its annual TriFam Sprint event on 5 February. Do spread the word and invite your endurance-minded friends to join. We hope that the concerted efforts of less than 20 percent of the members can activate the participation and involvement of the other 80 percent. Already TriFam has attracted a significant pool of volunteers, many of who raced in the earlier series. Many of these have progressed to longer-distance races like Olympic Distance Triathlon, Half-Ironman, Ironman and ultra-marathons.

Celebrity DJ, Rod Monteiro is now a champion of stroke prevention after his case of acute stroke. The active sports-person is noted for being a very strong cyclist and runner, and a golfer with a low handicap. Perhaps, star-power can be amplified through publicity and positive word-of-mouth marketing to enhance education and active awareness on health and well-being.

Leadership Lessons: How would you apply Pareto’s Law to your favourite cause? How will you engage the other 80 percent on your team to excel? Which processes in your profession and business reflect Pareto’s Principle? How do you harness the social media platform to significantly support your cherished charities? How will you engage the other 80 percent of your performers on your team?

Saturday, January 14, 2012

Going Long

I found this week to be a busy one for me. In common parlance, I experienced a ‘long week’. This weekend will be no different for Coach has designed my program to comprise longer sessions, with immediate runs off the ride, and longer running sessions. I have been tossed the ‘bricks’ (two disciplines done back-to-back).

This morning, with minimal sleep for the last 48 hours I rode 4.5 hours (easy/moderate/hard) followed by 45 minutes of running in the pool. I coincided my ride with friends from TriFam (Desmond, Hui Koon, Matthew, Craig, Robert and Conrad). I caught up with them after my late start, and did three loops of Selarang (30K each with some mild hills) and the dreaded Hendon Road hill (a nice spanner to thrown in after hitting Selarang Hill). I was supposed to run on the road, however decided to play it safe as I was not sure of the physical condition of my left heel (residual plantar fasciitis?). By far, in the last two meso-cycles today has to be my longest session I have undertaken. I missed a similar cycle last week as rain wiped out any chance I had for a similar hard ‘hit’.

I have found that riding solo (save for other riders I meet on my ride) develops my sense of independence and alertness. It is also a useful simulation of race-day conditions: no-drafting and keeping to 7-10 metre rule; focus on nutrition and pacing; playing its strategically, as it is all about the marathon, not the ego.

On Sunday, I will have two sessions for running: A two-hour morning run (with intervals), and a shorter afternoon/evening (with short bursts). I look forward to the discipline in my pacing and accessing how my body holds after a 15-hour week (within a tight working schedule). Coach focused me on running stronger off the bike, as that has been my relative weakness within an Ironman race. He believes I can hold a 4:50-5:00 minutes/K pace, and score a sub-4 hour marathon that has eluded me for years. I have my work cut out for me for the remaining 6 weeks till I arrive in Lake Taupo, Auckland.

Leadership Lessons: What is your comfort level about working alone? How well do you take to autonomy? How do you take to prolonged projects? How do you respond to extensions on deadlines? How tolerant are you of delays, distractions and indecisiveness? Endurance, tenacity, persistence and determination are values to latch on when going long and far.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Trust Your Intuition

‘Be still my heart…’

Intuition is a value. It has been referred to as the sixth sense. Researchers have considered it as an amalgamation of all our five senses (synaesthesia). Others have suggested that it is a mixture if foresight and instinct. Whatever it is, it is intangible yet relevant to our sense of direction and purpose.

Sometimes, our head may say ‘yes’ yet our ‘gut feel’ suggests, otherwise. This may be a sign to pause, or even hesitate. If our gut feel tells us to wait, or even procrastinate – do consider it. Impulsiveness may be risky if it leads us to make rash or irrational decisions. If our intuition buys us time, we should heed it. Use the opportunity to explore areas of doubt, worry, and uncertainty.

If you head out for a ride, and the weather looks inclement – you can still ride until it looks unsafe. However, if your intuition tells you that that day may not be a right day to be outdoors, then it may be better to err on the side of caution. It may be perceived as laziness, however you can replace it with a safer activity. If your intuition prods you to do an open-water swim with your buddies, call them up. If you feel like going for a run, then just do it.

Leadership Lessons: Listen to that voice inside. Heed those feelings of discomfort and disquiet. Use your intuition to back up your decisions. Value your intuition as it might just add value to your decisions and actions.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Circa 2012: Leadership Now

‘I love the smell of napalm in the morning!’ ~ Captain Willard, Apocalypse Now

To lead is to influence. When we influence others, we are taking the lead. So, be influential.

With the epic failure of corporate leadership in developed countries, we are responsible for reviewing, rethinking and reconfiguring leadership.

Leadership has succeeded. Leadership has failed. The balance sheet does not look encouraging. Where leadership is expected to be clear, committed and competent, instead we perceive confusion, indifference and incompetency.

Do you question the ludicrousness of corporate leadership where an enticing package awaits those who resign or who are asked to resign? Shame on the promoters and perpetrators of ‘false’ leadership! Resignation is such a cop-out. Real leadership expresses itself with diligence, discernment and decisiveness. Stick to your guns, and not gun the stick!

The values of leaders need to be audited: Not only by others, but also by themselves. Is conscience a static thing? Do moral codes stay the same way? Is character a measure of a leader? Who measures the fibre, values, beliefs, behaviors, pre-judgements, instincts and perceptions of leaders? Certainly not only by the experts or the impertinent.

Questioning leadership is not about being perched on a moral high horse. It is the right and obligation of followers to challenge authority at times. Blind obedience and allegiance may be counterintuitive to support for a leader. Leaders build capability in their people. They support, encourage and engage followers. They do not exploit them for selfish ends.

Leadership Lessons: Be your own leader. Lead with your values. Lead with your head, heart and hands.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Focused On Your Priorities

There are those who still think multi-tasking is a core skill that adds value. Instead, multi-skilling adds more value than juggling numerous tasks. As a manager, you can delegate specific tasks to your staff as long as these tests them adequately and engages their capability. Never delegate to staff work that is yours to do, for that is irresponsible and creates risk of disappointing results.

Steven Covey (author of the ‘Seven Habits of Highly Effective People’) proposed a 2X2 matrix on time management. The axes of ‘Important/Unimportant’ versus ‘Urgent/Not Urgent’ describe tasks that need to be attended to immediately, or later. Your manager (reporting officer) and you decide on the priorities based on their relative importance to you.

You can focus on one thing at a time, in order to do it well. Too many distractions will only shift your focus. The ability to shift focus fast and with purpose will enhance your value as a staff who can manage crisis, as well as interruptions, meetings and time-wasters. As a manager, focus on what matters to your staff, even the small, seemingly unimportant things. Create a happy working environment that enhances the value of every staff.

In sports, focusing on your weakness can be useful in promoting your overall fitness. There are so many facets of fitness including strength, power, agility, endurance, flexibility, and coordination. By focusing on one positive aspect at a time, you can build a more stable, strong and steady body that is injury-free. This will make assist you in performing to your best (and optimally) during races.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Ice It If It Hurts

Water is one of the most abundant compounds of Earth. Made of two atoms of hydrogen and one atom of oxygen, it is a nutrient for the human body. Interestingly, both our body and our blue planet comprise 70 percent water each. Ice is the solid state of water, which can be gaseous and in liquid form. No two snowflakes are alike – each is unique – despite the fact that water is colourless and odourless. I wonder who is keeping track of all the pictures of every snowflake that existed?

When treating sports injuries, ice therapy (cryotherapy) can be useful to reduce swelling. Icing the injured part reduces inflammation and blood temperature around the damaged body part. It promotes recovery and reduces pain. Pain receptors are blocked somewhat so that the injured athlete does not feel the full extent of the pain. Asians believe that cold is counterintuitive and encourages the early onset of rheumatism. An old wife’s tale was: Never bath with cold water late at night. Injured body parts can also experience rheumatoid symptoms.

The technique for using ice is simple. Put ice-cubes in a Ziploc bag, seal it, and apply it with some pressure on the injured part (strained muscle). Never use ice directly on naked skin, for it burns. You can also frozen gel-packs available from the pharmacy. Alternatively, you can re-use the freezing packs of gels used in Japanese sushi restaurants, used to accompany raw seafood. A bag of mixed frozen vegetables (peas, corn, carrots) also doubles up during an emergency. Have it washed, put it in the freezer, ready for use. I awoke early this morning to use two small packs (with a towel lightly wrapped around it) for my right shoulder girdle and it reduced my pain markedly. I swam with a pull-buoy last night, and it tested my weak rotator-cuff. Icing relieved my symptoms enough to operate functionally today.

Caveats include not immersing the sore or injured in a large body of iced water for prolonged periods. You do not want to risk gangrene. Mountaineers have experienced frostbite when they are not aware of the freezing fingers and toes.

Monday, January 9, 2012

Sponsoring My Charity As Part of Ironman

Hello, Friends! It is that time of the year where I race another Ironman triathlon and raise funds for charity. I am supporting the same charity as 2010, and it is for kids stricken with cystic fibrosis. This charity provides resources for these brave and positive children to exercise and breathe better and naturally. I certainly hope that you can assist us in our collective cause. Breathe Life Fully! 

My fund-raising page ‘Iron-Team Varella’ is up. I am supporting Breath4CF, part of the New Zealand Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. My mathematics is simple: 100 multiplied by $30 each or 300 times $10, will do the delightful and meaningful deed. Or will Pareto Law persist? Let us see if we can budge paradigms and social phenomenon.
Thanks to David Chambers, from NZ, who reminded me to consider this initiative we did in 2010. Back then I closed with a whopping NZ$2,083.00, and David did better. Both of us got to meet the charity organizers and the kids after the race – it was a touching moment to meet both parents and children of CF. My target this year is NZ$3,000.00. I hope to raise funds as close to this amount. I would deeply appreciate your participation and involvement in this cause. I than YOU in advance for donating or spreading the word!

It feels good to do something helpful and useful for others. I am fortunate that I can enjoy a lifestyle that includes endurance sports. Children stricken by cystic fibrosis have difficulty in breathing because the experience large buildup of phlegm in their lungs. Exercise discharges this fluid and allows the kids to enjoy their childhood and stay alive. In this case, exercise can sustain lives!
After a tumultuous week wrestling with a second bout of flu, and a sprained lower back I managed to complete my sessions. I skipped Thursday as I was quite knackered and my lumbar region was making it hard for me to ride the double sessions. Yesterday, I swam with my group in the open-water lagoon, followed by a short run. After Friday evening’s 2-hour long run intervals in the evening, I crossed the 'imaginary finish-line' in third after two tough-working veteran runners, Jimmy and Vincent. It was a fun way to cap the week's training commitment.
Total training time this week: 11.0 hours (3 sessions for each discipline)

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Running Through 2012

Whatever you believe about mankind’s demise or rise from the ashes of despair, I believe that running will continue to be a strong global Movement. Humans have been psychologically wet-wired and geared for running towards (pleasure), and running away from (pain). You can wreak havoc with your brain if you trust the Mayan calendar, or you can create your own.
Have you made preparations for your inaugural or even umpteenth race? You could run your first twilight or sundown marathon, qualify for the MR25 club, complete your first biathlon (swim & run) or off-road, obstacle course. Here is a schedule of exciting physical activities (courtesy of Running Lab) for the first five months.
In case you missed top-Singaporean marathoner (and SEA Games gold-medalist in triathlon), Mok Ying Ren’s piece on post-racing blues.

Run far. Run short. Run when you want. Stop when you choose to. Time is what we make of it.