Monday, April 30, 2012

Indoor Training & The Inner Universe

Bodybuilder, Bill Pearl once wrote a book 'Keys To The Inner Universe' which he described as mental training for followers of the aesthetic sport. I like the title, and I relate well to it. With endurance sports, one is highly connected to one's self-talk and reflective thoughts. You attempt to make sense of your confusion, seek clarity from epiphanies, and get awestruck by inspiration and creative connections. Mind your head, for it is one of our strongest tools for personal success.

After two consecutive evenings training in the gym, I have experienced new sensations and self-discovery. My long rides on a stationary-bike and treadmill makes me question the relevance and usefulness of this alternate forms of activity. Because these equipment are situated nearby, my transitions are faster (with less down-time), and I can be creative and safe at the same time. I can increase my intensity and monitor it scientifically with instruments. I can simulate hills with varying heaviness of the crank, and raise the gradient of my runs on the treadmill. I can slip into a short cross-training workout with weights, calisthenics, and balance/core work with ease and fluidity. I have two more sessions to access the gym before I depart soon and will continue to mix it all up, and enhance my fitness. Your mind has to seek distractions from the mundane and static scenery, and that's where mind-games factor in. Do what you can to keep moving, and accomplish your task. Gym-work for me, is brutal! Imagine 4-time Ironman world-champion, Chrissie Wellington used to run 4-6 hours on a treadmill, in a room without windows! Or my friend Deca-Ironman, Kua Harn Wei ride his bike on a turbo for 4-6 hours without music or television!
Thank you, Roy for you kind words. After three continuous years of daily writing on this blog, I am grateful for its readership for an esoteric online publication. I hope that you have found usefulness in my perspectives and observations. I have learnt much from the insights and hindsights of my readers, sporting and business community, and the many leaders I had the pleasure to meet. I am only glad to help in my own passive way. Congratulations to you on your sporting and professional achievements.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

Adaptive Training

Adaptation and flexibility are values for change.

When conditions change, we will need to consider responding. How we are responsive to these shifts in environment determines our success. Pro-active or reactive can spell different results. When one is intelligent and creative enough, he can blend with the surroundings or establish his presence in the larger scheme of things. Adapt or perish; change or be in a stale-mate. Move from indifference to making a difference. 

Transforming your ordinary moments into the extraordinary. Create more meaning around the mundane. Build choices from relative limitations. Offer others a similar contract. Reframe dramas and crises into learning events. What can you learn from each event? How do you make sense of confusion? How do you create opportunities from disappointments? Take small steps. Step up to the challenge. Step into the unknown. 

Adapt and appreciate the value or evolution and progress. Adapt, adopt and be adept.

Saturday, April 28, 2012

Spanner In The Corner

You are all set to train, with diligence and discipline for a major race. You also plan and integrate a few smaller races to set yourself up for competitiveness. Then, you realise that other commitments appear suddenly, and you have to remake plans.

That's life! Things happen. Schedule change. Somebody tosses a spanner into the works. Your system breaks down, and are left to improvise. What do you do? How do you cope with it?

You work around your time and priorities. You shift positions. You make adjustments. Along the way, you might glean a few insights and perspectives. These can enhance your ability to appreciate different viewpoints and points of view. On the course, you learn to recognise the little dramas associated with competition. Your body makes, or breaks. You do something else. You create moments of possibility. You rely on experience and skills. You make decisions based on what you learnt during training, practice and rehearsal. You are primed and ready for surprises. Change and learn. Think and do.   

Friday, April 27, 2012

Warming Up For Performing Up

Warm-ups before a training session or race is vital to how well you may perform. Cold, tight, muscles can suffer strain or sprains. Your body can be put into shock when you, suddenly, impose intensity of movements.

Warming up, as it is more scientifically known, is the process of gradually increasing your body temperature through activity. An easy jog, followed with limbering exercises, is intended to increase the body’s temperature, increase blood circulation to the active muscles, and accustom the heart to increased pumping. Contrary to misconception, stretching is not exactly warming up. It may be part of the warming up process, yet it is not, in itself, a warm-up. Deep stretching can be counter-productive and cause your muscles to lose tone, and not be able to exert its optimal strength. Warming up is a thoughtful and deliberate process, that is tantamount to preparing for your best performance.

Experienced performers and presenters also use warming up. Vocal exercises activate the muscles involved in delivering the best sound your larynx can produce. Singers and speakers go through a routine of stretching the tongue, lips, cheeks and throat. Part of warming up also enhances alertness of your brain before a presentation or meeting. This aspect is, unfortunately, overlooked and taken for granted. Rehearsals are an integral part of the warm-up, and helps total recall during delivery of keynotes and speeches. Mental warm-ups also work as we make connections with the content, as we read a mind map or flip the pages of a workbook or PowerPoint slides.

Do your warm-up, and enjoy revitalized results!

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

10 Ways To Shock The Monkey

The inimitable Peter Gabriel. 'Shock the monkey to life...'
Do the same thing, day in and day out, and you will probably get the same results. Our body is highly adaptive, and it copes with stress by becoming stronger or succumbing to it. Dr Hans Selye described biological stress as necessary, and how we can benefit from different kinds of stressors (distress & eustress). Being adaptive is also a useful value we can appreciate even as a corporate athlete, as we work up the corporate ladder.

Here are 10 ways to inject challenge and minor shocks to your physical fitness:

1)    Reverse the flow. Begin the sequence backwards. Do your triathlon training in reverse (for instance, run-ride-swim).
2)    Do combinations of back-to-back activities. Swim, then immediately run. Or, run off the ride on tired legs.
3)    Do intervals (faster sets) within your long endurance rides and runs.
4)    Work on your core strength and stability. Never do the same workout twice, consecutively.
5)    Do strength and conditioning with resistance (free-weights, weight-stack machines, bodyweight, stationary-bike, water).
6)    Do different sports as part of your cross-training.
7)    Do more side-to-side, and rotation type activities.
8)    Add different drills and equipment when you swim (kickboard, paddles, fins, snorkel, pool-buoy).
9)    Train at different times of the day.
10) Get more sleep and quality rest. This can be a shocker for the time-crunched athlete.

Aim to do different things. Strive for variety. Be creative in your approach to fitness. Surprise your body with treats. Shock your body into new growth and development!

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Countdown to the London Olympics 2012

Don't we just love our Moms? Rise and shine for the new sporting star in July & August!
July will be an exciting month since the London Olympic Games 2012 will be on. This once-in-four years sporting spectacle, promises new achievements and, perhaps, a few world records. The Opening Ceremony tends to be the highlight, as it gives viewers and spectators a strong taste of things to come. I was a guest at the British High Commission (in Singapore) in 2006 when the bidding was made, and it was a significant event. I was also in London at Covent Garden, when they shot the official trailer video of the London Olympic Games. Subsequently, we won the bid to organize the inaugural Youth Olympic Games 2010 in Singapore, and I was honoured to run (with hundreds others) with the Olympic Torch, and officiate in one of the games.

Due to the importance of this major global event, the Berlin Marathon has been pushed backwards (30 September) to allow the top marathoners to recover fully. The current world record for Men's Marathon (2:03:38, Patrick Makau, Kenya) was set on this flat, fast and scenic course that is punctuated with historical monuments. I look forward to racing with thousands others, and experience an attempt by the professionals on the world record once again.

Most of us who are unable to attend the Games can still do it from the privacy of our homes, as ‘live’ telecasts and online streaming sites will be featuring the fortnight of sports drama. The families of the athletes must surely be excited and proud. To be able to participate in a century-old sporting event, representing your country is an experience to be relished and remembered. Even as a spectator, you are immersed in the competitive air as fans cheer their favourite teams on.

May the best team win, and hopefully, friendships will be forged after the games. Otherwise, on the track, field, court or pool the athletes have to be focused and put their ‘game face’ on. Game on!

Monday, April 23, 2012

A Life Without Limits: Book Review

Author: Chrissie Wellington, with Michael Aylwin (2012)
277 pages, with 14 full-colour photographs
Constable Books
Chrissie Wellington is a quadruple-Ironman world champion. She has competed in 13 Ironman triathlons and never lost any. Known affectionately as Muppet because she is accident-prone, she continues to prevail in both sports and in her charity work. Her life story was published soon after her fourth, Phoenix-style win at Kona, Hawaii in 2011. This girl from Norfolk, UK rose from the ashes of despair and disaster, to pull off one the most stunning victories in the sport's history.

Three key features of Wellington’s biography are her history with humanitarian work, her tumultuous relationship with her former-coach, and her motivations for training and racing supremely hard. And, she sounds like a genuinely nice person and relevant ambassador of the fast-growing global sport.

Wellington is honest about her battles with eating during her youth, and how she continues to keep them at bay. She shares her raw truth with absolute honesty and sensitivity, as she courageously acknowledges how this can be more a personal issue than medical. She reveals her paradigm shifts, and how she learnt to refocus her priorities and rectify her relationships, through her very close and warm family and dedicated caring friends. She wrote about her work with the civil service, her active physical pursuits (Nepal, Summits & Volcanoes), ignorance about triathlons, promoting triathlon as a mainstream sport, and her awards (world titles, an MBE, and an honorary doctorate). She also openly describes her blossoming and complementary relationship with her boyfriend, Tom Lowe - perhaps, the final piece in her elusive coaching puzzle (which coach Sutton alluded to).

A large part of her book describes her relationship with her coach (The Wizard of Oz), Brett Sutton. He figures significantly in her professional triathlete life, where his spartan training approach was a major factor towards Wellington realising her potential. She has endured much with him, yet her endurance and mental tenacity has enhanced her through the myriad of dramas. As much as Wellington fights him, she eventually learnt how to surrender her mind to him. Wellington has clarified many things about the dark mystique about this man, yet much of her relationship with this controversial coach is based on trust and mutual respect. Despite their competitive natures and personal issues, she even defends her former-coach by explaining away some untruths about Sutton, who remains adamant about his privacy and silence. Wellington shares some of her conversations with her coach, backed with electronic-mail.

I enjoyed the chapter where she lists her Heroes of Ironman, including Jon Blais (a Kona finisher with ALS) and the 80-years-young, multiple-Ironman finisher Sister Madonna Buder. Wellington performs the Blazeman Roll after she crosses the line after winning her world championship titles. She also describes her return to racing fitness after her major illnesses and injuries almost compromised her career. She describes her 2011 race with a blow-by-blow account that reads painfully, yet admirable for her ability to sense clarity and connectivity in those nine hours of racing. Not being in the lead for the very first time during the world championships, was an epiphany for her. You can read about it in her last chapter, before the Epilogue. She describes her personal thoughts and emotions with each major win, setting new records and a vicious virus, as well as the tough relationships she had to endure after each win. Wearing the crown was not easy for her, as well as learning to be on her own two feet (without a coach).

So, this book is not so much about a young athlete who has set legendary records. She is a person deeply into development, exploring and exceeding her capabilities. It is also a story about a world champion who defeated her demons and comes out triumphant.

Strongly recommended.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Stay Earthed But Not Lie Low!

When you are described as 'earthed', it means that you are grounded in sound values and beliefs. In Mandarin, ‘earthed’ means being ‘sensible, practical and realistic’. In electrical terms, earthed means safe as it directs charges towards the ground. Our character is determined by how we treat others. How we express our values, and behave towards another person is how we will be judged.

Moonshi Moshenruddin did not attend college. And, from a toilet cleaner he now is the CEO of an IT infrastructure firm, CommGate. Describing himself, he said, ‘I am committed to master and I don't tolerate mediocrity. I dare to fight the good fight.’

Start small, and contribute big. Here is a way to enhance our natural environment at low tide. If we think systematically, every action of ours has a consequence. Both inaction and action matter. Our planet has a run-out date, yet we need not accelerate its aging and over-consumption.
Google’s Earth Day tribute shows a dynamic banner comprising flowers and a garden patch. It morphs gradually, like a blooming bush. Do your part in sustaining our planet. Talk to a farmer. Chat with an agriculturist or gardener. Go to the botanical gardens. Build your own vegetable, herb and flower garden. Buys seeds. Discover farmer markets around your community.

All the best to the participants of Ironman South Africa! Have a safe and eventful race. It has been a choppy swim, and rainy and windy ride so far.

Stay earthed. Dig deep. Tap in.

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Splitting the Difference

When was the last time you split the difference?

In negotiations, splitting the difference is about making and giving concessions. You make ‘compromises’, or ‘shared promises’. If you do this for me, I’ll do this for you. When you give me this, I’ll give you…

We are familiar with group meals, where we go Dutch, and pay for our own share. However, splitting the difference may mean sharing the total costs, with you ending up paying a little more. Now, if generosity is the name of your game, then this extra difference that you give expresses your willingness to compromise.

Today, I split my Ironman training workout into two sessions. I did 90 minutes running and swimming in the pool. It comprise 10:10 run/swim bricks, that is I ran for 10 minutes than followed it up with 10 minutes of front crawl swimming. I ran these sets, one after the other, with no rest.

In the evening, I rode almost two hours with 3 sets of 10 minutes on the highest gear. On arriving, I did 20 minutes of strength & conditioning (mainly CrossFit) with the balance-board and kettle-bell. I am pleased with my effort, and await tomorrow’s early group ride. We’ll share the workload pulling the pack, for that is what riders do to return the favour of drafting behind another rider.

Split the difference.

Having the Runs On the Run

I read with relish and delight 4-time, Ironman triathlon world-champion Chrissie Wellington’s biography ‘A Life Without Limits’. In particular, she highlights her tumultuous relationship with coach Brett Sutton; and her dramatic episodes of peeing and pooping on the run, literally.

Fellow athletes have teased me about taking a pee on the saddle during a race. They give me grief about nobody willing to buy my bike over (like I would!). The fact of the matter is, through my conversations with my coach and competitive age-group participants, I found out that they minimize down-time by taking a piss during the three disciplines. The trick is to do it with respect and discretion. While riding, preferably on the downhill, look behind you (so that you are far and away from the next rider) and then release your stream. It will trickle down one leg and, perhaps, into your shoe. That's about it, and you whip out a bidon of water and spray it over your groin, and rinse it off. When hydrated, your discharge should be relatively clear and free of pungent smells. It is also fair warning for an annoyingly close, drafting rider!

If you have a lead over your competitors and take time out to go into a porta-loo, you may loose valuable minutes. Efficiency is about minimizing wastage. However, if you have a bad stomach, you got to relieve the discomfort – so you whisk off and do the deed as quickly as you can. Then, it is back to the race with a lightened system.

So, Chrissie has relieved herself in a canoe, on the bike and behind the bush. You can’t fault a champion athlete for her absolute honesty and incredible speed. Make waste; I mean, make haste.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Rumours Stay As Rumours Until Validated

A marvelous mash-up of Adele's two hits on TV hit series, GLEE.
Malicious gossip and unbridled rumours remain as such, until proof is found or the truth is out. In every corporation there are instances where the grapevine or rumour-mill propagates stories that tickle one’s fancy. Sometimes, it is true; yet other times, they remain dubious and diabolical. Left unattended by the naive and ignorant, these secondary sources of information can be destructive to careers and private lives.

Celebrities have their biographies or memoirs authored and published, to put the lies to bed. This documentation may provide first right of doubts vanquished, since it comes from the actual source. However, truth be told such airings of public laundry may still be viewed with suspicion and further doubt. Sometimes, the best way to quell rumours is to ignore it, until such time when the perpetrators become bored, or seek new material to amuse themselves. Yet, silence may not be golden, when fans or critics demand proof of legal dismissal, or until the guilty admits their mistake.

To this end, the alleged drug-cheats in sports remain victims of journalistic sport, who may have the financial means and meanness, to be rescued by their self-designed PR machinery (namely, tweets, blog-posts, e-mail blasts, and FB updates). Stories of politicking and back-stabbing continue to feed the frenzy of the voyeuristic masses through online forums, blogs, and the ubiquitous and terrifying social media platform. So, did he or did he not? Stay tuned to your tweets, and read what's trending now.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

The Beauty of Cutoffs

I am not referring to the fashion styles of the hippies and grunge-inspired. Cut-off times are strict deadlines to be adhered to. Miss them by a second, and you face dire consequences. In Ironman, there are specific times to return by or one ‘earns’ a DQ that is devastating if it is the world championships in Kona. In the corporate world, lack of punctuality or failure to submit a tender application on time may spell lost business opportunities.

When traveling overseas on the railway, I am mindful to be especially earlier to board. Once the gates are opened, I make a mad dash (with dozens others) to an open carriage. If you experience debilitating, post-race, muscle soreness, then be vigilant to these openings. Or else, it may be a 30-60-minute (or longer) wait for the next train.
Apply for your NYC Marathon slot!
I am tempted to attempt the lottery drawing for the NYC Marathon. Last year, I did not succeed. If I had a better marathon (currently 3:29) or 21K timing (currently, 1:33), I would be ensured such a confirmed spot. I am off by 3 minutes on my 21K and 19 minutes off the 42.195K. I will have one shot each for a PB come August and September, or else I am into the random electronic drawings (with a not-so-random USD11 entry fee).
Disappointing day: Deep field of very fast runners, and an unusually cold and rainy day.
I hope to earn another sub-3:25:00 for a Boston Qualifier in Berlin on 30 September. Two years ago, I missed my BQ by 7 minutes. The revised timing of 3:24:59 or faster will make it a real challenge to qualify, yet I am optimistic that this time round I will earn it. It is one of the flattest and fastest courses in the marathon circuit with attractive entertainment and strategic historical monuments lining the route.

Cutoff times are designed to encourage the best out of us. By meeting these datelines/deadlines, we can commit to our goals of being suitably prepared. Anything less, would be compromising performance and expectations.

Tax Time & Doing The Sum of All Things

I have enjoyed an enriching experience and lifestyle, running my own consulting and training business for the past 13 years. I would have not have expected to last so long, and gone so far. In business ‘dog years’, it feels much longer. Yearly business statistics sadly indicate that 70 percent of Small & Medium Enterprises (SMEs) fail to survive their first year. It gets progressively harder with each successive year of existence, with the changing economic climates. Thus, integrating a robust business strategy, complete with branding and marketing strategies, and synergistic collaborations, are keys to sustainability of most long-term business.

Doing taxes has been a mild annual challenge for me, for I recall as a salaried staff my accounts department used to complete the task for me automatically. I now forfeit that privilege (and co-dependency), and instead, have to calculate my company’s profitability each year before the 18 April (online filing) deadline. It would be lovely to enlist a certified accountant to do one’s books, yet depending on your scale of business transactions and employee strength this would be an affordable privilege.

Filing taxes (and filling forms) is based on many personal and business values such as integrity, transparency, honesty, clarity, and commitment. One needs to exercise discipline when making declarations. Silly mistakes can be costly. If taxes are part of building a country’s infrastructure and sense of security, then it is a useful and relevant task as an employed person. Perhaps, accounting can teach us a sense of accountability that goes beyond punitive practices. We are the sum of our collective experiences, relationships, education and skill-sets. Be mindful when to be calculating, calculative and making calculated decisions.
Fourth from left: Wilson (with cupped chin)
Wilson Ang, who works in the polytechnic sports department, is featured in the news. This Ironman finisher (and former-national water-polo player) is a very good spokesperson and represents his profession well.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Let’s Admit We Have Limitations

Lance on balance on the three disciplines, and more in triathlons.
It is fun to think that, most times, we have few limitations (after we have climbed a mountain, or run the long race). It is so easy to allow ourselves to be misled by positive psychology (through self-help books and DVDs) to think that we can accomplish almost everything if we put our minds to it. It would be careless and irresponsible to run a marathon with little preparation. Sure you can finish it by walking fast, however you will not meet your goals, if you are purposeful about it.

It is easy to fall prey to the mindset and attitude that you can accomplish almost anything if you have made personal breakthroughs in your recreation and your profession. Completing a marathon or Ironman triathlon can place you in a place of perceived ‘most potential’, yet you can get hurt if you, suddenly, place unusual demands on your body. We can fall ill through extreme climate, tough terrain, poor nutritional assistance, and accident. Working through a serious injury or illness can be debilitating and destructive to your psyche and physical condition.

How do you know your limits? Sometimes, it is intuitive; other times, it is observed. I realize that if I train more than two days in a row, I may risk straining my vocal cords, and suffer a diminished speaking/teaching voice. Thus I now integrate a day of rest between two consecutive teaching days. The same goes for endurance training. I used to have one day off in a week, however I now have two days of rest for every 10-12 days of hard training. I am in my forties, and I learn that I will often take up to three days for full recovery after a hard race. On average, we need one day of rest for each decade of our adulthood if we indulge in endurance training and racing.

We place limits on ourselves so as to protect ourselves from injury, illness or death. Certain limitations are self-imposed, and training and preparation extends our reach for those limits. Train often, at specific intensities, recover fully, and you can challenge yourself to go faster, stronger or higher.

Congratulations, Clifford Lee of Singapore for qualifying for Kona in the Legacy Lottery! You will need to complete a minimum of 12 M-Dot series full Ironman triathlon races to be consider for this new entry. He will be the first Singaporean in years to have earned this choice drawing. We wish him well in his training and preparation.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Weekly Roundup

With my flight and accommodation settled, my preparation for Ironman Switzerland has deliberately begun. Despite a hectic week, I successfully clocked about 10 hours of triathlon training, with three run-swim brick sessions and two rest days. My focus is on stronger riding for hills, more swim fitness, and higher-cadence running.

Today, I decided to ride for ‘as hard as I can for as long as I could hold’ on my heaviest chain-ring. Interestingly, I survived my 60K ride that included three successful attempts at Hendon Hill. Nobody in my group seemed to care for a climb, so I took it in stride (spin) to the top on reasonably heavy gears. The third climb, which followed immediately after my second was harder and I had to drop the chain down three clicks. Our 8-strong, riding group worked closely, so it made leading and drafting (legal distance) more purposeful and achievable. Towards the last 5K, they broke away to leave me to churn out lower-cadence spinning. Matty wrote about the ride today. Fortunately, the gap was not too wide and my legs retained adequate strength/endurance to finish at my intended pace; my bottle of Perpeteum (Hammer Nutrition) supplied enough calories for my high-intensity ride.

What was different this week was that I observed the quality of nutrition that I ate, particularly after each workout. This meant the protein quantity and type mattered, as did the relative absence of fructose (fruit sugars). When should you consume protein and carbohydrate after exercise? Which type of protein and carbohydrates would be best for full recovery?

In summary, for strength session consume protein within 15-30 minutes of cessation of exercise. For aerobics, consume within 45-60 minutes. Whey protein is the gold standard for protein, especially the amino acid leucine (a Branched-Chain Amino Acid).

Is cold water immersion a valid post-exercise recovery intervention?

Saturday, April 14, 2012

What & Who Inspires You?

What inspires you? Who inspires you? When you get inspired, how do you feel? How has your own inspiration worked positively and usefully for you? 
The Ironman world championships now offer lucky slots for inspiring triathletes.
Nature is filled with inspirational acts. The four seasons is magically inspiration. Now is cherry blossom season in Japan and it is beautifully inspiring. Nature has inspired poets and philosophers for centuries to pen their insights. Sports presents many people, of all physical conditions, who inspire us through their participation and performance. Able-bodied people race side-by-side with physically-challenged ones, and they compete! May the best athlete prevail! History has documented the acts of humanity by heroic and courageous people. Their biographies depict a sense of how they lived their lives with purpose, promise and premise. We have icons to aspire to; we have their precious words of wisdom to live by. Creative works of art, technology and design can be inspiring.
Perhaps the seven important 'people' in our lives?
How were you inspired today?

Friday, April 13, 2012

Blind-Testing: Sensory Choice

I was watching tonight’s episode of ‘The Voice’. A panel of four celebrity-singers-as-judges determines who progresses to the next stage of a singing audition. They have their backs to the performer – they facing the audience and each other – and decide (by way of pressing an ‘I accept’ button) if they wish to adopt the singer onto their team. If there are two judges who vie for the singer, the latter will have to decide whom to accept as their coach. The coach will groom them of the next stage of the competition.

I appreciate the approach: blind-tasting or blind-testing. You have to focus solely on the voice, and perhaps be swayed by the audience’s reaction. Other than that, it is left to the judge’s gut feel and intuition. Sometimes, the judges display genuine regret for not opting to 'turn around' and woo the singer over to their side. 

How often do you make choices based on your visual input? In other words, you base your choice on looks, appearance and first impressions; superficial qualities at most times. How far do you look beyond the embellished resume, grooming and charming smile? If you were to have a conversation via instant messaging, Skype or over-the-telephone, how would you select a candidate to join you on your team?

Gregory Burns is an athlete who inspires. He is an artist, Olympian and Ironman triathlon finisher. He has set five world records. He will be speaking next week in Singapore as part of a presentation by inspirational people.

Some time ago, I wrote a piece on the pre-race checklist. Here is another take by triathlon coach, Simon Ward.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Why Do The Ironman? Part 5

I first heard of Sister Madonna Budder through Phil Keoghan’s (host of ‘The Amazing Race’) book ‘No Opportunity Wasted’. Sister Budder is the 80-year-old nun who has completed many Ironman triathlons including the Hawaii Ironman World Championships in Kona. I thought: if she could do it at her age, I could do it! However, I could not even comprehend how much preparation and training was involved in completing the 226K multi-discipline event. Years later, I met this fit and inspiring competitor at the Ironman 70.3 World Championships in Clearwater, Florida in 2008 and 2009. I had to do my best, and I did do my best with her racing side-by-side. I was absolutely stoked being with her in the race that I, earlier, earned a qualification for.

Integrated within every Ironman World Championship DVD are powerfully inspiring stories about competitors who survived near-death ordeals, physical challenges, or are near-death. Jon ‘Blazeman’ Blais defied impending death and a crippling medical condition to complete his personal quest one year; and watch the event from his wheelchair in the next. We celebrate his memory by rolling on our belles, across the finishing-line. 4-time Ironman world champion Chrissie Wellington did the ‘Blazeman Roll’ in almost every one of her wins (symbolic of her fight against ALS disease), and stayed on after her victory to cheer on the remainder of the field.
Chrissie's biography which chronicles her meteoric rise from a woman with control issues to world-class champion athlete.
The father-and-son team, ‘The Hoyts’ is a synergistic collaboration that fulfills the human hunger to achieve and accomplish. Father tows and pushes his son through a complete Ironman for his son feels so much alive to be part of a race that saw its humble beginnings in 1978. One is smitten by their love and mutual respect for each other, braving the elements and challenging the odds to complete the race.

These amazing and inspiring people in Ironman help bring out the best in us. It is through their thoughts, words and deeds that we feel what we feel, and are humanized in the process. Ironman is more than a demanding personal physical challenge. It is a celebration of the human spirit that defies unthinkable odds, to emerge victorious and celebrating.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Why Do The Ironman? (Part 4)

‘A man who is a master of patience is master of
everything else.’ – GEORGE SAVILE

Patience is what you learn very early in triathlons. You will be close friends with loneliness, and being alone. Incessant stroking in the pool-lanes, long runs, and longer rides. You can get philosophical as you perform repetitive work with little promise of payment, or a promissory note. We do all these laborious work for self-satisfaction and self-fulfillment.

Triathlons – whether its faster powerful cousin, the sprint or Olympic Distance or its relative of humble beginnings, the Ironman – is a sport that tests more than three disciplines. It is a personal test of will, willpower and many other values, including tenacity, patience, determination, diligence, endurance, persistence, and sense of purpose.

It is a sport not without its risk. You can drown, break your bones, and suffer seizures. Yet, it still attracts many new entrants every year. Are these individuals, risk-takers or those with a personal death wish? Not many, as I believe that there are more extreme sports where eminent demise is a higher and likelier possibility. This sport invites 'the pedestrian of us' to shy from its allure of pain. Pain is not so attractive, when it can manifest itself from the start till the end of the race. And, we are not talking about muscle cramps (from riding or running) or a bruised cheek from a swim. We can be defeated by stomach disorders born of stress, nutritional setbacks, or a bodily meltdown. The body will fight you to surrender after a few hours of prolonged physical assault. It is only natural to resist and battle any instance of pain or discomfort.

In spite of these potential ‘let-downs’, the purveyor of the 226K-triathlon may be intrigued by the possibility of having the ‘perfect race’. A personal best time is reward enough for many; for others, it is the fact that you completed a tough course, harsh weather and testing terrain. Every course/race is different. Same course, vastly different weather patterns on another year. The variables are too many to compute accurately, and it is consistent and specific training that reduces the chances of disappointment.

There are no easy days ahead. The military special force units would state vehemently: ‘The only easy day was yesterday!’
Julie Moss's crawl towards the finish-line of the Hawaii Ironman, demonstrated part of the essence of the human spirit and allure of Ironman triathlons.

Monday, April 9, 2012

Why Do The Ironman? (Part 3)

Julie Moss's epic crawl towards the finish-line stopped hearts and started a revolution.
Holes in our heads: That’s what it is. Perhaps, finishers of the day-long triathlon are attempting to patch a gapping hole in their heads. Or, are they merely filling a need for personal accomplishment and achievement?

Let’s be clear: we can do a lot more with the time these long-distance athletes invest into their training. Who would rather spend their time sleeping than push off on their bikes for a 60-100K ride? If you ask these dedicated athletes, I am sure that they would rather elect sleep than spinning. The roads are none too safe these days for the knights on iron-steads. I was hit by cab while riding in 2010 (one month before Ironman New Zealand, and I ran into the back of a parked van two months ago. Both were costly exercises in training, yet I learnt to be resilient and re-focus my mind and recovering body on my goals.

Having completed my first Ironman triathlon in 2006 (and a few more along the way), I can vouch for the intense and immense joy and exhilaration of completing the event. You experience another burst of adrenaline which mask your pain as you dash across the line, to receive your medal, beach-towel (wrapped around you like a king’s cape) and the announcement ‘You’re an Ironman!’ (and that applies to both genders). Then, reality sinks in and your flood of emotions get mired with the cramping, and decidedly convenient time for your body to go limp with exhaustion.

The ultra-marathoners know no differently. Anything upwards of a full marathon adds to the challenge factor. I interviewed Singapore’s Kua Jarn Wei and American, Wayne Kurtz – these amazing Deca-Ironman finishers are tough as nails, and just as nuts as the rest of us. However, they are also great guys to hang out with. Every post-race conversation describes, invariably, the toughest parts of the course, but scarcely any reference to how tough these competitors were. Also, the on-course civility and rendering of assistance to your struggling fellow competitors reveals much about such a 'crazy sport'; also, the legion of volunteers who make these races all possible and purposeful. Such is the humility and humanity we get to observe at these obscure and seemingly unimportant events.

I applaud my fellow competitors for attempting and completing. Sometimes, you make the cut-off times, sometimes you don’t (due to a variety of reasons; mainly illness, infection and crippling fatigue). It is the journey that matters and which may have taken 6-12 months to lead you to your destination. The real drama of athletic competition expresses itself through the courageous exploits of the Everydayman doing their first Ironman. I am also inspired by the physically-challenged athletes who pedal their way purely by their hands and arms to complete their races; others who hop and run on carbon-blades (and who I hope do not catch up with, and they have) during the marathon. These episodes in life’s soap-opera are unmatched for their spontaneity, spirit and seriousness. It was also Julie Moss’s crawl to complete her near-win race that captured the hearts of thousands around the world. Perhaps, it is this spirit of wanting to do something, regardless of the implications and consequences, or getting to the finish-line is all that matters!

As Fox would reiterate before each race: ‘The pain is temporary, but the memories are endless!’ And in Ironman, there are numerous stories and an abundance of memories to rely on. 
(Continued tomorrow: Part 4)

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Why Do The Ironman? Part 2

Craig ‘Fox’ Holland led me in my first 10K run along Singapore’s East Coast Park. Till then, I had never ventured beyond 10K in a race or training run. He recently completed IM Melbourne in 10:38 – not shabby for a 51-year-old who completed Kona in 2005. Having completed dozens of triathlons and run races, he was the most suitable person to convince me to plunge into endurance sports.

My first 10K run during my training was mind-shifting. Due to years doing anaerobic-type activities, I was concerned that I would damage my body with long-distance, endurance-type activities. This paradigm held me back for some time, before I saw results in the all the three disciplines. The major obstacles then, was converting form breast-stroke to the front-crawl, and learning to ride a road-bike. Having run track (in the 1,500m & 3,000m Steeplechase), I transitioned (that strange word, and place) into the running formats of 10K, 21K and 42K quite quickly.

In my first foray to multi-disciplinary sports, I registered for a biathlon (swim-run). I swam and ran without a drop of fluid, experienced the ‘bonk’, which manifested as mild ‘heat exhaustion’ and I ended up in the ambulance. I have no recollection, till this day, of how I completed the race. Apparently, I ran off the road, onto the beach, past the finishing-line, and was headed out to the sea. Fortunately, several volunteers led me back, removed my timing-chip, and I ended with my first finishing time (to this day, still a complete amnesia). Soon after, I survived that scary ordeal (and warnings from family) to complete a 21K run, a marathon, and a full Olympic Distance triathlon. Then, I was ready for the big time.

Training for my first Ironman race was exciting, and scary at the same time. Training was dissected into portions, divided unequally over three disciplines. The weaker one is in a discipline, the more time was expected to enhance that deficiency. Each discipline can domino down to disappointment if we do not connect the dots well. The swim and ride determines your marathon; that’s about 183.8K later.

About a dozen Ironman triathlons later, I am still embarked on a journey to uncertainty. My 13th Ironman will be in Switzerland in July. Yet, there is a premise and promise of better things to come. It is not about the finisher’s medal, finisher’s t-shirt, bragging rights and enhanced resume. It may be that heightened sense of awareness that I am not alone in my personal quest for that something, that continues to attract many more in the years to come.

Or, as Ironman Hall of Fame recipient Bob Babbitt said: ‘It may be like the hole in the head of the first Ironman trophy.’ Yes, we all have that hole in the head that suggests we are missing a piece, or needs a piece to be filled in. 
(To be continued: Part 3)

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Why Do The Ironman? Part 1

Where's Whally? My name on my Finisher's tee-shirt for Ironman Lanzarote 2011.
I have been asked this question many times; and I am always enthusiastic about answering, as my responses are mildly different each time.

There is really no simple answer to this persistent question.

Some of my listeners (from the laiety) may think I am crazy; I am sure some may even question my sanity (or lack of it). After all, it is perceived as a grueling, physical challenge comprising 3.8K of swimming, 180K of riding, and then completing a full 42.195K marathon. Now, what would possess a sane and normal person ‘to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortunes’? As my wise mother stated, time and again, to me: 'Isn't there a better to rest your weary bones?' Later, I would realise fully what she meant - such is the allure of wisdom and insight.

I recall that in the early 1980’s, when I was in secondary school, I was tuned in to my favourite sports program ‘The ABC Wide World of Sports’. What I saw changed my paradigm about sports, my life, and my perception about humankind (okay, in those days, I thought about ‘mankind’). The image was powerful and dense, albeit subtle and almost meaningless. The short report was about the Ironman triathlon in Hawaii. The most vivid image was during the marathon where people jogged into the night, some walking, and some limping. The sight of struggling athletes braving to beat the deadline was immensely powerful, and emotional for me. I daresay I shed a few tears, as the imagery I saw was painful, poignant and possessing. I let this experience simmer in my mind for several decades. I would never have thought of attempting this challenge, let alone a full marathon or a 2.4-mile swim in the open-sea (God forbid, I saw ‘Jaws’ and would never commit to swimming in the ocean at any time in deep waters) or ride four times the widest length of Singapore.

I spent the early part of my adulthood, participating in the ‘sport’ of bodybuilding. I was risking my life, heaving chunks of iron-plates, and listening to heavy-metal music to hype myself up for my next set of bench-press or full-squats. I was surrounded by self-indulgent, narcissistic, body-worshipping bodybuilders who posed their muscles before spit-polished mirrors in gymnasiums with strategically-positioned lighting. In spite of anabolic-steroid induced muscle-heads around me, I managed to earn three bronzes and one silver medal on the national level, qualify for the national B-squad, and be utterly disappointed by the level of pharmaceutical-dependent cheats that held top-rostrum. I may have been na├»ve when I took up the sport as a natural bodybuilder, so after four futile attempts at the first-place, I decided to retire and seek new pastures for my creative outlets.

Corporate life lured me soon after my stint as a trade journalist, so I swapped pen-and-notepad for whiteboard-markers-and-notebook (actually, we had laptops then). I was involved in my company’s sports and recreation club, ran track for them (would you believe in my non-pet event, 4X400m), assist in setting up their first in-house gym, and then synergistically collaborated to secure bronze and silver awards for the National Health Awards. Meanwhile, my blood-pressure was holding court at normal, while my cholesterol and triglycerides levels were accumulating.

It was in 2001, when I met my colleague (and, subsequently, triathlon coach) that he planted his idea of sporting lifestyle in me…
(To be continued tomorrow)

Friday, April 6, 2012

Remembering A Fallen Comrade

Michael left us yesterday. He will be fondly remembered as a valued member of triathlon team, Crazy2Tri; an Ironman triathlon finisher; and a very good person. Instead of asking about how he left us, we could ask: How did he live his life? He lived a very rich life, enriched with experiences, strong and sustained relationships, and a plethora of achievements and accomplishments. In other words, Michael lived a successful life. We honour you today, Michael!
I was proud to race, side-by-side, with Michael 'Macca' in Ironman Malaysia 2007 - every step a tough competitor and determined athlete in life. Every ounce a Gentleman! You will be missed, my Friend.

Time To Bust The Joint?

Joint pain and joint injury can attack us at any age. The causes of these joint-related malaises can be due to illness, inactivity, over-activity, nutritional deficiencies, and allergies.

The verdict is still out on the usefulness of nutritional supplements (and dermal-based, topical ointments) based on glucosamine and chondroitin. There are people who cannot metabolise these two leading joint supplements due to allergy, gastrointestinal issues, larger size of tablets to swallow, and prolonged use may only reveal results.

How can we enjoy continued joint health? These lifestyle approaches may help us create and retain continued joint mobility and function:

1)    Achieve your optimal weight.
2)    Exercise (low-impact activities like walking, Tai Chi, and yoga for starters).
3)    Eat a higher-quality diet.
4)    Maximize your vitamin D level.
5)    Integrate Omega-3 fatty acids in your diet.
6)    Attempt EFT (Emotional Freedom Techniques) to activate energy points and channels by tapping on one’s body.

I do not have a history of joint injury, and my most serious conditions included sore knees (after long runs, exceeding two hours) and mild plantar fasciitis on my soles). I have found the six interventions recommended above to be useful after eight years of competitive racing in marathons and Ironman triathlons. Learn more from Dr Mercola’s website about nutritional support for your body.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Spacing It Out

I am not referring to a state of somnambulance, where one sleepwalks in the middle of the night for a night-snack. Being spaced out also has connotations to self-medication, in the deliberately illegal sense. It can refer to a state of confusion when we ingest too much information at one sitting: information-overload!
Spacing things out is about scheduling, and making space and place for activities, challenges, and rest. Eating too much at one go can lead to indigestion, lethargy, and a high potential for being overweight. Too much of a good thing can be harmful, including nutrition and rest. Spacing out your time and activities gives you more room to manage and enjoy your 'moments'. Injury, fatigue and boredom can impair your training and racing efforts. Performance may be compromised when you are less than your best.
This year, I have spaced out my schedule for sporting challenges and races. In the first three months of this year, I have only completed two half-Ironman triathlons. Hopefully, by mid-July I will have completed a full Ironman event. I used to do two such races a year, but have paced myself to train for one a year in the last two years. I decided to focus on running last year, and my results have been promising. This year, I have cut back on my running races, focusing instead on one Ironman race and one international marathon (Berlin). I aim to qualify for the Boston Marathon next year, and do a PB in an Ironman triathlon. I believe that by spacing out my training program, and enjoying more time for quality sleep I would benefit more from my endurance training. 

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

The Sprint To The End

Lance Armstrong placed seventh at the Memorial Hermann Ironman 70.3 Texas on Sunday. As expected, he was first off the bike into Transition, yet he was out-run by the younger and stringer runners. Timothy O'Donnell went one-on-one with eventual runner-up Sebastian Kienle, to sprint home to his first professional Ironman 70.3 win. Twice podium-finisher, O'Donnell stuck to his guns to give his final kick home to his win in that event as well as the U.S. Pro Champion. I enjoyed watching the race unfold, step by step, online whilst monitoring the 'Wear Yellow' ambassador give it his all in the 21K run. It was only Lance's second professional 70.3 race, and it will be interesting to track his comeback trail into triathlon - his sport before making his foray into professional cycling.
Leadership Lessons: When was the last time you had to make a dash for a deadline? How much reserves do you conserve before you plunge into a final sprint? Is it 'All or Nothing' when you commit to projects, collaborations and challenges? How far are you willing to go when you put your heart into something that matters?