Sunday, February 17, 2013

A Day of Progress & Progressions

Today was a day of firsts. It was also a day to commemorate progress made.

I completed a total of 19 hours of training this week; it is 12 days out from Ironman New Zealand. I just found the time, and enjoyed my ability to train my body through discomfort. Just this morning, I rode a record four hours on the indoor-trainer, and capped it off with an hour of swim drills. Working within my aerobic zone (180-AGE) helped much, as I did not sap my recuperative and recovery abilities. If you train in the anaerobic zone, you can easily get fatigued as it takes longer to recover from intense physical activity.

On the fundraising front, we have moved from one-quarter to one-third achievement. Thanks this week to Sur (and friends), Izzy, Andy Ng, Francis Ang, Derek Li and Baoying for their contributions. I appreciate those who spread the word of my fundraising project. Likewise, do support Tobias Frenz's fundraising efforts as he has an upcoming 30km swim! 

Also, thank you for reading this blog. Our recent interview with Ironman Clifford Lee drew numerous eyeballs. We had an overwhelming volume of readers within a week, which is a record within the year. Thanks for supporting our initiatives and offerings. Have a splendid week ahead.

Saturday, February 16, 2013

Time-Crunched But Time-Based (IMNZ 2013)

Despite having tight working schedules of the last few weeks (and it is no excuse), I have stuck to my commitment by training as diligently as I can. Interestingly, my cumulative mileage and training hours per week has been one of the highest in years. I tend to do about 12-14 hours per week on my heaviest week, however for Ironman New Zealand, I have hit an average of 13-15 hours per week, with some weeks going past 15 hours. Since Monday, in spite of unusually wet weather, I have clocked the following hours:

Monday: Running (2 hours/21km)
Tuesday: Road-riding (4 hours)
Wednesday: REST (compulsory)
Thursday: Running (2 hours/21km, AM); sports massage (PM) 
Friday: Indoor-riding (2 hours)
Saturday (today): Running (2 hours/21km); indoor-riding (1:45)
Total: 14 hours

As you observe, I had zero swimming time which is not useful. However, I will swim tomorrow after my ride. I aim to clock about 4 hours of tempo-based riding. This should bring my weekly training-hours to about 18 hours, which is considered one of my highest for a long-block. Tapering should begin end of next week. I have been training in cooler conditions, so I hope to brave and brace the cold elements better this year.

Thank YOU, generous sponsors for donating to my fund-raising. We have hit the NZ$1,000.00-mark. I am motivated by your generosity of spirit and consideration for others, and this has spurred me on through my hard hours. I suffer through my bad days, yet I am grateful to be able to complete the sessions. My strategy for IMNZ 0213 will be: stick to aerobic zone pace; mindful of nutrition; and be aware of my rhythms and bodily signals. My race number is #1110 and this will be my fourth attempt at this race, and I hope to do my best. A PB would be splendid, to say the least. 

Wednesday, February 13, 2013


He has strong mental strength and high kinesthetic intelligence. These are core skills and abilities of the most competitive of athletes. Up till junior-college, he competed in pole-vault, track and field, bodybuilding and swimming. He was also the first gold-medalist for the Asian Junior Bodybuilding Championships. His ambition to be the best at what he focuses on, could have carved his future for endurance sports.

Clifford Lee is a public servant, by vocation. His infectious enthusiasm has influenced extensively many neophytes of the sport to, eventually, take up the personal challenge of an Ironman triathlon (his recreation and advocation). Having completed, at least, 15 Ironman races (in almost all continents), his feather-in-his-cap has to be completing the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii last year. Clifford was the first Singaporean to win a slot in the brand-new Ironman Legacy Lottery. He, subsequently, and successfully completed the prestigious event in good time (He danced cheekily and happily, Gangnam-Style at the end-point).

I first raced with Clifford on Jeju Island, Korea in 2006 in the Ironman distance. Despite having a cancelled swim (due to dangerously high waves), he completed the race in high spirits. His optimism, enthusiasm, and faith in others reflect his extraverted personality and subtle leadership. His journey with DNF (Did Not Finish) only fuelled his fire to complete more races in his future.
Clifford is very knowledgeable about bicycles, with a pronounced flair and aptitude for the mechanical and technical aspects. His overarching positivism and active participation, thus, makes him a suitable ambassador for the sport of long-distance triathlon. Enjoy the interview.

Enrico Varella (EV): Hey, mate. Overall, what was your Kona experience like?

Clifford Lee (CL): The overall experience is priceless. Back in the early 1980’s, I watched a little of it before on ‘ABC Wide World of Sports’. I was shocked at what these people could do. When I started the Ironman (IM) journey in 2006, I never imagined I would be at the Kona start-line, since it requires qualification from Age-Group (AG) races. The crowd around Kailua and bike U-Turn at Hawi was simply magnificent. You don't find such an electrifying atmosphere at other IMs. Trust me, during my stay I diligently shared my daily experience to all my friends (on Social Media) – something I have told WTC during my application for the Legacy Programme.

EV: How did you feel when you received results of your successful entry?

CL: My mind reversed to the early-1980s, when I first watched it on TV. I was overwhelmed with the outcome. I told my family immediately, and of course, I was so eager to post it on FaceBook. I had a very good feeling before the results was officially revealed. I think I must have written a good article during the application process.
EV: You believed you could have initiated the idea of the Legacy Lottery to M-Dot. Tell us more about that.

CL: Back in August 2011, I wrote an email to the World Triathlon Corporation (WTC). I told them about my IM journey, and asked if they were able to offer me a slot in Kona, so that I could bring the experience back to all my friends. I had 12 IM finishes at that time. WTC replied, and thank me for my loyalty. As it was too close to the race, they were unable to offer me a slot. But they would keep me in mind in the future. I thought they were joking at first, but one month after Kona 2011, the Legacy Programme rolled out and 12 IM finishes was the requirement. Hmmm...I may have initiated this Programme...who knows?
EV: What did you enjoy about the racecourse?

CL: I enjoyed the marathon, although running is not my favorite discipline. The support along Ali'i Drive was simply amazing! I could hardly walk. The cheering injected adrenaline into me and made me run quite a fair bit. I must say that all the aid-stations commanded a very high standard. The aid-stations were well spaced out, and each station was pretty long. You could hardly miss any nutrition during your bike and run legs. Volunteers were the one who made this happened. They have been well-briefed and executed their support in the their most outstanding fashion. Thanks to all the volunteers!
EV: What were the highlights of Kona?

CL: Apart from seeing all the professionals on a daily basis; pros you read about in Triathlete magazine, you get to see awesome athletes like the Physically-Challenged (PC) athletes competing there. Each has a story behind them. But the highlight for me was the Legacy Reception. About 100 of us gathered for a reception held on the beachfront of the Marriott Hotel. The hosts were the CEO of WTC and the race-director. Mike ‘Voice of Ironman’ Reilly was the event emcee. Several ironman legends such as Julie Moss, Katherine (1982 Ironman) and Paula Newbie-Fraser were there to congratulate us. The WTC-CEO continued to show recognition to the Legacy Athletes during the Pasta Party, too. There were Legacy Athletes with 20-40 IM finishes. The athlete from Mexico was the happiest as he had over-80 IM finishes, before he was chosen for Kona 2012. If you ask me, getting to know these awesome people was really the highlight of my entire stay there.
EV: How many more Ironmans would you do before you shift challenges? What are your future goals in endurance sports?

CL: I will probably clock another 10 IM, or so. Along the way, I may want to try races such as SWISSMAN – It's a beautiful race. I hope to do endurance races till I am 55. Big or small, long or short – that doesn't matter. Just keep a sport that ha ‘3-in-1’ sounds like a good deal. It's important to keep exercising!
EV: Which was most memorable endurance sport race?

CL: Hahaha! You have asked me many times! Ironman St. George, Utah 2010. It was the inaugural race there. Swim was tough due to intense winds, bike was a super climb into the headwind, and run was part of the bike route. Really tough! My friends added at least three hours to their normal timings. This has got to be the toughest ironman in the world. Whenever I wear the Utah tee in other races, those who recognize it will always show me the thumbs-up. The race has been reduced to 70.3 due to high Did Not Finish (DNF) rates in the last three years.

EV: What do you enjoy most about Ironman?

CL: The process leading to the race day; and the rides with my friends. Training can be fun. That's where you meet old friends and make new friends. Ironman is not just a race; it's something that trains the individual from the planning to execution stages. Ironman triathlons test your determination and your fighting spirit. Even if you failed at races, that's not the end and nothing to be ashamed about. Come back stronger, and success will be even sweeter. Every athlete is a leader in his/her own class. The more you do, the more you learn. Share your experience so that people around you can shorten their learning curve. Love the sea, share the roads – these are just some of my community and environmental policies. End state: Endurance races build people!
EV: You are a very good golfer. You even scored a hole-in-one. Tell us more about your golf passion.

CL: I golfed back in the 1990’s. I stopped for more than 10 years before I picked it up again in October 2011. I re-tested my handicap, and was given a handicap of 17. I set a personal target to reach single-handicap by December 2012. I attained it when I was playing off a handicap index of 9.8 in September 2012. Currently, I am playing with a 9.4 handicap. My first hole-in-one was achieved at the Sembawang Country Club on 5 June 2012. It was a Par-4, hole-in-1, at 270m. A usual hole-in-1 is usually achieve on Par-3s. It was an Albatross, Hole-in-1. I recall that I had a good drive with my driver that afternoon – long and straight – it landed and rolled into the cup. Golf is something that requires a lot of skills. It trains patience, requires a lot of mental strength, and accurate course-management. Many say triathlons and golf cannot mix. I think I have proven them wrong (laughs his infectious laughter). I may turn pro at age 50, as a senior professional.
EV: Words of advice for newbies to Ironman distance?

CL: I have my own Ethos: P.A.S.S.I.O.N. Be…
Prepared for all races. Set correct footing from race-start.
Attentive to details. (Required for training and races).
Skillful in transitions. (There is always something to learn).
Self-Discipline. (Follow your own pace, race your own race).
Innovative in training. (Not just SBR. Gym, trail-running, etc).
Open to suggestion and feedbacks. (Listen to lessons learnt).
Non-complacent. No race is an easy race. (Race hard but smart).

Fact-find your IM locations. Check satellite pictures of the racecourses such as swim map, bike elevation and run elevation. Do mental preparation. I plot my own bike-elevation chart. This is my usual approach to a race. Mental rehearsal is something you can do many times over. This is to eliminate culture shocks, and it helps you to acclimatize even faster. From all these research, plan your training accordingly. Oh yes...time-zone acclimatization starts when you enter your airplane! 

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Key Ironman Dates

Ironman 70.3 World Championships will be held in Las Vegas on 8 September. This venue replaced the previous event held in Clearwater, Florida.

Ironman World Championships will be held in Kalua-Kona, Hawaii on 12 October. This is the full long-distance of 3.8km swim, 180km ride, and full marathon (42.195km). Qualifiers come from age-group podium finishes from M-Dot sanctioned races, as well as the M-Dot Lottery and Legacy Lottery winners.

Discipline As A Way of Life

I learnt very early in my youth, how important discipline was. It was a tough value to embrace and imbue into my evolving character. 

I was in the uniformed group in secondary school called the National Police Cadet Corps (NPCC) for four years. I graduated with my final rank as sergeant; I would have appreciated a higher rank, however, I reinstated myself when I was commissioned as an infantry officer in  my national service stint. I earned abject lessons as a young officer cadet; nine months of unconventional military leadership education had a powerful impact on my life.

Sports also factored heavily in my life: self-taught track/trail runner, competitive bodybuilder, marathoner, and Ironman triathlete. I received heaps of useful advice and realisations from training, nutrition, rehearsals and competing. Currently, training about 15 hours per week before an Ironman triathlon (226km) involves discipline of various combinations and permutations. Enjoying adequate sleep is also part of the discipline of smart training and preparation. Not easy to do, when you are time-crunched. So, I am clear and exact about what my Needs, Luxuries and Charities (Experience Orientated Management, EOM) are. 

As a self-employed, leadership consultant, running my own business I learnt numerous lessons about discipline. Measurements and measuring was a vital part of my profession. Valuation and evaluation, the ability to engage others and be engaging, were aspect of my discipline I had to convey in every interaction and intervention. The many writing opportunities also taught me the relevance of structure, endurance, resourcefulness and diligence.

Leadership Lessons: Inject discipline into your life. Which activities demonstrate your sense of discipline? How do you recover when you lapse in your discipline? 

Write A Bit, A Day, Your Way

For the last three years, I wrote almost everyday to fulfill my goal of daily blogging, for three years. I gave credit to marketing guru, Seth Godin for the initial idea and challenge. Having achieved that, I slowed down and, admittedly, slagged off, while Godin continues to this very day. I am picking up my own gauntlet. 

Writing is a useful skill to acquire, develop and grow with. It is a form of communication, yet it is more than that. The act of writing is about self-expression. We can express through the written word, selecting words from our vocabulary to express our memories, reflections, opinions and imagination. It helps us reveal parts of ourselves, and allows us to discover our psyche, spirit and character.

To reiterate: write with your heart, then with your head. Write whatever you like. Even if it is a sentence, pour your heart into that sentence. It is like the Starbucks' slogan: Pour your heart into very cup. Inject your values and sense of self into your writing.

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Status on Ironman New Zealand 2013

All is well.  At least where my preparation for Ironman New Zealand 2013.

I am consistently training, six out of seven days. I am registering about 13-15 hours per week, with at least two sessions of swim, ride and run. Yesterday, I ran 2:30 and rode 1:45. An hour ago, I completed a 3-hour ride on the indoor-trainer. I have one more long block to complete before I start tapering. 

People have asked me: Do you have an off-season? Technically, I don't, however I do have racing season and maintain my fitness year-round. I enjoy my lifestyle which includes physical fitness, travel and racing - triathlons offer me these opportunities, and large variety of choices. I am grateful to be able to breathe normally, and not be stifled by too many diseases and allergies. Aging does present with it, new challenges to manage.

My fundraising efforts for Breath4CF (Breath For Cystic Fibrosis) have bore fruit recently, with increasing numbers and interested sponsors. I am stoked, and will use this positive energy to sustain my final three weeks of training. No amount is too small. Every dollar will, optimistically, go towards initiatives that work the physical fitness of kids with cystic fibrosis. 

Thank YOU, dear Sponsors! The Kids and I thank you with all our breaths!

Happy Lunar New Year!

It is the year of the Water Serpent. The Snake is one of twelve animals portrayed in the Chinese Zodiac. Every cycle is 12 years, and this year will be my fourth cycle.

I was born in the year of the snake, and found out last night I am 'Wood Snake'. The Chinese believe in combining the Zodiac animal with one of the five elements: water, fire, gold, wood and earth. It is slightly different from the Greek's concept of elements. In addition, the biblical depiction of the snake has not been popular, relating it to temptation and free choice.

Interestingly, the snake/serpent is a featured icon on medical institutions, with the slithering creature wrapped gracefully around the staff. Interesting.

Happy New Year! Gong Xi Fa Cai! May this year bring good thoughts and tidings to all.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Three Weeks To The Big Dance

It is about three and half weeks to Ironman New Zealand. This is my fourth attempt at the 226K triathlon in Lake Taupo, Auckland. My second full-distance race (2010) was neck-tied by two compromised designs in my first and third completion; due to inclement weather, known as 'weather bombs'. I am back to attempt a personal best (PB) in one of the oldest Ironman triathlons in the world.

It has been a hectic two months, with the wet monsoon season affecting the first half of my preparation, and the past month mired with a full teaching schedule (a good thing, I assure you). Being time-crunched, I decided to work around available pockets of time, mainly lasting at least an hour. I worked on the indoor-trainer (cycling), in the gym (weight-training), and running outdoors (regardless of weather, except if there was lightning). On a heavy week, I hit about 15 hours, and a short week was about 10-12 hours in total. I am pleased for my consistency, and the tough-mindedness I have towards boredom (staring at the wall, or my Mind's Eye). So far, my patience and investment in the aerobic-zone training (inspired by Mark Allen and promoted by Phil Maffetone) has paid off nicely, with a stronger anaerobic return. I am feeling more confident about this block of training than in the previous three IMNZ 'hits'. On some days, I split my workouts into two, and recover enough before my second session.

Life presents us with curveballs and hard-hits, so we need to dodge them or hit harder back. What doesn't kill us, may make us stronger. Think of cancer survivors or those living with a medical condition (such as diabetes, cystic fibrosis or organ transplants); they still live a full life around those they love.

I am raising funds for Children with Cystic Fibrosis. If you would like to help out, please donate whatever amount suits you. Enjoy giving. I will train and race harder for your pledge.