Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Resuscitate Yourself From Your 'Dead Years'

Have you experienced 'The Dead Years'?

I describe this period, lasting from months to years, as time away from your passions and interests. For instance, you may experience dead years from your pursuits like exercise or novel writing due to a busy work schedule, family obligations, or prolonged study. I learnt of this term from talented and clever magician, Allan Ackerman in his book 'Las Vegas Kardma'.

I experienced my dead years in magic - electing not to perform for three years, and occasionally in public (to my students). However, I did continue to practise my Art from time to time. Having said that, when I practised, I fully committed myself to my task of learning or revising my material.

We do experience 'down time' in our lives, and when cleverly planned and integrated, we recover  from fatigue and potential burnout. If unplanned and unaware about it, it can rob us of precious time, resources and connectivity with others.

It is fine to take the occasional break (away from the mundane and predictable), however be mindful of the imminent and immediate future. How can we turn our restful period into the next restless period? This is merely a 'punctuated moment' in our schedule (called 'life'), and we need to string the 'words into a sentence', or we will be sentenced into stasis and inertia. Explore new ways to do the same thing. Find new joy or discipline in our habits. Or, better still, create new patterns of behavior and live life in fruitful ways. Creativity can be described as new perspectives or new ways of looking at the same thing.

Leadership Lessons: Recall your dead years. How long did it last? How did move past them, and moved forwards? When do you decide to slow things down and re-prioritise? What did you learn from periods of forced rest or hiatus?

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Boston Marathon 2014: Boston Strong Race Report

Boston, Massachusetts, 21 April 2014: Today, I achieved a new milestone in my athletic career having completed the prestigious Boston Marathon. It was a culmination of 10 years of training, and three years of visioning. I crossed the line, in high spirits, fatigued legs, and diminished speed in 3:48. For three hours and over-48 minutes, I ran past one million spectators, more than a dozen towns and locales, and major landmarks.
In 2011, I missed earning an entry in the 2012 edition (116th year) because I had a fallow margin of one minute. I earned my first Boston Qualifying (BQ) time of 3:29:59 in the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon in February. Interestingly, many well-intentioned friends suggested that the hilly course in Hong Kong would forbid me from earning a Personal Best (PB) easily. I prevailed, and it was not easy but I gratefully received my BQ timing (less than 3:30) in July 2013. This time, I ran it at 3:16 (how apt for a biblical passage), which was far better than what I fared in 2011, with 3:32. In 2012, I raced the Berlin Marathon in September in a dismal 4:00, after recuperating from a hairline toe fracture incurred before Ironman Switzerland (which I hobbled painfully to completion). I learnt abject lessons from my two months of a forced diet of no-running, and only riding and swimming. 

I arrived on Thursday in Boston, after passing through Frankfurt and New York City. I had taught two workshops over-3 days before so I was pleased to travel the extended distance on Singapore Airlines. My lounge privileges allowed me to shower, and enjoy warm food and beverages (and a wine/beer) during transit. During that time, I was contemplating whether to race as a celebration, or to run a hard race. My friend, Celene Loo suggested that I enjoy the race thoroughly since I had suitably qualified, and to immerse myself in the Boston Experience. I laid that plan latently, electing to 'go with the flow' of my intuition, and pace of fellow runners around me.
The race-fair was three-days long, highlighted by my early-arrival in an already long, snake-like queue for race-kit collection. I treasured my Runner's Passport, which included race-information, entry coupons for Pre-Race Dinner and Post-Race Party. There was much to see, and collect (insoles, organic muesli, the special race-only Samuel Adams Boston Lager '26.2', energy drinks, and much more) from the exhibitor booths - and I returned on Day 2 to attend the touching talk by The Hoyts. Never have I seen so many standing ovations and enthusiastic applause for two of endurance sports most-enduring father-son teams. This was their swan-song for the Boston Marathon, as it is taking its toll and toil on the senior of the pair. 
Race Morning: I was up at 4.30pm and out the door by 6.00pm. We took the crowded (but orderly) train to Cropley Square, whereby (after a comfort-stop) we were ushered up into buses to be ferried to the start-point at Hopkinton. The emotion in the bus was mainly apprehension, excitement and a sense of pride. We had arrived, and time to complete the race, collect our medals, and bask in the afterglow of accomplishment.
It took an hour, and we arrived at the car-park whereby we were led by the friendly volunteers into the gathering-area. Runners were assigned specific pen-numbers and wave-numbers (based on our qualification times). The elite runners were flagged off first, followed by the fastest qualifiers.
I must say that the race was a bit of a blur, after the usual pre-race preamble and scramble. There was no rush to jockey for a good start position. The race-bib with the integrated-chip determined our final time. When I was flagged off, it was boisterous and rowdy in a good way, ushered by residents of Hopkinton. It was cheerful, happy and hopeful. Along the way, I smiled (abundantly), gave high-five slaps to children (I felt bad I missed a few of them), got kissed (and kissed - on the cheek, of course) the Wellesley College Girls (an all-girl, liberal arts, college) who were a pleasant distraction and utter attraction at Mile 13 (before Heartbreak Hill met us), Heartbreak Hill (more a series of undulating roads stretching for five miles until Boston College), and the spectator-lined streets for all of 42 kilometres. Between these scenic and jubilant accounts, were the well-manned aid-stations that were highly considerate and caring to all (including I, who tended to stand beside them to consume my water, CrampFix salt-tablets and Hammer Nutrition Perpeteum/gels) runners. We were well taken care of, and I would not fault anyone. The residents in the towns were also extensions of the volunteers, offering wet-sponges, refreshments, and encouragement. 
To summarise my experience: Boston was strong, and its spirit was Stronger! 
I raced, I suffered, as I approached the finish-line. The last one kilometre was tough as 'my mind was willing, but my legs were weak'. However, my meek jog strengthened to a plausible gallop as I increased my stride-length. For one fleeting moment, I was reminded of the vicious act of violence last year, as I approached the grandstand, packed readily with officials, first-responders, spectators, families and VIPs. 
It was merely a shadow of past that would not be repeated today, or on any other day. This was a day that runners united, a city braved its grief and losses, and emerged victorious. The most poignant line I recall somebody tell me was: 'Thank you for saving our city!' I was dumbfounded to hear that, as I stifled my emotions, but honoured for playing a small part in a bigger piece of the cosmic equation. I was compelled to thank everyone I met (who seem to revel in congratulating us finishers) and reciprocate their hospitality. I felt like a celebrity racing the half-Ironman in Cebu!
I crossed the line at Boylston Street in about 3:48. As I crossed the line, it felt like my first marathon and Ironman triathlon completions. One's sense of fatigue was erased by the sense of euphoria, achievement and accomplishment. A heady concoction of emotions mixed with realisation that I had achieved large and empowering, alongside 32,000 of my fellow brothers/sisters in marathon.
I was led in, by enthusiastic and congratulating volunteers to receive my thermal sheet, race-medal, and post-race refreshments. My face felt flushed with excitement, although technically, my race was over. I walked besides many participants (now christened by the Boston Strong Experience) who, now, were my friends-for-life, united by one unique experience cherished only by this peculiar fondness for this distance and activity.
I connected with two journalists from Channel NewsAsia; Dr Derek Li (who did 2:42 at this race) arranged for this opportunity, which I coordinated with editor in Singapore, and ended up doing the interview alone. Although I enjoyed the post-race recognition, I felt my experience would have been enhanced with the presence of team-mates, Derek, Jenny Huang (who did 3:30) and Blade Runner Shariff. Nevertheless, it was what it was and I ddi my best - in one, take - to capture the essence of the Boston Strong Experience. I received much positive response from this piece when it was broadcasted a day after. I cringed at my post-race attire, as I felt chilly in the windy 16 degrees Celcius conditions. It was my virgin foray into compression-socks, encouraged by the cold.
Overall, I enjoyed my first Boston Marathon/Boston Strong tremendously. I was pleased with my approach, enjoyed most aspects of my experience and promised to return in 2016. I hope to earn it through a more-challenging PB of 3 hours, and less. I have a grand plan ahead of me, and I hope to achieve it within a year, so as to attend the 120th edition of this historical race.
*Photo-credits: Melina Chan & Marathon Photos*
*Sponsors: CrampFix, On Shoes, Jabra*

Friday, May 16, 2014

Switching Trains of Thoughts

It has been three weeks worth of recovery and recuperation. Racing three major races (two Ironman-distance triathlons and one marathon) was a test and assessment in capability and limitations. So, that chapter is completed and I have chalked up new achievements, ticked off a few things from my Bucket List, and added to my resume of accomplishments.

Now, I have switched gears and sense of purpose back to my other passionate pursuit: designing and performing magic. I was a semi-professional magician (magical entertainer) up to two years ago, where I focused on my endurance, multi-sports journey. After a hiatus of a few years, where I did not actively perform magic (but still studied it), I have returned. Few people knew that my project after I left full-employment were two performing assignments in a hotel Japan. I realised that I could earn a decent livelihood as a performer, however it would be, nonetheless, challenging of I treated it as a lucrative hobby. To do well, I realised, I had to commit to my profession fully and completely. There was little compromise to personal and professional excellence.

This evening, I was the first performer in my magic club - International Brotherhood of Magicians Ring 115 (IBM 115, Singapore) and I performed a version of an mind-reading illusion I have thought about recently. The last time I performed it, was about three years ago.  The nice thing about entertaining fellow magicians is that we can keep our mistakes behind closed doors. However, when we perform for a paying audience, we cannot afford to make mistakes that are noticeable. Professional performers are paid healthy remunerations for our skills, performing abilities, and entertainment abilities. When we are not performing, the performer is studying, practising, rehearsing and improving on his acts.

To paraphrase a successful magician, 'You are paying for 20 years of preparation!'

As Colin Key, a finalist in America's Got Talent said: 'We practise all these difficult sleight of hand magic, but you don't get to see it!' If only audiences can appreciate the hundreds of hours put into designing an act, routine or trick we may be valued more than 'tricksters'. Ironically, magic survives on preserving these 'secret's, because once revealed the value of the illusion becomes diminished.

However, we practise magic not because it is fun (it is), but because we thrive on being artists. An artist lives to express himself through his Art, so that the Art emerges through this symbiosis of performer and impact of the act. Art may involve a degree of suffering, but as most artist can attest, the suffering is part of the journey and worth getting there. 

I am looking forward to sharing these moments of astonishment with you. If you meet me, ask me, and I may share my moments that may take our breath away. 

Enjoy the magical moments in your life.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Behind An Interview (Boston Strong)

What goes on behind an interview? I am interviewed here by Channel NewsAsia (CNA) after my completion of 118th Boston Marathon (Boston Strong). I was among 16 Singaporeans who attended this edition, with about 32,000 runners and over-1 million spectators who lined from Hopkinton to Cropley Square. The interview was featured the following evening on the 10.00pm news highlights. The two journalists, Nick and Patrice, worked as a team - one in front of the camera; the other, behind it. Essentially, I was interviewed as to why I decided to attend Boston Strong. My responses were thus: Firstly, the Boston Marathon is the world's oldest marathon, and the 'holy grail' of marathons. Secondly, we had assurance and reassurances months before the event. Lastly, the support by the city and first-responders were overwhelmingly strong.
Given another attainment of a personal best (PR) timing, I would surely return for another shot in a future edition of the 42.195km race.