Saturday, December 26, 2015

Leadership Lessons From 'The Force Awakens'

Spoiler-alert. That's it.

Here are some observations of my mind, from the distillery of my mind, culled from the past week. I watched 'The Force Awakens' on the third day of its screening, and I kept mum about the details with those who did not watch it yet.
My long-time and good friend, Elliot Lee surprised me with this complete set of plush (stuffed) toys from the world-class Changi International Airport, Singapore. I was gobsmacked as I did not make a single purchase to buy these character that I grew up with.
Many of my friends have concluded that I am Star Wars fan and geek. I may be, and I think I am. Perhaps, I am in denial asI have other distractions like my fondness for racing in marathons, triathlons, Ironman triathlons, magic and writing.
This was my 'costumed' debut at the IMAX 3D screening of Episode 4. I wore my Uni-Q-Lo tee-shirt that my friend, Nicholas Khaw bought me while he was in Japan in June. My dueling light-sabre and Jedi-belt are from Park Sabers - they do splendid work and craftmanship with these 'laser-swords'. I kept my 'blade' at home. Few people wore their costumes that evening (it was past midnight), but Nicholas and I brought our sabers and confidently carried them. 

I have begun 'sharing' my toys (for Big Boys) around. Like my library of books, I believe in sharing knowledge, wisdom and stories of my experiences. If teachers do not share, teaching becomes pointless. Material things are just that - immaterial, if these are not spread around generously. The intangible things matter just as much: friendships, sense of accomplishment, sense of purpose, generosity of spirit, consideration, caring, respect and passion. Share in your passionate pursuits, and our indulgent pastimes become more relevant to others, and they can relate to our quaint hobbies. We move from 'obsessive' and 'possessive' to 'enjoying it with others'. Just a thought.

Leadership Lessons Learnt: Be confident about what you are passionate. We tend to be very knowledgeable about our hobbies and subject-matter (related to our profession). When we talk about what we love or are familiar with, the words flow out smoothly and easily. Leadership is about making that first step, first move, first question, and first initiation. Take the initiative; take your initiative. Be pro-active, and may the Force (or Influence) be with you!

Thursday, November 19, 2015

For Sparta: Spartan Race Singapore 2015

The inaugural, Spartan Race Singapore was held on Sunday, 15 November 2015.

I bought a last-minute slot ( expensive, by local standards), and got the 2.00pm flag-off.

The event was well-organised, despite the 6,000 participants that ploughed through from dusk till late-afternoon. They were altogether 15 stations, or series of stations in the 6-8km route. The route was designed along the scenic Bayfront area.

I was in the lead for the two loops until I suffered two penalties at two stations: Monkey-Bars and Spear-Throwing. Each of my failures cost me 30 Burpees (with pushups and squat-jump), and these left me fairly knackered. I was happy to jump across the hot fiery coals just before the finish-line. I think I may be fifth or sixth, due to lost minutes.

I look forward to next year's edition, likely a 16km, however with more preparations in the following areas:

1) Join a CrossFit class to learn the specific movements required in Spartan Games.
2) Really strengthen my body in all planes (forwards, sideways and rotatory).
3) Achieve completions in  various WODs (Workout of the Day).
4) Perform run-push-pull-climb-run 'brick' sets.
5) Ensure complete recovery of my shoulders and rehabilitate. This is my Achilles Heel.
6) Lift heavier weights, and perform Spartan-related exercises.
7) More plyometrics (jumping and landing) in my exercise diet.

Thursday, November 5, 2015

Endurance Events & Being In The Zone

When I participated in the Nanowrimo 30-Day Challenge, I wrote 50,000 words for an unedited story/novel in 30 days. If I missed a day, I had to catch up with twice the amount. Each session was described as hectic, and sometimes, being ‘in the zone’. Yet, I got it done despite he crazy self-imposed timeline.

Athletes have described being ‘in the zone’ as a trance-like state, where focus becomes pinpoint sharp, and performance feels effortless. It is distinctly different from ‘zoning out’, where focus is lost due to daydreaming.

Endurance sports and its requisite training sessions, demand that we activate our values of patience, tenacity, determination, persistence and resourcefulness. Long sessions require such values to complete long sessions for swimming, running and cycling.

Leadership Lessons: Just do it. Plot a time slot, and commit to completion. Do your best, and exhaust your time. Assess your results. Write first. Edit later.

Beat Your Best: The Time-Crunched Athlete

If you need something done, give it to a busy person. If you are time-crunched for a race preparation, you can do twice-a-day sessions. The current ‘haze’ condition and bad air quality has led to jettisoned sessions, or indoor-sessions. Nevertheless, with creative scheduling and workout design you can still save your race (and race fitness).

Upside: You can split a long run into two shorter sessions. For instance, a 21km run can be split into 10km and 11km sessions. I have done two hours of indoor-cycling on the turbo-trainer in the morning, followed with an evening o1-hour session. My legs, generally, feel fresher and I can opt for similar intensity, or higher. It is now wonder that elite swimmers train twice a day, 4-5 days per week. When I was training for my Boston Qualifiers (BQ), I sometimes did two sessions per day as my additional session in the ‘Run Less, Run Faster’ approach. I never exceeded four sessions of running, all done at tempo-paced. A second session may be shorter, and focused on slopes or off-road surface.

You can also integrate short (15-20 minutes) strength and core stability sessions. These sessions will shift focus onto rehabilitative interventions, muscle-rebalances, and developing functional strength. I end each aerobic session with balance-work (proprioceptive), kettle-bell training, and free-hand/bodyweight exercises.

Down side: You will have to wash another set of exercise attire. Also, be mindful of your energy levels. If need be, fuel up about 15-20 minutes before a session with Hammer Nutrition Perpeteum or Hammer Gel. I use a 645-ml serving bottle (26 servings). Hydrate throughout the day. I use ginger-tea to reduce post-exercise swelling and inflammation.

Leadership Lessons: Prioritise. Make important things important. Shift your focus to relevance and the necessary. However, chores still need to be done.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Valuing Oneself & Others

How do you measure performance and value your talents?
Have you 'actually' measured your value?

'Perceived value' translates into 'actual value'. That is why the best people are sought after by potential employers and executive search specialists. When these people value your skills, wisdom, experiences and competencies you get compensated more, are recognised and  valued even further. 'Pay for the best' is the truism when it come to employment and employability.

How do you appraise your value? How do you get valued like a precious diamond is assigned a price-tag, or your property/real estate is appraised?

Before your next performance appraisal, do a SWOT Analysis. Born of marketing, and used to assess the value of a brand, SWOT can be used to assess your valuable skills, and Unique Selling Points (USPs). SWOT is an acronym for Strength, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats. By identifying, in detail and exactness, your Strengths (abilities and capabilities) - you can project your Opportunities (including future value and potential). Your Weaknesses need to be reduced, and converted into competencies or your Threats increase to become your risks.

Do a SWOT Analysis before your next Performance Appraisal interview, job interview, or when updating your LinkedIn profile. 

Leadership Lessons: How do you value yourself? How do you value others? How do you answer questions relating to value, relevance and importance?

Sunday, October 11, 2015

The Currency of Wisdom

How do you actively develop your wisdom?

How often do you seek your wisdom of hindsight? That is, your inner-eye that helps you reference your future decisions with your past.

On the one hand, we experience self-talk like 'once beaten, twice shy', 'I should have listened to my gut feeling' and 'rash decisions'. On the other, you may have appreciated moments like 'Eureka!', 'my intuition talked to me' and 'I was fortunate/lucky'. We can attribute our success and failures to being acutely attuned to both our senses (sensitive, sensible) and our intuition (sixth sense, gut feel, instinct).

Learn From Your Failures
There is a truism that we can learn from our mistakes and failures. How exactly does one learn from disappointing results? Unguided, we may wallow in self-pity and become depressed. With the right internal lenses, we can filter out the emotions to attain the filtrate of 'good stuff'. These include lessons that we may apply at the next decision. What to avoid, be mindful of, cognisant about - we can apply this to our next business venture, relationship, and commitment. Sports-coaches remind us to write our thoughts and feelings while they are freshly-imprinted in our minds. We can review our results, and make adjustments in our planning and preparation for future attempts.

Learn From Your Successes
When you achieve a new milestone in your life, reflect over what you enjoyed about it. Ponder over how you would achieve your results and performance differently next time. Which values did you learn from your success? Humility, patience, consideration, respect, trust, care, and many more. What did you add to your character in your success? How can you build on your abilities, and expand and extend into your capabilities? Wisdom from our success can help us become confident to 'dream bigger for longer'. We can enter the realm of personal excellence and mastery, as such.

Leadership Lessons: How do you draw on your wisdom? How often do you convert to your currency of wisdom? How do you apply it to your decisions in business, socially, as well as in your personal relationships? Add to your wisdom. Observe, reflect, extract, from your experiences and use it for your learning and application.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Go Nuts With Your Nutrition

Stock Photo: Markus Mainka

I wouldn't say that I am a nut person, yet I do enjoy the occasional handful of these crunchy pieces of nutrient-dense foods. I also enjoy dried/desiccated fruits.

As an active endurance athlete, I use nuts as a supplementary source of nutrients. Here are how I eat them:

1) I sprinkle them over my raw salads. I enjoy pumpkin seeds, walnuts, almonds, cashews, chia seeds, dried fruit and raisins. They provide a protein boost to the pigmented leaves. I, sometimes, spruce up my nut count if I eat my salad at home.
2) Drink water when eating nut by itself. It can dry your throat.
3) The easiest way to consume nuts is from a bag. Ensure that unused nuts are kept in a resealable Ziploc bag.
4) Although nuts and dried fruits can be refrigerated to ensure shelf-life, consume them as soon as possible. The refrigerator is a dehumidifier, and may cause precious essential oils from the nuts to escape. The same goes for coffee powder.
5) I enjoy nuts as a snack, especially when I feel peckish on a long indoor-ride. I get a mild feeling of satiety or fullness, whilst enjoying the energy from the oils. I have also raced with nuts in Ironman races.
6) Certain nut oils complement the essential and stable cooking fats (extra-virgin olive oil, butter and coconut oil).
7) I developed an appreciation for nut butters (mainly peanut and almond) after I ate some during my time in the Boston Marathon 2014. A trip to Trader Joes convinced me of the relevance of buying a prepared version, or a home-made, bespoke recipe.
8) Invest in a powerful blender/grinder and make your own nut butter flavoured with Himalayan salt, raw honey, bee pollen, berries, and other oils.

Nuts and the nut oils are a relevant complement to our dietary needs as serious athletes. There are many nut-based products you can create in your kitchen like health-bars, smoothies, and spreads.

Nuts can vary in pricing, source, agricultural treatment and preparation. The website 'NUTS.COM' incorporates the expertise of a dietitian to recommend simple treats and solutions for your nutritional needs. Check it out to learn more about healthier solutions about nuts, dried fruit, and other tasty treats for your energy, recovery, and racing needs.

Monday, September 28, 2015

Boston Marathon 2016: My Second Slot

I earned my second Boston Marathon slot two Fridays ago.

It came as a surprise as I did not expect to get confirmation so soon. I registered on Wednesday, on the second-tier (more than 10 minutes faster than my BQ) of submission of my entry.

I look forward to racing on Patriot's Day next year. I aim to earn a BQ there, as several of my friends have done for years.

Run Clinic 2015

I gave a running clinic two Saturdays ago. It was, essentially, about my lessons learnt from racing in marathons and triathlons. Dubbed 'Run Less, Run Faster to a BQ', about 50 participants turned up on a hazy, afternoon to hear me talk about my 11 years of Ironman training as well as racing in marathons.

One of my inspirations to do the Boston Marathon, 83-year-old Mr Kr Hong Fatt (on my left). Pris Chew is the author of the blog,

A summary of my clinic (minus the 5km run, as the air quality was deemed 'Unhealthy' at a PSI of about 150), was featured in Pris Chew's award-winning blog. Enjoy!

Additional data that was missed out were:

1) I eat clean, generally, following the 80:20 Rule. I have as much vegetables as I can eat in my meals.
2) Tart cherry juice is great for reducing muscle soreness. I learnt about this while watching an episode of 'The Doctors'.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Trust Your Base

Trust your base. I don't mean the 'bass', and treble.

Your base is your foundation. In endurance sports, your base is your 'aerobic base'. It is one of the main engines that drives your ability to 'go far and long'. Yet, the aerobic engine is shrouded in misnomers and confusion.

To build your aerobic engine, let's review the mathematics of heart-rate. Using Phil Maffetone's approach: 180 minus AGE is your Maximum Heart Rate. Never exceed this, when building your aerobic foundation. Even if you have to slow down, and walk, keep committed to this heart-rate limit. Once your heart-rate falls at the same intensity of work, you can then step it a notch higher. The main goal and intention is to teach your body to be more effective in using fat as a main source of fuel. Today, the popular term is applying the ketone-diet. You can train on an empty stomach, or breakfast-free. I use Bullet Coffee (with coconut oil) to run up to 2 hours or ride up to three hours.

Your aerobic base will buoy your anaerobic system, or higher-intensity workouts. It will also relieve stress on your body, reducing the chance of injuries, sleep better, and recovery faster.

Leadership Lessons: Return to basics. Maintain 'Beginner's Mind'. Learning and re-learning can be useful, whether you are a specialist, expert, consultant, teacher or champion. There is something to be gleaned from each experience, perspective and result.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

Pace Your Way To A Faster Run

With running-mate and pacer, Melvin How in Gold Coast Marathon 2013.
The difference to earning a new PB/PR in your running, may be more than just more training. Your choice of race, climate, and use of pacers can make a big difference in slicing minutes off your time, and finishing strong.

In my best races, I almost followed a pacer. The pacers are either the officially-appointed ones, or those I designated to follow - my friends.

In 2013, I was pacing with my friend Melvin How for the early part of the Gold Coast Marathon, until his injury side-lined him. He still held a decent pace and an honorable finish. I earned a PB and BQ, thanks to his early fast-pacing. We were holding a 4:30min/km pace, and both aiming a Boston Qualifier (BQ).

This year, I followed the official Gold Coast Marathon Pacers, until the 2km mark, where I had to pee. Costing me precious minutes, and losing sight of the 3:15min/km pacers, I had to catch up with familiar faces. I designated them (in my mind) as my pacers, and kept up with them until my pace led me to overtake them. A few of the F1 Runners from Singapore kept me company for parts of the first 21km. My occasional running and racing-buddy, Andrew Cheong was my other pacer, who I kept in my gun-sight for most of the 42.195km. I was concerned about holding my mild lead of less than one minute over him. This year, my focus on slopes and hills gave me more confidence over the mild rolls of the Gold Coast. 

Thanks, pacers for egging me on!

Leadership Lessons: Be broadminded to run with faster runners. Ask permission to stick closely with these pacers. They can give us a massive psychological boost. The Gold Coast Marathon Pacers are so accurate that they guide you through to your potential PB. They also actively cheer you on, with positive energy and explicit encouragements. It is perfectly fine to follow them. Followers can prosper!

Friday, September 11, 2015

Osteoporosis And The Athlete

Remember the film ‘Unbreakable’, where Elijah Price/Mr Glass keeps breaking his bones? What a horrid way to live!

1 in 2 women, and 1 in 4 men over-50 years will experience a bone fracture because of osteoporosis. With such scary statistics, and in the light of deficiency from foods, we will need to deliberately reduce such a situation.
The infographic illustrates the urgency of keeping ourselves healthy and active, to reduce the occurrence of this debilitating condition. Invasive surgery such as hip and knee replacements, are not long-term solutions as these mechanical parts, too, need to be replaced through constant use.

As an active athlete, experiencing wear-and-tear, of the body is a major concern. Our bones are our endoskeleton, supporting the amazing muscles and connective tissues that keep us 'in' place. When bones heal, they become naturally stronger. However, osteoporosis can hamper normal recovery and cause us to be structurally unstable. A weak skeleton and musculature can encourage the onset of injury, which is unhealthy and unpleasant.

With the collaboration of the American Recall Centre, more preventive advice will follow soon. Meanwhile, stay physically-active (walking), get off the chair regularly, eat bone-enhancing foods, and spend some time in the sunlight.

Running Into Your Fifties

I will hit the half-century mark at year's end, with about 11 years of endurance racing and training in the bank. What have I learnt in my years of sustained efforts and performances?

LESS IS MORE: As I enter a new age-group (AG), I have found that more rest and recovery enhances my performance. By performance, I mean either increased speediness, or retarding the degradation process of performance. Between my Boston Qualifiers (BQ) of 2013 and 2015, my time was slower by 54 seconds. In effect, it was negligible as I lost about two minutes for a forced bathroom break. Plus, I prepared for this third BQ in less than six weeks. My usual BQ preparation is 12 weeks, or 3 months, with 3-4 workouts per week. All my runs are done at tempo-paced, fartlek, or time-trial. Intensity supercedes 'junk miles'. In the off-season, low-heartrate, aerobic activity is crucial to building up the 'fat-burning, aerobic-base'. I subscribed to Phil Maffetone's approach to building sustained endurance fitness.

EATING WELL IS KEY: With an orientation to eating 'clean', and applying the 80:20 Rule, my recovery is much better. I have included more essential fats into my diet, increasing it to about 20-30 percent of my overall diet. What has changed is including extra-virgin olive oil, coconut oil, butter, eggs, and fish oils. An increased use of antioxidant-laden nutrients such as krill oil, deep-sea fish oils (Omega-3 fatty acids), pomegranate juice, tart cherry juice (for reducing muscle soreness), colourful vegetables, probiotics (gut bacteria), and ginger. Eliminate or reduce allergy-causing foods, as it sabotages your overall health.

STRENGTH TRAINING IS A MUST: Muscle mass loss is significant once we pass the 40-year mark. I learnt the hard way that maintaining and even increasing muscle mass (lean tissue) is critical to running better. Long-distance runners, marathoners and ultra-marathoners are too 'skinny'. The emaciated look can be perceived as unhealthy. A weak upper-body supported by stronger lower-limbs, may jeopardise potential speed required for attending to hills, and the last burst of sprint speed for the finish or PR/PB. Commit to a gamut of regular, functional-strength-focused activities like yoga, core-strength, cross-training (e.g. riding and swimming), circuit-training, plyometrics, CrossFit, and the like. Gaining lean muscle weight (and thus, strength) is fine, and would not affect your performance.

STAYING MOTIVATED: Performing well physically, gives one a heightened sense of confidence. The occasional PB/PR can be empowering, whilst poor performance can riddle my race-plans with doubt. The key is to review each performance and learn what can be prevented, reduced or eliminated in future races. Sometimes, it can be physiological and beyond my control. Focus only on what you can control. The nice thing about 'aging up' and entering a new AG, would be the implicit or explicit allowances on qualification times, or potential podium placings in the Masters' category. My static time for my BQ, has recently earned me another 5 minutes for my BQ lottery. I look forward to a slot in the 120th edition of Boston Marathon with a margin of over-12 minutes for my new AG.