Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Boston Strong: Boston Marathon 2014

Boston Marathon was not on my bucket list (and I have one, which has been updated umpteenth times and is now in the nth version). I completed Berlin Marathon 2010, enjoyed it as I crossed the line in about 3:37. What I did not know was 7,700-plus runners were ahead of me. Talk about depth of field in European marathons!
So, after two BQs later I took the lottery (after an excited yet excruciating wait of several days), waited a couple of weeks, and I was stoked when I was admitted into the 118th edition of the race. Friends who had completed the 2012 edition assured me that my margin of difference would be highly certain.
What did I enjoy about the Boston Marathon?
1)    It was special, as I felt I was celebrating not only a personal journey, however a shared one. One million spectators, 20,000 marathoners, and an entire city - an extended family.
2)    The days leading up to the marathon was extensively covered on the local television network. It was scary, courageous, and inspirational. The resilience, recovery and optimism was ever-present and ubiquitous. Very touching!
3)    When I walked back to the hotel, okay, as I limped back to the hotel, the locals congratulated me on my achievement. I felt like a champion – something never experienced at home. I was deemed an idiot back home for doing the 42.195km (it is a cultural matter).
4)    Most memorable moment: Running the Boston course.
5)    Next most memorable moment: Kissed by the Wellesley Girls. Admittedly, I was hesitant to approach them however I yielded to massive peer pressure from other runners (who were obviously having too golden a time).
6)    Running alongside fast runners in my Pen (‘That will do, Pig. That will do…’). Some were so comfortably attired in t-shirt and shorts, yet flew past the first downhill 10km. It is not the look or appearance, but the fact that these were amazing age-grouper who qualified by the strength of their performance. Respect!
7)    The warm-up/warming tents with hot cocoa and coffee. They also dispensed energy-gels.
8)    Meeting Boston-veteran, entrepreneur, and Primo-Coolness Celene Loo (a Harvard graduate) who was reading a magazine while waiting for her turn in the pen: ‘Enjoy the race. Time to celebrate!’ She was business-like correct. I had earned my way there, so respect the runners and the race, and complete it comfortably.
9)    Most golden and inspiring moment: When a few ladies said to me: ‘Thank you for saving our city!’ I had to hold back my emotions.
10) The organisation of the event (in its entirety) was efficient, effective and exciting. I heard The Hoyts speak and run for the last time. The race exhibitors were generous with sampling and friendly. I felt that we were truly among friends.
What would I have done differently?

a)    I would have pre-booked accommodation in advance. I sat on my hands which developed sole-like callouses.
b)    Accommodation is very costly nearer the Finishing Line. This extends to a 5km radius. My room cost me US$250 per night. (But it was worth every dollar).
c)    I would focus on running the route faster on my second, and subsequent attempts. It is a world-class course and it is not easy or the faint-of-heart. A must-do in the Marathon World Series - done in any order.
d)    I would stock up more of Trader Joe’s foods, and bring more home (short of it akin to smuggling and becoming a sub-distributor).
e)    Too cold! I was freezing and shivering. After using the porta-loos, I had to re-queue to use it again. I will be higher in body-fat count next year.
f)      I will certainly do more (uphill) hill-runs, strength-work, core-stability enhancements, and run with faster runners.
g)    Not my best time, or even near my BQ, but 32 minutes off my best performance was not too shabby. You can assure me later (I hope).
Would I do it again? Absolutely. As surely as I would love to drink the special edition beers of Samuel Adams*. Not during the run, although it would be a splendid idea. (Note to self: Add to Bucket List). As definitely as I would bring a camera to take we-fies and selfies with the Girls from Wellesley. And, as badly as my grammar and sentence construction (destruction) have been in this paragraph.

Next stop: Gold Coast Airport Marathon 2015, in July. I will ensure every footfall matters and translates into better performance. I just booked my flights  30 minutes ago with frequent-flyer points and dollars-in-taxes. Nevertheless, we will prevail. Okay, that was my Morgan-Freeman moment and minor misuse of artistic licence.

Thus, I wish the very best to you at the 119th edition of the Boston Marathon. Best of running, and enjoy your experience on Patriots Day! One million spectators lining the street from start to end, is a major motivation for any runner present.

*Time for more visualization, and a bottle of chilled Samuel Adams Boston Lager.

Thursday, April 9, 2015

My Boston Marathon Journey: Qualifier (BQ) For 2014

I qualified for the Boston Marathon 2014 at the Gold Coast Airport Marathon (GCAM) 2013. My first Boston Qualifying (BQ) time was at the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon 2011. I came in at 3:29:59, one minute the qualifying time for my age group (45-49 years). My second BQ was 3:16:49, earned while preparing for the Ironman World Championships in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

I was running then on a meagre diet of 3-4 sessions per week, with my short runs averaging 10km and my longest from 15-21km. On a long week, I hit about 51km (or 3X10km plus 21km), supplemented with the pool swimming and long indoor-cycling sessions.

I chose GCAM as I attempted a BQ there but missed my BQ narrowly there. It is, generally, a flat course and the weather in July is cool but not too chilly. Plus, many Singaporeans preferred this course and I had familiar faces I could pace.
My nutrition was adequate although I exceeded my caloric need when I went harder than I should. Thus, I struggled on my return leg, passing the start-line and the last 8km became a complete haul. I began slowing down and I knew I was losing precious minutes, earned from a potential sub-3:10 performance. I was fortunate to go under-3:17:00 by sprinting my guts out (as can be seen in the accompanying video).

Lessons Learnt from my BQ
1) I should have arrived earlier to tail the 3:15 pacer. By the time, I caught up I was winded.
2) I should have given my body more time to warm up, instead of meeting the anaerobic zone earlier.
3) I could have spent more time building my base at a lower heart-rate, sticking to less than 135bpm instead of 150bpm.
4) I could have done some interval work (zero) and included some hill-work (zero).
5) My training was all tempo, and moderate to high-intensity. I was not training my aerobic engine enough.
6) My 'no guts no glory' approach served me well, as I improved my time by more than 13 minutes. Having said that, I could have made a 3:09 if I had been patient and not fatigued at the last 8km.
7) I could have a stronger core, more confident arm-swings, and not overtake the 3:15 pacer too early. The pacer (and, thus, pacing) is key to one's BQ success.
8) I lost my 'pacer' friend early as he dropped out due to injury. I should have stuck to the official pacers as they were reliable, and verbally encouraging.
9) I could have integrated some trail or off-road sessions, to strengthen my legs more.
The finishing 'kick'.

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

My Boston Marathon Journey

I am not a big fan of running. I love watching runners. I enjoy watching competitive runners on television. I enjoy the big sprints to the finish-line by Olympic-Distance triathletes.

I began long-distance running in 2003, having never gone beyond one 10km race in my life. I had assumed a middle-distance running career in my youth; mostly self-trained and driven by personal motivations. I studied all I could about running and runners. I lived and breathed Sebastian Coe, Steve Ovette, Jim Fixx (The Complete Book of Running), Dr. George Sheehan, Abebe Bikila, Frank Shorter, Bill Rodgers, Alberto Salazar, fartlek, interval training, cross-country, Adidas, et al. I was obsessed about running, doing it almost daily while pursuing an education.

I excelled in running although it was more a means to an end: To finish the session as soon as I could. My mantra was ‘Get it over’.

In 2004, I began doing triathlons and my first marathon. I was hooked on both. No, I did not enjoy running but I loved running faster and earning Personal Bests (PB) and Personal Records (PR).
The cool weather (end-winter) in July on the Gold Coast is conducive for a BQ/PB.
My first marathon yielded a 4:11; my second was 4:24 (with my first and only attack of ITB syndrome). That was when I discovered the need for deep-tissue massage before races. A spate of sub-4 hour marathons followed when I completed the Bangkok Marathon under the elusive 4-hour mark. When I earned a 3:36 in Singapore and 3:37 in Berlin (2010), I knew I had the capacity and capability to earn a BQ on my flip-side of 40 years.

I qualified for Boston Marathon in 2011 at the Standard Chartered Hong Kong Marathon (SCHKM). I clocked 3 hours 29 minutes and 59 minutes, which put me within one minute of the qualifying time of my age-group (45-49 years). With my first BQ, I applied for the lottery and was declined.

My second attempt to earn a BQ at the fast course in Berlin Marathon 2012 was marred by a hairline toe fracture two months before. I was diagnosed with that painful symptom during Ironman Switzerland, and I hobbled to an uncomfortable 4:00 finish. And, that was that.
Minutes after clocking my second BQ of 3:16 at GCAM2013.
My second BQ (and third attempt at a BQ) was at the Gold Coast Airport Marathon (GCAM), where I clocked 3:16. I was eight minutes within the revised BQ of less than 3:25:00. I also improved my PB/BQ by 13 minutes on my ‘Run Less, Run Faster’ approach: 3-4 running sessions of 10-21km each, supplemented by a triathlon diet (cycling and swimming). I applied for Boston marathon 2014 and was accepted into the 118th edition. Despite strong objections from naysayers that it would not be possible on such a meagre running diet, I achieved it. It is important to strongly believe in your ability, training plan, performance, and be focused to accomplish the seemingly impossible. What is deemed ‘impossible’ might be ‘unrealistic goals’ at one time.

My next goal is to earn a stronger BQ for the 120th edition of Boston Marathon. A performance near-3 hours would be deeply satisfying. I will begin serious training for it after completing one marathon (within Ironman Lanzarote) on 23 May. A narrow recovery and fitness training of seven weeks, will make it highly challenging after my 19th Ironman attempt to hold less than 4:30/km throughout the July 2015 race.

I will share more of my Boston Marathon journey shortly.

Friday, April 3, 2015

Communities of Practice

Communities of practices (CoP), are tribes of practitioners who share their learning wisdom through a shared platform. Most of such CoPs are based as online forums and chat-groups (including WhatsApp private groups). Hobbyists, geeks, sports-fans, amateur athletes, and professionals belong to such communities to network, extend their marketing reach, and establish their credibility.

Why would you want to belong to such a CoP?

Essentially, you can enjoy the stories of successes as well as disappointments. Much can be gleaned from another professional's experiences learning and applying. I have a major belief about credibility and expertise: The Room is the Expert. Questions can lead to answers, and answers to the right direction for solutions. There is more than one right answer!

The logical way of solving problems: Algorithms or decision-making trees.
Members of CoPs can meet face-to-face as well. They can organise small, unofficial, gatherings for verbal exchanges. This enhances their opportunity and ability to learn, develop and grow. They can seek out expertise and engage these, for profit or pleasure. I belong to newsgroups for magicians, leaders, triathletes and marathoners.

However, as with most new groups motivation to sustain becomes a challenge. Active leadership of the facilitators and moderators determines the direction and determination of the CoPs. Leaders within leaders can employ new initiatives to provide freshness into the discussions and engagements.

At the end of the day, it is about leadership. Without leadership and succession planning, most CoPs diminish in stature and relevance. Thus, new members inject the motivation for the group to sustain and continue.

Twitter Conversations: Shifting Thoughts

Twitter: A platform for text-based communication online.
Tweets: A short, text-based, message not exceeding 140 characters.

I have been back on Twitter over the past two months. I was focused on using Facebook as my main platform of communication, sharing my knowledge, tacit wisdom, and opportunities. My Followers have increased by about 1,000 since I activated my account. It was a passive 660, but the growth has been spectacular with many active connections.

I use Twitter to share my stories about my races, training, leadership perspectives, and social media insights. With the advent of pictures, Twitter functions like Facebook (FB) however with the 140-character-per-post limit.

I was invited to, and have joined a virtual running community called 'Earthathon' and I belong the group called 'RunderfulRunners'. We aim to cover 25,000 miles within a year as a collective group. I have just completed my first 12km, since I am preparing for Ironman Lanzarote (May). I have posted pictures of my new sponsors, too, spreading and 'sneezing' what I think are useful ideas.
My new Ceepo Venom bike.
I am also actively connected to communities of leaders, authors, social media experts, runners, triathletes, and inspiring people. Everyone is special and has something to express and share.
New race attire from Jabra.
I will update you on more of these conversational gems. It is good to be back blogging.