30 December 2005

December

If I get myself rock-star-fit again then I hope I come back to this post so I can appreciate the turnaround.

Had a look through my log for December and did a few calculations -- I'll end up with a decent kick-off month -- given the previous nine months...

Depends on what I get up to tomorrow -- which won't be much because the cold isn't really budging -- so I estimate... Swim 11 hours; Bike 52 hours; Run 17 hours; and Strength/Core/Balance 5 hours. Grand total 85 hours and 3 zeros (zeros are killers at lower volume).

FWIW -- 85 hours was my total from Epic Oz last January (12 days worth). I've also got a piece in my head about what my 'real' strategy is for getting back into shape. I might save that for an Epic NZ entry or perhaps crank it out this coming week -- I'm not good at waiting once something is in my head.

If you look at the SBR allocation then there will be no prizes for guessing what I think is important for getting my endurance back.

As for the Four Pillars... I managed to swim 4000m (LCM) three times this month -- average time was 68 minutes. On the bike, I managed one five hour, fairly continuous ride (the rest had plenty of breaks). On the run, I managed a few 1:40 runs -- probably 20K each.

I had three overuse injuries and one illness. Plantar Faciitis, Popliteus Tendinitis and a general knee tendinitis that I haven't quite diagnosed. All three of stem from moving my bike volume from 5 hours in November (last four days) to 50+ hours in December (probably more fair to report that I went from 0 to 55). I've dealt with them all before and (thanks to M's massage) managed to get them reasonably under control.

I was getting a bit on myself about my month, I was well short of target. I figured that might happen and that's why I didn't publish any targets.

To perk myself up, I pulled out my 2000 training log (God Bless it) and selected two months at random Feb/Mar when I was training for IMOz (10:0x was the outcome, I think). Neither was over 80 hours -- only two zeros for both months combined and one of those was during a USA/UK/India trip and might have been caused by the date line. Pretty consistent, a lot of frequency and a few races.

OK, no need to panic just yet.

Still, I can't help but think how far I need to travel from where I am today -- I suppose that's the real challange. Keeping my will and plugging away. It seems pretty daunting given how easily I get totally shagged these days. Epic will be a lesson in pain!

M suggested an indoor bike trainer for Scotland -- I'd already planned on a pool/gym membership. She's been pretty spot on with her 'suggestions' and is the newest member to my coaching team.

She didn't know that she'd been appointed.

Guess she does now.

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29 December 2005

Why

As I’ve mentioned before, English entertainment is a bit sparse here in Montpellier. So this afternoon I found myself snuggled on the couch reading the internet with Monica.

Sitting side by side reading various sites and talking about the articles – when I think about that it shows how much things have transformed over the last few years. I think that I only set-up my first email account ten years ago.

Miss M is just as entertaining to me as the various crazies that one finds posting around the internet. I think that she views parts of the internet like The Gerry Springer Show –you are a bit embarrassed for watching but… you keep coming back! My secret this afternoon was that I was able to remember when I was exactly like the lads that were causing her a bit of horror. I kept that part to myself but she’ll know now as she’s an avid reader of this sliver of cyberspace.

I was reading various posts about goals, resolutions, top ten lists – what hit me initially was the emotion, the passion behind some of the posts.

THIS IS THE YEAR WHERE I WILL FINALLY KILL MY BOSS

Well, the post wasn’t exactly like that but it wasn’t far off and often interpersonal relations are best left off a public forum. The holidays are an emotional time for folks, he probably had a tough day… that’s what I told myself at the time.

Later, when I was lying in bed. My mind wandered a bit and I started to think through what had sparked something inside me. So here goes…

I am regularly asked for my opinion by strangers on a wide range of topics. That can make me uncomfortable at times. Why? Because I know that the decisions that work for me probably won’t work for you. The secret isn't what we do -- the secret is doing what each of us must do.

When I hear about people following a path that is similar to my own, I feel a certain responsibility. Wondering if perhaps I should have kept my mouth shut. But I don’t, and I can’t… so I get up in the middle of the night and write.

As an aside, I have had a few folks ask me whether I would start doing podcasts of my blog. The answer, for now, is no. This writing is really for me. To clear my head of a few things and remind myself of things that I want to remember. That’s also why we won’t be turning on comments. I don’t really want to debate. I simply want to write and move along.

Also, if it was a podcast then the voice that you would be hearing is mine. Right now you are listening to yourself. One of the things that I like so much about writing is that I disappear once I’ve done my work.

Now I should be careful of reading too much into how a stranger’s “to do” list impacts me but I spent most of today on the couch with a sore throat and can’t seem to turn off my head.

A little over six years ago, I put together my first top ten list. I had come to the point that the previous ten years had been fun but that I hadn’t given much thought to what I wanted to do. I spent all my time moving ever upward and onward. I’ve written that out before – and my wife saved it – so perhaps I’ll publish that at some stage.

So I wrote out my list and proceeded to chip away at it. It worked really well for me and five years later… we’ll I found myself in Kauai with nothing left on that list. It took me nearly a month to come up with a replacement. Now how did that list go? I’m not really sure because one year in I’ve got exactly the same list.

Does that mean that I haven’t _done_ anything in the last year?

Actually, I’ve done quite a bit and I’ve thought a lot about what I’ve done. Previously, I’ve advised… figure out where you spend your time/money/energy; figure out what gives you satisfaction; and align the two as best you can.

Reasonable advice, I suppose. It’s worked very well for me.

In building our goals, our lists – I would also add that they are most useful in helping us gain an understanding of what motivates ourselves. What lies behind our lists, our plans, our daily lives?

That last point is a fundamental one. Part of the reason we should all take an annual break is to provide ourselves with some space to consider “why”.

While I haven’t crossed off anything in 2005, I have come to better understand the source of my desires as well as what motivates me. There’s also been a realization that our goals have no inherent value in themselves – the value comes from living our lives consistent with achieving them.

I’ve also come to realise that my most important goals are the most “grey” and that they’ll likely never be crossed off. On my first top ten list I only had one truly “grey” goal – and it was the last for me to solve.

My business partner tells me I think too much. He could be right – I’d certainly sleep better if I could turn my head off. There is a strong link between relaxation and exhaustion in my life.

One final thought – I was reading Cosmo the other day (wife’s copy, you know…) and they had a Top Ten list – something along the lines of “signs that it is time to dump your man before New Year’s”. Well, #6 or #7, was… he’s talking about training for an Ironman in June and it is only December…

You’ve been warned.

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25 December 2005

There will come a time...

If you’ve surfed my new coaching website then you’ll see a few pictures there. My web guy, Brian Johnson, chose them and I was surprised that he managed to capture some of the my favourite memories. Cool.

In one of the photos I am handing over a framed IMC finishers photo to John “Dr. J.” Hellemans. The Docta’ is a guy that I hold in very high regard and I consider him one of the finest people I’ve ever come across. So I was pretty stoked to be welcomed to the Wall-of-Honour that sits behind his desk.

Since I am kicking back and reminiscing, here are some key things that I learned from John…

I like my athletes to learn how to train by feel.
Heart rate monitors, powermeters, pace… all of these are meant to help the athlete dial in their subjective perception – learn how different efforts feel. Gizmos support our ability (and responsibility) to learn.

Know two things about Scott (Molina), he has spent more time overtrained than any other person that I know. [thinking…] …and, I suppose, he has won more races than anyone I know.
We were kicking around training protocols in 2003. My approach had concerned him a bit because I was pretty much always shelled (but happy). In my lactate tests, I had zero top end for over a year. Like all great coaches that I’ve known, even if he disagrees with a protocol, he has a respect for results.

I wouldn’t worry too much about that, in my view you were pretty close to full blown overtraining.
Offering me comfort when I DNF’d Ultraman in 2003. He had been worried that the race was going to finish me off after pushing very hard through IMC2003 fatigue to prepare.

Bear in mind that your constitution is better than most.

Remember that you have to do the training that is right
for you, not him.


Two reminders that we must match training protocol to the needs of the athlete, rather than the athlete fitting the needs of the protocol.

The first quote was explaining, in a way, why he still thinks that my approach to IM is risky.

The second quote was a form a reassurance, in a sense. I was a bit worried about the way a buddy was approaching his race. John’s advice was that ultimately we must do what we think is best for ourselves – I like that approach because sink/swim I have ownership for what I am choosing to do.

Are you sure that you don’t simply like working with him because he does what you say?
A doctor’s reminder that as a coach we must be wary of control factors in any advisory relationship. It caused me to think deeply about the plan I was offering a friend. I tried offering him “what I thought he needed” – turned out that didn’t work to well! So we took a break then went back to what my heart knows works. Hopefully, that will turn out to be what he needs!




But the #1 thing that Hellemans told me – I haven’t needed it yet but perhaps that is because I think about it so much. With regards to honour, drugs and cheating:

“Gordo, there will come a time when you have to choose”

Sitting here more than a year past my life best performance. I understand more fully what he may have meant.

I think that folks tend to lose their moral compass when they start to define success relative to others than themselves. It’s also a key to enjoying the work required for success. Whenever I have shifted a training emphasis from “enjoying what it takes to improve” to “doing the training required for a target performance” – things have become a lot tougher.

A good safety mechanism is working on holding our intent to ethically overcoming ourselves. There is a clear risk if we lack purity of intent because short cuts work, in the short term. In the long term, you lose a lot more than simply knowing that you ethically quit.

There is an element of irrational obsession required to achieve a high level in any field, particularly ultraendurance athletics where performance goes far beyond any reasonable view of health or well-being benefits. Of course, there is a counter argument put forward by many-a-compulsive athlete, such as myself, that the alternatives to excessive exercise aren’t all that palatable to me, or those around me.

Anyhow back to John. As a physician I think that it is fair to assume that he’s armed with a wealth of knowledge on both sides of the sports ethics fence.

As my own knowledge of the physiological requirements of a blazing fast Ironman have grown…

As my evangelical dedication to the training required to improve has borne fruit…

…I’ve come to realise that a well trained athlete in a thinly competitive sport such as Ironman triathlon can easily move from international class to world class with a single cycle of PEDs. Nothing new there as we have all seen what PEDs do to a world class athlete.

I suppose the difference is that I never thought that the dilemma could reasonably apply to me. I always figured that I’d be 30-60 minutes behind the best. Now I see that in my best shape, I was likely 5-15 minutes behind. That gives me a fuller appreciation of how it can be tempting.

Not related to John but that reminds me of something – Scott was telling me about something that bothered him the other day. Perhaps he’ll write about during Epic – I hope so because he’s pretty darn entertaining when he goes off about something that he feels strongly about.

What drives him a bit crazy is reading comments from folks that have never come close to achieving their athletic potential debating ideal protocols for relative mediocrity.

Greatness is there, if we’d simply wake-up and commit ourselves to working our butts off.

As you can see, I am still working on John’s internal calm while letting athletes make their own mistakes.

Who knows? Maybe it will work and we’ll learn something.
That’s another of my favourites.

Choose wisely.

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20 December 2005

The Full Sit Down

Another of the great things about France is the quality of the food available here. You really have to be unlucky to find yourself eating a bad meal. Even "road food" is delicious. M & I have a little stop that we do on our ride where we stop at a gas station (!) buy a baguette and a couple of packs of meat. We sit in the winter sun and chow down on our DIY sandwiches. Outstanding.

M doesn't speak the language here so she's never quite sure what's going on when we're in a restaurant. It's pretty much just a succession of "grand cremes" with me getting more silly as my level of caffination increases.

A few days ago we rolled into a small town, sat down and I ordered the-full-sit-down. Two courses, bread and optional desert (I declined). M got a big kick out of watching me eat salad, starter and a grilled veal entree in the middle of a ride. Daylight is a bit short on our rides, as I've been having trouble getting going in the morning. To be honest, I can also get a wee bit overloaded when I get a fifty message email download to kick off my day. So with daylight short, the full-sit-down is a rare luxury.

...doesn't everyone like to end every ride with a 90 minute "TT 'cause it's getting dark"?

So yesterday we were riding along mid-afternoon. Man-o-man it was cold. My jaw was starting to freeze and both of our speach was slurred. A few grand cremes were in order and I navigated us into a cafe.

We fired up a few coffees and M looked totally miserable -- she was so cold that her skin colour was grey (that's a step past blue/purple). We perked up a little when these monster coffees arrived -- the closest thing to a latte that we've found so far.

I wandered down the restaurant and served myself up on their appetizer buffet (marinated mussels, smoked salmon, boiled potato salad, red peppers). A few minutes after I finished my plate of food, coffee, bread...

M: Gordo, there's a mistake, they are bringing you more food.
g: No way baby, I'm having the full sit down!


Thirty four euros for lunch with a third of it spent on coffee. As I am an athlete, naturally, I waived off the optional wine and dessert.

I love this place.

PS -- I'd probably skip the mussels next time.

18 December 2005

Epic Prologue

Where the heck do all these ideas come from? I've no idea but they just keep rolling. My only escape is to write them down. Typically, I publish about 10% of what I write (and actually write down about 10-30% of what I dream up). With this blog, I've been writing a lot more. Perhaps I'll settle down in a bit.
I've been thinking about this piece during all my runs for the last week.

Johno wanted to know if I wanted to give a talk at the start of Epic. I passed on that as I figured that Scott would be well placed to cover it. Perhaps it was a bit of fear on my part given that I am not going to be the best prepared athlete at Epic. So I've been mulling over "what's epic" or "what's epic for me".

Typically, for my first piece of Epic I write something for the outside world. Well this time I think we are going to have 32 people on the trip including the support crew. We're also going to have four ladies along -- we've never had more than one. It will be interesting to see how that changes the dynamic, if at all. Three couples too, another experiment.

Often when I dream stuff up during training, it makes perfect sense on the road. Everything seems so clear on the bike! Then I get home, settle down, the endorphins wear off and I wonder what the heck was I thinking. So if this doesn't make sense -- no worries -- it might make sense one day when you are training...

So we've invited you along to Epic. You probably think that what's coming up is a big physical test. Actually, you'll find that the true test isn't physical. We wouldn't have invited you along if you didn't have what it takes to finish. The true test is one of character.

It's like John Collins says about Ironman -- you can quit at any time, if you don't then you win.

No excuses -- what do you think when you hear that?

I tend to take it two ways.

The most typical way is a "hard" interpretation. No excuses -- I'm going to make the toughest plan possible and stick with it come hell or high water. That works for some but, generally, we can only be truly hard for a portion of our lives. It varies for each of us but a consistently "hard" strategy normally ends with physical burnout (injury/illness) or mental staleness.

The second way is softer in one sense but the self-knowledge isn't always sugar coated. What if someone took away all our excuses. They sorted our meals, accommodation, support... and the responsibilities of our typical lives were removed for twelve days.

What could we achieve?

Well, when you remove all the excuses you can achieve quite a bit! What makes it a bit complicated is that at the same time, we get ourselves so shagged that quitting is the easy option. We'll even have a sag wagon filled with cold beverages (beers for Molina!) and friendly staff. You can quit at any time... but if you don't then you'll win.

Anyhow, it's not always a DNF that signifies quitting, we can fold mentaly and keep on moving forward. I know that I've been so tired that I'd long given up and simply accepted the situation. That's a great place to become familiar with if you are an Ultraendurance athlete because removing the emotional content of fatigue leaves us free to get on with finishing our event!

I didn't realise it fully but over the last few years I'd had a few experiments with excuse removal -- for myself and for others. With others I'm probably batting about .300 in terms of whether people really wanted their excuses removed (most don't). Either they are comfortable being "prevented" from achieving their stated goals; or their intent (what really matters to them) isn't what they tell you at all. Slackness is can be appealing at times -- appealing yes, rewarding, no.

When evaluating folks I try to focus on what I see them do, rather than what they say about themselves or other folks say about them. I'll be watching myself closely over the camp!

So we will be removing all the excuses; surrounding ourselves with a bunch of people that hate to quit and we will see what happens.

We will get so shelled that the raw reality of our characters starts to show. Hopefully, we'll all enjoy what we see!

If we don't quit -- then we'll win.

Don't let yourself down.

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One Thing

Before you can do anything, you must learn to do One Thing.

This is a important topic to me because I see it as the key to avoiding breakdown in the Process of Achievement.

Our lives are a series of single decisions, single moments, with the only common element being that we are along for the ride in each of them. The only thing common with each scene is that "we" are there watching it unfold. Everything else comes and goes. While we may choose to obligate ourselves to others, ultimately, it's worth recognizing that there's only one person that's going to always be along for the full ride.

True selflessness most easily arises through compassionate selfishness. I have this little play that runs through my head quite often where I seek to explain to a friend that the most important skill for him to learn is "getting to no". In a world with an unlimited appetite for our time, our emotions, our input, our energy -- in order to be successful in a specific area, we must develop our skills to say no thanks to many attractive alternatives.

The Eighth Habit defines compromise as saying no to an attractive opportunity in order to do something more attractive. Most often, I find that we are saying "no thanks" today in order to free time to work towards deeper fulfillment tomorrow. I am sure that there is an element of training (or programming) required to be gratified in working towards gratification at a later date. Heck, I do that all the time and used to think that Western religions were a bit nuts for being based on that. Comes back to Mergler being most satisfied in doing what it takes to outcompete, rather than the performance on game day (which becomes inevitable).
I would arrive each year knowing that I was going to have a good race. The only question being "How Good?" -- Dave Scott

It can be a lot easier to take care of someone else than live our personal truths. Acting in an "honourable" way as we extinguish the passion in our souls through self-sacrifice. There is never a shortage of honourable causes that we can support.

Likewise, it is easy to fall into a trip of competition/effort towards a false god -- performance addiction; process addiction. My annual break works quite well for me to avoid becoming too engrossed. Of course, I am most happy when deep in process working towards achievement.

These days my "one thing" appears to be getting out of bed. If I'm up then it's going to be a solid productive day. At other times in my life, it's been things like... don't eat bread, skip the sugar, don't drink more than two beers -- the key being to break the pattern of self-sabbotage that is triggered from chosing to go down a path that doesn't support my goals.

High level achievement in any field requires strong project management skills. When we look at high achievers it's tempting to seek to emulate what they do. Similarly, when we look at fulfilled people, it's tempting to seek to emulate their actions -- or -- ask them what the secret is to their happiness.

This is a trap.

Everyone wants that magic answer. Just tell me what to do! Well, I could tell you what to do but it would simply be a recipie for making myself happy. In fact, any advice other than to look within will probably fail because my actions are merely a reflection of what I must do. They work for me because of what I must do.

Satisfaction comes from following our own truth, not the truth of our chosen guru, coach, mentor, peers.

Even armed with the answer -- most folks simply cannot do what it takes. They keep breaking down early in the process. Thinking too far ahead and being over-scheduled are the two most common sources of breakdown.

That is why my advice is so "simple". Because until we can master the simplicity of consistency, we'll never be able to handle the complexity of elite process management. Our minds are constantly being distracted from the task at hand.

The people, the publications, the thoughts within our heads... that distract us from constantly chipping away towards our goals -- they are often doing us a disservice.

Take a catalogue of where (and with whom) you spend your time. Cross reference that against your personal Top Ten list. The results will surprise most.

You can do a similar thing with money -- actual spending vs Top Ten things that provide personal satisfaction. If you can name more than 35% of your discretionary spending without the aid of a log then you are better than average.

So there's my first attempt on this topic.
  • Schedule less;
  • Take stock where you spend your resources (time being the most important); and
  • Remove habits/people that impede the simple actions required for incremental progress.
Simple, not easy.

It's not that mitochondrial density doesn't matter. It's that it doesn't matter to you. I'll keep researching though and let you know what I find...

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16 December 2005

Should I get an MBA?

I get this question a fair amount so I thought that I'd share some ideas. I never offer up a straight answer to this question because a couple years of your life is a pretty big decision.

First a little background... I was fortunate in that my first job out of university was an analyst position in a firm, which was then, called Schroder Ventures. The partners then were a mix of former CEOs and MBAs. I didn't really have the desire to spend 15-20 years in industry so I figured that I'd need an MBA to get ahead. After two years, I got my applications, filled them out, got my references... the full deal. The day before I was going to post them out the Managing Partner called me into his office and asked me what I wanted to stay. I was stoked because I loved working for him -- his team remains the best group of people that I've ever worked with.

The first lesson -- never underestimate your value -- I had my applications filled out, I was heading out the door -- guys like that don't ask what you want for kicks as you head out the door. It's a lesson that I've been reminded of time and time again over the years. Of course, if you are going to push the boat out then you'd better be willing for someone to say no.

Business school is, generally, about two things: transitions and networking.

Transitions -- it's a fun way to change career directions. Often it can be tough to change career paths as we become more and more proficient at our current jobs. In finance terms, I've been doing pretty much the same thing for fifteen years -- I have more experience but the nuts & bolts are just the same and what I was up to in the early 90s.

Networking -- you will be surrounded by excellent people. I think that networking is the most important aspect of b-school and for this reason, I always recommend... if you do decide to go then you must go the the absolutely best school that you hope to gain entry to. It's worth waiting years to get into that school. If I had gone then I would only have gone to Harvard or Stanford. Probably only Harvard. Why? Because the MBA graduates where the people that I most respected in terms of the folks I came across. Comes back to "being our goals".

More on networking -- as that is a key goal then it's worth remembering that once you make it to school. You need to meet the people, be liked and work well with them. The folks siting around you in your lectures are the most valuable asset that you are going to leave business school with.

A lot of people think that you go to b-school for skills. Perhaps but they aren't necessarily the skills that you'd expect. Take a McKinsey Consultant, give him a Harvard MBA and he'll still be unlikely to model his way out of a paper bag -- that's OK, he'll be smart enough to hire a guy like me to model 24/7 at less than one-third of his starting salary! Appropriate decision making and team management are the skills that generally are in shortest supply.

Teams and judgement -- the best schools help their students improve in this area.

Cost -- it's pretty expensive to go to b-school. However, it is a lot of fun at a good time in our lives. So I'd fact the leisure component into your calculation -- especially if you've been working 60+ hour weeks since your undergraduate. It's nice to decompress for a couple of years. So, the capital cost isn't one that I'd worry about -- so long as you are going to the absolutely best school.

Recruitment -- if you are looking for a transition then, in your second year, I'd be putting as much effort into your interviews as your classes. It's a relatively short window to make that transition. Again, the best employers tend to recruit at the best schools -- another reason to get yourself there.

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15 December 2005

Les Impressions -- Part Deux

Sitting here in the laundromat -- Laverie Automatic -- it is a Thursday night. Typically the homeboys will arrive shortly and blaze up under the no smoking sign. My brother does a bit about smoking in France...
"So you see... the no smoking signs, well, they only apply to the non-smokers..."
Got back in the pool this afternoon for another four grand -- 65 minutes this time -- with 150 to go I ran into the female equivalent of the pull-boy-racer. She pushed off when I was 2m off the wall, heading into my flip turn. I'd been swimming in the lane for an hour! She is absolutely nailing her breaststroke and moving quite well. I pull out to the middle to pass and, I swear, she started clawing me. I slowed down to stay side by side until she loaded up -- one final grab at my ankle then I was away. Pool Wars -- I tell ya!

France seems to be closed a lot. Store hours are a bit of a challenge but we're learning to work the system. We're fortunate in that the government "allows" the stores to open on a few Sunday's in December. They do have a great country but I wonder if that's the best way to go about protecting it.

We have figured out that most everyone is working from 2pm to 3:30pm on weekdays. That's when we swim!

Le TP -- the market where we shop sells pink TP. I bought it but M never really got used to it. So now we have his & her TP -- mine's pink.

Lattes -- Does the word "latte" sound French to you? Well, it sure does to me and I can't find one anywhere. There's no shortage of good coffee but there is a dire shortage of Venti Non-Fat Lattes. I'm sating my thirst with a few "grande cremes" each day. Coffee you feel, bay-bee.

France is a great place to live and train -- we're really enjoying ourselves. Every day is an adventure for us -- we spent a few hours searching for chain-lube. In the end we settled for WD-40 and a bike rag.

Had an interesting conversation with our host when we arrived. He was talking about training and living in Brazil -- he'd been there a few times.
What I really like about that country is that everything is possible. Each
time I come back, progress & development. They are moving ahead.
Much different than here.
When I asked him what it was like here. He said that everything was decided and that while most people live well, there's no point in trying to get ahead. That struck me as a bit sad -- a young, educated, guy telling me that there was no point in trying to succeed in business because what's the point?

M thinks it's like that a lot of places. She's right. There are a lot of governments that like to follow a policy of moving their country forward by legislating everyone's right to work less.

M and I are having our "date night" here at the Auto-Lave. It is not the most conventional life but it works for us. Sitting in front of our computers -- she's sorting rental cars for New Zealand -- I'm writing you then emails. A friend of mine had someone comment that she was jealous that he had so much time to train.

He replied...
Ahhhh, yes training volume. At first glance, it just looks like I have lots of time to train. Actually, my training hours are difficult for me to find. I have to make some clear decisions to find time to ride big volume.

To find training hours, I have started my work day at 3:00 or 4:00am, each day, seven days a week, for five years. Then I work into the night, seven days a week. I don't go out at night, I don't drink and I eat with recovery in mind each meal, all day long. That's what it took for me to go from a 13hr Ironman to a 10:20 Kona qualifier. That type of schedule is not easy and is not for everybody.

I know my competition is doing everything they can. So I made the decision to do what it takes over doing what I want. I simply made my lifestyle match my goals
without sacrificing my family or my work (50hr/wks). It's that, or re-evaluate my goals.

I find that most athletes have more time to train than they think. It takes some searching, but if we cut out things like TV, surfing the internet, etc, it is there. Most of us can eat with higher quality. Most of us can improve recovery through flexibility and stretching programs. Most of us can find the time to do more little things that add up to the difference between "very good" and "elite".
He is another guy that understands what matters.

The boys just arrived and fired up straight under the sign. Gotta love this place!

What Matters

I've been watching my board from afar this past week. Not really getting too stuck in as I've got plenty in my schedule with wife, work and training.

One thing has caught my eye -- two threads -- 5,000 hits, say 10 seconds per hit -- 50,000 seconds or 13:53:20 of elapsed time. Neat, I bet that's not far off the average time for an Ironman. Anyhow, I haven't read the threads in detail but someone must be.

If you are trying to improve at anything in your life -- then do yourself a favour... stop. It's all a mind-jack and you're better off stretching, or filing papers or cleaning out your garage. Do anything. Debating won't get you there. Action will get you there.

The companies with the best business plans don't always succeed. Plans don't mean anything if you can't execute. To achieve something, we must first learn to do one thing. I'll write about One Thing in due course. Haven't quite worked out how to explain it. Swimmers are really good at it.

We've got to take action to get anywhere. Kicking around how many angels can dance on the head of a pin won't get us any closer to our goals. In fact, it moves us further away because often we need to work pretty darn hard just to stay in the same place.

We don't need a perfect plan -- we simply need to do a reasonable plan consistently. This applies in all things. If we can persist and enjoy doing what it takes -- we've won regardless of outcome and our outcome is much more likely to be positive. The most dangerous competitor is one that is willing to do everything to beat us but has a low attachment to outcome. Beware of the quiet smiling ones!

Often internet boards remind me a lot of the library at university -- the secret to good grades is not hanging out in the library -- the secret is actually doing some work. Training is a bit like that...

Anyhow, I would like to share a story. I've been thinking about some of my favourites over the last little while and I'll share them as I get time.

John "No Van" Mergler is a guy that I met three years ago at our first Epic Camp. An expat Brit that lives in Australia. I think he's a pilot, I'm notoriously weak at getting personal details out of folks -- that's OK, my wife is good at that.

I don't know much about John -- he's a quiet guy, I'm a talker. It's tough to learn about others when you talk a lot. I'm working on that.

Here's what I do know. Two weeks before Epic Camp, he was diagnosed with a stress fracture. Now if John was typical, then he would have sent off the "sorry g & scott" email that we normally get from someone at the last minute. John's a long, long way from typical.

What did he do?

Well, he recognised that he wasn't going to be running much at Epic so he decided to do a 1,000K bike week BEFORE he even turned up. He then backed it up with a 1,000K to open the camp -- quite a bit of that quietly grinding away beside me on the front.

In the second week of the camp there was a day when the entire camp got into the van due to the combined effects of gale force headwinds, rain and fatigue. Well, not everyone, Baron stuck with me and (after 4K in the pool) we rode 8 hours to Dunedin. Not five minutes after we arrived, Mergler rolled up with a SMILE on his face after solo'ing the entire second half of the ride. Blew me away. As a "celebration" we all ran off the bike. If you don't "get" this story then just hope you don't have to race against John much.

He qualified for Kona that year.

I normally see John in Hawaii. We have a quick chat about what he's been up to. A soft spoken guy, not one to brag about the thousands of Ks that he's done to become decent.

This year I didn't get my chat. I was wondering if he'd even qualified. The day after the race I got to see him... up on-stage collecting 2nd place in the 45-49. I was really happy for him.

Guys like John, they don't enjoy kicking our asses.
Guys like John, enjoy doing what it takes to kick our asses.


That's what we're up against and that's why he was smiling.

Happy posting.

13 December 2005

Four Grand

For those of you following along at home...

I said that I'd report back when I managed to hit 4,000 meters. Happy to report that I made it -- have to say that it probably would have been better if I didn't look at the clock though!

Sunday opened up with 4x1000. When you look at ten lanes of long course swimming it can seem like the pool is one of the calmest places in the world. However, I get a kick out of the little games that are constantly being played in the lanes.

Pull-boy-racers... the French lads love Miss M. Tight Speedo and logos on her. Just like a Formula 1 race car... Pull-boy-racer sits out 300m, grabs bright yellow pullbuoy and pushes off right behind my lady for the swim of his life.

He's churning up the water behind her...
She's doing catch up...
He's slowly turning purple from the effort...

The afternoon before, I had recommended that M be more zen about it. It does bother her a little bit. I put on my wise-gordo-face and told her that she should simply relax, let him by and enjoy the swim.

Fast forward to Sunday...

I watch this happening; bridge up to M's feet; and swim Monsieur PBR into the lane line. It's a bit embarassing to lose it like that but I suppose I am a bit protective about my wife.

When he tried the same thing on me later in the swim, I flipped under the lane line and just left it.

We left him sitting on the side of the pool wondering what the heck had happened.

Back to my swim -- emboldened by my 4x1000, I set out for 4,000 continuous this afternoon.

Result?

66 minutes -- I've got some work to do!
Quotes of the week...

3:15 in the afternoon, we've been riding a while in 4C, we're cold and I lean over to M...
"I think we should pick it up, it's going to be a push to make it home before dark"
One hour before dark...
"Hey, I think we might make it. [laughs] Now you can compare stories with Baron! Normally, he's around in situations like this."
Slow but enjoying it.

10 December 2005

Choose Wisely

Here's an interesting post I wrote six years ago.

What makes me smile is that I was thinking six years back when I wrote it. And now... we are six years ahead.

...and I had absolutely NO clue what was possible back then, as a "speedy" 10.5 hour guy.

...and I realize that, even as a 8.5 hour guy, I was merely decent. For me, now, speed doesn't really start until you are a low 8-hour guy and even that seems reasonable on certain courses.

We don't need a whole lot of single sport talent to manage a 20-minute 1,500, hold 250w for the bike and hold 3:50 min Ks for a marathon. In fact, as a single sporter, you'd simply be "good for a working athlete". Hardly international class.

Molina once told me that was the great thing about triathlon -- you truly can out work your competition. My experience is that it's the way in most things, providing we define success correctly.

I was reading an article the other day when the writer basically said... "I wish that it was different but due to my lack of **** I'll never..."

Three reactions when I read a person writing that about themselves (and I read it a lot, maybe I look for it).

First is compassion, dude you really need a hug when you've settled once-and-for-all in your life.

Second is a strong reaction to grab the guy through the screen and shake some sense into him. Amigo, don't fold before you've even started! Don't you see that it's not about world domination, rather simply a quest to do a little better than you thought possible. Becoming a bit more than you thought you could be!

I react a bit violently because I don't accept (fear?) the implication of this kind of attitude. If I'd accepted my internally/externally defined limits then there are many, many things that I'd never have achieved.

No fate, no fate but what we make. So much good material in the Terminator series!

Finally, after I've settled down, there is a certain acceptance that some folks want to define their limits. I wonder about that... Why could that be? Perhaps to relieve themselves of any obligation to try and the personal responsibility that comes along with accepting that we create our own life situations.

Often, a smile then spreads across my face as I am reminded that herein lies the opportunity for ethical competition. Explain exactly what you are going to do, explain why you are going to do it, then out work the competition while enjoying yourself.

Years later, some will shake their heads and describe why they wouldn't have been able to do it, and overlook ten thousand hours of dedicated effort.

At least that's what I read the other day. The lads were talking about me but seeing as I don't know them, I can only assume that they were talking about themselves.

I do seem to get a big charge out of negative motivation at times. There is an deep (not so saintly) glow that appears when the work and persistence pay off. Leaving some to wonder about the road not taken.

I wonder where I'll be in six years?

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08 December 2005

Back To Basics

My seven month break from triathlon training has given me the chance to learn and try out a few things.

Fitness – everyone always wants to know how much fitness you lose and how long it takes to come back. I’ve been on a low volume, sporadic training program for most of 2005. I started the year in fantastic shape and am now still in pretty reasonable shape. Not fast in triathlon terms but healthy and fit relative to the population at large. How’d I do that?

Well it wasn’t by design. I’ve been doing what I felt like all year and haven’t used any technical equipment to track my volume, pace or duration. Most weeks were in the 4-7 hours of training range and I took a stack of zeroes when work, travel or my mood meant that I choose not to exercise.

I managed a few solid running weeks where I was close or over 100K/60M. Two nice bike weeks between IMNZ and the end of November – I was in the 400-500K range for each. My last real swim training was the steakhouse challenge back in March or April.

I didn’t really notice the fatigue from the few decent weeks that I had because when I got run down I’d simply take three days off! I am also fortunate in that I am flex-time for 20-25 days a month and can sleep a lot and do my work at odd hours.

Nutrition – I need to put on a suit a few days each months. One of the nice things about a suit is that while the wearer might change size, it doesn’t. So you get clear feedback. My suits also date back to my days in Hong Kong as a working athlete (my business partner points out the date frequently). Whenever my suits start to get a bit tight, I know that it’s time to tighten up on nutrition. This seven month period is the longest that I’ve been able to keep a stable weight (while training single figures) in my adult life. Stable weight is one sign that our nutrition is in balance. When I was a triathlete, I would start each year heavy but still in OK shape. This time I _knew_ that I wasn’t going to be in great shape. So I had to start the training year in good nutritional condition. That gives us a big advantage when starting up – in terms of energy, in terms of being able to move, in terms of positive self image.

On that self image point – shaved down the other day. It’s worth 2KGs mentally. If you are a non-triathlete reading this – then you’ll simply have to trust me.

Four Pillars – if you are interested in any form of endurance training then I’d encourage you to read my Four Pillars article on my tips page. It is the best piece of training advice that I’ve ever managed to write. Having coached it for the last five years, and now living it, it’s the fastest way to improvement. I won’t run through it again in detail here. I’ll just say that it I am following it to the letter right now and have a way to go before hitting the volume benchmarks in the text.

The game plan is to: (a) get my swim to 4K relaxed, continuous; (b) get my bike to six hours; and (c) get my run to two hours. Once I have achieved that then I will try to do ABC in the same week. Once I have achieved that then I will try to do ABC in the same weekend. If I achieve than then it will be time for Epic New Zealand and we’ll try to that that about 4-7x in twelve days.

Recruitment – I read a lot on the internet about specificity. What I’d really like to know is what muscle group and movement pattern do we not require for triathlon? My first week back was a real eye-opener because I was moving like I’ve seen many age-group athletes. Basically, my body was pretty much asleep. While I’d been running, most of the major muscles groups, especially in my core, were completely asleep. I had an inability to recruit muscles and that left me extremely weak. Ten days in, my muscles are waking up – due to a broad, lightweight, non-specific approach to strength training. I feel far, far better immediately and my performance has improved. Ten days is simply not enough time for fitness to come into play (and my running had me in pretty good cardio shape to start). So I think the specificity argument is a poor one for working triathletes. We need to have our total body awake and two 45 minute core, balance, conditioning sessions can really help.

Stretching – we’re not getting any massage these days. I need to work about 45 hours per week on my property business; combined with shopping, meals and training means that time is tight. So we have a deal that we will stretch 15 minutes after our longest bike or run workout of the day. It is making a big difference for both of us and even that little bit has us making progress in terms of recovery and range of movement. 15 minutes a day. I’m working full-time, training once or twice a day and still getting the shopping done (laundry is a bit behind though!).

The Basic Week – my basic week is pretty basic! From 9am to 9pm I am working everyday. We have a proper sit down meal whenever we eat at home. I turn off my machine and lay out the table French-style. Out of my work day I take breaks for training, food shopping and trips to the post office. We haven’t gone out yet, and probably won’t more than 2x the entire time we are in Montpellier. We’ve planned a two day trip to Paris at the end of December as that gives us something to look forward to. Pretty basic, eh?! Well, that’s what it takes. I was the same way when I was training in Hong Kong.

So the training week is six days “on”; one day “open” (last week open meant “off”). We do three days where the training break is a ride. The other three days consist of a morning run then a combo session in the afternoon (coffee, core conditioning, swim – in that order). So we get a coffee-date three times a week. We hold hands when we go shopping too!

Soreness and Fatigue – what used to qualify as a recover day or workout in January/February is now a proper session for me. I’ve gone past four hours of daily training two times since we started. Both times resulted in 11+ hours of sleep that night. Phew, I get tired – I can’t remember the last time this little volume would wipe me out. I also get sore as the little muscles involved with triathlon wake up and are used anew.

4K really is a long way to swim! I haven’t got there yet. When I hit the benchmark, I might drop back in and let you know.

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Big Dogs

I'll get to how my training is going in a later entry but will note that I sure get tired FAST these days and have forgotten how tired simply being sore all the time can make the mind.

Over the last twelve months, Monica has trained a lot with a good buddy of mine, Spencer. They are well suited to each other because Spencer likes riding at M's speed. I also think that they had a bit of a weird contest going with who could eat _less_ on a long ride or key workout. They had more excuses for not eating during training than a ten year old boy has for losing his homework.

Spencer comes from a track background and his best junior 1500 time is comfortably faster that what I'd run a K at when I was that age. Like most speedy athletes he seems to prefer to train on two things... water and pain.

So M and I were out riding in the French countryside a few days ago and I was tearing into my second bar after a few plates of breakfast. I asked if M had eaten anything. It went like this...

G -- Have you had anything this ride?
M -- I had a bar at the start.
G -- That was your breakfast!

G -- You know training in GordoWorld is different than MonsyLand.
G -- It ain't SpencerVille either!

M -- What do you mean?
G -- Look, Epic is coming up and you want to train with the Big Dogs
G -- If you want to train with the Big Dogs you gotta eat

M -- I eat
G -- I ain't talking about a hundred calories an hour
G -- Look you wait, KP will be there. That guy can eat.

G -- Big dogs, baby. Big dogs.
G -- You gotta eat.

03 December 2005

Discount Rates

So are you saying to look at our new P3 Carbon and current account balance and say that "I have $10,000 invested/saved, this P3C is $4000, so that's 40% of NAV" and ask ourselves if it's really worth 40% of NAV to get that bike.

I've been in the habit of viewing things in terms of opportunity cost - ie given my expected return, spending $4,000 a P3C costs ~$100,000 (in 2005 dollars) at the age my parents are now...
I prefer to look at what things cost today, right now. Looking too far into the future can be a bit of a trap.

Let’s say you are earning $60,000 per annum, taking home about $3,350 per month after taxes. I pulled those figures out of the air but let’s assume. If you can save $600 per month then that implies monthly expenses of $2,750.

$10,000 in the bank is about 3.5 months of expenses and 17 mths worth of savings. $4,000 on a bike represents – 1.5 months of expenses and a half year worth of savings.

Now you’d need to consider it for yourself but in terms of return on investment in triathlon, you’d likely get a lot more performance from spending that money on six weeks of full-time training than a bike.

However, the bigger picture is that (based on my assumptions) you’re considering sinking six months work into a depreciating asset. Six months work is a heck of a lot of effort, now the bike will give you pleasure but is it really that much more pleasure than what you are riding right now?
When I was in my 20s my big goal was to get myself to the point where I could take an entire year off from work. I had various plans on where I’d spend that year (drinking in Greece; sailing the world; climbing the seven summits). The plans changed and developed as I did.

A few years back, I read that Bill Gates liked to hold one year’s expenses in cash on his company’s balance sheet. That really appealed to me because it was similar to the goal that I’d set myself.

These goals can be a trap in themselves because do we mean one year’s expenses…
…covered in capital
…covered in unearned income
…indexed, covered in unearned income
…indexed, adjusted for future dependents, covered in unearned income
…indexed, adjusted for future dependents, covered in unearned income, assuming market crash
…just like fitness, there is always more

I probably think way too much about this stuff but that’s the way I have always been about most things that can have a direct impact on my life.

We each need to decide for ourselves. Generally, most folks don’t get past that first line so it is an academic discussion. I joked with a buddy recently that the only people that truly understand discussions on sports psychology are the folks that don’t need it. Same with most fields – nutrition, personal finance…

Another trap is to build liabilities in line with assets – leverage is useful and having the skills to assemble/package assets is deemed valuable these days, because it enables folks to make money from packaging financial products around those assets. It is amazing, the premiums paid to folks in the financial services industry.

There is value from simply having control of a stack of assets – even if you are leveraged to the hilt. In certain market conditions, a company (or guarantor) is far safer being technically insolvent than having a lot of security cover. By having nothing, you’ve got nothing to lose – if you can live with that then there can be freedom there – quite a few elite athletes live that way for a few years. That life doesn’t work for me though because I value security and personal freedom very highly.

Thinking about it. There’s an element of being able to say “no”; or perhaps “not yet” in savings. Delayed gratification, or gratification from delay. Saving, eating right, going to bed early, under scheduling our lives – the pay off can appear to be later but, for me, is simply a more relaxed “right now”.

Anyhow, I got a bit sidetracked from the point.

Discount rates – in my life no purchase really mattered that much to me until I had one year’s cash flow saved in the bank. Once I had built the discipline to get myself to that point (in my mid-20s), I had the skills to manage my savings/expenditure so that I was always covered as I chose to increase (or decrease) my personal burn rate. Being a good administrator would be similar.

Now being a good entrepreneur is often completely different. However, entrepreneurs value the ability to work/create more than personal security. They are “winning” every day they are at the office. There is nothing that they’d rather be doing than working (only met a few guys in this league).

Motivation is something that I think about quite a bit because I always assume that other's motivation is similar to mine. That the world is seen through my eyes by others and that is mostly incorrect. Most folks see things totally differently. In fact, many (most) having too much going on in our heads to see much of anything outside ourselves.

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02 December 2005

Sixty Zeroes

So Ced told me to keep parking illegally -- bet me that I'd save money over the month. I decided to skip that and smiled as I saw the ticket man (and a line of twelve cars with tickets on the way to the pool). Must be the season for giving in France.

Monsy seems to be confusing the local workmen. They keep walking in on her when she's changing. I told her it's standard operating procedure for the lads in the South of France. Still, she's not used to having to lock herself down in a cubicle to get ready to swim or hit the gym. Apparently a couple of guys "when to jail for that" in Boulder -- we're a world away from Colorado!

This week marked the start of my five week campaign to get myself in some sort of reasonable shape for Epic Camp. Trying to make it out the door on a daily basis and not fall behind in my work. Starting back from ground zero while managing my inbox is a good reminder from my earlier days as a working athlete.

How did I go? Well, I enjoyed myself by was amazed at how weak I am and how tired a little training makes me. As for the specifics, they are going to remain confidential as I don't want to place any undue pressure on myself. Suffice to say that you wouldn't be awed by my current performance. My goal for the end of December is being able to complete my swim/bike/run goals from my Four Pillars article.

About the title... what's a zero? A zero is when you don't do any training for a day. I'm not sure exactly how many zeroes that I pulled down so far in 2005 because I stopped my training log in March or April. However, I do know that it's a lot more than sixty. I took a zero today to end my first training week.

So where does the sixty come from? Friday night I was lying in bed mulling things over. I've been having quite a tough time turning my brain "off" these days. I wake up and it just starts rolling... or I lie in bed and it keeps rolling... the fatigue that I get from training is so pleasurable precisely because I clears my head of all those thoughts. I can remember when I started training in Hong Kong the feeling of pleasure from a mind full of nothing at the end of a day of trail walking. Exercise addition being one of the more socially acceptable sleep aids I've used over the years.

What do you think of when you are training? For me, when it is going well, I am thinking of absolutely nothing. Pure nothing. Wonderful stuff.

Back to the sixty zeroes -- that is how many my good buddy KP had in the bag from his pre-epic preparations when he arrived in Auckland for Epic North Island a couple of years ago. He got through that camp, survived the desert road, avoided "the tape" and shared more than a few laughs with me and the lads. As Dr. J said last year, "life is good, sure, but these times, these experiences, this is what it's really about". That keeps me smiling as the camp ticks closer with each day. If it's hard, if I suffer, if I get crushed, blown out the back, whatever... well that really is the point. So the 'worst' it goes, the more hilarious the experience. Plus, Molina tends to lay off a bit when I am getting beat on. I'm looking for a bright side a bit with my training these days -- I could be the first epic participate kicking off with triple figure zeroes for the training year. It is a concern.

We are a bit isolated here in France. I still have my internet connection and my email -- thank god for wireless global roaming or I'd be hooped. In reality all we have is each other and that's a nice opportunity for us, espcially after a summer where I spent five out of the first seven weeks of my marriage on the road.

There's quite a bit that KP and the boys would appreciate about France. #1 is the real deal coffee that they are serving up all around the place. Espresso is what they call coffee. Hard core coffee you feel. Coffee that is so strong, I am a little nervous going for a second round. The French are great with their coffee -- they go for the single shot versions and alternate with cigarettes. I imagine that one could get pretty charged up with that. Being used to Starbucks, I have to slow myself down from slamming a double shot in two swigs.

How do you feel when people who don't know you write nice things about you? I feel quite nervous. I think that it's a mistake to place our faith in anything other than our own itegrity. I know me and I am pretty normal from the inside looking out. Perhaps the nervousness comes from a sense that whether we are positive (or negative) it's the same trap to seek satisfaction/inspiration/motivation from sources outside of our own actions.

Not much of a point to this one. Just had to clear my head.

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01 December 2005

Make vs Spend

Sorry, just want to make sure I understand - you are saying to evaluate the financial opportunity cost in terms of (a) percentage of your personal Net Asset Value - ie. the impact that this decision is likely to have on one's long-term wealth, both in terms of capital draw-down and lost income to invest and (B) in terms of the ability to maintain one's standard of living (or at least a reasonable one).
When I left Hong Kong I knew that my income was going to fall _a lot_. However, my expenses were going to fall as well. What I didn’t realise was the magnitude of the change.

What happened was that I was spending less than 10% of my Hong Kong rate even while traveling in Australia/New Zealand. I was also able to buy a house in Christchurch for about one-year-HK-rental equivalent (early 2000, a nice time to buy property just about anywhere). Now not every VC is willing to live on couches and with the parents of adult friends while he figures out what he is going to do. Still, it worked for me.

On the income side, I took advantage of some coaching opportunities. They didn’t bring in a lot of cash but… they brought in a lot of cash relative to my triathlon cost of living. So while they wouldn’t make a good use of my time when I was in Hong Kong, they made a lot of sense when I was on the road.

The result was that once I subtracted my tri-life expenses from my tri/coaching/unearned income, I realised that I had a much larger multiple of capital available to finance myself. I’d based my initial estimate on Hong Kong expenditure but I discovered that by leaving Hong Kong I was able to eliminate nearly all my overheads.

Most people have no idea where they are really spending their money. They simply spend until they run out each month.

Also, beware of the trap of mistaking “standard of living” for “quality of life”. Most folks ratchet up their standard living (expenditure) in line with (or ahead of) their income. As a result, they are never able to accumulate any capital and are held captive to their perceived income requirements.

When you start to evaluate expenditure relative to NAV, rather than income – it can change your view on whether things are “worth it”. Folks that aren’t good at saving don’t really like to face this method of personal accountability. I know some folks that spend a multiple of their NAV on traveling to races (or clothes, or vacations, or whatever) each year.

Scott once told me that it’s not what you make, it’s what you spend. As with many things he told me, good advice.

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