26 March 2006

Peaceful Vibe

...Many times, I don’t feel like I have the inner-peace to be calm, and I felt like getting sucked into the vortex of the materialistic world..., while knowing that I should not have attachment to things and outcomes. It (feels) great when I achieve the inner-peace not (affected) by noise around me, but there are times, I (feel) like I was having 1 step forward and 2 steps back… Any advice and comments on arousal control, and achieving inner peace?


If you asked the five folks in the world that (I think) know me the best about my general state of inner peace then you'd probably see them chuckle at the concept of my zen-like qualities. So bear that in mind when you read onwards.

Here's what works for me.

Accepting -- accept that you'll have times when you get caught up in chasing the socio-economic fantasy that is fed to all of us through various influence. Even more important than that is to simply accept yourself. Nearly all of the noise in our heads is created by someone trying to convince us that we have to become something different than what we are. That's the story of retail -- selling cosmetics, selling clothes, selling food -- aspiring to cars, houses, vacations, status. At a very deep level, the persuaders are trying to convince us that we would be better "if only". When we get ourselves to the point where we are happy "with or without" then you have gained the upper hand on the persuader and can make an informed decision.

Expectations -- Personally, I would never expect to achieve "nirvana" because there is simply too much noise around. Here I like to use the popular metaphor of a body of water. Many people find that their minds are like confused seas -- choppy with whitecaps. By making certain changes in our lives (and thinking patterns) we might arrive at a point where the water starts to smooth out a bit. However, as the waters calm, we start to become aware of the smaller ripples that were completely buried by the massive noise previously.

Influences
Thich Naht Hanh has a nice way of putting this, it goes something like... "we have the seeds of both good and evil within us, be very careful about the seeds that you choose to water".

When you look at popular culture, entertainment media, violent media, pornography and the influences below through that prism, often we are able to see how the choices in our life are directly impacting our life situation (and satisfaction).

Media -- In order to enhance my personal satisfaction, I've made a decision to greatly reduce my contact with nearly all forms of media. Most specifically -- TV, newspapers, popular magazines, internet magazines. It is very difficult to pull that off, especially at say, 4:38am in Hong Kong when I am typing on blogger.com (my mouse trigger finger is twitchy). However, the benefits have been so immediate and large that I have a very good positive feedback loop in place.

Friends -- You should assume that you will become the people with whom you associate. Even if you don't "become" them, most everyone will treat you as if you have; making it even tougher not to "become". For this reason, choose the pals the personify the life you want to lead and the person that you want to be. M motivates me to be the man that I want to be. You can't get a better life partner than that.

People that are inconsistent with your personal vision have to go. Sounds a bit harsh, I know. However, the influences that our companions, mentors, friends and associates bring to our lives is massive.

Work -- I find work to be a tricky one for many. This is due to a mistaken belief in a lack of choice, or perhaps, a lack of personal responsibility. There is a movie called Holywood Shuffle that is about an actor trying to break into the movies. It is a comedy but contains quite a bit of truth. In the end the actor decides to forget about it and joins the post office. The personal sacrifices to achieve his "dream" weren't consistent with his self-image.

Books -- I really like good books. Reading and internally experiencing good advice is an amazing defend against undesired influences. On the flipside, it is the main reason why I write. It is a form of personal defense (most often against my own ideas).

Actions -- I have found that written commitments really help my ability to get myself to action. Further, making sure that my words are 100% consistent with my written commitments reduces inner conflict. I never talk myself down.

Training -- some think that I mistake exhaustion for tranquility. For me, daily exercise has a very positive impact on the attitude towards the craziness that surrounds us in cities. Before a key meeting, I will make sure that I complete at least 45 minutes of training. I find that my ability: (a) to see the true motivation in others; and (b) to make clear decisions in my best interests -- are greatly enhanced after exercise. I don't recommend anything too hard though. You don't want to be exhausted when trying to make important decisions!

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I like your tips about NAV and burn rate. I am wondering if you can provide some high-level examples or hypothetical scenarios with some numbers, like you case studies in “Going Long”. Even though, I am a bean-counter by trade, my personal finance and investment (need work), therefore, I (feel)like I am not where I should be financially. And I could
be making some mistakes figuring things out and (end) up living like a college student again.

Interesting that you mention college because it touches on two aspects that I believe are essential for understanding what drives our perception on personal NAV.

When I was in college... I spent a lot of time with folks that were at a similar level of "wealth" as me and life was simple. While some people had more than others, by and large we all had the same standard of living and lived uncomplicated lives. We each knew our position and were (largely) equal between each other.

If you want to improve your perceived standard of living then associate with people that have a slightly lower one than you.

This an interesting paradox for me and contrasts with my advice to "be your goals" in many areas. Using an athletic example, if you are constantly training with people that are better than you then often they will lift your overall standards. However, you might find that your perceived level of performance is lower than if you were the strongest athlete in your training group. It is for this reason that smart coaches have their athletes compete in a range of events (letting them be strong at some and letting them be humbled at others). Not everyone has the maturity and self-image to sustain frequent humbling (especially when they have the wrong set of influences).

Back to college -- when I joined Schroder Ventures after university I was making about $1,750 per month (pre tax). As a B. Comm with first class joint honours in Economics and Finance, that wasn't a whole lot of cash. However, I felt very well off. Why?

The quickest way to increase disposable income is to reduce personal expenditure.

Coming out of university, my personal expenditure was at such a low level that any reasonable salary was going to leave me feeling very well off. I had excellent control over my expenditure.

Fast forward sixteen years. When I think about my peers that have been successful at saving capital and investing wisely -- successful at creating personal financial flexibility. Their #1 thing was to ensure that personal expenditure always lags personal income.

As my peer group moves into their 40s, most of us have a very similar standard of living. However, my friends that decided to increase personal expenditure in line with (or in advance of) personal income -- those guys do not have the same financial flexibility. In fact, many of them have little financial flexibily and feel trapped into their careers because of the level of debt service they have chosen to place into their lives.

It takes a long time for the financial benefit of a pattern of fiscal maturity to mature. If you've blown it in the past then learn from it. By making changes today, and sticking with them, you can place yourself in a more stable position later in life. Even if you are in your 50s you can make decisions today that will greatly assist you in your 60s and 70s.

As for specifics? Finance is like nutrition. Simple, not easy. I prefer to share concepts rather than specifics. It's not the type of food that I eat that enables me to be maintain elite body composition any more than it is the investments that I make that result in financial freedom.

It is the patterns that I create and sustain which result in my life situation.

Choose wisely.

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Springtime in Britain

I am back on “the world’s favourite airline” returning to Hong Kong for the second week of my business trip. Week One went well for me and I managed to combine work, travel, recovery and exercise. My 2006 strategy of training camps combined with structured (and forced) rest is working very well for me.

Scotland in March is beautiful – the papers were talking about spring being late (I’m still on my media-lite program but little bits leak through my self-imposed filters. I find myself enjoying Edinburgh more and more as my routine gets established.

The overnight stop somewhere when crossing a stack of time zones… I am going to try to work that into the game plan more often. It gives me the chance to have a decent night’s sleep along the way. I’ll be stopping in Hong Kong for four nights on the way back. My formal meeting schedule is light so that should allow plenty of time for informal interaction with friends. Perhaps that would be another tip – under schedule yourself especially the start & finish of each week and day.

Recently, someone asked me how I keep my training and nutrition rolling on the road. Nothing fancy, I simply “do my best”. My training volume more than halves and I tend to eat a more traditional lunch (soup & sandwich). The things I try to watch: (a) low sugar diet; (b) some form of exercise every day; and (c) sleep lots. The sugar is a fundamental one for me – if I eat processed, sugary foods then I gain weight on the road. If I don’t then I am fine so long as get my exercise.

When I worked in Hong Kong, I would haul my bike any place where I thought that I could get a ride in. Sydney, Melbourne, Phuket, Los Angeles, New York and Singapore all spring to mind as places where I managed to ride while on business. Sometimes I would structure my trips so that I would stay an extra day to squeeze a long ride in before heading home. It took a lot of organization to pull that off – before triathlon, I would try to squeeze in mountain summits.

Now… I’m on a schedule where I have tremendous time flexibility when I am with Monica and away from Scotland/Bermuda/Hong Kong. So I do a “bike heavy” program when I am not on business travel – if you’ve followed my training over the years then it is a very basic routine that I’ve learned from Molina. When I feel good, I insert simple main sets. When I am tired, just I log the time. When I am _really_ tired – I sleep a ton and try to get a single workout completed each day (anything to avoid taking a zero in the log).

When I am on the road, the training remains simple and my flexibility has to increase. Ideally, I like to swim and run each day. In Scotland, I’ve joined a health club with a pool. When I am up to it, I wake up and jog to/from the pool (15 minutes of running each way). At the pool, I tend to swim between three to four thousand meters. The whole session takes me less than two hours door-to-door. So long as I don’t schedule early (or late) meetings I can sleep ten hours and train before returning to the office.

When I get home from the club, I cook myself a meal (the only time that I consistently cook) then head into the office or my first meeting of the day. That’s pretty much it. I have all my training done first thing and find that relaxes me if things come up at the office and I can’t get out early.

One morning this past week, I couldn’t face the pool for some reason. So I did a longer run – I enjoying checking out property sites as well as residential developments on my runs. My partner takes the lead with all “property” & “site” related aspects of the business but I like to see what’s happening in the city.

Last Tuesday, I had the time and energy to do a double run so I fit a lap of Arthur’s Seat into my day pre-dinner. That’s as big as it gets in Scotland. My last trip, I tried a lot harder to get volume in and forced a couple of workouts. As a result, I was RUINED when I returned from my trip – result… three zeros and an average of 11 hours per week in the fortnight _after_ the trip.

M would probably point out that killing myself with a few buddies in London might have been a contributory factor to the fatigue. My London training today was a lot more sane. Russ (the uber-vet) took me on the Christmas Common ride and it was a very civilized affair (at least from the vantage point of his wheel). After sitting in for three hours, Russ suggested that I might want to do a little bit of work at the end. After fifty miles of drafting, one can’t really decline so I pitched in (a little) to get us back to the car. 3:45 of riding and I didn’t have any bike issues this time.

Back at Michael’s place (my first time in a detached house in London – very nice), I grabbed a snack and we headed out for a swim. I was expecting an easy float in the water but it ended up fairly steady. The pool seemed cold at the beginning but after a 1500 build, it was just right. I threw my paddles on for my second 1500. 12K are left for me to hit my overall swim distance target for the month.

Someone on my board made the observation that traveling is not rest – it is draining in itself, especially when traveling overnight and across time zones. Hopefully, my more moderate approach will pay dividends. I will be kicking off my Hawaiian training camp with an Olympic distance race the day after I land in Kona. The race is in a week and I have more than forty hours of air travel ahead of me. Better start resting now.

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Plateau People

A frequent training error that I observe in highly motivated athletes is…
a desire to train with fast athletes rather than…
a desire to train like the athletes that consistently improve.

Athletes that consistently improve will do a lot of training either alone or with like-minded training partners. You can get very fit by training with a dedicated guy that is slower than you (a point that I continue to remind Clas when I am sitting on his wheel).

With this in mind, I happily received the news that Albert Boyce smoked his age-group at Ralph’s this past weekend. The only other person that I have seen show equal training maturity (and desire) was Clas when we did the North Island camp and he finished 2nd to Cameron with a 2:42 marathon of the bike. Only Albert knows what his Epic Camp was like. To me, it was truly impressive. I certainly couldn’t have done what he did.

So few people are willing to do work that is required to improve their entire portfolio, preferring to fool themselves that they are doing what it takes because their program is difficult and they are whipped.

Long steady-state efforts.
Going past the emotional challenge of fatigue.
Working on our whole game, especially the unexciting parts.

All of the above are choices, often challenging to make when tempted with aspects of our training that might be more “fun”. Successful athletes are able to take satisfaction from doing what it takes.

It’s no different with nutrition – carrot cake tastes good to me whether I am lean or puffy.

Before I left Christchurch, I was listening to John Newsom give advice to a fellow coach. Something that he said rang particularly true…

“I’ve been watching it for years. There is a rapid improvement curve for the first few season. There’s nothing special about that if they are training full time. Then they plateau and wonder why they aren’t as fast and Bevan or Gemmell. Do they have _any_ idea how long those guys have been going? The amount of training and hours they have put into it?
You don’t just rock up and become Top Ten in the world.”


Most people do what they want.
Champions do what it takes.

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19 March 2006

Hong Kong March 2006

Back in Hong Kong for a 25 hour lay-over. This wasn’t part of my original plan but Qantas offered a free upgrade combined with a better fare if I rerouted from my original plan to overnight in Sydney & Singapore on my way to Scotland.

I get a big kick out of Hong Kong now that I don’t have to live here. It is intense here. Driving to the hotel last night at midnight, I realised that I could still get in a solid nine hours of partying before having to hit my hotel room. Suppose that it is a bit like Vegas here in that respect.

I skipped the all-nighter and decided to get some sleep instead. It was 6am New Zealand time when I lay down so I didn’t get much in the way of quality shut eye.

Had a rude awakening when I found my first two Starbucks closed at 8am. Fortunately, a French-style café bailed me out with a monster latte before my run.

I could tell you all about my (very restful) day but Molina says that often I’m the only one that finds these things interesting. More specifically, he said that I should savour the fact that M is patient enough to listen to my training reports because, odds are, that might not be the case after five years of marriage. Although… I called my super-vet athlete last weekend and his wife gave me a run down of his bike session – he’s 68 so perhaps there is hope for me.

What I find interesting about Hong Kong is that a lot of people think that it is really good living here. I imagine that the lifestyle here represents what tens of millions of Asians aspire to achieve. Asia is quite useful for offering contrast and perspective – I recommend a trip through India or rural China for any Westerner that has a habit of complaining about their lot in life.

Back to Hong Kong (or Shanghai if you get there)… these cities are top of the heap in East Asia. Plenty of opportunities, lots of action, huge crowds – absolute craziness. I was driving in from the airport last night and realised that _everything_ I was seeing was less than twelve years old (about the time I arrived here for the first time). That included the airport, the highway, the two bridges I crossed, the tunnel I went through and enough housing to hold 250,000 people. They build a “Christchurch” each year here.

So I am thinking to myself…

What’s going to happen when little Hong Kong’s start popping up all over Asia. We’ve probably got over seven million people here going crazy. Twenty or thirty years from now – say a dozen HK-look-alikes with ten million people a pop. That is a whole lot of consumption. Not bad if you are into construction, infrastructure or consumer goods.

However… what struck me was the smoke that I was driving through. They talk about “hazy days” here but really it is simply smoky air that is full of dirt. I wonder how many days a year you can actually see across the harbour now?

I don’t want to deny anyone their desire to work, shop, consume and battle up the socio-economic ladder if they think that’s what they need to do. It’s just that the following struck me on my run.

Last year I sold my house in Christchurch – to get a similar standard of housing here would be 50 to 100 times the cost of my place in New Zealand. Then I tried to price out the “optional extras” that are required to live well in Hong Kong.

I’d need 24-hour security because organized gangs have a habit of breaking into detached houses in the middle of the night. Not sure what that would cost. Then I thought about the air that I would have to breathe. I couldn’t figure out how to price air quality. As well, if I had kids then it wasn’t clear to me how I would price the fact that they are likely to grow up with asthma. What are clean air and health worth?

Mulling this over made me really appreciate the simplicity and high quality of life that is available in Scotland, New Zealand or The Rockies. Perhaps that is a sign of getting older – when we are willing to trade economic opportunity for personal security, clean air and a beautiful environment.

When I am here, I like to run past my old street (Wilson Road) in Jardine’s Lookout. I run past the height of my personal Hong Kong property ambitions and smile. I had it all when I was thirty but I really had nothing. Had I stayed there for a further five years then I would have had even more (about triple my current NAV), but even less of what I truly value today.

The trouble that we often have with being dissatisfied is that we can’t figure out what will satisfy us. The lesson for me is simple: “Collect experiences, not objects”.

Make time for new experiences – you never know what is going to happen.

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Had an only-in-Hong Kong experience walking through Central this afternoon. They are redeveloping the Mandarin Oriental hotel. Right now they have eight story billboards for Christian Dior on the building.

They are making money from the demolition! That is one of the things I love about this place.

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I tend to get two types of questions from folks that relate to my time in Asia as well as my experience with “boom towns”.

The first is “do you miss it”?

There are times when part of me does miss aspects. Deals, fund raising, monitoring relationships, international structuring, learning about new industries – that was very challenging and, when you are with a good team, that provides near limitless opportunities for learning. The aspects of that life that I miss, I’ve been able to recreate in my current business. As a big bonus, I’ve managed to structure myself so that I can achieve the stimulating aspects while avoiding the need to live in a big city. I’ve been quite fortunate that my friends, and technology, have enabled that to happen.

Thinking back through the ten years that I lived in London and Hong Kong, the single best aspect was having had the opportunity to be part of an outstanding international team. Within the team, the most stimulating aspect was learning from these people and, with them, striving for investment excellence.

I’ve been reading the Essays of Warren Buffet. One of Buffet’s key points was that he wants his CEOs to act as it they own 100% of their companies. The first group of folks that I worked with where like that; they truly treated every bit of equity finance as if it was their own money. That culture of responsibility was instilled by the senior partners, a most effective use of leadership.

The second question I get a lot is from people living in boom towns that are familiar with my story is about leaving to try something different.

…I wonder if I would be happier elsewhere.
…I’m not sure if this is the life for me.

My friends and former colleagues that are still going full bore don’t ask this question much. So if you are frequently wondering what the heck you are doing working for an investment bank… or if you find yourself wondering why you are flying off on yet another consulting assignment… …then I’ll pass along a modified version of what the senior partners told me when I left London.

***Enjoy yourself – boom towns are unique places in unique times.

***Learn as much as you can – rapid growth provides rapid opportunity for learning and advancement.

***Meet as many people as you can – smart people (and con artists!) are attracted to booms.

***Make some money – take advantage of the opportunities to earn capital while learning and working hard. In the right team, you are being paid to learn from some of the best in the business.

***Get out – this didn’t make sense to me for many years but it does now. I’ll expand a bit.

If you are having fun, learning, building your network and making some money then the overall cocktail can be a heady mix, especially if you are in your 20s or early 30s (the area where I have some actual experience).

Some can manage to stay grounded through the successes; money; perceived increases in status; and power that accrue from working hard in favourable circumstances. My first boss is one of those guys. I just bumped into him at the lounge in Hong Kong and he looked the same as always. If you saw the three of us sitting there (his wife of 30+ years was with him) then you’d have no idea who he is or what he’s managed to achieve (two successful businesses from scratch, billions invested wisely).

He’s a unique guy, most beneficiaries of “success” are slowly changed over time and it wasn’t until I got out until I was able to see the changes – that is part of the reason for my wry smile each time I run past my old house on Wilson Road.

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I’ve been thinking about Pride a lot lately.

A positive aspect of pride is something that I cultivate in myself. I take pride in delayed gratification and enjoy my capacity for self-denial. Bit strange perhaps but, I imagine that, it is a key attribute in folks that are good at long term project management (personal finances, education, endurance athletics, employee development, investment management, parenthood).

I’ve been thinking about one goes about beating a superior adversary? Simple, you don’t. Your only hope is that circumstances result in the guy beating himself.

It happens to all of us. We all have areas in our lives and situations where we beat ourselves.

Why do we do that?
Pride.

As we improve, often a pride develops that has negative effects on our performance.

Training sessions become daily battles as the “stronger” athlete never wants to show that he’s “weak”. Races become mentally challenging because the joy of participating leaves and is replaced with an anxiety about relative performance. As fans, we directly contribute to this by projecting our “hero’s” athletic performances into our personal well being.

Helping athletes improve is one role of the coach. Helping athletes deal with the mental challenges presented by the public and private perception of this improvement is an even more challenging area. It is an area where I think that there is a lot more that I could do.

When we see excellent athletes struggle to repeat rookie year performances, I think that overcoming pride is the key element of recapturing what was “lost” after that first season.

Do you wonder why most elite athletes are pretty quiet on the internet? It’s because we are killing them, even when we love them.

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A few quotes that have been rattling around in my brain:

The only performance that truly matters is how we do relative to ourselves.

There will come a time where you have to release the pressure to perform and totally accept whatever happens.

The perfect race doesn’t exist. What does exist is clarity of process once when we get our minds out of the way of our bodies.

In all things, be strong at the end.

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14 March 2006

The Sweet Spot

Before I get into my topic a few updates.

My personal technology management strategy is working out great. I'm offering up better quality work, ticked off a sub-goal from my Top Ten list (submit book outline to publisher) and participating on my board is back to being something that I look forward to.

Most importantly, I am staying on top of (my "reduced" level of) everything and have more time for things that directly impact my personal Top Ten. Much of my time was being spent on items that poisoned my mood and didn’t benefit my list.

I suppose that I’d lost control of a big chunk of time within my week. Nice to be clawing that back. It is tough to break the habit of checking in all the time but I turns out that it wasn’t necessary. I’ll have to remember to thank my friend Allen when I see him in ten days.

OK, on to my topic.

Last weekend I ran a “mountain marathon” called the Motutapu Icebreaker. Here is how their website describes the run…

…The run starts at the Motatapu Station 9kms from the Glendhu Bay Motor Camp and, follows a well-maintained farm trail up the Motatapu Valley. From there, the course climbs gradually over undulating terrain with several small stream
crossings, until topping out at 887m when you reach the 35km mark.

The course descends gently until it reaches a steep, rocky descent down the Soho Creek into the famous Macetown Road. There are several river crossings over the last 8kms. Depending on recent rainfall, stream levels can vary dramatically sometimes reaching waist deep in places. But often if you look carefully there will be a shallower route across. The course finishes in historic Arrowtown.

Kiwi “undulations” – if you’ve been down here then you’ll likely smile with the memory of your first undulating ride or run. As much as Americans have a tendency towards “the greatest”; “the biggest”; or “the toughest” – Kiwis prefer to massively understate.

Scott set us up in Arrowtown, close to the finish. As the route is point-to-point we needed to take a shuttle to the start. So, at 6am, we were standing in the dark waiting for a bus to drive us to the race start. That had me hoping that the race was going to follow a short cut back to Arrowtown. However, I had a feeling that the short-cut might be straight through the mountains that we’d been skirting.

We arrived around 8am and had a short jog to the start on the sheep station. Ultrarunners are “different” than other runners and I get a kick out of hanging out with them. While my full-body-shave and Speedo appearance might indicate otherwise… inside, I am an Ultra Dude.

They tell me that there were about 500 runners doing the marathon and with the toot of an airhorn, we were off!

I find race starts (with the exception of open water swim starts) quite entertaining because there is always a selection of folks that go totally bananas. Last weekend was no exception – my favourite was a lady with a large backpack that started at 6-minute per mile pace. I found myself in about 15th after the first km. My strategy was to try to keep the leaders in sight for as long as possible. That was going to prove pretty tough as a group of five took it out HARD!

In the first 5K, the “undulations” had my heart rate up pretty high but I was keeping a lid on things as I wasn’t planning a go-to-the-wall marathon.

As the lead group went through 5K, things started to splinter and I slowly moved closer. One guy that I passed was complete old-school running (cast on his arm, massive backpack, bandana and sweat flying off him). I said g’day when I rolled on by and he countered by bounding downhill at about 3:30K pace. As I left him behind, all I could think was “that’s going to hurt later”. Not much later, either. Molina passed him shortly thereafter and he was pretty quiet when The Terminator tried to say “hi”.

By the halfway mark, I was alone in third. The two leaders were long gone and I settled into a steady rhythm for the rest of the run. In the last hour I found it a bit tough to hold form so I though about Cam Brown’s running style as that is the smoothest, most compact impact that I have in my internal DVD player. That settled me down.

The ending to this run is unique. Steep downhill and river crossings when shelled. I was glad that didn’t have to duke it out with anyone.

Here’s how it turned out. Ben posts on my board a bit and it was nice to meet him. Chris is called “The Flying Pencil” by the locals.

Marathon - Open Male
1 2:43:39 Cox, Martin 10137
2 2:48:26 Dagg, Chris 10007
3 2:57:44 Byrn, Gordo 10038
4 3:02:29 Thomas, Ian 10051
5 3:08:06 Leese, Ben 10025

Typically, the longest that I’ll run this time of year is the Zofingen Champions Loop in Christchurch – that takes anywhere from 2:30 to 2:45 depending on your running partner (Baron vs. Molina respectively). While this is a bit of a stretch, with eleven weeks until Brazil, I figured that I had lots of time to put back the pieces if I crippled myself. I’m happy to report (on Wednesday) that I don’t appear to have done much other than overload my calves.

The run surprised me. While I was well suited to the course, I didn’t think that I had enough training completed to perform at the level that I did. Specifically, my steady-state pace in the second half was a pleasant surprise. Could I have run with the first and second place guys? Not a chance! However, I don’t need to. I simply need to repeat my run after a “little” aquabike warm-up.

Scott was happy for me as he saw the effect that the race had me. He pointed out that I was in the “sweet spot” – long enough back into training to ride the upswing and far enough from my race so that there wasn’t anything thinking about the event itself.

I pointed out that any outcome in Brazil was hardly going to change my life. But I did like that concept of being in the sweet spot.

One last thing – when looking for a confidence boost, sometimes it is useful to run without data. The only gizmo that I used on the weekend was my iPod Shuffle. Even left my computer back in Christchurch and teased Molina for constantly cranking his computer up. The technology-free days are quite restful.

07 March 2006

Managing Technology

M likes to say that, with me, "a new week deserves a new plan". Those that know me will know that I follow my plans with passion but am quite willing to change them on the basis of new information (or inspiration).

This can make me appear less consistent to my stated plans but (inside) I know that I am being rationally consistent to the Prime Directive. Living a satisfying life with meaning.

So here's my plan for managing Technology -- these are extracts from my Personal Top Ten. We'll see how I go. Had a minor slip yesterday when I was busted reading my board.

#4. Limit time spent on activities not on this list
-- Three days per week off-line: while in NZ (Tuesday; Friday and Sunday)
-- Internet surfing only on Wednesday and Saturday // keep a list of topics
-- No new consulting assignments unless they directly benefit this list

#6. Fortnightly retreats from email and telephone calls – done on a quarterly basis
-- Hawaii in April
-- France in June/July
-- Chamonix in December
-- New Zealand in January 2007

g

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04 March 2006

Tasmanian Technology & Training Retreat

Miss me? I really enjoyed my break.

In 2004, one of the best things that I did was take the whole month of October “off” from my normal routine. It was a very refreshing time for me and I gave myself the chance to sit back and review most aspects of my life.

When I logged on to my server this afternoon, it had been ten days since my last internet session. That’s the longest that I’ve been off-line since June 1998.

Back in November, I was having lunch with a friend in Hong Kong. My friend is quite a bit older than me and very old-school in his approach. We were talking about mobile telephones, email and technology in general. I was talking about what a nightmare it was for me when I went off line because all my email built up. My strategy has been constant connectivity to stay on top of my inbox.

Alan scolded me (in a kind way) and pointed out that I really needed to get some context on whether these things couldn’t wait a couple of weeks if I went on holiday. He pointed out that I was hardly the Prime Minster, so things could probably wait until my return. I said that I felt I needed to be on-line all the time because I was moving around and wanted to maintain my geographical freedom by being constantly available.

As in many things in life, the voice of experience proved correct. While there were over 2,000 messages lurking on my server (nearly all of them spam, thankfully) – there was nothing that couldn’t have waited for a couple more days (and they will have to as Vodafone roaming charges are STEEP when traveling abroad).

So now that I have the benchmark of ten days established, I need to figure out when I will be able to take a shot at extending it towards my overall goal of thirty days – that was my original plan from 2004 – a month each year to relax and reflect.

The change that happened to me once I removed all the clutter from my mind was pretty impressive. I did have one quirk with my technological retreat – I went a bit anti-television as well and M would ask me to plug the TV back in on occasion. We had a deal that she could watch when I was out of the room or having a shower.

So the changes I noticed…

>>>sleep // I was falling to sleep far easier and I woke up before my alarm every single day during my little retreat.

>>>peace // There was quite a bit of noise residing in my head during the first week. However, by the second week, things calmed down during the day and I was very relaxed and chipped during my sessions. A lot of week one’s main sets were fueled by “tapping the hate” as I like to say. Once the noise was gone, my main sets were driven more by “quiet power” – a great source of energy that I hadn’t been able to access for a while.

>>>clarity // With distance, comes perspective. My personal sources of fatigue, stress, energy and happiness. A clear break is quite useful for enabling me to see them for what they are. I write about them all the time but without directly experiencing them, it is very easy to get caught up in the chaos of the outside world. It’s tempting to tell ourselves that we can merely “ignore” the noise around us – however – it is equally effective to eliminate the sources. Some might argue that exclusion is a poor strategy but it strikes me that it is the most practical answer in situations where the sources of noise fail to offer any positive aspects to our lives. When I think about the peace that comes from elimination, I ask myself “why not” – why can’t I seek to exclude any sources of discontent or distraction from my life.

>>>energy-antsy // M said that I was a bit edgy at times as I deprogrammed during my retreat. It didn’t feel that way from the inside but I also remember that I never felt stressed when I lived in Hong Kong in the 90s.

Athletically, the question that I have been wondering about for at least ten months now was… will I ever be able to achieve the level of fitness that I hit in the summer of 2004. Lurking behind that was a fear that I would never be able to sustain the level of training that I achieved in 2003 & 2004.

I now see that it isn’t a matter of being able to do the training, rather it is a process of eliminating all the noise and distractions that prevent me from being able to achieve my goals. I write about that all of the time but it isn’t until we actually experience it that we can see the effect that the outside world has on us.

There are other questions that surround that main one as well. Why put the effort into achieving that level again? For me, it has never really been an “effort”; it’s simply been fulfilling what I wanted to do, what I felt that I was born to do. Not necessarily finance, triathlon, or any of my interests – rather to simply work towards something that I enjoy.

So living a balanced life, for me, might be better qualified as leading a diffused life. Given the importance that I give to achievement, a diffused life doesn’t seem to work for me. Nor does it really work for my pals and the people that I enjoy spending time with. The simplicity of giving one’s self the space and opportunity to do something properly – that is highly rewarding.

That’s one of the key lessons that we aim to show the lads at Epic Camp – we can achieve far more than we ever thought possible once we remove the obstacles, habits and attitudes that (we think) define our limits. Removing them (athletically) for a couple of weeks is a once-in-a-decade opportunity for most of the crew. I was fortunate at being given the opportunity to nearly completely remove them for a few years. I now see that was the unique opportunity, much more so than anything inherent in myself.

Removing all distractions to enable one’s self to follow a vocation/passion that provides a lot of personal enjoyment. Be it finance, academics, business or athletics sustaining that over many years is rare indeed.

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So that’s covers the “Technology” and “Retreat” aspects of this piece. What about Tasmania and Training?

I often wonder if folks actually try to apply the training protocols that they preach. Have they actually gone out and tried to do what they are responsible for directly, or indirectly, advocating?

If yes, then have they demonstrated a consistent ability to translate training effort into performance? Have they demonstrated an ability to translate any effort into performance?

Do they hold themselves to the high standards of personal excellence? Are they good people, do they work with good people and what are they seeking to achieve in working with athletes?

Those topics featured clearly in my mind as I worked through a few main sets during Week One of my training camp. I often use imagined dissatisfaction to drive myself onwards in training.

It all started with the Hobart International Triathlon. I raced the AG-non-drafting race – I’m currently between triathlon federations and asked both the Bermudian (residence) and Canadian (citizenship) feds if they would have me. I’m not sure if things will really matter until 2008, I turn ITU-40 and I want to race ITU Long Course Worlds. Now that GTG are self-certifying I wonder how they go about certifying elites for their races. I simply want to race and, based on Hobart, don’t appear to be much of a threat for any short course prize money.

Hobart was my first race in 50 weeks and my first Olympic distance race since 1999 (!). What a fun way to do some hard training – I surprised myself with an ability to elevate my heart rate and keep it up. Nothing like chasing Marty Gaal to motivate a guy! While it was non-drafting, the course was 8 laps on the bike – that gave Monica a chance to feed me splits every 8 minutes or so. Before the race, I thought that counting the laps (I don’t have a speedometer on my bike right now) would be a hassle but I really enjoyed the format as well as the tough, but safe, course.

What I experienced with the race reminded me of something that I think is very important for athletes to bear in mind. The depth of steady-state stamina & fitness is a key component of how long we’ll be able to sustain our higher end intensities. I didn’t really start to make up ground until the second hour of the race. And there was quite a bit of ground to make up! Anyhow, I’ve always seen my best time at any given intensity following periods of high volume training. I also see that with most (but not all) of my athletes – certain populations, such as experienced super-vet athletes, simply get more tired, rather than more fit. So, I suppose the lesson is to search for our optimal volume mix.

And while I often say that protocol doesn’t matter – I suppose that what I really mean is that given that the optimal protocol is out of reach for most people (for whatever reason) then it is best to focus on what does matter, that’s in my Four Pillars article.

And, I suppose, therein lies the source of my dissonance with much of discussion I read on the internet. Again and again, I read folks debating the optimal way to train a sub-optimal approach. Again and again, I read folks that have yet to truly tap their personal potential advising others on the way to the top. There is so much certainty out there amongst the mediocre.

The coaches and mentors that I’ve come across that have been (and/or advised the) truly great. I never experience the same degree of certainly and negativity to conflicting ideas that I come across in many of the various on-line communities.

So I start to question if the disharmony that I feel is worth the benefit that I offer to others from participating in the discussion. I have to admit that while I missed my friends a lot, I didn’t really miss most of the cyber-characters that inhabit much of my world. The break was useful for giving me that context and spurring me to consider how best to interact with a medium that is open 24/7/365.

I’ll be trying some changes.

So back to the training camp – we had a blast. The roads in Tasmania are fantastic in terms of their overall quality – a great surprise as I had prepared myself for some rough surfaces. By and large, even on the minor and remote roads, we found great riding conditions. Average speeds were low due to the terrain, though. I’d briefed Bri & Marty before the camp about that. Didn’t want them to freak when they noticed how slow they were going because… we were ALL going that slow.

We took in the East Coast, Cradle Mountain, the Central Plateau, Hobart, Launceston and some other areas. M says that my training must remain classified (it’s a Mark Allen hold-your-chi-thing) but you’ll be able to put together a bit if Marty posts his report. What was most important to me was finding myself (once again) in the position to be “strong” and set a “good example” of how I believe that athletes should approach endurance training. It was nice to be able to train well and enjoy it.

We had a great time and hope to be back in the future.

Gotta run and catch a flight to Christchurch.

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