18 January 2009

Thriving in Recession

New post over at www.EnduranceCorner.com.

See you there,
g

08 January 2009

gBlog has moved - new article live

There is a new post over at the EC Site.


02 January 2009

Endurance Corner Introduction


One of the best lessons that I have learned as a writer is that you aren't an author until you publish.  There are a lot of 'nearly finished' projects out there. 

It's time to publish.

A good website, like personal fitness/portfolio balancing/endurance training, is never complete.  Feel free to share your ideas for enhancements as well as feedback.  No need to take it easy on me -- the tough feedback is often the most valuable.

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First... please adjust your bookmarks!
New Blog URL - http://www.EnduranceCorner.com/g_blog

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EnduranceCorner.Com has two components: 
  • the basic platform allows free access to the full collection of my videos, blogs and articles; and 
  • the coaching module (workout planner & forum) is available for a small monthly fee.
I started my fitness journey over 15 years ago.  Ironically, I walked pub-to-pub on the weekends!  I was living in London at the time and this was a BIG improvement from how I had spent my weekends in the past (sitting in a pub).

When I was ready to make a change towards a healthier lifestyle, I was welcomed by a group of UltraRunners.  UltraRunning has a counterculture vibe about it and the guys were very open with sharing information about training/nutrition/fitness.  It was a LONG period of trial and error while I figured out what worked.

One of the greatest areas of 'struggle' was my weight.  I was absolutely clueless on nutrition.  My UltraBuddies were pretty Old School -- recovery food was beer, pizza, nachos.  Like a lot of us, I exercised so I could eat more but I was never able to lose fat around my tummy and always had this dream of "being ripped".  Somehow I thought that ripped-ness would make me more desirable -- and it does... but, ultimately, that desire is empty and feeding vanity leads to crisis.  More on that some other time!

So... first up -- the new site is a free resource for Endurance Training, Triathlon and Nutrition.  I have taken my most popular writings from the last ten years; reworked them and published into a Single Location.  

You don't need to sign-up for anything, the library is open to all.  

You are welcome to link as well as republish any article (completely, with link back to my site).  If you'd like to publish extracts then contact me first -- I nearly always say yes for non-commercial uses.

Recently, I have been mentoring a great group of people towards an early season sprint triathlon.  Answering their questions has reminded me of the large impact coaches can have with patient, solid advice.  The simple lessons that I have learned are, by far, the most powerful.

From the Home Page, you can access a couple of YouTube clips that I recorded to explain what really matters.  It is easy to get distracted in life.  My new site, will work to keep clients, readers and myself (!) focused on the big picture.

Our current product is an Ironman triathlon coaching engine.  I have written an article that explains our coaching engine so I won't repeat myself here.  Suffice to say, I have built an open platform that enables you to tailor your program to the realities of your life.  It contains everything that is essential for us to begin a dialogue on your training. 

You can get a solid program in many places -- my unique offering is myself, as guide for your program.

When a coaching relationship works well, there are benefits much wider than just the field of competition.  I can promise that you'll be ready for your race.  With a bit of luck, we will be able to share experiences that deepen success in your wider life.  

Programs start at $25 per week, with discounts when you sign up for more than 30 weeks.  Here is a link to the most common questions we have received.

The new edition of Going Long will be out in early February.  Every athlete that joins will receive a signed copy of the 2nd Edition.

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The Future of Online Coaching
I first wrote about this back in May 2007 and my vision hasn't really changed.  I figured that it was sporting to explain what I saw.  I have been planning this site for years.

What is largely hidden from the triathlon demographic is the scale, and scope, of the transformation that is going to hit Western society.  It is human nature to project based on our past experiences.  It is impossible for any of us to quantify how a 40-50% decline in global asset values will change our societies.

Many of the changes are going to be unpleasant -- unemployment; personal bankruptcy; the pain of cutting back... however, these painful changes provide opportunities for realizing what matters most.  Many of us will find that we have spent the last 15-25 years spending money on items that didn't really enhance our quality of life.

What does that have to do with a coaching website?

I suspect that luxury spending is going to rapidly contract across the next two years.  Paying $7,500 to $20,000 per annum to a personal coach qualifies as a luxury item.  Speaking from experience, the family gets a bigger bang for its buck from child care assistance!

Triathlon grew up during the Great Expansion.  I suspect that different business models will be successful in the Great Unwinding.

Why not give it away for free?
Good question.  I was successful at building my personal brand by running a free website with the Tri Forum.  While it worked for my image, I'm not sure it worked for me.  Let me explain.

Success -- Within my paying clients, I can count my failures on a single hand.  Within my sponsored athletes and "personal projects", I can count my successes on one hand.

In my personal consulting life, my track record with people that don't pay me is poor.  My track record with paying clients is outstanding.  I have no idea for the reason behind this paradox.  EnduranceCorner.Com lets me use technology to lower my price point -- it is more equitable and enables me to reach a wider market.

My old forum (R.I.P.) generated a lot of goodwill.  Many of you have been with me from the early days and are a valuable part of my life, even if we never meet!  However, there are plenty of opportunities for social networking and other companies host it better than me.  As well, that business model is winner-take-all and when one is appealing to the masses (politics, media, forums) it is difficult to maintain one's ethics.

As a result, the forum on the new site will be for subscribing athletes only and hidden from public view.  I want to create an on-line environment where athletes, particularly the ladies, feel safe discussing what is on their mind.  I remember getting flamed in the early days -- it was really unpleasant.  Of course, out of that came perspective on fans, and anti-fans.

Ultimately, the direction the site goes will depend on you.  If we are offering good value then you'll let us know.

Cheers,
gordo

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26 December 2008

Incentives

Our photo this week is Team MonGo 2008 -- you'll see that Monica bought the family matching pajamas.  Check out the sleeves on Lex!

Today is my 40th birthday and I managed to hold my hair this far... that seemed so important to me when I was in my teens and twenties... while my priorities 20 years ago were normal, they weren't exactly ideal.  

Lesson #1: having a high capacity to work overcomes a lot of personal shortcomings.

Probably the deepest thing that I think about (now) is my mortality.  Being a planner, I ask myself if I have the balance right between the short term (being true to myself) and the long term (preparing for the chance that I might live into my 80s). 

I am sipping on a large latte, the SuperMan mug was given to me prior to Ironman Hawaii 2000, by Luke Wimbush (much more of a super-dude than yours truly).  There are a lot of good memories associated with this mug as well as my pal, Luke.  

Lesson #2: it is only with the benefit of time, that we gain context on the people that, ultimately, bring goodness into our lives.

It took me 30 years to begin the process of figuring out my personal values and a decade after that until I was able to coherently write them down.

I derive tremendous meaning from my current life situation and have a high degree of personal freedom.  Looking back, what are the habits/decisions that had the greatest impact on my current situation?
  • Spend less than I make;
  • Tell the truth;
  • Train daily; and 
  • Control my desires (sugar, alcohol, food, leverage, wealth).
Interestingly, all of the above have periodically imposed short terms costs on me.  They are extremely simple to explain but challenging to implement.

What skills do I enjoy using where I receive positive feedback?
  • Teaching;
  • Writing; 
  • Strategic planning; and
  • Financial, legal and forensic analysis.
So... how best to create incentives for me to stick with my values; maintain my successful habits; and utilize my strengths?

First, I am going to launch a site that shares these items, more about that next week.

Second, I am going to explore pulling the last decade into a coherent philosophy and see if there is a book that can be created from what I have learned so far, sort of a how-to-manual for my daughter.

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You get a finite number of years on this planet – make the most of all of them, no matter what is going on around you. - Brad Feld
2009 is going to be a challenging year for many of our friends and family.  The media is, and will be, bombarding us with adverse stories to distract us from the areas that add meaning to our lives and loved ones.

Lesson #3: back your winners.

Take time to consider if you have alignment between what brings you meaning and where you spend your time.

Make time (weekly) to do simple things that recharge your spirit and make you feel good.

Thank you Monsy for making this a very special Christmas.  

I love you, babe.
gordo

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19 December 2008

Getting It Wrong

This week I am going to share some ideas that will, hopefully, save you from a large financial loss at some stage in your life. Over the course of your life people will steal from, mislead and generally attempt to swindle you -- if you hit 50 and think that this has never happened to you then you might not have been paying attention!  

Skill-based, achievable, wealth creation stems from two principles:
  • Spend less than you earn; and
  • Protect existing capital.
If you do those two points consistently then your net worth will rise over time.  Sounds easy but it is seldom done effectively.  There are always temptations to cut corners.

Due diligence is time consuming and not much fun -- as such, when I was the new guy at my firm, I got to do quite a bit of leg work checking out potential companies/management teams.  

After a couple quick announcements, I will explain what I learned...

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Tucson and Boulder Training Camps - - we are happy to announce that both of these camp will qualify for USA Triathlon coaching education credit.  Each camp will earn 10 CEUs (the max possible from a single event).  Contact me for more info on Tucson (April) and Boulder (July).  Boulder's dates have been shifted to a Wed-Sun format to better serve working athletes.

Endurance Corner Coaching -- I will be launching an on-line coaching platform in early 2009.  Cost is $25 per week, with discounts if you sign up for a year.  Key differentiator is direct daily access to me, and the EC team.  Specific details in my January 2nd blog.

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Why do research?
Sophisticated investors research companies/management team to reduce losses, not increase gains. 

Promoters do an excellent job of explaining how you are going to make a fortune investing with them. What people rarely do is point out the ways that you can lose money as well as items in their backgrounds that make them high risk business partners.

When you think about the scale of the Madoff scheme ($50 Billion) what comes to mind?  For me, the crime is not the main issue.  What concerns me is the implication for the global economy in 2009.

In 2005, I read Fooled by Randomness and had an epiphany reading Taleb's chapter on Black Swans.  At that time, by way of a personal guarantee, I had over 100% of my assets exposed to a single entity.  The business was run by a trusted friend but my financial health couldn't withstand a Black Swan, so I sold down my exposure.

The lesson we are reminded of with Madoff is that we can all get it wrong.  How does Madoff happen?  Ponzi schemes happen when we allow personal greed and social pressures to cause us to ignore basic investment principles.

Diversification makes the most sense to protect from the unexpected, not to enhance returns.  Right now, I have a 60% exposure to a single bank.  Over the next year, I will be reducing that exposure -- not because I don't trust the bank, rather because the impact of getting it wrong would be too painful.

In terms of the unexpected, fraud is probably #1.  Fraud hits you in multiple ways -- loss of money; loss of time; and risk of reputation.

While it's tempting to focus on financial losses, the money is normally gone by the time you figure out that you've been ripped off.  Pursuing business crime makes sense (and is essential) to help protect future victims, rather than recover assets for existing victims.

I suspect that business crime is going to explode in 2009 -- not because more of it is happening... rather... it will become apparent as the Great Unwinding continues.

Things you can do to limit your exposure to business crime:

Ask questions -- we have an inbuilt inhibition to ask questions in rising markets and public forums (this is one area where I support anonymous posting).  Fraudsters will take advantage of this shared trait -- read Influence, it will save you money.

This Word file link is a mild form of private equity questionnaire but covers the main issues that have cost me money over the years.  If you are using Safari/Mac then click here for an HTML version.

Be willing to walk -- if you get a bad reference then walk from the deal.  Even with this policy, you will make mistakes but you'll make less of them (and that will make you money in the long run).  By paying attention to red flags before investing you will save time, money and protect your reputation.  

From a portfolio point of view, it is a lot more important (and easier) to dump your Enrons, than find your Microsofts.

Get inside -- if you are investing 10%+ of your net worth in a project, or company, then get inside so that you have superior information.  If you can't get inside then don't invest.  VC and Private Equity firms have known this "secret" for years.  

The two main sources of private equity return are leverage and superior information.  Trouble is, as an asset class, the insiders scoop the excess return for themselves.  As well, even the insiders don't know which deals/funds are going to be winners.  They use the same rules -- check up-front & limit losses.  To that the professionals add: maximize financial engineering and access superior information.

Speak to the auditors -- again, sounds simple but it doesn't get done enough.  When you speak with the auditors -- do it independently, without management and speak with the accountant that did the work (not the partner in charge).  

Questions to ask:
  1. Tell me one thing that you found that concerned you.
  2. What was your materiality threshold?
  3. Did you tie all invoices to bank statements for everything above your threshold?
  4. What connected party transactions did you discover?
  5. Did you reconcile large payments to contractual documentation?
  6. Did you reconcile large payments to an approved budget?
  7. What is the approval/payment procedure for large transactions?
  8. Which transactions were paid outside of the normal approval/payment procedures?
Question #1 is a good way to form questions -- people are extremely reluctant to give negative feedback.  So you ask them directly, but for "only one" point.  That opens them up and gets the conversation going.

Write your notes of that meeting up and send them to the partner in charge of the account -- for their file and your own.  The partner will likely come back an tell you that answering all this information was outside of the scope of their work.  Insist on having the work done -- again, it will save you money over the long run.  

If management get upset then assume they have something to hide (it will save you money in the long run...).

The Gipper summed it up best.  Trust but verify.

Maybe Obama will come up with some energizing slogans for what is going to be a very challenging new year.

Back next week,
gordo

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12 December 2008

Facing Winter - Thoughts on Travel

This week I am going to share some ideas on how my winter has been going.  

Travel -- is the largest item in my business budget as well as a major expenditure in my personal budget.  More than the financial cost, travel has a large hidden cost in terms of use of time and fatigue.  If you choose a life where you move around a lot then it makes it much more challenging to achieve in areas that benefit from stability (relationships; athletic training... for example).  In seeing the risk to relationships/training, I set my travel up in blocks and brought my girlfriend (now wife) with me as much as possible.  While effective, this greatly increased the overall cost to the family.

Travel isn't all bad.  A ten-day business trip removes a lot of distractions and long flights are excellent for extended periods of uninterrupted time.  Both editions of Going Long had their final proofs reviewed on a long haul flight.

By the way, like you, I am waiting for the 2nd edition.  My best guess is early 2009 -- I will let you know when the book is available.  As an aside, if you subscribe to our new web coaching platform (details to be released in my first blog of 2009) then I'll send you a signed copy of the 2nd Edition. 

Given that we had nine months notice of Lex's arrival, we made a decision not to travel this winter.  At the time, we made the call on relationship grounds (big changes requiring extra stability).  As events turned out, it proved to be a smart financial decision.

The consumer-driven aspect of triathlon tells us that we need to race, and travel, a lot.  That is an expensive way to live and most of that travel expenditure does little to improve our fitness, or quality of life.  Does anyone really enjoy shlepping a bike through several airports, cramming it into rental car and sleeping in a strange bed?  Wears me out.  It's amazing that the ITU crew can go so fast!

I challenge this belief system with my athletes and recommend that they mix: long endurance day trips with local racing.  For their travel: we aim to split 50% to training vacations and 50% towards their families.  

If you find that you need a vacation to "rest", rather than "achieve", then consider your daily schedule.  While being over-scheduled, I have been productive.  However, I struggle to be effective when over-scheduled.  As well, I lose any ability to guide a strategic long term vision for my life.  Even when I am relaxed and thinking clearly, there are a lot of biases, filters, influencers and general media noise that I need to counter to head in a meaningful direction. 

The solution?
Snowshoeing!

Once I pulled the plug on my seasonal migration, a lot of new options opened up for me.  The options were there all along, I simply couldn't see them.

In order to create a change in our lives, the first step is to stop doing what we want to change.  Fear of change can prevent us from taking the actions required to improve our lives.

In my case, my fear of winter, fear of loss of race fitness, fear of shoveling snow... whatever the cause... because I refused to experience winter, I never learned what winter might have to offer me.  

If you want to rapidly improve your fitness then the double-summer athletic season is a proven tool.  However, one needs to consider the costs of that choice (or any frequent choice for that matter).  Maximizing fitness, doesn't necessarily maximize my life experience.

When I spent a couple of months in LA.  Many locals told me that they couldn't leave SoCal because they would not be able to handle the weather anywhere else.  Weather=benefit.  Traffic/Air Quality/Crowds=cost.  It works for them, it didn't work for me.

When I look at my triathlon history, I see that I am more of an adventurer, than a racer.  The highlights of my TriJourney have been a few truly crazy trips that we dreamed up.  Exploring seems to bring me a lot more satisfaction than winning.  With that in mind, I have started exploring a few of the local areas.  

You might need to click on the photo to blow it up -- left is June (thanks to MvA); right is last Tuesday.  I even saw a mountain lion when I snowshoed another couple of miles towards the Divide.  Seeing as my ski poles where my only means of self-defense, I turned around at that stage; Lex missed that trip...

Next up is a series of recon trips probing the Divide.  I want to figure out a relatively safe way to get over to Winter Park/Fraser from this side.  So far, I think that staging from the Guinn Mountain Hut appears to offer the best route.  I'm going to check out Guinn Mountain for my "long day" next week.

gordo

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05 December 2008

Paternal Psychology

This week I thought that I would share some ideas about how fatherhood is going as well as how I have been managing my expectations over the last seven weeks.  As you can see above, my daughter wears her trousers just like daddy -- she's a High Rider.

I was a little concerned through the pregnancy about how I was going to cope with having a baby in the house.  My track record of tolerance with little people is pretty limited.  Even as a camp counsellor, I was never given kids under 10 years old to manage.

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Uninterrupted time - in order to write (or think) well, I need extended blocks of time without interruption.  The office can be a great place for getting things done without distractions, just not during business hours!  As a private equity guy, I used to work late, and weekends, to access this quality time.  Working at home, there is a risk of constant distractions. Given my higher workload these days, I have returned to using Seven-Habits techniques to improve my time management.  I shoot for the completion of up to three tasks per day.

In the house the baby takes priority.  Having been in the driver's seat for a few years, this shift in the family's pecking order has taken a little getting used to! The disruption to my life has been tiny compared to the changes in Monica's routine.

While it might be tempting to barricade myself in my home office... 
seek personal time by long hours spent training... 
purchase an external office and leave my wife a baby-widow... 
...fleeing does not serve my goal of a healthy, long-term marriage.

Three things that I remind myself, pretty much daily, I'll outline them and explain how they are impacting my approach:

1 -- I want to have a successful marriage.
2 -- It was my choice to have the baby.
3 -- What would a good friend do for me? 

While having a breast-feeding wife that looks like an FHM model is entertaining, it's not really what I value in my marriage.  For the single guys out there, I recommend that you look for the following in a wife: (a) kindness; (b) patience; and (c) an ability to gently point out when you are slacking.

If you don't know why (a) and (b) are important then you probably need them even more than me!  My slacking point is a subtle one, it's not about being pushed -- more about helping you be the man that you already want to be.  The approval of one's wife can be a powerful incentive and motivating force. Our wives want to be proud of us.

With that in mind, my "dad" mindset has been to be a good husband.  We discussed this before Monica became pregnant.  To me, being a good husband means supporting her role as mother.  This suits me because it took some of the pressure off from the transition.

This mental mindset helps me frame every request that I get from Monica.  Each time I help out with Alexandra, I am investing in strengthening our marriage.  The more tired/busy/stressed I happen to be... the greater the investment.  

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Just do it -- diapers, snacks, any request... just do it.  Wives value reliability and when you handle any request smoothly, without issue, it will do wonders for your marriage.  By doing the little stuff, you will get a surprising about of time/space when something important comes up (however, the baby shows that there are a lot of things that can wait).

Another tip, get the baby out of the house when she's screaming (the baby, not your wife).  In the early days, when Monica was out of whack from sleep deprivation, taking the baby for a 20-40 minute walk in the middle of an evening meltdown... that made a huge difference.  Monica was able to grab a shower, a meal or just sit down on the couch and sleep for a half an hour.  

I probably only made this gesture a few times but (because I made a genuine gesture and wasn't asked) the value of the action has endured for two months.

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Wife support, rather than child care -- I made a decision to live in Boulder, where Monica grew up.  M's local network makes a HUGE difference with "free" support.  I made a decision to pay for a nanny.  While I could save a few bucks by (effectively) increasing Monica's workload, I calculated that it would be better for our marriage if she was supported (the baby was going to be OK either way).  

I also made a calculation that the expenditure (~40% of our family budget) would provide me an incentive to work a bit smarter.  In a future article, I will explain how I use personal incentives to get myself out of bed in the morning.

Pronoun choice in the above was deliberate.  While "we" discuss the family plan and budget, ultimately "I" accept responsibility and get it done.  I don't think there is any one way to run family finances.  However, it is essential that the structure for financial management is agreed, balanced and communicated.  Finances are a huge stresser when either spouse feels that the relationship is out of balance.

Choice - In dealing with Alexandra, remembering that it was my choice takes considerable pressure off.  When we choose to be a parent, certain tasks automatically flow from that decision -- diapers, screaming kids, cleaning up barf... they are a natural consequence of a decision we made.

Somehow creating that "reality" in my head gives me a lot more patience.  A few times this patience (call it: 'coolness under fire') has been misinterpreted as not caring.  I need to remember that mothers and fathers have different thresholds of urgent.

Reliability - Monica values reliability and, while I change my mind a lot, I am consistent at the risk of being boring!  

The way my day shakes out, I work mornings and evenings.  I place meetings, training and errands in the afternoon.  We've developed a system where Monica sends me a text message when she needs something.  There is no minimum threshold for a request.  Diaper changes, glasses of water, snacks... she buzzes and I wander downstairs from my office (yesterday's office view below - Molina wonders why I am not riding much...).

Similar to Mars/Venus tips, it seems to be a lot more helpful to pitch in with a lot of little items than one big item.  As well, there doesn't appear to be a whole lot of difference between item scoring.  Of course, writing about the "baby game" in my blog will likely impact the overall rules and scoring!  Good thing Monica is kind and patient...

Sleep -- I wanted to sleep "as a family" in the early days.  Trouble was... I couldn't handle it!  Since Monica's water broke, I think I've spent five nights in the same room as her.  Every time I attempted a night's sleep with the baby, it completely destroyed me.  It was quite comical at the hospital... after the childbirth, I slept hours and hours with doctors/nurses/family coming in and out of the room.  I was ruined but I did every diaper change for the first 72 hours.  Invest heavily at the front end to establish your reputation!

It didn't get much better the few times that I tried to sleep with mom and baby at home.  I would "wake up" in the morning, get out of bed, and go sleep in the guest bedroom.  It wasn't working for me, and when I moved out, Monica realized that it worked better for her to have me out of the room.  We're going to "re-introduce" me to the bedroom shortly.  Again, smart psychology to make it a treat to sleep with mom & baby.  She knows me well...

As a final aside, I think the Tao Te Ching talks about the zen of babies.  I could never figure out how a baby could be zen.  Now that I have my own, it became clear very quickly.  

The most remarkable thing about babies is their total lack of memory -- they just "are".  I first noticed it with complete relaxation with hiccups.  Next with oblivion to throwing up on themselves.  

Rather more encouraging is instantly moving from melting down to placid... that keeps fatherly hope alive.  Each minute could be the last minute of a meltdown. 

Hope is a good thing to have.

Back next week,
gordo

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