Tag Archive for Fitness

The Secret to Success

Set Goals. Achieve them. Set Bigger Goals. Achieve them too. Repeat

On 27 July this year I completed my first ever marathon. This goal was achieved just eight months after running my first 10km race, something doctors once said would never happen because of a severe Achilles tendon injury.

Back in November 2012 the thought of running 10km on an injured leg was terrifying. The thought of ever attempting the 42kms that make up a full marathon was virtually inconceivable. However, as a good friend once said: ‘The best way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time.’ And this is the way to achieve even seemingly insurmountable tasks, one small step at a time. By setting ourselves a series of goals we are able to make those steps bigger, and this is how, a month ago, I crossed the finish line in Orland, Sweden

July 27, 2013 Marathon Finishers Nick & Thomas

well within my target of four hours (3 hours 53 minutes).

But what are we supposed to do when our ultimate goal has been achieved? The answer is there is always something higher to aim for.

Having completed the marathon, some bad habits returned. It becomes all too easy for us to congratulate ourselves after achieving a major goal by becoming less disciplined. We might start doing less exercise, eating less healthily, and becoming less focused. And then we begin to see the negative effects – we put on weight, lose our fitness and find ourselves becoming irritable and lethargic. When this happens it is important to set ourselves bigger goals, for me it was a more aggressive fitness challenge.

During my marathon training I had become aware of something called the Iron Man. This really is one of the ultimate tests of endurance. The race consists of three parts: a 3.8km swim followed by a 180km cycle race and finally a marathon. The whole event has to be completed in less than 17 hours for the title of Iron Man to be awarded. However, for many like me, just making it over the finishing line would be an incredible feat.

So now, with a new physical goal in mind it was important to start preparing. I have already completed a couple of short distance triathlons, or mini Iron Man races you may call them, in order to get used to combining the three disciplines. However, there is still a long way to go since the distance I am currently doing is around 10% of the Iron Man. My swimming and cycling needs major improvement, but by using the same formula that got me through my marathon – stick to strict training plan, eat and drink well and get enough sleep – I will be able to complete the Iron Man!

The Iron Man Sweden takes place on 16 August 2014 and I am committed to it. Not only because the 500 euro registration fee has been handed over, but also because it really excites me. So no backing out now!

The next stage is to start taking bites out of the elephant. The first bite is on 31 August in Bintan, an Island off Singapore, where a longer triathlon will take place. This is followed in November by a trip to Phuket, Thailand, where the race is a mix of Olympic triathlon/half Iron Man. In May next year the goal is to complete a half Iron Man and then it is the full Iron Man competition in Sweden next August.

That leaves a year to prepare. It is important to avoid making excuses and push myself a little more each day, and then it will happen. After all, winners make goals, and achieve them… losers make excuses.

The main reason for pushing hard in terms of fitness is the fact that I refused to let the doctors be right about me never being able to walk properly, or ever run, again. Every day we should appreciate that we are able to put one foot in front of the other.

The fact that we should feel blessed when we have our health was emphasised when I feared irreparable damage to my eyes recently.

Badly damaged eye, lost my eye sight for 2 days. Very scary feeling. So glad that my eye sight now gradually is coming back!

 

The incident occurred after a training swim in the sea at the beginning of August. Foolishly forgetting to rinse properly the anti-fog spray out of my swimming goggles, by the time I was walking out of the sea my vision had started to blur. It was getting worse by the minute and becoming painful. Unable to see anything at all I was rushed to hospital and was given treatment immediately. The pain and loss of almost complete vision lasted for two days. The cornea in one eye had been badly damaged and the other eye had been scratched. However, now three weeks later about 90 per cent vision has returned to the badly damaged eye. I hope to soon be fully recovered.

The point is that it takes the smallest of incidents to turn our lives upside down. We should use these experiences to help us focus on what is really important in life. The experience has certainly helped me to focus on training, and every time quitting feels like an option I tell myself that without my eyesight I’d probably have to give up all hope of ever competing again.

People are often at their best when faced with a crisis. The more challenges we face, the stronger we become and usually emerge more motivated and happier than we were before. The thought of losing something like our eyesight, or never being able to run again, is terrifying. However, when we come through such experiences, we should be grateful and celebrate by working harder the achieve our goals without becoming angry or bitter towards what caused the problems in the first place, even if it was our own mistake to begin with.

I know that I am not yet ready for the Iron Man. But the most successful people always start things before they feel ready. We may feel unqualified, uncertain and unprepared. But this is what makes striving to achieve one’s goal so exciting. Winners may not have the resources or experience, but they start anyway. Winners start today by taking a bite of the elephant.

Doomed to Die Young

I may be doomed to die young. This fact was made clear to me recently after my 61-year-old father had a heart attack. Fortunately he survived, but I know that heart problems are often hereditary. So I telephoned my grandfather in Sweden last week to ask him if our family has a history of heart problems. I was shocked by what he told me.

His own father died of a heart attack at the age of 49 and I was stunned to learn that three of his brothers and one of his sisters had also died of heart attacks when they were even younger. Even my grandfather, who is 81, recently underwent heart surgery. I now want to understand how he has survived against the odds and perhaps more fully understand how I can improve my own chances of avoiding the same fate as so many members of my family.

My father suffered his heart attack on 1 October this year while he was at the gym. He was rushed to hospital where surgeons performed bypass surgery. Fortunately he made a speedy recovery and is now back on his feet. But why did he have a heart attack? He does not have an unhealthy lifestyle; he eats well and exercises regularly.

He suffered a heart attack because of his genetic make-up. His body is conditioned to suffer heart problems. The only reason he survived is because he is fit. I have since been studying the subject and have learned that I am also at risk. I now have to decide how to prepare for something that may be inevitable.

At the time my father had his heart attack I was training for my first half-marathon. This meant I was already in an intensive fitness regime. The news that my father had become ill further spurred me on to stick to my training, and on 2 December I completed the race.

Brian Tracy taught me the importance of discipline, something that I could not have completed the half-marathon without knowing. He says:

“The ability to discipline yourself to delay gratification in the short term in order to enjoy greater rewards in the long term, is the indispensable prerequisite for success.”

I left Sweden 14 years ago, and since then have not remained in close contact with my grandfather. This was the first time we had spoken properly in over a year but I needed to pick up the phone and learn more about my family’s medical history. What he told me convinced me that I have to live a healthier life. I know that we will all die some day, but I also know that we can put that day off for as long as possible by getting more exercise and eating a healthier diet.

The combination of my father’s heart attack and the conversation I had with my grandfather gave me the push I needed to commit to a lifestyle change. I have since read books and articles on how a healthier lifestyle can help to prevent heart problems.

One of those books is ‘The Zone’ by Barry Sears. In it he describes how to revolutionise one’s life plan, how to lose weight and how to get the body and mind back into balance. From chapter one I knew that telephoning my grandfather had probably saved my life, and I am now getting the information I need to live a longer and happier life.

Like me, there is a history of heart attacks in Barry’s family. He explains that he is a genetic time-bomb and that his body is programmed in a way that makes it more likely he will suffer from heart disease when he is older. It was a shock to find out that I am the same. However, because I now know this I can face the fact and make the difficult choices that need to be made.

In the couple of weeks since completing the half-marathon I have found my discipline slipping. Although I have still been exercising several times a week, my diet is not as healthy as it was when I was training for the race. It is also Christmas, which doesn’t help!

My grandfather’s warning has pushed me back on track. I will be fitter, I will lose more weight, and will gain more strength. I have already signed up for my next half-marathon on 10 March 2013 in Sihanoukville, Cambodia. I know that if I am to complete the race in a good time I will have to commit to regular training sessions, healthy food and almost no alcohol. I did it before, so I can do it again!

So, why do I push myself so hard to be fit? In the short term I just want to feel healthy. I now have more energy, I am happier and I can perform to a higher level. In the medium term my goal is to run a full marathon before my 40th birthday; and in the longer term, I want to live full life and be around to see my son graduate from university.

I have learned that it is only when we are pushed to the edge of a cliff that we are forced to change. It is only after knowing failure that we can decide on what needs to be changed in order to win. For me my father’s heart attack and what I was told by my grandfather were a stark warning. I am now determined to take control of my own destiny by changing the things I need to change now.

Fat before fit. Drunk before sober. Unhappy before happy. It seems like that we have to fail before we win.

My First Half Marathon

Against all the odds at Angkor Wat – My first half-marathon

“Our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in rising every time we fall.”
Confucius – More than 2000 years ago.

Today marked a major milestone in my journey towards running a full-marathon. I just

Nick before the start of the 21km race

completed my first ever half-marathon in a time of two hours, six minutes and 46 seconds at

Angkor Wat in Cambodia. This was massive achievement for me because six years ago I was told I would never be able to run again.

In 2007 my life was turned upside down. While playing squash one morning in London my

Nick overweight with his leg in cast in London in 2007

Achilles tendon snapped. While recovering, I went on a business trip where my tendon ruptured a second time. I had to undergo complicated surgery on my leg after which the doctors told me the earth shattering news. For the full story, see my recent blog post: ‘Learning to run again – 10 km closer to my marathon dream!

The years following the operation saw me pile on the pounds, and by 2010 I weighed 104kg. I began to use the fact my leg had been in plaster for two years as an excuse for my weight gain. I told myself that it was impossible to keep fit on crutches. I rarely managed to do any exercise, I had an unhealthy diet and I was spending too much time in the pub. Although I was desperate to get fit and to run again, I was making excuses. I kept telling myself I would start tomorrow, but tomorrow never arrived.

It was in December 2011 that I decided enough was enough. I attended a seminar in Ho Chi Minh City given by life coach Brian Tracy. He told me I needed to identify my life goals and to write these goals down. For me, health and fitness are a key part of life and I set myself a number of targets including quitting snuff (tobacco) – which I did in June this year – and getting my weight down to 80kg by Christmas. I hit the gym where I took up fitness walking. It was during these sessions I found I was actually able to run again for short periods.

In August this year I felt I was ready to take a serious step towards my ultimate dream and signed up for the Angkor Wat Half-Marathon. Today is 2 December and I have just completed the race! I had 14 weeks to prepare and identified five important steps I would have to take.

First I needed information. I wanted to know everything there was to know about fitness running. This was a new subject for me and I began to read books, websites and blogs. I also contacted personal trainers, attended running clinics and spoke to people who had run marathons. In his best-selling book ‘Good to Great’, Jim Collins tells us it is vital to identify what it is that holds us back and to knock these obstacles down. This was something I was going to need to work on.

I then wrote a detailed plan setting out precisely what I needed to do in order to accomplish my goal.

I needed to get organised. I had a limited number of weeks in which to prepare so I broke the time down into manageable chunks. I scheduled health checks and sought advice on how to improve my fitness. I started to run more often and work on building up my strength and stamina. I taught myself to properly stretch and warm up, worked on my posture, and made improvements to my diet.

I realised time management was going to be difficult as I am extremely busy in my role as General Director of Sophie Paris, a large fashion company in Vietnam. I also have a family and it was obviously important to set enough time aside for my wife and son, Percy.

My usual after work beer with colleagues was replaced by a session at the gym and I cut down the amount of time spent on the golf course. I love golf and it is an important part of my social life, but despite pressure from my golf buddies I only allowed myself one game each month.

I then took immediate action.

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” Lao-tzu, The Way of Lao-tzu – Chinese philosopher (604 BC – 531 BC)

Many people say they intend to lose weight one day, travel in another country or promise to give up smoking and join a gym. However, most fail to put those plans into action because making new commitments is hard. I took action by registering for the Angkor Wat Half-Marathon, buying a flight to Cambodia and booking a hotel. I also told my friends I was running so there would be no way to back out.

The final part of my plan was to make sure I stuck to it. This sounds obvious, but a necessary quality for achieving success in life is self-discipline. I discovered I could achieve this even if it did mean not being able to have a beer or a slice of cake at a friend’s birthday party, however tempting. As for training, I developed an all weather attitude and stuck to my schedule no matter what the conditions. During a trip to Thailand I completed a 12km run in a heavy storm. I was the only person on the rain-lashed beach and I was soaked to the skin. I loved it! I knew that the harder I tried, the better the rewards would be. No matter how difficult it got, I refused to give up. As Winston Churchill said: ‘If you are going through hell, keep going.’

Even though I am extremely proud of my achievements over the past year, I realise I will not reach my target weight of 80kg by the end of December. I have now set a more realistic target of Christmas 2013. Brian Tracy taught me there are no failed goals as long as you continue to work towards them with an adjusted deadline. But my most important goal of the year – running a half-marathon – was realised today.

Running the last km of the race

The race was 21km through the Cambodian jungle in conditions that made it feel like I was running in a steam room. For those who do not know Angkor Wat it is the largest Hindu temple complex on the planet. It was built around the beginning of the 12th century and is one of my favourite places in the world. I feel extremely privileged to have run my first ever half-marathon here.

My target for today had originally been to run the race in less than three hours. However, I decided to reduce this to two-and-a-half hours, a time I actually beat by nearly 25 minutes. I have the feeling I could have pushed myself a little harder and achieved a better time, but today was about completing the distance safely. Next time I will be faster.

I aim to complete a full marathon before my 40th birthday. This means I have two-and-a-half years to prepare. I will use the time to improve my self-discipline, train harder and work on a healthier lifestyle. At the moment I am exhausted and sore, but remain fully committed to my marathon dream. I have just put my name down for the SihanoukVille half-marathon in Cambodia on 10 March next year. My target is to break the two hour barrier. I know that this means shaving just seven minutes off today’s time, but I also realise this may be harder than it sounds!

I learned an important lesson today. Completing the distance was not simply about my physical fitness, but also my state of mind. It is possible for us to achieve almost anything in life when we put our minds to it. Although my journey has only just begun, I am thoroughly enjoying every step of it.

I have to admit that after crossing the finishing line today my body was screaming never again. I then reminded myself that the pain of finishing a race would be nothing compared to how I would feel about myself if I gave up. Rewards are far greater when they come after a struggle and the reward for my struggle is being able to run again. After all: “The thirst you feel in your throat and lungs will be gone minutes after the race is over. The pain in your legs within days, but the glory of your finish will last forever.”

 

After the finishing line