Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Most Beautiful Thing...

It was a drab rainy afternoon on April 2nd this year and I was half asleep on the shuttle bus ride back home from work when my Blackberry pinged.

It was an email from my friend Nick Price who attached a New York Times article that wrote about the death of Micah True aka Caballo Blanco; an advocate of the ultra marathon running lifestyle and for Tarahumara Indians of Mexico (dubbed the running people). Caballo Blanco was made famous by the best selling book Born to Run by Christopher McDougall:

The emails (actual email exchange) that followed between Nick, myself and our friend Matt went something like this:

Nick:       “Sh*t. Gutted. We now need to do KK in honour of something.”
Me:         “ and naked..” ( at this point I was referencing the Book by Christopher McDougall Born to Run)
Nick:       “ In”
Me:         “Done then..race is Sept 15th enough to get my fat lazy ass in shape. Let's do this...”
Nick:       “I'm in Dude - 50km or 100km?”
Me:         “Your kidding on the 100 right??? 50km mate...need to consider altitude and terrain and the fact I'm not an "athlete"..
Nick:       “DO THE 100KM OR YOU GET RENAMED.”
Me:         [no response]
Nick:       “Sorry - all I heard was a 16yr old virgin whelping like his first night in Jail? 100KM - Do it.”

The subsequent 48 hours that followed I received a barrage of emails and SMS’s from Nick trying to convince me to sign up for the 100km TMBT Ultra. the messages ranged from inspirational words of achievement and once in a lifetime type stuff to obnoxious and berating remarks questioning my manhood and virility.

In the end I succumbed to Nick’s relentless badgering.

In my mind I was convinced I could do the 50km as I have run a few marathons over the past few years. I’m not a long distance runner by any means however I had run the Great Wall Marathon in China in 2008 and 2009 and the Standard Charter Marathon in Singapore. That said Nick was insistent that I sign up for the 100km. He was so persistent that he actually turned up to my office so he could watch over as I clicked on the 100km option and I entered in my credit card number. In fact I think he actually pressed the “send” button for me.

And so the long journey of training for my first Ultra Marathon began. However over the next few months my schedule at work got extremely busy and with that so did my travel. I believe over the course of two months I had traveled to the US (twice), Australia, Kazakhstan, China, Hong Kong, Malaysia, Thailand and a few of those countries more than once.

With all this travel I had the rare and fun opportunity to run roads and trails all over the world. There is nothing like doing a training run through the botanical gardens in Sydney and ending up at the Opera House or running the desolate streets in Aktau, Kazakhstan or doing hill workouts on the trails and mountain passes in California and Hong Kong. But having said all that, all the travel proved too difficult for me to get the distance and hours in to train properly for a 100km Ultra marathon. That is when I contacted the organizers of the TMBT and requested to downgrade from the 100km to the 50km.

I held no expectations for the race as the longest competitive trail run that I participated in was the Solomon 10km in Singapore. But that said, unlike other races that I had trained for, I was pretty confident that the time and effort that I had put in would get me to the finish line. This was due in most part to my training partner and running mate Jennifer Celesia. I’ve trained with Jennifer in the past. We both ran the Great Wall Marathon together in 2009 and she’s a strong and disciplined runner. In fact, her nickname is the “Metronome” because she holds a strong consistent pace for the duration of any long distance run. She is and was the perfect training partner for someone undisciplined like myself.

The Race:

The night before the race at the pre-race review, the heavens opened up. Raindrops the size of small animals battered the rooftop of the hall we were in and it sounded like a firework extravaganza on the 7th night of a Chinese New Year celebration dubbed over a Jamaican Steel Drum convention. You could see all the runners look at one another then crack a smile that read more like “Oh Sh*t” rather than a sign of happiness.

Lucky for us the rains subsided the day of the race and it actually turned out to be perfect conditions for a long run. Slightly overcast, cool and a little bit windy.

The proverbial gun went off at 7:30 am sharp and off we were on our first Ultra. Our friends Nick and Jerome took off so fast, I thought they were hiding from their ex-girlfriends. Unlike the Marathon’s and other races I’ve run in the past I was not able to get into a groove for longer than 20 minutes. The terrain kept changing from insanely steep vertical climbs to ridiculous and sometimes dangerous descents. It was difficult to get into any type of sustained rhythm. (If I decide to ever do this again, I will definitely have to incorporate more hikes in my training).

The course consisted of running through local neighborhoods, scenic farmland (I’ve never run on a trail made of cabbage until this race) and the varied terrain at the base of Mount Kota Kinabalu. All the while, the Beast (that’s the name I gave the peaks of Mt. Kota Kinabalu) had it’s ominous presence in the background of the trails no matter what direction or distance I was in on the race.

Around 17km into the race (around WS#3) I actually considered pulling out of the race. My Achilles (which I had injured n 2008 in the form of a full rupture) was bothering me. The pain was so intense, I wanted throw in the towels and call for a ride back. That’s when the “Metronome” did her thing.

Training for months with Jennifer, she knew how my demented mind works. By simply accepting my proposal to quit and actually encouraging me to do so made me more inclined to complete the race. The fact that she had an extra pill of Ibuprofen also helped.

At 38km into the race we reached WS#4 where we were greeted with cheers and warm smiles from my beautiful wife Christina and Jennifer’s lovely mother Marsha. After a quick sign in, medical check up (on my Achilles) we hydrated as best we could with water and electrolytes and we were off and running again.

With only 12km to go, both Jennifer and I could taste the finish line. Little did we know that this was Klaus’s (the race course architect) evil little joke. For the next 10km we ascended over 1000 meters. The moment we started climbing we never stopped! With every bend and every turn we desperately looked for anything that resembled a flat surface. Nothing! Nothing until WS #5 where we sat down looked back at the trail raised our fists and cursed Klaus ( in jest of course).

At this point we were joined up with another running mate Thomas Leoung. Jennifer asked the volunteers at the water station how much further and he said “ 5km left”. With that in mind, we lifted our tired asses of the cots and trotted off like a couple of battered and injured warriors. As we descended, we ran into an older man that was out for a jog and he yelled out to us “only 2 km left”! with that we both looked at each other and our pace became a little lighter and a litter faster.

When we hit the last 200 meters there was slight ascent and Jenn says to me” let’s finish strong”. She quickened her pace uphill and I followed. As I did, my hamstring cramped. I slowed to a walk and Jenn pushed me again. I looked at her with disdain and in my head I said “you’re such a witch” (actually the word I used started with a “B” instead of a “W”) but I meant it in an endearing way that one does when their entire body is in pain and the muscles in your legs are screaming for relief.

There were children at the top of the small hill cheering and as we turned right we saw the Finish Line banner. We ran in with Christina, Marsha and our friend Kevin and Nick cheering us on. the unofficial result was that Jennifer came in 3th in the women’s group I finished 13th in the men’s group.

The entire experience was an amazing one of which I now can check off my bucket list. I was exhausted and tired and I was glad it was all over. As I sat there relishing in what we accomplished I watched the 100km runners eat, rest and prepare for the next half of the race. I could not even begin to get my head around what arduous task they were about to undertake.

We sat there and congratulated one another and as each racer trickled in we would give the “good job head nod” and provided well wishes to the 100km racers heading out. My thoughts and prayers went with them but for only a second because the next step for me was the Karaoke Room at the Hotel and bottle of Champagne.

As we sipped champagne, sang (badly from terrible song list), and swapped war stories with other runners, my mind wandered off and started thinking about the next Ultra….until next time.

Happy Trails…..

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

It's been such a long time that written anything and so much time has past and so much stuff has happened that I think that I've been a victim of the 3 Ps (Procrastination which leads to Panic which eventually Putting things off). Today is the first day that I've literally done nothing and this is due to fact that it takes a long time to coordinate manual labor in Singapore that I've literally sat on my ass all day waiting for a plumber that never came. So with this time, I write.....

Monday, February 15, 2010

Architecture and Cake

I’ve always likened being an Architect to that of being a Chef. In fact, a few years back the CNN Money did an article called “Big Jobs That Pay Badly” and the number two job with that honor was being a Architect. The Number Three was, you guessed it, being a Chef. Being a Archeologist secured the number one position but that said, Archeologists do get to travel to exotic places and are able to get a pretty kick ass tan in the great outdoors.

The similarities of being an Architect or Chef don’t stop at a “big job” title, long hours and pennies for a salary. Chefs like Architects are in seen as soothsayers in an age-old enigmatic occupation at the crossroads of the practical and the ethereal. We are perceived of being visionaries blessed with a god given gift of coaxing beauty out of everyday banal items like flour and concrete.

I’ve always believed what makes a good Architect are he same qualities that make a good Chef. The first, foremost and most obvious is creativity as food and buildings would really mean nothing if both were approached with the intent to simply sustain. But as I mentioned, this is obvious (this is why we get paid the big bucks right?...right).

The thing that I really believe separate great Architects and Chefs from the mediocre ones is a complete understanding of the materials that are used in their craft. A Chef that knows the flavors of certain spices and foods and understands what combination works best together is like an Architect that knows how certain materials come together in the most efficient, cost effective, and aesthetically pleasing manner. If one has a comprehensive and complete understanding of the materials of their trades, being creative becomes natural. I’ve watched my wife, who is amazing in the kitchen, whip up an amazing gourmet meal with day old rice, an egg, scraps of vegetables and some left over Indian meal ever.

My point in all this, like the rest of my blogs, brings me back to China. Architecture and Pastries suck ass in China and I attribute it all to everything that I previously just wrote about; a lack of an understanding of the materials that they are working with. I write this, however, with one big fat caveat and that is Chinese Food (non baked goods) in Mainland China are amazing. I mean truly amazing but I guess after 5000 years of roasting a duck or making dumplings you have to get it right at some point. My qualm is with Chinese pastries and baked goods. It’s a lot like the architecture here. It looks great (that’s subjective), very ostentatious, lots of flash but absolute crap.

The Breads and Cakes here are airy and dry and taste like cardboard. Knowing what has happened the past few years I would be surprised if cardboard was a main ingredient. Other pastries are just as bad or even worse and don’t get me started about anything with icing or frosting. It tastes like someone melted wax candles added synthetic sugar and food coloring and plopped it over a warm cardboard box.

The Construction of Chinese buildings is just as bad. My first year and a half I did construction administration for the headquarters campus for an International company. What I saw on site blew my mind. Construction workers hanging fire sprinkler heads with used plastic bags, left over bathroom tile and cardboard scraps to shim up $1000 dollar German light fixtures, fire hydrants that were buried in the sidewalk that the fire dept couldn’t access them, the list is endless.

Like their cakes, Chinese architecture aims to please the opening day photo shoot. Once that’s done, all you’re left with is airy cardboard cakes and buildings. That said, the Chefs and Architects in China actually do make money.

Captain Amazing

We all have met “that guy" or "that girl" once or even a couple of times in our lives. You know the one, Captain Amazing, the guy (I’m using the male gender from this point on but I do acknowledge that there are “amazing” women out there as well) that everyone wishes they were like. The guy that is not only good looking but also extremely humble, athletic, super fit, intelligent, a great cook, sews his own cloths (sometimes), passionate, dedicated, has about 2% body fat, wants to save the earth and all the cute puppies and kittens in it, tall, blah..blah…blah.....did I mentioned good looking and saving puppies and kittens yet? You get my point. Well I’m serious about all of it (I exaggerated a bit about the puppies and kittens but it wouldn’t surprise me if that was in his life agenda as well).

This is my friend Ryan. Ryan is a young “kid” (anyone under 30 is a young kid to me now) from Chicago that I’ve had the pleasure to meet here in Shanghai and has become a close friend. He never ceases to amaze me. In fact, he amazes everyone he meets hence the name Captain Amazing (another alias was Mr. Fantastic but Marvel Comics currently has the rights to that one). On paper the kid is almost perfect. His dad was a High school athletic coach and his mother a Home EC teacher. So that helps explain a lot.

Tell him you care about the planet and he’ll give you a point-by-point directive on the initiatives and programs that he has developed and implemented (in China). Cook dinner for him and he’ll tell you where you can procure the freshest and most sustainable ingredients in China, India or wherever on the globe. Name a sport and he’ll kick your ass in it.

The first time he ever ran a Marathon he came in fifth. When I trained for the Great Wall Marathon he trained with us and carried food and water for everyone during our long runs. Ryan couldn’t make the race because he had to go back to the States for his sister’s wedding but he still ran 26 miles the day of his sister wedding in honor of us that were racing that day.

He’s a vegetarian (which is tough to do in China) but eats fish. That said, the fish he eats has to comply with a specific criteria on which is detailed on a laminated card he carries in his wallet about how the fish are caught or farmed.

Even as a professional this kid is changing the landscape of Architecture and design in China. He is single handedly helping develop and run GIGA-China, which is a sustainability website to edify Chinese designers on sustainability and provide a resource so they can start designing and building more responsibly.

Anyway, the point of all this is that I think we all strive to be our own Captain Amazing, however, watching Ryan it seems awfully exhausting to consistently maintain this level. So I had conversation with Captain Amazing the other day about this after our swimming session (did I mentioned that he is coaching me on how to be a better swimmer??...kid swims like a frickin’ fish. Oh yeah I forgot to mention that he’s a Tri-athlete as wall...geezzues..I’m having self esteem issues as I write this). Anyway, after he kicked my ass in the pool as usual, I asked him if he always has to be so intense. He then proceeded to tell me that he didn’t think he was intense but rather:

“…just striving to achieve all the goals that I set for himself.”

I responded:

“yes, I get that, we all have goals but most people’s goals in a year are the same amount that you set in a week!”

He then said ..

” well, I don’t what to just perform to the lowest common denominator”.

Geez, overachieving young kids these days. Makes me feel terrible that at his age all I was doing was chasing skirts and drinking beer…

I then explained to him my philosophy of performing at a “B-Level”. This is something they teach first year MBA students (I have no credibility in this area as I did not go to Grad school in Business but this is what I’ve been told).

I explained that performing at “B-Level” means doing everything about 80%. What this essentially means is that, in any given situation you will perform at a level better than most, however, still have room to grow or improve. It’s a win-win situation because not only are you still better than most but whoever is on the receiving end, whether it be your boss, girlfriend, etc.. sees improvement in which they feel that they have contributed too. As I said, win-win with less effort.

“You see, I explained, life is a dance, a dance between the auras of two entities in which both entities must be relevant. If one completely dominates the dance, then there is no need for the other, which then collapses the relationship. Not good. The other issue was that if you perform with 100% effort 100% of the time, then the only direction you can go is down...that, or simply burn out.”

He looked at me quizzically and said nothing but I know his silence was saying,

“…shit, I never thought of it that way. What the fuck have I been dong all these years”.

…or NOT

See....there is something redeeming about being a little bit of a slacker and not just a Captain Amazing.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

5-Cent Architecture

We’ve all heard of the rapper 50-cent right? Well have you heard of the 5-cent Architect? There is an article that I read in the New York Times that is so telling of the economic times we are in. I know everyone and every industry is going through this tough time, however, I can only speak personally of my industry, as this is what I have seen and experienced.

Who knows, this could be the beginning of something wonderful and exciting….stay tuned…

Faster, Stronger, Higher.....

Ironically I’ve had all the time in the world to write and update my blog yet I have not posted anything in months. In the past months so many events, situations, issues have come to fruition that I have been overwhelmed with shit to write about that it simply paralyzed me. So where do I begin?

Well I guess the most logical place to begin would be with current events and the one that is on the tip of everyone’s tongues is the Google vs. China ordeal. In my biased opinion, based on living and working in China the last 2 and a half years, Google should cut their losses and get the fuck out, and quick!

The Chinese, especially members of the confused Communist Party, are so fickle with their policy that they have a shit load of laws on the books that they simple pick and choose which ones to enforce depending on their mood (and they usually pick the laws that give foreign companies grief and put them in a good mood).

Google is a multibillion-dollar company and if they went through just a small fraction of what my wife and I had to go through working with Chinese clients and Government officials, I’m sure they are well aware of the lack of integrity and conscience these people have. I have never worked with a group of people so shifty and self serving in my life! This is a cynical view and a huge generalization (I should not generalize about an entire culture however I believe there is no guide to wisdom without generalizations- I’ll explain this thought another time).

China is using the brute force of shear numbers (it’s unofficial population is closer to 2 billion rather than the documented 1.3 billion people) to muscle its way into a strong global position. There are several problems with that. Yes, you can push people out of the way with shear force but once you get into the front of the line, but can you lead? Then there is the question of muscle and money behind the power. The old adage of “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t force him to drink”. China is a nation of farmers and laborers. Once China gets to the front of the line it will need to start innovating. Unfortunately the muscle of this country is not in innovation but hard labor and imitation. What happens then?

If Google leaves, yes some Chinese company will simply fill the gap and fill the immediate need for a search engine. They will most likely imitate Google’s business paradigm and do nothing more than that, copy it. Google, on the other hand, was innovating the web beyond simply being a portal to information.

The other benefit that Google has is that it owns the world’s market share in this business model. Baidu, Google’s Chinese counterpart, dominates the local Chinese market controlling over 63% yet it has no presence globally. If China is truly to be the force it wants to be it will need to comply with Global standards, meaning English, credible information and no censorship. Not only that but it will also have to somehow have to rid itself of the stigma of rampant plagiarism and imitation. No easy task.

So I say as I said before....Google get the fuck out! Trust me you’ll be back…faster, stronger, higher…

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

game...set ...match

Shanghai…..I swear you have to love this town. There are so many things that I have not had the opportunity to do while living in the States due to lack of time and convenience. One of them is play tennis. Well, after about 12 plus years I was invited by the CEO of Haworth to the inaugural ATP Tennis Tournament and to their annual tennis clinic at the Shanghai International Tennis Training Center.

It was here that I got to play with some serious heavy hitters, not tennis players but captains of industry! The CEO of Pepsi, Ford, Pricewater House Cooper, etc…. (see attached photo). A couple of players that were decent but for the most part most of them were mediocre. With that, I got a standing invitation from the CEO of Pepsi to start playing with his group.

Who knows, I might be peddling soda pop by the end of the year…