“One more time”

“Have you ever sailed across an ocean Donald?

On a sail boat surrounded by sea with no land in sight. Without even the possibility of sighting land for days to come. To stand at the helm of your destiny.

I want that, one more time.

I want to be in the Piazza Del Campo in Sienna. To feel the surge as ten race horses go thundering by.

I want another meal in Paris, at L’Ambroisie in the Place Des Vosges.

I want another bottle of wine. And then another.

I want the warmth of a woman in a cool set of sheets.

One more night of Jazz at the Vanguard.

I want to stand on summits and smoke cubans and feel the sun on my face for as long as I can.

Walk on the wall again.

Climb the tower.

Ride the river.

Stare at the frescoes.

I want to sit in the garden and read one more good book.

Most of all I want to sleep. I want to sleep like I slept when I was a boy.

Give me that.

Just one time.

That’s why I won’t allow that punk out there to get the best of me. Let alone the last of me.”


Raymond “Red” Reddington (James Spader) Monologue from The Blacklist S01E09 (2013)

written by Jon Bokenkamp, Joe Carnahan, Jason George       


IMSA 2014

Race registration at the tenth addition of IMSA was slick and the expo has doubled in size. In spite of adding 500 entries the racking procedure and pre-race formalities were all conducted professionally and with minimal drama. I decided to be a scavenger. I would take advantage of all of the sponsored food and drink on the IM route. I racked without gels, water bottles etc. Cleats without socks to be put on the bike in the morning, a long-sleeved top to put on after the swim, my helmet and race number, shoes with socks rolled into them and a cap.


In preparation for the race I swam occasionally on Friday mornings. I didn’t go out on the road on my bike, all biking was indoors on my trainer and never for longer than an hour. I ran 10 km a few times. After I put my kit into transition I reflected on this. I have wrestled with writing this down a few times since the race. I don’t want to disrespect the athletes that trained like daemons and had bad luck on the weekend. I can’t explain my race without writing it though. Things that I thought while walking through transition were that I had to show urgency in transition, I want a total transition time less than 8 minutes. Stay down in aero position on the bike, particularly on the gradual inclines. Do not walk on the run. And most of all do not disrespect the race or the distance.

The 3,8 km swim has in the past been two laps of 1,9 km with a run around the beach. This year it was one lap. The water was calm. I made my way across to the beach in time to see the professional race start at 06h30. The Sensei and I watched the pro’s smash through the surf just as the sun started coming up. It was going to be a great day. I crossed the mat in 01:10:53. I don’t draft and there is a sense of getting the job done when I swim out in the open for an hour. I thought about Del (my wife). She taught me to swim in 2009. I am not saying that I would have drowned before but by comparison my first 1000 m open water swim took me an hour to complete. I also reminded myself, more than once, how lucky I was to be able to compete in an event like Iron Man. It is easy to get distracted by nerves and the hype of the weekend but to have the health and physical ability to compete is a gift. 3:45 through T1 and handily there was an aid station at the start of the bike to get water to wash away the salt.

My bike strategy was to make maximum use of the downhill parts of the added coarse. The volunteers on this race are champions. They stand out in the sun for hours holding out bottles, packets and cups and for the most part are barely acknowledged. I tried to shout thank you to all of them. My first lap was just on 3 hours and I saw Del and Caleb as I went past the Humewood Hotel. It was worth an extra 10km per hour. The wind steadily picked up and with 40km to go it was a stiff headwind. The second lap 3h41 equaled a bike split of 06:41:19.

Transition 2 was 2:57 making my total transition time 6:42. My first kilometer went perfectly at 5:48. My plan was to run 6m/km for a 4h30 marathon. That was the last time I would see a sub 6min km until the 42nd km over 5 hours later. The highlight of my run was getting to the first turnaround and seeing Del with Caleb in her arms, him looking like a meerkat at all of the action. My slowest kilometer was an 8:44 for number 21 at the left turn to the entrance to the University. It shows what a mind game this run is. I averaged 7:18 for the 42.2km for a 05:12:52 marathon. Total time 13:11:46.


Looking at the data from my HR monitor my average heart rate was 140 bpm and didn’t go higher than 158. Thinking about the race from the comfort of my swivel chair I could have run sub 5 hours if I had run with more purpose on the first lap. I know that the difference between running a 4h00 and a 5h00 marathon is 70 places in my age group. I finished 125th in the 30-34 category and with a 4hr marathon (11:56:00) that would be 55th. For reference 1st placed was 9:23:16 and 8th place was 10:02:23. In the next category (35-39) 8th place was 10:28:31 by my friend Joaquin Valverde. In the next category (40-44) 8th place was 10:40:03 the Sensei narrowly missing out on a Kona slot coming in 11th.

I have a persistent feeling that I cheated somehow because I didn’t put in the hours of training. It feels like I have been picked for the team because I look like the guy that scored the winning goal in the last game. Redemption? 27 July 2014. We are going to Canada for a wedding and I have entered Iron Man Canada in Whistler. I have 3 months to become a running machine. (I’ll be back….)


14 March – For Del

Good afternoon and thank you to all of you that have made it to the church today.

Today is a significant day.  It is a very mathematical and symmetrical day. The 14th of March, written as 3.14, is national Pi day since 3, 1, and 4 are the three most significant digits of π in the decimal form (3,1415….). It is also Albert Einstein’s birthday, so a good day for the celebration of Mathematics.  On the subject of symmetry the 14th of March is White Day in China and Japan. It is one month from Valentines Day, 14 February, and is an opportunity for the men who have received valentine gifts from a woman to give a gift to them in return. It is called White day because the company in Japan that came up with the idea made white chocolate and marshmallows.

Today, one year ago, I found myself taking far more note of mathematics as I furiously researched percentages and statistics and anything else that I could find about breast cancer. It was a Thursday. We would not be able to see a specialist until Monday the 18th. It was the longest weekend of my life. Del and I have to have information. In both of our careers we have made a living by taking big problems and breaking them up into manageable pieces, then taking the manageable pieces apart to label and categorize them. We are problem solvers. We speculated and hypothesized all weekend. I remember joking with her that she had finally won the argument, the subject being plastic surgery.

Today, I reflect on the plan. After getting as much information as the doctors were able to give us before our brains exploded we had a plan. The doctors recommended an aggressive course of treatment involving chemotherapy, surgery and radiation. It was medically logical but given that it would take a number of months it lacked the specifics that I wanted. Initially I thought that this was because the medical profession is as scarred of being sued as the rest of us. I found out, slowly, that it was actually because they didn’t know. How could you know exactly what the chemicals would do to a human body? How can you tell the exact size or complexity of a tumor when it is hidden in healthy tissue? Most importantly how will your patient react?

Shortly after we got our medical plan, we realized that we needed a bigger plan. Cancer is known medically as malignant neoplasia, and it is a broad group of diseases involving unregulated cell growth in which cells divide and grow uncontrollably, forming malignant tumors, which may invade nearby parts of the body.  Cancer is also fear. And fear breed’s anger and despair and self-pity. Our plan involved not being afraid, even when we were, staying positive no matter what happened and putting our faith in God. Everyday was a beautiful day to fight cancer.

Today, one year later, we have invited all of you to come here to say thank you with us. We thank God, in our church, together with our friends and family that Del is cancer free. I am standing a meter away from where Del and I got married. Another meter away from where Caleb was baptized. It is a humbling experience to stand here and say thank you.

We would like to thank you, our friends and family, for your support and encouragement.

Thank you for bringing dinner on red chemo days.

Thank you for taking Caleb for an afternoon.

Thank you for shaving your head.

Thank you for morning motivation.

Thank you for the free haircuts.

Thank you for judging us, it reminded us to fight harder.

Thank you for taking Caleb swimming.

Thank you for praying for us.

Thank you for praying with us.

Thank you for liking Del’s facebook posts.

Thank you for giving me time to be with Del.

Thank you for toasted chicken mayonnaise.

Thank you for staying up late to skype with us.

Thank you for waking up early to skype with us.

Thank you for crying.

Thank you for not crying.

Thank you for letting us talk about cancer.

Thank you for not asking us to tell you about cancer.

Thank you for visiting.

Thank you for phoning, texting, or just thinking about us.

Thank you.

Thank you.


Midnight, a wet foot and a promise

My son, Caleb, is learning to speak. I am sure that every parent thinks that their child is a baby genius and some get quite insufferable about it, so I promise that I won’t.

This weekend he started saying “mommy” and “daddy”.  It was fantastic. There was even the sitcom moment when he pointed at me, shook his head carefully, pointed at the door and said: “mommy? “.  He also started laughing his head off when he saw my expression.

On Saturday evening he woke up a few hours after going to sleep and started complaining. I went up to his room to check on him and had just crept in when he called “daddy?”  I usually flip him onto his back, because when he wakes up he stands in the cot, and walk out of the room. But he said Daddy! I picked him up and sat down on the chair next to his bed and we chatted about sleep, the quality of the milk these days and just what a debacle the Oscar Pistorius trial is. He fell asleep quickly.

I have read, not that I can find a reference even with the mighty Google, that some ancient civilizations did not consider a child to be human until the child could speak. I will admit to having been frustrated with Caleb in the last few weeks. I can see, in his expression and way that he reacts, that he understands what I am telling him but he can’t tell me what he is thinking. This has led to some epic tantrums. Caleb has also got quite upset.

Last night, well after midnight, he woke up. Usually, if he wakes up in the night, he will cry a bit and roll around in his cot until he settles down and goes back to sleep. There is no need to go and check on him. That was before he started yelling daddy! I heard his first cry, like a question:  “daddy?“ Then the next a bit louder, an exclamation, and finally there was no option but to go and check.

I usually do the dad stuff with a mix of dutifulness and apprehension. I get a lot of it wrong but I like to believe that I learn quickly and try not to repeat any of the mistakes that I have made. I am sure that Caleb will figure out how to manipulate his mom and I into getting his way and this is only the beginning. As I walked back to bed, tripping over one of our dogs and putting my foot into his water bowl, I saw my parents in a different light. Perhaps this is one of the lessons of becoming a parent? You are able to identify with your own parents on a level that you had previously not understood.

I lay in bed, basking in the euphoria of being needed by this little person and knowing just how implicitly he trusted me. He knew that I would come if he called out to me. Caleb doesn’t understand “disappointed” or “compromise” or “priority”. I would love to wrap him in cotton wool and keep it that way. I write this down so that I can remember the feeling. So that in a few years when a meeting runs over or I am stuck at an airport in Timbuktu I can remind myself that it isn’t difficult to be somebody’s hero.


Great is not perfect

Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them. William Shakespeare in Twelfth Night, 1602.

Perfect is the enemy of good. Voltaire in La Bégueule, 1772. 

Good is the enemy of great. Jim Collins in Good to Great, 2001.

If something is worth doing at all, sometimes it’s worth doing it half-assed. Ray Bennett in The Underachiever’s Manifesto, 2006

How do I achieve greatness? Mr Bennett asks whether the consequence of pursuing greatness is in fact worth the effort? I have a collection of philosophy, psychology and economics books that are unanamous in the  notion that to achieve great things you are required to persistently work hard, and in many cases have some luck! How much work? How can you be sure that your hard work is correctly directed? Gary Player used to say that the harder he worked, the luckier he got. So is hard work the answer?
The Pareto principle, named after the Italian economist, explains that it usually takes 20% of the total time to complete 80% of a task while to complete the last 20% of a task takes 80% of the effort.  To achieve perfection may not be possible and so, as increasing effort results in diminishing returns, further activity becomes increasingly inefficient.
In his book Bennett says that we are bombarded with messages telling us to be the best that we can be. He points out for example that a stellar career is often coupled with a disastrous marriage and that many talented, hard-working people do not look after their physical wellbeing and suffer strokes, heart attacks or are overweight. He points out that runners suffer injury because rather than enjoy the occasional 10km run they attempt to run marathons, keeping up with peers in the running club or being brow beaten into taking on a bigger challenge. The theme of his book is that everything can be enjoyed, in moderation.
Jim Collins, when asked what his research suggested about the best way to respond to the  global economic slowdown, said that if he were running a company today his single priority would be to acquire as many of the best people as he could. He said this on the basis that he thought the economy would improve and so anticipated that the single biggest constraint to the success of his organisation would be the ability to attract and retain enough of the right people.
In order to meet Mr. Collins definition of one of these “right” people, keeping the Pareto principle in mind, we must find the balance  between being effective, efficient and healthy without becoming obsessive or blunted by the illusionary ideal of perfection. It is therefore permissible to fail. The data that we accumulate from this failure must be assimilated into a lesson that we can use to improve our future performance. We must be bold and constantly test our theories in spite of the possibility that they will fail in order to make progress.
And there you have it. I wrote a whole paragraph that could be used in one of the business books that I have read. There are logical inferences, authoritative sources and the motivational message that it is ok not to succeed as long as you learn from your mistakes and you don’t give up.  And when you have finished reading it the words are so generic and overused that you have forgotten the paragraph before you turn the page. True? Perhaps the  inspiration to greatness is not exclusively an intellectual pursuit?
In 1976 Niki Lauda and James Hunt fought for the Formula One World Championship Title. Lauda, in his Ferrari, was  ahead in the championship but Hunt, in the McLaren, was on his heels.  At the German Grand Prix Lauda lost control of his Ferrari and after hitting an embankment the car burst into flames and rolled back onto the track where he was trapped in the flaming wreckage. Lauda was wearing a modified helmet, the foam had compressed and it slid off his head after the accident, leaving his face exposed to the fire. As a result he suffered severe burns to his head and inhaled superheated toxic gases that damaged his lungs and blood.

42 days after this ordeal he got back into his Ferrari for the Italian GP at Monza. He raced because it was his job. He raced because his team had hired a driver to replace him before he had even reached the hospital. He raced because when nobody would hire him he had taken out a 30,000 pound loan and bought his way into a team by backing his own ability to win. He raced because while lying in hospital, having skin grafts and limiting his reconstructive surgery to the functioning of his eyelids, he saw his rival win in his absence. He got back into that car and he raced.

Ron Howard has made an epic movie called “Rush” that tells this story, much better than I am able to write it. I quote some of the dialog below :

You know, in hospital, the toughest part of my treatment was the vacuum. Pumping the shit out of my lungs. It was hell. And while doing it, I was watching television. You winning all my points. ‘That bastard Hunt,’ I would say. ‘I hate that guy.’ And then one day, the doctor came and said, ‘Mr. Lauda, may I offer a piece of advice? Stop thinking of it as a curse to have been given an enemy in life. It can be a blessing, too. A wise man gets more from his enemies than a fool from his friends.’ And you know what? He was right. Look at us. …. we’re both champions of the world. It was not bad, huh?

Greatness is preparation, intelligence, percistence and some luck. It is also passion, self-belief and often, bloody mindedness. There is no formula or secret recipe. The oldest of the quotes is from 1602 and perhaps it is the most true. We can do great things by taking the responsibility of fulfilling a path that has been destined for us. We can do great things by pursuing our dreams in the face of adversity. We can do great things. We can all do great things.

Undertrained and overweight : Prestige 2014

These are the words of Bruce Fordyce, said in response to a question when asked how to approach the running of that famous ultra marathon in KwaZulu-Natal.  Ironman South Africa (or IMSA for those in the lycra) is only a few weeks away. The serious athlete is thinking about starting to taper, or at a minimum doing shorter, sharpening sessions to prepare for the race, having done the long base sessions early on. This I am told, because in my current form the only serious thing about my preparation for IMSA is the money that my physiotherapist has just made trying to fix my neck after a small race this weekend past.

In tribute to my friend and sensei Robbie Ric, who had a fantastic race – 3rd in his category and 8th overall, I will style the rest of this blog as a race report. Before I start though, I do want to get something off my chest.

Dear Triathlon South Africa – In 2012 I witnessed the spat, that played out on the tailgate of a Hilux bakkie, between the organiser and your representative. It was embarrassing and more to the point we didn’t care about your squabbles, particularly as we were lined up to start swimming in a river that needs no further polluting with senseless cr.. e-coli. This year the denizens at TSA decided to withdraw their sacred sanction of the Prestige event on what, it seemed from the correspondence were safety concerns.

Safety concerns! In October last year, at the Joburg City Triathlon in Germiston, only dumb luck and the grace of God prevented death and dismemberment of the competing triathletes. Inadequately marshalled intersections and ill conceived course layout being two of the primary villains, terribly behaved Gauteng motorists making up for the rest. The Prestige, held in Abrahamsrust, had a caution on the bike route due to a section of roadworks that necessitated slowing down and obeying marshals orders for 20 meters. I detect a double standard. I don’t want to judge without all of the facts so have sent the Central Gauteng Triathlon secretary an email asking for clarification. Yes, I know….

Prestige is a half iron man distance race. 1.9km swim, 85km bike and a 21km run. The race briefing is always a nervous time. Adrenaline, confusion, anticipation and if you are the nervous type, urine. The race marshall encouraged people not to drink the Vaal river water, that had been polluted just a fraction more by the supporters of the Lions Rugby team after their team had managed a win and beer had flowed through Gauteng and its stalwart inhabitants, down the river, the evening before. The water was warm. Too warm. The double lap to the bridge, round back to the start and then out at the transition area was downstream to start and upstream to finish. I demonstrated my ineptitude at drafting stronger swimmers once again and ended up doing battle with submerged flora as I swam too near the bank. It was the first competitive swim in my new sleeveless wetsuit and I am going to need to test it in a dam a few more times to be totally comfortable with it.

Transition one was faster than normal, under a minute, and shedding the sleeveless wetsuit is far easier. I forgot to stop my watch, and only remembered to do so on the bike, out on the road up towards the highway. It registered 40 minutes. I rode competently to the turn around point, a good average speed and feeling strong. I even managed to put my race face on as I went past the supporters, of whom my wife was one, to start my second lap. I glanced down at my watch and saw, in horror, that I was 30 min off my 2012 time at the same point. Impossible. Was I really that poorly prepared? The second lap was harder. A few familiar faces (I will stick with faces..) went past me. I looked down at my watch again and saw, as I climbed the final hill towards the finish, that my bike time was over 3 hours. I will interject at this point with an explanation. Although I wish that I had figured it out then and not as I was downloading my race data on Monday! The multi-sport function on my watch adds the total time raced, including the swim and transition. I was therefore looking at my total race time and not my bike split. Idiot.

The second transition was as speedy as the first, under a minute, and I was out on the road for 21km of running in the Freestate heat. Plodding around a double loop half marathon at 7+min/km does afford one the time to contemplate all of the wasted training opportunities, bottles of wine and cheeseburgers. I had, by this point, reset my watch and it was accurately telling me what I had begun to suspect, it was going to be a longer day than I had anticipated. It was great to see the Bedfordview Triathlon squad out in newly minted trisuits representing the club so well. The run route takes the competitors around a quiet suburb and the marshals  were superb. It was a well organised race and compliments to Spectrum Sport for persisting with it, in the face of what seems to be a bullying administrative body.

The lesson. You should only take race advice from Bruce Fordyce if you are built like him. For me, make the most of the next few weeks! Or else: the 6th of April will to be a very long day indeed.


Writing and stuff …

I have read back through the blogs that I have written and I realise, with some alarm, but not surprise, that I am not as good at writing as I thought I was. I enjoy it, and for the most part I don’t inflict it on anyone else. The difficulty I suppose is that my brain gets in the way of most of what I write and it comes across as rather pompous or wordy. Turning to my great inspiration Mr. Hemingway I note that I break several of his rules.

I don’t write in pencil. I grew up in the age of computers with a dad that liked the idea of technological advancement. I learned to write on a PC. It was a 386 with a yellow  monochrome screen. The purpose of writing in pencil is so that you can transcribe it, and in doing so you might edit it. I type out my sentences and immediately start picking at them before they have even had a chance to form anything coherent. I chatted to an author the other day and he told me that he had written 4000 of his early draft words on his phone. He also admitted that the process of converting 10,000 words into something usable often means that over half of the words are edited out during the process.

Short sentences. I try to put a number of thoughts into a single sentence and my punctuation is suspect. My wife pointed out to me that I speak the same way. Polite society does not need another verbose windbag.

Analogies. I try to explain complicated theories that are batting around in head with simple comparisons. The problem is twofold. I usually try to make my analogous scenario fit into my theory and the analogy becomes more complex than the theory in the first place (sounded like it). I’m probably not that good at telling stories. It’s not that I don’t get there eventually, I just take a long time with all of the non essential detail.

I used to read back through what I had written and delete the blog post or saved file. I am able then, to keep lying to myself that I am a good writer. One day, given enough time to write, I will produce a masterpiece. It has occurred to me, watching my beloved Protea’s suffer humiliation at the hands of the Aussie “post-ashes” juggernaut, that life is a series of challenges and opportunities to learn. I will take the advice that I would give to Graham Smith tonight : Improve a small amount at a number of basic skills. Don’t give up. Believe in yourself.

So Graham, I won’t delete the nonsense I have written and use it instead to help me to improve my writing. You could do the same with the last three days of the test match and come out in the morning ready to do the impossible.

PS. Don’t let Warner get over 20….Please