The 10 indisputable rules of Kiddies Parties.

PartyHatKidsEvery time I am presented with a kiddie’s birthday party invite, I cringe. I immediately fabricate any number of seemingly plausible excuses, none deemed acceptable to management.

A recent Sunday afternoon party rates as one of the worst I have had the displeasure of attending with my two little princesses. I say princesses because I have learned from these parties that anything other than a boy is a princess. It is a fact that little boys become horrible monsters at birthday parties.

It is also a fact that kiddies’ birthday parties should be required to be a pleasurable experience for the hapless parents who are forced to attend. This was not the case on Sunday. It was a marathon affair complete with the scariest piñata I have ever witnessed. The best part of the afternoon, an afternoon I will never get back I might add, was the single warm beer I was offered. I assumed the defensive role of ‘strong and silent man’ for the duration of the miserable occasion.

What follows are 10 rules to create a successful party for both kids and adults alike, which should hopefully stand you in good stead to attain the title, ‘kiddies’ party of the year.’

Rule 1. The ONLY timeslot available for kiddies’ parties is a Saturday afternoon. That is it! No other time will be permissible. A Sunday afternoon party is the equivalent of a work strategy meeting held on a public holiday.

Rule 2. A maximum of two hours will be allowed for the party. Anything longer is just plain rude. My recommendation is two o’clock until four o’clock. Less than two hours is even better. Ladies, imagine a leg wax taking only ten minutes instead of 60 minutes. Point made?

SuperSport-logo-2010-asteroid-3DRule 3. A TV and the complete bouquet of sports channels are a non-negotiable. Dads do not know what to say to each other unless they can refer to the game on the screen. The larger the screen, and the greater the number of screens at the venue, the better. It’s the only activity that you can expect dads to have to participate in at the party.

Swimming parties for kids under eight who cannot swim are a no-no. The only dad who wants to remove any clothing at all is Tyrone’s dad, because he spends more time in the gym than he does posing in front of any mirror – but only marginally.

cold beerRule 4. Adult beverages shall be made available. Asking a bunch of sensible adults to engage in an often random and coerced setting can only be helped along with a slight application of social lubricant. Additionally you will notice that the amount of ‘whine’ you experience amongst the moms is in direct proportion to the amount wine you make available to them.

Rule 5. Parents also need to be fed. Please don’t assume that cheese curls are a ‘children only’ snack of preference. To ensure that the dads return next year, it is imperative that you serve bacon cheese bombs.

At this point you will notice that the first five rules are adult centric. I make reference to a popular restaurant chain aiming at the ‘parents with kiddies’ market: Spur. You might remember a number of years ago how the Spur franchises struggled. The reason was pretty obvious, the food was abysmal and therefore the parents boycotted the restaurants. Fortunately for Spur owners, the problem was identified in time. The solution, vastly improved cuisine ensuring the reappearance of the parents who in turn brought children by the minibus load. I mention this for two reasons, attract the adults and your little Rhayne will have plenty of other kids to play with at her party, and,

A kiddies party held at the local Spur is a fabulous option. Yes, you guessed it! Adult beverages, plenty of sport on the multiple screens, delicious snacks, an adequate supply of child minders, and cleaning up is not your problem. The winning formula right there.

16614472-group-of-adorable-kids-having-fun-at-birthday-partyRule 6. The age old law of birthday party reciprocity has resulted in a spiral of rampant madness wherein each mom does her level best to outdo all the other moms on the birthday circuit. Professional party orchestration has reached pandemic proportions. Whole empires have been built from the supply and sale of party goodies and décor. Notice I made use of the word ‘décor’ and not decoration. Entire houses and properties are transformed into themed mega-parties.

This is what I know about kids. Open a bag of marshmallows and cheese curls and spread them over your lawn, and you will have provided endless entertainment. Kids play. It’s what they do. Less is very often more. Please, for the love of money, resist the urge to splurge. Leave the education fund intact. Remember ‘pass the parcel’ and ‘pin the tail on the donkey’? They are both ripe for a come back.

Rule 7. Entertainment is not necessary, but if you insist please avoid the clown. Clowns are downright scary. The puppeteer is an option until Johnnie gets boisterous and pulls Pinocchio and the entire mini theater into the throng of sugar-high, excited children. I have also seen a complete farmyard in a garden the size of a squash court resulting in utter mayhem.

That particular day I witnessed a petrified bunny being petted by 14 sweaty little hands at the same time as Jared was trying to yank its ears off. Then there was the small matter of goat poo being trampled through the cream coloured carpets of the home and the Shetland pony grazing on the begonias. Why? Well because Suzy had the reptile demonstration for her party and Thandi’s mom wanted to go one bigger.

TheNaughtyKidsPhotographs10_010_thumbRule 8. Aahhh, the cake. George’s mom used the Bakery on Main Road, you know, that one with the in-house award winning cake decorator. You can’t let her upstage you now can you…

There is no greater joy for a kid than helping mom or dad make the cake and ice it. Besides, as soon as that sucker gets placed on the table it becomes a scramble to keep the little monsters away from it until: the candles have been lit and blown out for the third time because they keep going out, you’ve heard the world’s worst rendition of ‘Happy Birthday’, and Sipho has cut his cake. Nobody cares that it’s Ben 10 doing a batman impersonation.

Cake2

What follows is a scene which upon witnessing at your first kiddies birthday ‘experience’, you swear must be a once off manic attack launched upon the cake and then the cake upon the kids. Surely this can’t be considered normal behaviour. But it’s not a once off at all, it’s an enthralling display of total lack of both discipline and upbringing repeated at every party. Usually sparked by that one little brat that nobody wants at their parties but whose creators are on the parents committee.

Rule 9. Piñatas can be fun, no matter how ugly they are. But make sure the piñata contestants are able to destroy it in a suitable number of blows.

BIYidloCUAAs5keAn ugly Hillary Clinton lookalike piñata was gleefully presented by Emily’s dad at Sunday’s party. It had to be the most robust piñata I have ever seen. A myriad of dainty four and five year old princesses swatted ineffectually at it, each one swiping agonisingly close to the princess standing right behind her. Hillary showed comic resilience.

I almost launched an offensive at Emily’s dad when he allowed Josie’s big brother only 3 thwacks. You see Josie’s brother looked like he had the makings of a Springbok prop and delivered blows with appropriate proficiency.

Nevertheless, 367 powder-puff ‘blows’ later and the floor was strewn with sweets and goodies. At twenty past five on a Sunday evening I was grateful that I was dropping the princesses off in their mother’s care. A sugar induced rush can be as painful as an enema with oven cleaner.

Rule 10. Party packs are a stupid idea. Why do you have to give the attendees something to take home? You just gave them a party for crying out loud. But if you must, they need not be the size of a picnic hamper. It is not a competition to see how much junk you can fill it with either. Little plastic Chinese trinkets and doodahs are revolting vacuum cleaner cloggers and vehicle clutterers. They invade the smallest of spaces and are impossible to remove.

On the way home princess number one piped up from the backseat, “Daddy, I’m going to leave my party pack in your car for when we see you next time.” “No pumpkin” I replied, “I’m sure mommy would love to see what you got, take it in with you, I insist!”

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog, please feel free to share it. Collectively we can make the birthday circuit a bearable misery 🙂 You can find me on twitter @thewrightrich

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When English just isn’t English

78dfb96e26b22cb14d0473e10ade725cDo you wish to communicate effectively, to be understood ? Then choose your words carefully.

I was recently exposed to a particularly irritating cockalorum who bloviates. This in turn exposed me to be a complete troglodyte. Well figuratively speaking anyway. Where had I been hiding that I couldn’t recognize words that apparently form part of my home language?

The more I listened to this man, the more I felt he was speaking flibbertigibbet. Quite frankly, I prefer my conversationalists to be female with a voluptuous form and a callipygian backside if I have no interest in what they have to say. Bugger the discombobulated use of a language which has in my opinion evolved substantially.
Admittedly, this blog is a batrachomyomachy and might very well leave you feeling like you are anencephalous.

…Huh?

865663englishspokenhereThe power of language is immense. Words create a connection or disconnect. Chosen incorrectly your words can alienate you from your listener. So make sure that you pitch your use of language at the person who is listening to you or risk being seen as a panjandrum.

in other words…

Yo dude, cut the crap and speak my English. Life’s about where the takkie hits the tar so get your ass back down to earth! You ain’t impressing no one.

Is workplace loyalty dead?

loyalty I am not ready to hold a small sad funeral and bid farewell to a long lost idea and a forsaken ideology. The dearly departed: workplace loyalty.

I am not stupid enough to believe though that the days of the golden handshake are any longer a reality.

Traditionally the dog has long been the icon of choice to suggest unquestioning loyalty. But, truth be told, a dog isn’t exactly a great choice for the loyalty pinup pet.  A dog has no free will when it comes to where it lives, and cannot go out and pick a new owner if the current one stinks. A dog’s inherent nature is to blindly devote its allegiance to an owner regardless of how it is treated, which opens the door for a one way loyalty transaction. And let’s be completely honest here, a pooch doesn’t need a whole lot to be happy either.

piperboyandcat1But a cat, well a cat has choice. A cat can come and go as it sees fit. Better living conditions and food next door might well mean your feline is lost to you. If your beloved cat stays, it’s because it is happy and content. In return, your kitty will supply you with an endless supply of devotion.  Loyalty involves some sort of freedom to choose. A cat is a hard one to please, but get it right, and the cat will stay with you for life.

The days of staying with a company purely because it is the proper thing to do, and because the relationship is somewhat mutually beneficial are long over. That dogma has been replaced by another, a completely different one. In it’s harshest form, employees are hired to fulfill a function, and can expect to be paid in return, that’s it!

In fact, an article in the Cape Times, June 4th 2012 quoted a Gallup poll which cited that 75% of the workforce in the US  is actively disengaged, they are emotionally disconnected from their work.  It is estimated that the figures for South Africa are very similar. Seventy six percent of full-time workers, whilst not actively looking for a job, would leave their current workplace if the right opportunity came along.

The negativity which invariably accompanies disengaged workers is as damaging as the continuous staff turnover, time lost in training new staff, and loss of productivity. This negativity spreads like a cancer. Workplace loyalty has become a rare commodity, a casualty of this new normal. Employees are dispensable, companies are callous, and employees are disloyal.

Yet employers will state that one of the characteristics they would most like in their employees and the hardest to find is actually loyalty. The current thinking is that loyalty comes at a price, and is predominantly financially driven, which is its downfall. This thought process additionally emphasizes that employees seem intent on flitting from one position to another enabling them to build impressive CVs.

Perhaps many employers today are unaware that the average employee has taken a relatively new stance and the trend has swung in favour of a desire for workplace fulfillment, and a need to feel valued.  Of course the desire for financial reward has not diminished, but the typical middle to upper class worker is searching for job satisfaction as a primary need from the workplace.

The reason is that fulfillment and happiness cannot be compartmentalized, for instance; work in one box, family in another. Add to that the fact that our lives have all become so much more complicated, and it becomes easy to see that the distinguishing  lines between work and everything else have become very blurred. A job is an extension of our identity.  Lastly, the ease at which employees can perform a substantial number of tasks from home has also dramatically changed the landscape.

Thus the conflict between what employers are prepared to offer and do to retain staff, and the expectations and wants of the employees on the other hand, more often than not provide a stalemate. In my opinion there has to be a reciprocal exchange of loyalty. But which comes first?

Show me yours, and I’ll show you mine.

Loyalty (1)

My loyalty to the company is contingent on the company’s loyalty to me. But the party with tremendously more power is the company.

What is it that makes an employee feel that a company is loyal to them? The most commonly stated missing traits are an employer’s inability or disinterest in acknowledging a staff member. A lack of respect, being betrayed, taken advantage of, hidden agendas, inflexibility, lack of opportunity, and a lack of recognition for the contributions made are all important deciding  factors. The bottom line is that an employee wishes to feel like an important cog in the machinery that makes up the company, no matter how small that cog might well be.  It is a question of value.

An employee wants a certain level of compensation, benefits,  career development, and an opportunity for advancement. In return, an organization requires the employee to put the company’s interests first, ignore other job offers, meet long term commitments, share knowledge and expertise, and evangelize the brand. It seems like a doable wishlist on both sides, and it’s not a difficult concept, yet the imbalances are significant and hence a vast chasm opens up, each party at an impasse.

loyalty 2

Something to ponder on for those employees who are questioning their loyalty to a company that doesn’t seem to reciprocate. Consider that the most important loyalty is loyalty to oneself. Know what your value is, understand your worth, and do not allow your employers to exploit you. As soon as you compromise on loyalty to your own values, a lack of job fulfilment is likely. As I see it, if you find yourself in that position you have four choices;

1. Retain the status quo, and continue to be unhappy. Whine about it to anybody who will listen.

2. Exercise your choice to leave, and find a company who will value you and reciprocate your loyalty.

3. Readjust your expectations, make peace with them, and get on with the job. Use the position to further your career.

4. Challenge your employer in the best possible manner, and try to influence the change you wish to see in the company. (But be  prepared to dust off your CV and wait for your gradual ousting.)

The solution lies in the hands of the organization, and in my view that solution is not about a special ‘program’ or a company initiative, although these can certainly be beneficial.  Its a culture that spreads right from the top. Don’t think that middle management can handle this one on their own.

How the CEO conducts his or herself is the catalyst, and it filters down. It’s approaching every single person in the company and imagining that they have a sign hanging on their chest that says ‘I am important’, and making sure that they are valued.  It doesn’t need to cost money, but it certainly costs effort. The rewards will always outweigh the costs. Always.

tandem2The tandem bicycle is perhaps one of the best analogies to illustrate the importance of reciprocal workplace loyalty. Anyone who has ever ridden one will tell you that it takes two.  The rider in the front is in control, they steer the bike, utilize the brakes, change the gears. The rider at the back plays a big role in balancing the bike and powering the bike forward, but  realistically the person at the back can use the person in the front for a free ride. Just by turning over the pedals with very little effort, the bike will limp along, never reaching maximum speed nor climbing potential. It is damn hard! But the greater the motivation of the person riding at the back, the more effort he or she will put into the ride, and the greater the result.

Look after me and I will look after you.

“Make business decisions that favour employees over any and all considerations” @samanthaperry

In the same manner in which an employer scrutinizes a prospective employee’s CV, considering how long on average that person stays in a position, so it has become important for that prospective employee to gauge how long the staff retention time frame of the company is.  The higher the turnover of staff, the less likely it is that the company is good at  loyalty best practice.

It’s not for nothing that the companies that are voted “best to work for” are routinely also some of the most profitable. Is your company on the South African Best Employers 2012/13 List? Loyalty matters as much as it ever did. Both ways. If you want more value from your staff  show them how much you value them. Money is a fraction of the answer, loyalty needs to be earned.

Stop giving lip service to creating a fantastic place for your employees to work, and focus instead on actually doing something about it. Consistently.

Loyalty is a culture, a crucial culture, and it starts right at the top.

Thank you for reading my thoughts, please feel free to challenge my thinking, comment or share 🙂 Find me on Twitter @thewrightrich

This is YOUR moment.

Here it is, the day before an Ironman. YOUR Ironman!  Literally hours to go before you find yourself on the beach, the journey to the red carpet stretched out in front of you. I am green with envy, I know exactly how you are feeling right now and I wish I was lining up on the start line tomorrow. But I’m not. YOU are!

So…I will be watching you. Make me proud. Tomorrow is YOUR day. It’s what you’ve trained for, sweated for, sacrificed for. It’s all come to this, this space in time. Realize what a wonderful privilege lies in front of you. Only a minuscule number of people ever get to do what you are about to. Feel the goosebumps, that ball of nerves in your stomach, the dry feeling in your mouth. The quickening heart beat, and the tension in your body.  This. is. it.

You are ready.

the Red Carpet, waiting for YOU!

the Red Carpet, waiting for YOU!

I wish you the day of your dreams tomorrow. May your goals be achieved, your aspirations reached. May you find courage, perseverance, and may your true character be revealed. Dig deep.

Above all else have fun, savour every moment, and do your best. Because your best is all you can expect from yourself. Rock it tomorrow, and don’t you dare give up! Seize the race by the balls!

Because…

YOU are about to become….AN IRONMAN!

Good Luck

Richard 🙂

medal1The year was 2011, and I had entered IronmanSouthAfrica with the hopes of winning my age category. Fate changed that. Fate also taught me about another Ironman, one I never knew existed.

4 Weeks before race day, I decided to scratch due to a foot injury. However, a chance phone call to my CEO’s PA changed that decision. You see, the CEO was competing in his first ever Ironman, and in passing conversation it emerged that she was very concerned about him finishing. The two of us decided upon a win/win solution. I would get to earn another Ironman medal without the pressure of competing on an injury, and Andrew would get a seasoned veteran of the race to hold his hand as it were, and make sure that we got to the finish line in one piece. A quick call to a very happy Andrew, and the deal was sealed. “It’s going to be slow, I’m very under-cooked” he said. “I’m counting on it” was my reply.

Let me say this; how an incredibly busy, hands-on CEO of an international Real Estate company, who is on and off planes,  in and out of meetings, who makes time for a busy family, and yet still manages to fit in any training for an Ironman event is beyond me. An average day that starts at 4am, and ends at 11pm is not the ideal format for success on an Ironman course. Particularly for a man who did none of the 3 disciplines before the 20 odd months prior to the race. Yet Andrew did, and still does it, and has the drive to match. Respect. I know we all struggle to fit in the required training, but I think that for some it is just WAY harder. Its no secret that Ironman success is predominately about how much time you have to train. Sure, talent plays a part, but many of the top age groupers are successful because they don’t have a full time job, or they have a job that allows them time to train. They also have time for the important discipline called rest.

0019_01287My run up to the race was extremely different to any other I have done. No worries about distance, speed work, taper, diet, nor anything else. No pressure at all. I was 4kg heavier than usual, and in much worse condition. It was pretty cool to listen to some of the serious athletes and giggle at their replies to the prediction question. There are not many who you speak to the week before who will admit they are going for a win or a podium. They are full of excuses before the race even starts, and they are ‘just doing it’ not actually ‘racing’. I learned some lessons there, because it sounded all too familiar. The registration was fun, I was smiling and joking and already experiencing a vibe unlike any I’d felt before. To anyone who asked for my predictions I said I was hoping to break 15 hours, knowing that they were looking at me through the same eyes I had looked at the above mentioned ‘tjops’  🙂

Bike racking was bliss. Very little to do. I planned to have one juice bottle on my bike and no other nutrition. I figured that for the first time in my triathlon career I would  make sole use of what was provided along the course.

The plan was to meet Andrew on the side of the swim start. Whose stupid idea was that anyway? 2000 Athletes all with caps and goggles on and wearing wet-suits. Errm, maybe I had been a little lackadaisical. The cannon boomed and the wave surged forward. Well actually at the back it’s more of a creep than a surge. I reckoned I would let all the athletes pass me as I turned and faced them, hoping to spot Andrew. No Andrew. New plan needed. I felt a little panic creep in.

I decided that I would sprint the first lap of the swim to attempt to gain ground (or is that water?), and then I would wait on the beach and hopefully see Andrew as he ran back into the water for the second lap. I wasn’t prepared for the solid wall of swimmers that I now needed to swim through. I was so accustomed to 3 or 4 deep around the bouys, and a resulting quick turn. What I had to negotiate around the bouys was a pack of swimmers 30 to 40 deep. I made the decision to swim right on the outside of the wave so as to avoid any resistance. I looked at my stopwatch as I ran out of the water onto the beach for the first time, 28 minutes. I had gained a lot of water, I was pretty sure he wouldn’t be in front of me. When I reached the water’s edge again to re-enter, I stopped and turned around to see all the athletes coming past, waiting for Andrew. To say the reaction from the crowd on the beach was comical was an understatement. People screamed at me to go, as if I might not realize I still had another lap. Others were very concerned and asked if I was OK. Some who recognized me asked what the hell I was doing. I explained that I was looking for Andrew, and described his wet suit. Before long I had the crowd playing along. Shouting “is that Andrew?”, at every man in a black wet-suit who looked vaguely similar to my description of Andrew.  15 Minutes waiting felt like an age. I was incredibly relieved when I saw Andrew run towards me, and judging by the look on his face, so was he. But he was bang on target to his predictions. Good man!

We set off for the second lap. For the first time I got to feel what it’s like to be a part of a mass participation event as a part of the real race. And by ‘real’ I mean the average participant who makes up the race. This is what an Ironman is about. Nobody jostling for position, nobody pulling at my ankles, nobody trying to beat me to the bouy. Just a whole shoal of swimmers with a common goal. Move forward. Together.

Swimming backstroke, taking in the views, actually feeling the water and the sea swells, and concentrating on everybody else’s movement and not my own was an amazing experience. I couldn’t stop smiling. I was watching the race from within the race. What an incredible gift. I think I smiled the whole day.

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And just like that, 3.8km of swimming was over and we were walking through the showers and into the transition. Time to take it all in, fabulous. I seem to remember that we were in the transition for more than 15 minutes. Andrew had packed for any and all eventuality. He emerged after a bathroom break in a complete change of clothing, smothered in sunscreen, and with enough nutrition to feed a small triathlon team. I got to sit and watch, to engage with other athletes and feel their trepidation for the cycle leg. The camaraderie was truly something special. I marveled at how prepared Andrew was. He had left nothing to chance. A very good way to approach your novice Ironman. Time is not the objective.

We set off at a conservative pace, maybe still a little too fast. I had forsaken my ‘sperm’ helmet for my normal one, and felt more like a spectator in the race than an athlete. Conscious of drafting regulations and a penalty for Andrew, I spent the cycle moving around him and staying as close as I dared, making sure he gained no advantage from my slipstream on the odd occasion I found myself in front of him. I had decided that I would help as much as possible without aiding him physically at all. He was going to earn his medal all by himself. The way it should be.

For those who are not familiar with the front of the race, here is some insight:

The average top 100 competitor spends 8-10 Hours on the course without uttering a single word to another  athlete. No smiles, no acknowledgements. No thank you’s. Should you greet them, say hi, ask how they’re doing or give some encouragement, the result…you might as well not exist. I don’t know why. Maybe I’m just different,perhaps not competitive enough, but for me, engaging with others assists me. My Ironman PB is a 9:17 and 16th position overall. I engaged the whole time during that race, as much as I could. It makes the race go by faster, and the experience is shared.

What I experienced that day with Andrew was very very different. The back three quarters of the race is an antithesis to the first quarter. Its simply the best! Everyone engages, shares jokes, shares stories, regales ailments. Andrew frequently told me to get lost, “go and talk to that lady there” he’d say. He needed some alone time, time to focus and cope. And so I did. I made a lot of friends that day. And I had a lot of fun.

On the second lap I noticed I was no longer telling him to back off the pace. We stopped at water points and got off our bikes. I ate bananas, energy bars, gels, sarmies, whatever was offered to me. And the whole time Andrew cycled on, the pace rarely changing, a solid steady average.  Me yelling out “time to drink” every 30 minutes, and passing on some advice on cadence, pace, gear changes and bike position. But by 150km it was clear that Andrew was taking major strain. The talk subsided substantially, I backed off and made some more friends, all the while watching as he gritted his teeth and pushed on.

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Not a moment too soon, and we were sitting in T2. Andrew looked at me, his face ashen, and his voice subdued, “I can’t run” he said, “my legs are finished”.

“No problem” I answered, “then we will walk until they come back”. “No way they will, we are going to have to walk the marathon. Do you think we have enough time?” said Andrew. I just grinned and replied, “oh yes they will, sooner than you think”

We set off at a walk, and not a fast walk either. 10 Minutes later we tried the first slow jog. I suggested just a minute. Next came 2 minutes, then three. Andrew started smiling a little. For most of the run we averaged a 5-10 minute run with a 2-5 minute walk in between. A steady rhythm. I talked a lot to Andrew that day. We discussed many things (well actually I discussed and he grunted) It proved to be the longest job interview in history. I started a new position at the company the month after Ironman. I learned that day that if your CEO can’t physically talk back, your chances of getting what you want are far higher 😉

I had started the run with both a cap and sunglasses. It’s what I was used to. I dumped them after the first lap. Neither were needed. It was already getting dark. I was excited to use those glow-sticks I’d always seen but never been given. Andrew pushed on with the tenacity of a man determined to reach the red carpet no matter what. I saw Andrew delve deep, deep into that dark place. That place every Ironman athlete gets to know, and of which we speak little. That place that reveals character. And that day I witnessed the character that made it obvious to me how this man had achieved extraordinary successes in all facets of his life. With every step it became more and more of a privilege for me to be sharing this journey. This maiden Ironman voyage.

Each timing mat that we crossed became a small victory. A little signal to all those following our progress. We are getting closer. We are nearing our goal. I made sure Andrew crossed each one in front of me. This was his race, not mine.

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The last lap of the run was agony for Andrew. I admired his perseverance  We had said nothing about a projected time, and had decided to take the day as it unfolded. What would be, would be. But for the first time, and with 10km to go, we worked out splits and I said what was on both of our minds. “If we keep going at this pace we will definitely break 15 hours”. I saw Andrew’s jaw tighten, resolve accumulating, and he broke into a jog again. I was grateful I’d decided to run in normal training shoes. Not racing flats. My legs hurt. I ran on ahead from time to time, or back along the route to chat with athletes I knew. I needed to stretch my legs out a bit. But that was the only pain I felt on the day. I guess that’s what made it so enjoyable for me. Andrew was telling me how grateful he was to me for sacrificing my day for him. I tried to impress upon him how grateful I was to him for allowing me to share in his day. True synergy. I didn’t need to push him much, he pushed himself. All he needed was encouragement and some guidance.

The last lonely leg behind the university stretched before us. Even the ‘run one lamppost, walk two’, became a massive effort. At times the only sounds were our shoes on the tarred road. The crowds had thinned, but those who remained yelled encouragement. The friends we’d made had either fallen back or had surged ahead. The loud Canadian, Brent, who had given us many laughs and who had been with us for a big portion of the run had stopped a while back to recover. And then we saw the lights from the finish line….

0019_39568I looked at Andrew’s face. The pain that had been etched there had disappeared, his jawline softened, his eyes lit up. And the next moment we were running, yes running, down the red carpet. Andrew’s daughter running next to him. We were celebrating! He beat me, by a second. An important second.

I heard Paul Kaye on the mic, Welcoming Andrew by name…YOU…ARE…AN..IRONMAAAAAN!!! A high-five, a hug from Andrew, and eyes that said everything they needed to say.

And then Andrew’s wife was hugging me over the fence, her tears of relief and gratitude mixing with the sweat on my cheek. That is what an Ironman is about. It’s a shared journey.

Its not always about time, 14:43 with an average heart rate of 109 beats per minute for the race. No, it wasn’t about that, for once not about the numbers. The athletes that deserve the greatest amount of respect are those like Andrew, one of the 1500 or so athletes like him that day. It was a long day. A hard day. They overcame huge obstacles to cross the finish line.

It was about a finisher’s medal I count as one of my proudest memories. A friend who gave me a reciprocal gift.  A day nobody can ever take away. A mutual bond that is commonly understood. Respect for a man who dug as deep as any can. My CEO.

It is no secret that in helping another we receive. I was a blessed recipient that day.

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog, I hope you enjoyed the read. If so, please share it using the link below. Comment and engage with me. You can also find me on twitter @thewrightrich. Good luck and happy racing 🙂

Ironman, the shared experience.

How to race Ironman South Africa

gallery32Whether you are aiming for your first finisher’s medal, a PB (Personal Best), or an age-group podium place, I can guarantee that an ironman event will both test you and stretch you to your limits. The hardships that you face on race day will reveal your character, of that I have no doubt.

The objective is to try and make it as easy as possible and more importantly, as enjoyable as possible. If that appeals to you…read further.

The months of; hard work, sparrow’s-fart alarm calls, sacrifices, injuries, family disowning’s, enough supplements to fuel a Russian weightlifting team, and many many kilometers of training are over. You arrive in Port Elizabeth feeling bloated, heavy and Michelin-man-like due to at least a week’s worth of taper. Your stomach is a mess from nerves, and you feel on edge at best. Arriving at the expo and registration area is an exercise in fear all on it’s own. A glance in any and every direction leaves you feeling that there are literally hundreds of athletes who are in way better condition than you are, and with way better equipment than you have. Your personal predictions for the day disintegrate.

The most fearsome looking are the bling bling okes from Joburg, with their impressively even and orange spray-on tans, their bling bling botoxed wives, and their bling bling bikes on which they’ve dropped at least R70 kay (and that’s not even including their latest aero wheels, helmets and other kit).  They parade around in their compression socks, supplement bottles in hand, with Donald Trump-esk attitude. Let me tell you a secret, even the pro’s are envious of their kit. And then you see it…that same look in the eyes that you’ve seen in your mirror. That same fear and apprehension. And suddenly you realize right there that behind all the kit, each one of you is kit-less, and at the mercy of this thing called IRONMAN.  A fancy bike and a spray-tan won’t get you around the course.

The cannon fires!

Hobie Beach, ready to rock ‘n roll

So, try not to focus on everybody. I have trained and prepared for top 20 finishes in years gone by, and have arrived at registration, taken one look around, and convinced myself that I wont even make the top 100 athletes. Yet every time, as the race unfolds and the hours go by, there are fewer and fewer athletes in front of me. The race is about YOU, nobody else! Don’t let anybody psych you out. Race against yourself and your heart rate.

Don’t buy anything new at the expo that you intend to use on race day. Now is not the time for new, light, racing flats, new nutrition, or untried kit. Stick to your game plan. If you haven’t swum at Hobie beach before, attend one of the pre-race swim sessions. Use the opportunity to sight past the buoys. On race day its often hard to see them.  Find a landmark on the horizon that will help. I use a crane in the harbour, and a hotel on land.  The weather is the favored topic of conversation. You will be told how last year’s weather was the worst that any ironman in the history of ironman has ever experienced. Despite the fact that it might well be true, that’s not the point. The only way of knowing what the weather will dish up will be to open your curtains on race day.  And then notwithstanding your best endeavors, you cannot change it! In other words, those conversations are futile and will only make you nervous.

Friday is the night you want to get to bed early and get as much sleep as possible. On Saturday you will be lucky to sleep much at all (and that’s OK). Stay out of the sun, and keep your legs up. Drink lots to make sure you’re well hydrated. The bike check in is a great opportunity to practice the transitions and make sure you are well acquainted with the routes you will follow and where everything is situated.  Play out the race in your head and walk through the sequences imagining you are in the race. Eat light, easily digestible food on Saturday night. Nothing that is likely to upset your stomach nor leave you feeling heavy. Try to appreciate the support of those who have dedicated their lives over the past year to putting up with your; tiredness, hyperglycemic moods, expensive kit obsession, mountains of dirty, sweaty tri-clothing, and cupboards-full of bottles, lotions, potions, and every herbal remedy known to mankind. Oh, and then there’s your absence in their lives. So be nice, you will need them along the side of the road! Don’t forget to thank them when you cross the finish line. I have found that the sooner you reward their backing with expensive gifts, the more likely you will be allowed to start training for the next one.

Race day dawns. You feel wired, and amped, and petrified, and excited, and exhilarated all at once. Eat whatever you’ve practiced on. I like oats with honey, it works for me. Off to the start, and the pre-race ritual of putting the bottles on your bike, checking the transition bags, making sure your tyres are hard and the bike is in the right gear, and then make sure you’ve lubed under your wetsuit. Put your timing chip under the wetsuit to make sure that it doesn’t get yanked off, and your goggles under your cap for the same reason. I always go to the warm up beach, swim about a bit, and get lots of water in my wetsuit to make it fit properly. Sort out your goggles, a quick pee in your wetsuit, and then you’re ready to go! A hasty gel washed down with a carbo drink does the trick for me on the way into the start pen.

The very worst part of the race is the 10 minutes before the start; your stomach is in your throat, the drummers beat an emotional and nerve-shattering rhythm on the beach, the helicopters clatter above the sea, thousands of wetsuit-clad athletes push up close together, and the final prayer is delivered as if you are receiving your last rites. It is a short instant in your existence that is life-changing and one you’ll never forget. But the moment the cannon on the beach fires, your body jolts into action, the adrenalin powers through your veins and your thoughts focus on the task at hand. Get to the finish line.

20x30-PESA0065I start on the side of the wave, for me it’s always on the right, as I breathe to the left and like to sight over the swimmers. It keeps me straight. I break the race into segments. I swim as if I am only swimming one lap of the swim, it’s all I focus on. The race is far to long to see it as a whole. By breaking it down you are creating easier goals and milestones. If the swim is your nemesis, you might consider swimming from bouy to bouy. Just till the next one…just till the next one, and so on.

Expect to lose your breath in the 300m sprint for open water and the first bouy. It happens to the best athletes. As soon as you can, try to block out all the movement around you and focus on the length of your stroke, and on breathing comfortably. Its going to be a very long day. Start slowly! The swim is your warm up, in the greater scheme of the race it’s practically a non-event, approach it that way.

“Hold back until you see the red carpet.”

Out of the water and up onto the beach after the first lap. It’s your first opportunity to experience the crowds that PE is famous for. I have never experienced such support and encouragement in any race anywhere. Soak it up at any opportunity during the race. Smile lots, you’d be amazed how a smile makes your entire body relax. It takes the pressure off. Try it, you won’t regret it, I promise. Try also to acknowledge the helpers, the traffic officers, and the marshals. Firstly it feels good, and secondly you wouldn’t be racing if it were not for them.

The second lap is fabulous, the wonderful feeling of  ‘this is the last time I am swimming to that bouy’ etc. Before you know it, you’re onto the beach again and through the showers. Use them to get the salt water off your face, and use the water troughs to get the sand off your feet. The transition tent is a hive of frenetic activity, allow the helpers to help, and take your time to get it right. Loads of block out cream, and I even put on thin socks for the cycle. Comfort over speed, 180km is a long ride in any book. A race belt for the race number is a must.

Onto the bike, and the real race begins. The first lap is always pretty cool. The route is fresh for you, the road is reasonably clear of other athletes, and your legs are feeling good. And the inevitable happens, you start to push harder than you should. Places are jostled and the ego takes over. Bad mistake. How do I know, because I’ve done it! I will say it over and over, the race is about YOU! Nobody else. It doesn’t matter whom you pass or who passes you. An ironman is about how fresh your legs can feel after 180km of cycling. Fact! Break the bike segment into 3 laps of 60km, and try for a negative split. In other words, aim to make your last lap the fastest. Chances are it won’t happen, but it will ensure that you don’t cook too soon. I always race purely on heart-rate. I ignore my average speed, and set my cycling computer on time which I use for nutrition purposes. My whole day is controlled in 30 minutes sections.

20x30-PEBE1318Ride the first 10km easy, pour fresh water over your trisuit, get rid of the salt water and allow your heart-rate to come down a little.  If there is wind in the day, don’t fight it. Choose a gear at least two easier than you would normally use, and save your legs. Any time you lose you will more than make up with the wind behind you. Resist the urge to  power into the wind. Take it easy going up Walmer and into Buffelsfontein, it’s a steady grind. Over the top and the first opportunity to relax the legs a little. Change your position on the bike frequently. Most importantly, try to relax your body as much as possible.  I stretch out my legs on the bike often too.

Now, here’s the truth about an ironman, any ironman. There is no such thing as a perfect race and an event-less day. Something somewhere is going to go wrong. A cramp, nausea, mechanical issues, nutrition issues, muscle problems, blisters, the list is pretty long. And the race plays no favorites, it happens to the best of the pro’s and the slowest of the slow. How you finish the race will depend on how you approach these hiccups. The positive thing is that the race is long enough for you to recover from most ailments and setbacks. Back off, sort it out if you can, and start off slowly again. Walk if you need to. The human body’s ability and propensity to recover is truly remarkable. I have felt at my absolute worst three quarters of the way through an ironman, and 30 minutes later have felt my best, and have had the best finish.

Prepare yourself mentally for the middle lap of the ride, its the hardest. Your legs are starting to feel it a little and the race is beginning to feel like an ironman. Mentally its hard because you know you still have another lap to go. Do not get caught up in your position within the race, ride your own pace, and decide that pace based on how you are feeling. Above all else, stick to your nutrition plan. The conditions on the day will often dictate a certain amount of your intake. Be flexible, but only for a good reason. The last lap of the ride is bitter sweet. You’re celebrating the last time you pass each milestone, but you’ve also had enough of the bike, your ass is screaming at you, and you cannot wait to hit T2. 10 – 15 km before the transition of the third lap, back off completely, spin the legs out a bit but be careful not to cramp. Sit up and stretch your back. Mentally start to get ready for the last segment of the race. Picture the transition area and what you will need to take on the run with you.

Copy of IMSA.run

I like to put on fresh socks for the run, grab clean sunglasses, a peak, some nutrition, and off I go. Once again, break the run into segments, bite sized chunks. Start the first 3 to 4km very conservatively. You know your legs will feel like tree stumps, and because you can’t really feel them you inadvertently think you’re Mo Farah. Don’t do it, it’s a recipe for the ‘early walk syndrome’ or the, “it feels like a little man jumped out of the bushes and fired both barrels of his shotgun at me syndrome”. Neither are ideal, so give your legs time to  recover from the bike. If your plan is to walk early, stick to the plan. Very importantly, the earlier you can back off when you start to hit the wall (or one of the many that seem characteristic of an Ironman), the better, and the greater your chances of recovering again. Stick to your nutrition plan, and try to keep your heart rate as low as possible. Don’t forget to smile. Engage with the crowds (they tend to start thinning a little as the sun sets, so make use of them) and if you can, high five the kids. It takes your mind off the hurtbox you’re trapped in. The fact that your name is printed on your race number is a wonderful thing and allows for people to engage with you. I will admit to folding it over at times when I am too shattered to want to engage though.

Lap 2 of the run is hardest part of the race. Especially the long lonely section around the back of the university sports fields and back past Humewood Golf Course. Its dead quiet, horribly flat, and seems to last forever. Count lampposts if you have to. Walk one, run two. If your running shoes do not have drainage holes in the soles be careful not to pour too much water over your legs. A build up of water in your shoes is a recipe for blister hell.

Lap 3 is fantastic just because its the last section of the entire race. Everything hurts like hell however, your sense of humour has gone AWOL, and you feel like you will do anything to make the pain stop. But you knew it was coming, and you start chanting your personal mantra under your breath to take your mind off your present condition. Mine is, ‘I’m strong, feeling good’, repeated over and over again. And it truly works for me. I repeat it in rhythm to my breathing and cadence. Now the water points appear on the horizon like a distant oasis, each one taking longer to reach than the last, even sweating is an effort, and at times you feel you’ve run out of sweat. You’ve run out of pretty much everything. You cannot stomach the thought of another gel. You suddenly realize that the orange, broken looking bling bling dude you just passed only has 2 bands around his wrist, and you have 3. You resist the urge to say something only because it’s too much effort.

medal1Then, you see the lollipop! That godsend little lighthouse that signals the last 2.5km of the day. The smile is back, relief etched across your sweat stained face. The emotion starts welling up inside you, the pain subsides slightly, and your pace (even your stumble/drag/walk) increases fractionally. The music from the finish line beckons, getting louder and louder.

There are simply no words that can adequately describe the feeling of reaching the red carpet, hearing the voices on ironman; Paul Kaye and Mike Finch, booming through the speakers.

Its just you…and the finish line. Emotion overwhelms you. Your life’s single most important goal over the past months culminates in this moment, and a lifetime of bragging rites.

YOU. ARE. AN. IRONMAAAAAN!!!

Thank you for taking the time to read my blog, I hope you found it helpful. If so, please share it using the link below. Comment and engage with me. You can also find me on twitter @thewrightrich. Good luck and happy racing 🙂

The casual worker and the street corner.

20130402-172020.jpgIf you were to keep a regular eye on a busy intersection where casual workers congregate in the hopes of finding employment, you would no doubt learn lessons that are profound and applicable to all entrepreneurs who rely on attracting business. One such busy corner is on a regular run route of mine, and I have spent a number of months observing the dynamics with interest. Essentially the types of individuals looking for a job can be defined into two categories. Firstly those who arrive really early. They are dressed neatly, and have a sense of purpose. The air of expectation is high. They stand close to the road where they can be seen, and there they wait. Most days these people will be picked up by a contractor looking for casual labour for a full day’s work. The wage is standard, as are the hours and average conditions. Very often a specific contractor will come back time and again looking for a particular worker. Sometimes the worker will end up with a full time job. That’s the success story.

The second category of worker is very different. Only arriving at the intersection after eight or nine am, this person often looks more like a loiterer than a worker. They will sit against a wall, and congregate together looking like they have no real purpose nor intention for being there. This labourer works fewer days than not, although the rewards are greater for work actually done. The worker will be paid for a full day, although most often the required job takes only a couple of hours or half a day. The type of work is frequently of a lighter nature and the type of client providing the ’employment’ is one looking for labour for an odd job, and therefore comes back infrequently. The chances of repeat business are slim.

Which category do you fall into? Hopefully the first category of entrepreneur.

20130402-172123.jpgThe lessons to be learnt are simple. The strategy of the first category of labourer is clear. Step 1: Understand the market before doing anything. Watch and learn from those who are already successful, and repeat what they do. Step 2: Identify the kind of client you want to attract. Clients that will give you repeat business, that you can rely on, and clients that have a regular pattern are those you really want. Step 3: Become predictable. Be present at the same corner at the same time every day. Be seen. Even the best client who comes to look for you will not wait for long if you are elsewhere. Dress for the job that you want, and have a sense of purpose. Step 4: Deliver work that is of a high standard and build a relationship with your client. Give value.

Any line of work needs to be viewed as a long term prospect for any real returns to materialize, and requires hard work. There are NO shortcuts, and the ‘fast buck’ is unsustainable. A strategy is imperative. You will always find work by default, and might be paid well for an easy job from time to time. But regular viable work requires a design. A design that centers around repeat business, a loyal clientele, and service excellence. Oh, and did I mention hard work…

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog. Feel free to comment, or share the blog on your social networks. Just click the ‘share’ button below. You can find me on twitter, @thewrightrich, or on Facebook, http://www.facebook.com/wrightstuff01