Category Archives: personal development

Living Like a Pro

photo-2

Training in the Basque Region, Spain

It is just one week to go until my first race of the season – The Tour of Good Hope, South Africa. The last half year has been amongst the most fulfilling time of my life, as I have embraced my commitment to prepare for the World Masters Cycling Championship in Albi France in August. In my last blog post I talked about my willingness to “live like a professional cyclist” and over the past six months I have done so. So what does “living like a pro” actually mean?

Since September I have been training under the mentorship of my coach and ex-professional cyclist Allan Davis, completing somewhere between 12 and 20 hours of training per week, split between time on my bike and workouts in the gym. Approximately half of my on-bike work is done indoor on my stationary trainer to allow me to completely control my efforts, and of course to deal with the Belgian winter weather.

photo-3

My Coach, Allan Davis

So how about balancing training, work and family? September through November was pretty steady with one or two days of work per week, typically a keynote talk or day of teaching. I did not take on any commitments involving long-haul travel at this time, so all of my work projects were in Europe avoiding long flights and jet lag. I tried to align my gym sessions with days that I needed to travel, as most hotels have decent gym facilities and/or a pool.

Four or five times a week I have started my day at 6.30am with an easy one-hour session on the indoor trainer, before joining the family for breakfast and doing the School commute. After the School drop-off I have headed out on my bike to complete my specific training activities, or gone to the gym or pool. This has typically been followed by shower and lunch, and then an afternoon of emailing, conference calls, writing and other work activities.

From December until end of February I have had very few work commitments in terms of keynotes and teaching – just one day a week or so. But this is typical as this time of year is always less busy, especially with regard to conferences and events. March and April has been almost completely blocked out in my agenda for racing – something which my speaking agent has been wonderfully understanding about.

After racing the Giro Sardinia at end of April, I plan to take it relatively easy in May and first half of June to allow time for my body to recover from a very intensive nine month period of training and racing. So I have told my speaking agent that I will be available in this period to ramp-up my speaking commitments – which also corresponds with the busiest time of the year for conferences and congresses.

My family have been very understanding – and I definitely have the most amazing wife in the world! Training at this level takes a huge amount of energy and focus, but I have been mindful about contributing to the household and spending quality time with Anne-Mie and the kids. There have been moments of frustration and annoyance, but I think that is normal in any relationship. But the family completely understands what I am working towards, and that makes a huge difference.

With regard to training, September through November involved a lot of time on developing muscular power and core strength, with three sessions per week of about an hour in the gym and a weekly swimming session. Training on the bike at this time involved three to four hour rides twice a week, interspersed with shorter sessions after the intensive gym workouts. December included a big training “block” in India where I participated in the Tour of Nilgiris, covering more than 1100kms in just eight days.

From start of January I shifted from gym sessions to on-bike power and intensity training, starting a number of new protocols introduced to me by Allan. The emphasis of these sessions has been on dramatically increasing my neuromuscular power, building on the weight training and core work done during my base building phase. The biggest shift for me was to introduce twice weekly efforts using lower cadence and higher power output through short interval work. These sessions resulted in a lot of fatigue, and were interspersed with easy “brew” rides to allow my muscles to recover.

On top of this, I have maintained two or three sessions per week of three to four hours on the bike, varying between easy riding and high intensity tempo riding. From middle of February we have included one or two Time Trial specific training sessions per week, very intensive but short efforts at high power using varying cadence to simulate race efforts over mixed terrain. And finally, I am just back from a four day block of training with Allan in the Basque region of Spain where we did climbing efforts and motor pacing at race speed.

In addition to the physical work, I have been focusing a lot on my diet, and Allan and I have introduced a regime of vitamin and mineral supplements to help my body cope with the intensive training load. I have provided a list of my supplements below, and it is identical to the regime used by a current World Tour professional team. I have a good diet, but it is difficult to meet all of the body’s requirements for branch chain amino acids, iron and other minerals – thus the supplements regime. I have found that my general feeling of health and wellness has improved with this approach, and I have not had any issue with colds, flu or illness over the winter months.

Although I have not focused on weight loss specifically, my weight has declined from 68.5 kilograms at start of September to 66kgs by end of February. I plan to lose another kilogram during March as I prepare for more mountainous race events in Cyprus and Italy, and this will involve dieting.

Figure 1 – Dietary Supplement Regime

supplements

So what have been the results of “living like a pro” under the guidance of Allan Davis? I can objectively say that I am currently in the best condition of my life, purely on the performance metrics that I have been tracking over the past three years. I train with a heart rate monitor and power meter, and have been collecting and analysing my performance data since start of 2014. My current level of performance is somewhere between 5% and 10% better across the board than for my highest numbers in 2016 – for 5 minute, 10 minute, 20 minute, 30 minute and 60 minute functional threshold power.

Figure 2 – TrainingPeaks Performance Management Chart

training-peaks

I have provided some of my data for the cycling nerds out there, and you can clearly see the steady progression of my fitness (blue line) in the above TrainingPeaks chart (Figure 2). I have also accrued a lot of fatigue (pink line), which I will now steadily reduce through tapering to see my race “form” (orange line) peak just in time for the Tour of Good Hope.

For the cycling novices, the main thing to appreciate is that my current performance numbers in terms of watts per kilogram of body weight (Figure 3) now equate to what is typically expected at the domestic professional level, also known as “Continental Professional” level here in Europe. So not too bad for an old guy.

Figure 3 – Peak Power Output

peak-power

Now it is all about converting this incredible feeling of fitness into some race results in South Africa in a little over a week’s time.

I can’t wait!

TEDx Liege – What is Success, Really?

TEDLogoTransparentNoir

VIDEO COMING SOON

TEDxJamie

Imagine if you worked for half of your life to be become a success, to really become someone.

You have this bold ambition to reach the moon.

But then when you become that person, you realize that it’s not who you want to be at all.

What would you do then?

I was born in a small country town called Shepparton about 200kms north of Melbourne in the South East of Australia. I was the 2nd youngest of seven children.

It was not always easy to make ends meet, and all of my older brothers and sisters left school to go to work by the time they were 15. It was a necessity, not a choice.

But as a kid, and despite the hardships, I had a big dream.

I dreamed of racing in Europe as a professional cyclist.

I started racing a bike on the BMX track when I was just nine years old, and by the time I was 16 I had progressed to the velodrome and racing on the road.

In 1987, the year that this photo was in the local newspaper I was one of the top riders in the State and on my way to the national championships with my friend and training partner Stuart McKenzie. That’s me on the left.

Cycling was my life, and I worked incredibly hard to reach my European dream. But at the same time, something had started to happen.

I was not just good at cycling; I was also doing very well at school.

I had dreamed of being a professional road cyclist since I was nine years old, but despite having enough talent to make it to the national level I had increasing doubts.

It was not that any one person told me that I should abandon my ambitions, and my parents were incredibly supportive.

But the influence of my environment – school career advisors, teachers and friends slowly but surely created anxiety and fear.

I was told that cycling was a nice hobby, but that I would struggle to make a living from it. That the chances of really making it to the top as a professional athlete were small.

I don’t think that people offered this ‘wisdom’ because they wanted to hurt me or to stop me being happy. Quite the opposite – they wanted me to follow a life that lead to stability and prosperity, and with that prosperity they thought would come happiness.

The message was that a cycling career was a dream, and that I should be more realistic especially since I was clever academically.  Dreams are risky, and dreams might not pay the bills.

These pressures were only compounded when I did very well in my end of School exams, and was offered a grant to study at the University of Melbourne.

You see, where I come from only a handful of kids had gone on to tertiary education. And now I had this incredible opportunity – this chance to get an education.

But I knew that studying a degree full-time, as well as doing the part-time work I would have to do to make it through, would never allow me the time to compete at a high level.

In the end, the choice to pursue an academic path was my own but it was not my most desired path.

I am not sure if you can understand what I am saying – I felt that it was almost inevitable that I should stop cycling, even though it was a heart-breaking choice.

A few weeks before my 18th birthday I moved to Melbourne, and I let go of my European dream.

What I did do for the next 20 years was work incredibly hard. I brought that spirit of discipline and hard work to my studies, and I was very competitive.

I really wanted to make my family proud. But there was also something else – as a kid from a working class background I really resented many of the people around me at university.

The ones who had been born into privilege. The ones who I thought had it easy. I wanted to be better than them.

I didn’t really have career role models when I was growing up, so I looked around. And the wealthiest, most respected and well travelled professors that I saw were the Business School Professors.

So I decided I would become a Business School Professor, and not just any Business School Professor but one of the world’s best.

After my undergraduate degree, I went on to another graduate scholarship and by the time I was 29 years old I was working in London at one of the world’s leading graduate management schools.

And I kept working hard and getting promoted. At the age of 39 I was a professor, I had published in some of the world’s top management journals, and in addition I had started my own consulting business. I was earning more money than I ever imagined could be possible, and I was travelling the world.

But something was missing. You see, when I left Shepparton back in 1988 I had this belief that if I worked hard, and if I had success, then I would be happy. But I was far from happy.

And this is what I looked like. Yes, I was “successful” in a professional sense, and I know that many people envied what I had achieved. But I was tired, I was arrogant, I was unhealthy and I had this inner unhappiness. I was a bit of an asshole, because I had to be to survive in that environment.

ANDERSON Lorange

I was now a husband and a father, and yet my obsession with work meant that I was not particularly good at being either.

I was working long hours, I was travelling constantly and I was obsessed with being the best.

I remember reading bed time stories to my three children at this time, and skipping parts of the story so I could get back to work. And of course, the kids had heard those stories countless times, so they knew!

The only problem was that I really didn’t’ know who I wanted to be.

And of course, I also realized it was no longer about me. It was about us. What did we want to become as a family?

There is a quote from the Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu “If you do not change direction, you may end up where you are heading.”

In 2009 my wife Anne-Mie and I spent many hours talking together, and these discussion culminated in a drawing exercise. We sat together with a large sheet of paper and co-created a hand drawn picture of what success really meant to us.

The pencil and ink sketches that we created revealed a much wider definition of success – we aspired to have a loving relationship and to live in a semi-urban environment in which our three children could play and be free.

We desired more family leisure time, and the opportunity to actively participate in the children’s social, artistic and sporting activities.

We both wanted to work, but to engage in professional activities that we enjoyed and which still provided the opportunity for occasional international travel.

And of course, in the bottom right of our picture was a hand drawn bicycle. I dreamed of returning to elite-level competitive cycling because that fire, that love for cycling had never left me.

I set a big and ambitious goal – to race at the next World masters Games in Torino in 2013. The World Masters Games organization is an amazing thing – its basically an Olympics for old people, and just like the real thing is held every four years.

The only problem of course was that this picture did not fit with my career, and a few days later I resigned my job at that prestigious business school to become a husband, father, writer, speaker and, of course, a cyclist.

Taking that leap involved confronting a lot of fears – but Anne-Mie and I decided to try and find our way.

On the 8th of August 2013, I stood on that start line of the mens road race at the World Masters Games in Torino with 160 of the world’s best Masters cyclists.

Startline

I had been preparing for this moment for four years, and in the process I had become a different person.

But of course it was not about who I had become. It was about what we had become.

With me in Torino were my three beautiful children and my wonderful wife Anne-Mie. Just before being marshaled onto the start line my little girl Hannah came up to me and said something I will never forget. She said “Pappa, it’s okay if you don’t win.”

And it was true, because I realized at that moment that being in Torino was about something much more than winning a bike race. It was about the journey.

It was about having the courage to create a new life and to define success in our own way.

It had not been easy, and there had been heartache and setbacks along the way. I had crashed in races and broken bones, there had been the two years when my income had been almost nothing as I learned new skills and connected to new people towards become a writer and a speaker.

But by 2013 almost everything that Anne-Mie and I had drawn in that picture four years before had fallen into place.

And the race was nine laps of an eight km circuit through Park Valentino and the streets of Turin. It was nine laps of pain as we averaged more than 40km per hour, and every single lap I was cheered on by Anne-Mie and the kids.

And I can’t tell you how this felt, to be living this childhood dream. A dream that I thought I had left behind.

Every lap we went over Mt Cappucini. That little mountain had a 1km climb with up to 18% gradient. And each and every lap there were twenty fewer guys, until there were only about fifteen of us left. Fifteen of the best Masters cyclists in the world.

And at that moment, something crazy started to go through my mind – I could win!

But in the end I didn’t win, That was an incredible Czech cyclist. And an Italian came 2nd. But I did come home with a bronze medal.

So my message for you is this. It’s great to strive for success, to shoot for the moon. But there are many moons out there in the Universe, so please make sure that the moon you are shooting for is your own.

Thank you!

Hannah

 

Getting Serious about Going Fast

I raced my first cycling competitions in Belgium in Spring of 2010 and it was a terrifying experience. I failed to finish my first two races, and struggled home several minutes down on the winners in the other kermiskoerses that I completed. I experienced muscle cramping in almost every event, not because of dehydration but because of the sheer exertion that I was demanding of my body, over and above what it was capable of delivering. It was a depressing experience. But at the same time that I was suffering on the narrow roads of Flanders, I was also learning a lot.

The first thing that I started to understand was that the elite Masters racing that I was competing in was nothing like the kind of long-distance road racing that I had trained for as a young man. At the Masters level, the distance is typically just 70 or 80 kilometres, not the 140 kilometres or more that is typical for the elite level amateur and professional racing.

I realised that I had to train my body to go very, very fast for a little more than 90 minutes – not to be able to race for 4 hours or more, as is typical of the professional cycle racing you see on TV. I started to understand that the first 30 to 45 minutes of that 90 minutes was especially important, for that was when the selection of strongest riders was typically made in a kermiskoers, and gaps would start to open-up in the race. If you were not able to stay in the front ten to fifteen riders in the opening laps, especially once that group opened any kind of gap on the chasing peloton, your race was pretty much over.

So in the summer of 2010 we spent almost two months on Corsica, and for six days a week I rode my bike along the beautiful coastline and into the mountains above Calvi and Ile Rouse. While I did a longer ride once or twice a week, what I really started to work on was intensity and really pushing myself to exhaustion on the long steady climbs that the Islands is famous for. I would do a five to six minute effort at close to my maximal heart rate, rest for a minute and then repeat. I would do this again and again until I literally started to feel sick and weak. At first I could only do two of these kinds of sessions a week, as I needed a few days to recover afterwards. But by the end of the summer I could manage three such workouts.

We came back to Belgium at the end of August and I headed to a race in East Flanders. As I lined-up I realised that I was not the only guy had been training hard over the summer – those Flemish guys looked muscled, lean and suntanned. The flag dropped, and I experienced a tortuous 30 minutes of pain before losing contact with the front group of ten or so guys who drove the breakaway. The rest of us knew it was over, and we raced the next hour with resigned effort. I just wasn’t strong enough, and I still had problems with cramp and back pain.

I kept riding my bike, I kept racing and I kept losing weight. The 2011 Spring racing season was better – I could consistently finish the races I entered, and I got in my first breakaway. Being in that breakaway as an Aussie cyclist in Flanders was an experience I will never forget – the pain and the effort, and the realisation that there was a group of fifty guys hell-bent on catching you just a half-minute or so back down the road. The guys in the breakaway pretty quickly realised I was a foreigner, and in true Flemish style started to shout at me in English. There is no friendship in that kind of group – just solidarity of effort until the final few kilometres when the guy beside you will quite happily lean you into the barriers if it looks as though you might sprint past him. In that race I came 4th (picture below), with just a few centimetres separating me from my first podium in more than 20 years.

4th

That summer I lived a lifelong dream. My family and I went camping in France, and I competed in road races in the Auvergne and Languedoc regions. It was a very different style of racing to Flanders – races of 100 to 120 kilometres on beautiful open rural roads. The first half of these races was usually pretty civilised, before the real action would start in the final 50 kilometres or so. The competitors were almost gentlemanly, and I loved every moment. I was consistently finishing in the top 10, and I got my first podium with a third place in a hilly a race in the Dordogne. I won a bottle of wine, a loaf of bread and bunch of flowers. Fantastic! There was a big party at the campsite that evening!

In September I went to the European Masters Games in Lignano, Italy and I finished 7th in my Age Group Category. The race was on a very flat circuit, and not really suited to my physique, but I managed to make it into the breakaway with a Slovene, several Italians, a German and a Russian and we were able to stay away until the end. The Slovene guy won in a solo break, and Italians took 2nd and 3rd. I was over the moon with my 7th place – it was still two years to go until Torino, and I had really started to believe in myself. But the best part was coming home to Belgium – despite my 7th place, the kids had drawn a huge picture of a golden cup with a Number 1 on it.

P1060064

Something else started to happen – I think my body began to accept that I was serious about this cycling stuff. My fitness gains and weight loss had been slow and steady in 2010 and 2011, but then seemed to accelerate. At the end of 2011 I bought the most amazing performance enhancement tool than any cyclist can use – a power meter. This new tool enabled me not just to train with heart rate and feeling, but with accurate numbers of the watts of power that I was producing in any given effort. It was a revelation.

Performance in cycling is relatively simple – it is a combination of power-to-weight, aerodynamics, race nutrition and tactical wisdom. Training is about specificity – simulating the kinds of efforts that one will experience in competition. Improvement comes from incrementally and progressively overloading the body during training and racing, and ensuring that one has enough rest and the right fuel to recover for subsequent efforts.

I started to use my power meter to record my Belgian race data, and I could see quite precisely the kinds of power that I needed to sustain to finish at the front of races. After just a few weeks, I could see a certain pattern – I was having to average 290 to 300 watts of power output for the first 45 minutes of a typical kermiskoers just to stay in the front group, and an average of around 270 to 280 watts over the duration of the race. I sometimes struggled in races with a lot of corners, as although I could hold a good intensity I was unable to do the repeated sprints at very high watts after each deceleration. But I decided not to worry about this too much – the racecourse in Torino would not involve tight corners.

Now my training became completely focused. I developed my training plan around simulating the course that I would race in Torino – nine laps of an eight kilometre circuit, with sweeping corners, long straight sections and each lap an almost 1km climb of between 12% and 18% gradient. Each lap should take around 11 minutes at an average speed of just over 40kmh, so I would have to hold about 270 to 290 watts for around 8 to 9 minutes, and then go up into the 400 to 500 watt range for the 90 or so seconds of the steep climb, before recovering on the descent and repeating. I would also need to be ready to chase breakaways or close gaps – efforts of maybe 340 to 360 watts for 2 to 3 minutes at a time.

Racing kermiskoers in Flanders was perfect for the threshold work that I needed, but lacked the climbing, so I also started to do some racing in Wallonia. In summer of 2012 we found an amazing camping ground in the Cevennes national park in the south of France which had wonderful surrounding roads for training. A short distance from the campground I found a quiet road at the base of one of the nearby mountains. The first section of tarmac was about 1km long, with a 12 to 18% gradient and I rode up that damned thing hundreds of times.

I raced in France throughout the summer of 2012, and in the second half of August I won my first race in more than two decades – a regional Masters competition near to Lyon. I promise you something – it felt just as good standing on the top step of the podium at age 41 as it did when I was 17 years old. And I had the proudest family in the world.

And I still had a year to go to prepare for the World Masters Games in Torino.

Commitment, Cramps & Crashes: On Becoming a Cyclist Again

Brandenburg gate

I started training again in 2009, almost 20 years since I last raced my bike at an elite level. We were still living in Berlin, and I would ride my bike from where we lived in Prenzlauerberg on the East side of the city and out into the countryside. The outer suburbs of the east side of Berlin are a mix of turn of the century apartment buildings that survived the war, and housing and factories built during the GDR times. I would pass through Weissensee and Bernau, and then do a loop through the fields and a small forest near to Melchow and Biesenthal. On longer rides I might go as far as Eberswalde.

I tried not to get lost, as these were the days before I had a bike GPS and my German was non-existent. If you did ask someone for directions, the usual response was for the person to ask (in German) what kind of an idiot would ride with a map they could not read, and then point you in the wrong direction. The people out this way were Prussian, and they did not like the ‘outsiders’ like me who were coming to Berlin, forcing up prices and gentrifying many of the formerly working-class inner city suburbs.

The small rural villages in this part of Brandenburg were tidy and well kept, but far from affluent. Young people were notable by their absence, and you were more likely to see Dacia Logan sedans than BMWs. I would occasionally come across Confederate flags from the American civil war fluttering over small isolated houses out in the countryside, and my German friends later told me that these belonged to far-right supporters or neo-Nazis. I’m glad I didn’t stop at those places and ask for directions – the angry looking Rottweiler dogs in the front gardens would have deterred me anyway.

For the first several months that I rode my bike I didn’t have any special training plan or goals. I just wanted to ride, and I loved my time alone. I started riding in the early Spring of 2009, and the temperatures were frequently hovering around zero. I would leave home with layers of clothing, thick winter gloves and a thermal hat under my helmet. My cheeks would sometimes start to burn on the really cold days, so I also got myself a balaclava. Looking back now, I’m not surprised the local village folk sometimes got a shock when I asked for directions.

My first goal was just to build-up my aerobic fitness and lose weight. This is what cyclists call base training, and at first I was doing just four or five hours per week. Trying to fit in some riding around my young family and intensive work schedule was not easy, so I often headed out very early in the morning. I also got myself an indoor trainer, and would try to ride on it once or twice a week in the evenings.

The best thing that I discovered about being back on my bike was the thinking time. I had become so busy in trying to juggle the three balls of family, career and self, that the third one had been the first to drop. This meant that I was occupied all of the time, with very little time for mental down-time. On those rides through Brandenburg I started to reflect upon my life, and this eventually led to the worklife decisions that I have discussed in my previous blog posts. In mid 2009 I resigned from my job as a professor in Berlin, and moved with my family to Belgium.

Once in Belgium my new life as a cyclist really began. I had set myself the goal of competing at the next World Masters Games in Torino in 2013, and started to completely rethink how I could keep the three balls of family, career and self in the air. I have explained in my previous posts about how I started to focus my professional activities on becoming a keynote speaker, and at the same time was able to invest more and more time into my family.

When we moved to Belgium we rented a small house in Tervuren, a leafy suburb on the outskirts of Brussels. The choice of area was a very conscious one – we wanted somewhere that offered direct access to the countryside for the kids, that was well connected for transport (I would still have to travel from time to time for my speaking engagements) and which offered a good base for my cycle training.

Once settled, I joined a local cycling club and started to seek-out other cyclists who could also train on weekdays. My local club organized rides every Sunday from the famous ‘Café Congo’ in Vossem, with groups divided by ability – A,B, C and D. In the summer months it was not unusual for each group to contain thirty riders or more. The A group would average around 32 to 34kmh for a 100km ride, and the D group quite a bit slower than that, with each group followed by a support car. Of course, I immediately jumped in with the A group and found myself unceremoniously left-behind at around the 60km mark of my first group training. The rules of Belgian A-group club rides are pretty simple – if you can’t keep-up, then you find your own way home.

So for the next few months I dropped back with the Sunday B-Group, while at the same time increasing my week-day training to around 6 to 8 hours. The area of Belgium where we were living was called Vlaams Brabant, a beautiful part of the country with rolling hills and open countryside, dotted by small villages. It was just a short ride across the ‘border’ into French-speaking Brabant Walloon.

My first race in Belgium in the late Spring of 2010 was a shock. I had been back in training for more than a year and I thought I was in good condition. I was now able to join my club’s A-Group every Sunday, and was down to around 70kgs. So I thought I was ready to compete, and took a license with the Vlaamse Wieler Federatie (Flemish Cycling Federation).

What I was about to discover was that the level of amateur Masters cycling in Belgium is without a doubt the toughest in the world. Not only is the country cycle racing obsessed, but the sheer number of people participating in amateur competitive events is unrivalled. Many of the guys who race have been competing since they were nine years old and some have spent years as a professional. According to the Belgian press, doping is still prevalent in the amateur ranks and especially amongst the over 40s who are struggling to remain competitive into middle-age.

There are no fewer than seven provincial racing associations in Belgium, as well as the Flemish and Wallone ‘national’ amateur Federations. In the spring and summer months there might be upwards of 20 separate racing events per week, all in a country which is about a third of the size of the little island we Aussies call Tasmania.

The Flemish north of Belgium where I first chose to compete has a very special style of amateur road racing called the Kermiskoers. Belgium is a small country, so access to open roads can be difficult. The typical race format is therefore a short circuit, anywhere between 4 and 8 kilometers, that starts in a village centre and then loops out into the countryside. Total distance at the amateur level is 70 to 90 kilometers, and the circuit often involves sections of narrow farm roads, with a cobbled section thrown in for good measure. Flanders is very flat, so there are rarely any hills to speak off.

Re-entering the village can involve navigating sharp corners, speed bumps and traffic islands. Each and every corner involves deceleration and then rapid acceleration, and there are constant attacks. This would all be fine, if it were not for the 120 or so other guys who are all trying to stay at the front at speeds averaging 42 to 44 kilometers per hour! A professional cyclist once described the Kermiskoers as being as mentally stressful as the final kilometers of a sprint lead-out, but for the entire race. Crashes are common, and an ambulance crew is always standing by.

My first race was a 72km Kermiskoers in a small village near to Dendermonde in East Flanders, involving nine laps of an eight kilometer circuit with a cobbled section of about 400 meters. After four laps I was spat out the back of the peloton, with legs cramping and severe pain in my lower back. I pulled to the side of the road and proceeded to throw-up. I remember that it was not just any kind of vomit – it was that brown-green colored stuff that comes from someplace way down. I glanced at my computer – my average heart rate for the four laps that I had completed had been 174 beats per minute!

Bent over at the side of the road, I thought that I would never be able to compete with these guys. Then I told myself that this was just the first step on a long journey. Torino was three years away, and I had a lot of work to do.

SONY DSC
SONY DSC

Guilt, Lies & Cycling

I stopped cycling at an elite level when I was eighteen years old. After accepting a scholarship to study at the University of Melbourne, I moved to the city, 200kms south of the small country town where I grew up. I moved in with my older brother and sister, and within a few weeks started classes. I also found some work to make ends meet – the first was an evening job as a kitchen-hand in the restaurant of a local pub, and the other was the 6am-8am morning shift at a nearby gas station.

I arrived in Melbourne with some boxes of belongings and my racing bike. But I think I had already accepted that racing at a top level was behind me. The previous year had been really tough emotionally and financially due to my Dad’s illness, and as I looked forward I found it hard to see any way that high-level sporting competition could fit with what would be required to get through university. Everyone at home had such high hopes for my academic future, and I felt a responsibility not to let them down.

After a couple of months in Melbourne I sold my beautiful Italian Chesini road racer and used some of the money to buy a clunky mountain bike for commuting to classes and work. In the second year at University I got a part-time job as a bicycle courier, and spent my free hours racing parcels and documents to and from offices across Melbourne. I was the fastest non-powered delivery guy that the company had ever seen, and it was fun to experience the courier culture of the inner city. I continued to follow professional cycling of course, and even mountain biked a bit, but my days as a competitive road cyclist were over.

As I have discussed in my previous blog posts, I spent the next twenty years chasing “success” before I had the chance to stand back and reflect upon what that concept really meant to me. I have described how my wife and I created a new picture of what we wanted for our future, and how part of that picture included my dream to return to elite-level road cycling. In 2009 I set myself a goal – that within four years I would compete at in the Men’s Road Race at he next World Masters Games in Torino, Italy.

When I embarked on my cycling dream I was 39 years old, and weighed about 15 kilograms more than I did when I hung up my wheels two decades before. My aerobic fitness was pretty lousy, as besides commuting to work I had done no real endurance training for a very, very long time.

But the weird thing about getting into training again was not how my body felt – it was the way my head worked. As I started to train again, I would find myself out on the road with a sense of guilt hanging over me. What I was guilty about was the fact that I was not working, that I was not being productive in a professional sense. There was this strange feeling that what I was doing was bad, and that I shouldn’t be spending time in such a self-centred way.

SONY DSC

Hard work had been such a part of my life for such a long time, that I had relegated my personal passions and hobbies to the domain of the frivolous. It was not just cycling – by my mid thirties I went to the gym infrequently, rarely read a long book and only occasionally relaxed in front of the TV with my wife. I was infected with the ‘busyness’ disease so typical of high-achievers.

So I would be out on the road, and instead of enjoying the riding my mind would be in overdrive – I should be working, I should be achieving stuff. Sometimes, especially in the first few months, I would be so overwhelmed that I would cut my training session short and head home.

I think the guilt also stemmed from the fact that I did not know anyone else my age who was doing what I was doing. I felt a bit ashamed that while others were working and being responsible, I was cycling in the middle of the day. I would drop off my kids at School in the morning in my cycling gear, and I could see the strange glances from the other parents, most of whom were on their way to work. More than a few mothers asked my wife Anne-Mie if I had become unemployed – they were genuinely concerned.

At first, I also felt the need to tell white lies. A client would ask to schedule a conference call or meeting, and I would say that I was not available as I had another work commitment. Of course, there was no work commitment at all – I was following a pretty disciplined training schedule, and if a call or meeting clashed with my plan then I would try to move it.

The same went for speaking or teaching opportunities – if a conference or program date conflicted with specific race event or important training block, then I would decline by saying I was already booked. I thought that if I told the truth about my training or racing, then people would think I was not professional and that I was putting my sport ahead of my professional responsibilities. Of course, this was exactly what I was doing, but I was fearful of the consequences of being honest.

The problem of course was that telling these white lies compounded my feelings of guilt as I was worried what would happen if people found out what I was doing. And some of my colleagues and clients did find out through following me on social media – I posted about my cycling, and often uploaded my training data to one of the cycling specific tracker apps. Not very clever, I know.

After about two years there was a turning point during a ride with a CIO friend of mine. We were talking about the feelings of guilt that sometimes accompanied my training rides, and Jean-Pierre said to me: “Jamie, you should not feel any guilt. Do you know how many guys would love to do what you are doing? You should feel guilty if you don’t go out on a training ride – because you can!”

That talk was the catalyst for a change for me and I can honestly say that the feelings of guilt completely disappeared after that. It was also a turning point in another way – from that moment I no longer told lies about my training and racing, Instead I did the opposite – I became completely honest by sharing my Torino dream with others.

Whenever I have the opportunity I talk to clients, colleagues and friends about my cycling passion. I talk about how much I love my sport, about the thrill of racing and of course about the bikes, equipment, nutrition and training. I show them photos of my races, and beautiful places where I have trained.

P1060058

What astounds me is how many other people have at some point in their lives also been passionate about something that they have left behind, and with a bit of prodding will share their hidden desire to reconnect to what gives them joy. And it does not have to be cycling – I talk to business people who have been aspiring runners, swimmers, triathletes, surfers, musicians, artists, chefs and writers.

But something else happened after I started to talk more openly about my dream to return to competitive cycling – people started to help me on the journey. Colleagues started to ask me about the best time to schedule calls, and if meetings might conflict with important events or training goals. My clients started to offer to do Skype video calls instead of me travelling to their offices, and I even had business contacts introduce me to possible coaches and training partners.

My colleagues at business schools such as Antwerp Management, London Business School and ESMT in Berlin have offered me understanding. The same goes for my amazing colleagues Eithne Jones and Sabine Bulteel who look after my international keynote speaking engagements. Of course, they are never delighted when I turn down an opportunity but they send me the message that my cycling commitments in no way damage our long-term work together.

That’s why it was not just me who won that medal at the World Masters Games in Torino, or who was on the podium at the Giro Sardinia last year, or who accepted the winners trophy in Cape Town earlier this year.

It was a collective effort.

What I Think About When I think About Cycling

To understand why returning to elite level cycling was so important to me, I think it is necessary to  share a story.

It is funny, but I cannot remember a time when I could not ride a bicycle. I have very few photos of when I was a small kid, as money was scarce growing up and my parents were more focused on getting food on the table than spending money at the photo lab. But I do have a crumply white bordered picture from when I was maybe 3 years old, sitting on a rusty metal three-wheeler. I have very red hair, fair skin, loads of freckles and a beaming crooked-tooth smile.

A bike was an essential childhood tool for a kid growing up in a small country town in the country Australia. There were miles of trails and jumps in the bush that ran along the muddy Goulburn and Broken rivers that meandered past Shepparton. In the summer we would ride our bikes to our favourite swimming spots, or go fresh water crayfish catching in the irrigation channels that criss-crossed the orchards on the outskirts of town.

In the mid 1970s we all had dragsters, and then I got a second-hand BMX for my 9th birthday. The arrival of BMX was a life changer for me as I finally discovered a sport that I enjoyed and was reasonably good at. As a scrawny little kid, I was really not cut out for Aussie Rules football, which is a violent cross-between of rugby and judo. And I found cricket, which is basically like baseball on valium, unbelievably boring.

So I joined the Shepparton BMX Club which had its track at the back of the Twilight Drive-In Movie Theatre on the outskirts of town, and I would race there every Saturday morning. My training involved doing a newspaper delivery round for an hour every night after School, and racing around the bush with my mates.

When I was 12 I decided to have a go at track racing. My brother Robbie had messed around on the track, and I was good friends with a kid named Paul O’Brien who’s big brother Shaun was a talented cyclist who raced at the State and National level, and eventually went on to become an Olympic medallist. There was a cycling club in Shepparton, and the club had constructed an Olympic standard concrete velodrome – quite an undertaking in a town of just 14,000 people in which bike racing was considered a bit of an oddity. I remember going along to watch Shaun race, and I was captivated by the speed and excitement of the banked piste.

My fascination with the track soon turned into a passion for road cycling, and my bedroom became like a shrine to the Tour de France, with posters of my heroes Phil Anderson, Bernard Hinault, Greg Lemond and Miguel Indurain. One of my club mate’s Dad was an ex-professional cyclist, and their family had a VCR. I remember racing to his house whenever a Video of the Tour arrived, and watching my first Belgian classic and Paris-Roubaix. All that I dreamed about was becoming a professional cyclist in Europe, and I started to train harder and harder.

By the time I was sixteen years old I had qualified to race the Australian National Championships in Launceston, Tasmania. On the way to Launceston I had achieved high-level results at the provincial and State championship level, and had discovered my ability as a punchy climber. At just 168cm tall and around 62kgs, I was built to go fast when gravity kicked-in. It was difficult for me to always do well – most of the junior-level racing in Australia was on flat terrain that favoured bigger kids. But the state selectors saw my potential.

I never forget being woken up by my Dad at 5am the morning that the State junior team for the Australian National Championships was announced. In those days, the team lists were released in the Sun newspaper, and my dad had waited at the newsagent all night for the papers to make the journey up from the printing presses in Melbourne.

My father was so proud that I had made the team, and we both knew that this was a huge step towards a possible place at the Australian Institute of Sport, and my dream of racing in Europe. In the end, the National Championships were an anti-climax – I fell terribly ill with a virus a few days before, and barely made the top ten. But I knew that I had the ability to race with the best in Australia.

Then, my family’s world began to unravel. My Dad had always been a troubled person, battling alcoholism and a complex personality. But by 1987, the same year that I qualified for the Nationals, he had been suffering from worsening bouts of depression. This manifested itself in full-blown bi-polar disorder, and during 1988 he stopped working and was institutionalized.

My Dad’s mental decline was devastating for my mother, and also hit my 14 year-old brother very hard. Relations between my parents and several of my other brothers and sisters were strained, so I felt a huge responsibility on my shoulders – not just to support my mother and little brother emotionally, but also to contribute to the family financially through working part time.

At the same time that my Father’s illness was worsening, I was also entering my final year of High School. I was an intelligent kid, and had always done well at School. I had never found it difficult to balance my schoolwork and cycling, but with Dad’s illness and the added burden of needing to increase my part-time working to help Mum financially, something had to give.

With my Dad in and out of psychiatric hospital there was no money for us to travel, and I had to rely on friends to get to races. It was a struggle to buy racing-quality equipment, and I remember being laughed at on the start line of more than one race for my cheap balloon like tubular tyres. I became an expert on bike maintenance, wheel truing and puncture repair.

The second half of the 1988 road season was a disaster for me, and I will never forget the moment I was dropped by the lead group in the State Championships. Twelve months before I was the one attacking on the climbs, and now I was being left behind. My Mum and little brother were waiting at the car after the race, and we drove the 150 kms home in silence.

A couple of months after the State Championships I sat my High School finishing exams, and remarkably did very well. In fact, I did so well that I was offered a place to study an undergraduate degree at the University of Melbourne, as well as a state-funded scholarship for the underprivileged.

Everyone around me was so happy with my academic achievement – my family, our neighbours and friends, my teachers and even the people at the supermarket where I worked. My brother and sister who lived in Melbourne offered for me to live with them for the first year, as the scholarship was not enough to pay for university housing. I would also have to continue part-time working to get through.

Of all of the hundreds of kids on the housing estate where I had grown up, only a handful had gone on to tertiary education, and now I had the opportunity to join that privileged few. But for the previous six years – for more than a third of my life – all I had dreamed about was racing my bike in Europe. And it was not just a dream – I really believed that I had the engine and the self-discipline to make it as a professional. Now my dreams were crashing up against cold reality – my father’s illness, economic necessity and social expectations.

I was not yet 18 years old, and I had to make a choice.

 

Feel the Fear, Then Do it Anyway

Kids Podium

In this post I will talk about the fears that prevent us from chasing our dreams, and the path I took to win a bronze medal in the Cycllng Road Race at the World Masters Games in Torino, Italy.

In my last blogpost I talked about how status anxiety drives far too many of us to over-commit financially, thereby locking us into jobs that we hate. We then feel trapped and unable to pursue a different and more fulfilling lifework path, especially if that new path involves financial unknowns.

As a non-linear career progression, anyone who pursues the path of lifework needs to acknowledge that certain givens are no longer valid. Most of us expect that our income will increase year by year throughout our career, and that our reputation, professional status and social standing will steadily grow. Indeed, if this is not the case then most people feel insecurity and fear.

Embarking on a non-linear career adventure often requires an investment in time and money as one builds new skills, explores new contacts and networks, and creates the platform for lifework.  In turn, this sometimes require a ‘downgrading’ of one’s lifestyle and expenses, and even some changes to the social circles in which we move if those interactions involve expenses we can no longer afford.

The further away from one’s core expertise that lifeworking entails, the greater the re-adjustment of living expenses that is needed. For some people this can be a difficult realisation – for others it can be terrifying.

It is not only financial insecurity that prevents us from pursuing a wider definition of success, and a happier and more purposeful life. The people around us can also have a powerful and negative effect upon our choices in life – even those who love us the most.

Besides financial worries, the next most significant set of fears that I faced when my wife Anne-Mie and I decided to embark upon our lifework project related to my social and professional environment. I lost many hours of sleep thinking about the likely reactions of bosses, peers and colleagues and it took a lot of courage to tell these people about my decision to change my life.

I had been mentored throughout my career by colleagues who had chosen to follow linear career paths. They had worked hard to pass the gruelling and competitive process of promotion from Assistant to Associate to Full Professor, and in some cases to departmental or even institutional leadership.

The reaction from some of these people was shock and disbelief at my decision to step of the track, and in one case my decision was met by anger. I was told that I was “throwing away my talent” – that I was going from being a somebody to being a nobody. I was also criticised for “betraying the investment” that the institution had made in me, and exposed to hurtful gossip.

To an extent I felt that the investment story was true – the institution had paid for my doctoral studies, and provided me an incredible developmental opportunity – and I experienced a real sense of guilt. I had been promoted and rewarded handsomely, but the reality was that these promotions and rewards involved me spending a lot of my time doing things that I really did not enjoy. I found academic research for peer-reviewed publication to be tedious, and the organizational politics, committee meetings, recruitment interviews, budgeting and grading sucked the life out of me.

What I really loved was interacting with real people – the managers with whom I shared the classroom as part of my teaching on executive education programs. But as is the case with most Business Schools, mid-career faculty were discouraged from taking on too much teaching as the real focus should be on research and publication.

So I found myself in the situation that 80% of my energy was going into tasks that I hated – and I thought to myself that life is too short to continue doing that. But of course, and what I have realised since, many people in organizations spend an awful lot of their lives being promoted into jobs just like the one I had – the job with the big title and big salary that involves you letting go of what it is that you really love to do.

But of course, many of the people with whom I worked could not and would not understand my selfishness in wanting to do stuff that made me happy. I was even called to a meeting with senior management after resigning my position and offered a significant increase in salary to get back on to the organizational track. I politely declined – they just didn’t get it.

What I appreciated was the wisdom of several of the senior people with whom I worked to respect my decision, and to offer me an on going relationship with the institution as a free agent. I feel a very strong loyalty to those people, and especially a guy by the name of Olaf. I do everything that I can to support him and his team, and I really hope to continue our collaboration until I am old and grey.

In the end I realised (and as I have discovered through conversations with countless other professionals who are pursuing a lifework agenda), one needs to accept that not everyone in a given professional circle will understand the decision of a non-linear career path choice. The people who matter the most are your partner, your family and your friends. They are the ones who will live with the consequences of lifeworking, and they need to have their own fears addressed.

One important piece of advice is not to expect full understanding from parents, especially parents from the post-war generation that only ever experienced the industrial-age work model. You can only communicate to Mum and Dad that you will not become bankrupt and homeless – this is what I did for my parents-in-law in Belgium, and although they were not exactly delighted by our lifework choice they understood that their grandchildren would not go hungry.

This area of parental or wider family pressure also overlaps with the status obsession that I discussed in my previous post – many parents feel ashamed if they think that their children will not be able to move in the social circles that are their ‘birth right’ and to which they themselves have often worked very hard to ascend.

My Mum in Australia was wonderful when I told her that I was leaving my job to go independent. She provided nothing but encouragement, and has been one of my proudest supporters over the past few years. She has attended some of my talks, and carries my book around in her handbag to show to complete strangers at every opportunity. The reaction of my siblings was also great, with my big brother Rob declaring: “We always wondered when you were going to get a real job.”

Of course, your life partner is the one who matters most in this story. As I have described in my previous posts, my wife Anne-Mie and I jointly developed our lifework picture. I am the first to admit that it has not all been plain sailing in achieving our dreams, but we have never lost sight of the overall purpose that we set-out for ourselves back in 2009. We have tried to support each other, especially when we have faced setbacks.

On my path to compete in the World Masters Games in Torino I had several race crashes, two of which sent me to hospital. In the past five years I have shattered my collarbone, broken 10 of my ribs, cracked my pelvis, punctured a lung, dislocated a shoulder and lost a lot of skin as a comeback cyclist. All of that stuff hurt.

ipp

But never once has Anne-Mie suggested that I should give-up, and when I stepped on to the podium to collect my bronze medal in Italy it was not me who had won. We had won. Because the medal was just one part of the story – almost everything that we had dreamed together when starting our worklife project four years earlier had come to fruition. In many ways Torino was not about a cycling road race – it was about who we had become as a couple and as a family in getting there.

In my previous post “Confessions of a Fiat Driver” I described the story of Luiz, his unhappiness and his desire to take a different path. He had told me about how he and his wife’s dreams for the future had started to painfully diverge.

I sometimes find myself thinking about what Luiz is doing now. If you read this mate, please drop me a line.