Here’s a video that captures the extraordinary conditions we had to endure at last month’s Ironman 70.3 in Mallorca. Apart from the jellyfish stings I nearly preferred the torrential rain to the oppressive heat we had to endure in 2014. Hopefully the Aussie lady I bumped into leaving transition after the race is recovering from the jellyfish stings to her face. It’s a great race regardless of conditions – the largest 70.3 on Earth I’m told – and every triathlete should do it at least once.
There was no more thrilling a sight in a lifetime watching sport than seeing Jonah Lomu in full flight, and his skittling of Messrs. Catt, Carling and Underwood -along with seeing him in the flesh at Lansdowne Road in 2001 – will live long in the memory.
As the majority of global footballing talent is now concentrated in Europe’s top ten sides it’s asking alot for smaller clubs to get anywhere near winning the Champions League. The recent success of Barcelona shows that while the top sides will always need to be in the running for Galacticos when they’re available, there will always be a need to bring players through from the academies. It’s hard to remember the last time the Manchester United academy produced a genuine superstar, which begs asking what Louis van Gaal thinks of the set up and how it compares with what he left behind him many years ago at Ajax. Actually the reason why it’s hard to remember is because the last time it happened was twenty years ago. The player? Paul Scholes.
The famed Ajax academy system judges players using the TIPS (Technique, Intelligence, Personality and Speed) model. Personality and speed are intrinsic to the person, but technique and intelligence can be cultivated. Selection for Ajax’s youth academy depends on a child’s ability and potential to excel in all four areas. Their 1995 Champions League-winning side was remarkable in that – with the exception of Jari Litmanen and Finidi George – it was probably the only home-grown side to win the competition in the last 20 years. It was also one of the more enjoyable sides to watch in recent times. It’s worth remembering that the starting line up of the Inter Milan side that won the 2010 competition didn’t contain one Italian. The following clip provides a small insight into the Ajax Academy.
If you’ve read Matthew Syed’s Bounce, Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers, Carol Dweck’s Mindset or Daniel Coyle’s The Talent Code alot of what is in Rasmus Ankesen’s The Gold Mine Effect may not appear new, but the book contains plenty of useful messages that can be used by all individuals and organisations that are striving for High Performance in their chosen fields.
I’m doing a 5km individual swim on the 14th of November in the Kingfisher Club, NUI Galway. It’s being organised by my cousin Niall Callanan and there will be up to 28 other people taking part. We’re aiming to raise €20,000 for the Galway University Hospital Cancer Patient Comfort Fund. If it’s a charity that appeals to you, please click on the link to donate.
I’ll be republishing this intermittently between now and the 14th of November.
That 13 people have died on Mont Blanc this month alone drives home the point that despite being well prepared and primed for high performance it’s often a big dollop of luck that gets us there in the end. Here’s an account of my summit attempt which took place on July 13th, 2006.
John Taylor and Miles Bright kept starring over at the summit of Mont Blanc. Wisps of cloud were forming on the peak but didn’t seem to be a threat to our hopes of attempting to summit via Mont Blanc du Tacul and Mont Maudit. We climbed into the cable car and ascended towards Aguille du Midi. My stomach began to churn and by the time we reached the station I also had a headache. Stepping out of the cable car I looked over at Mont Blanc and could no longer see the summit. It was shrouded in a thick cloud that was now moving down towards us.
We had a coffee while John and Miles made a decision. They decided to split the groups, with Gerry Knecht and Jerry Ohmes heading for the summit with Miles from Aguille du Midi while John brought the rest of us around to the Tete Rousse hut for a summit attempt the following morning. I was delighted as there was no way that I was fit for an attempt that morning. The change in altitude from Chamonix to Aguille du Midi had knocked the stuffing out of me.
Down in Chamonix we had an early lunch before heading to the Tete Rousse hut via cable car and train to Nid d’Aigle. The forecast for the following morning was good with the promise of rain in the early afternoon, but John gave us no more than a 50% chance of reaching the summit. The hut is in the shade of the infamous Grand Couloir which has claimed close on 80 lives in the last 20 years. We arrived after 5pm and kicked our heels until dinner at 7pm.
I hit the hay immediately afterwards and got some sleep before our anticipated departure of 1am. Thanks to the altitude I had a mild headache and was suffering from frequent pangs of nausea. I woke periodically to hear rocks eerily cascading down the Couloir. I got the word to move at 1am and set about trying to wash and insert contact lenses using torch light and without running water.
At around 2am we moved out to the Grand Couloir to find that the rock fall had subsided due to the snow freezing further up. We clipped on to the cable and crossed without incident. We climbed for 90 minutes and eventually arrived at the Gouter Hut. It was tough going and I kept my trap shut for the entire spell – something which Matthieu, our French guide, found very amusing.
The grim and disgusting hut was so full that there were people asleep on the tables even. We hung around long enough to knock back a cup of tea before heading for the Dome du Gouter. The higher we climbed, the colder it became. The only reason I didn’t throw up was because there was little or nothing in my stomach.
We arrived on the Dome du Gouter at 0545 am and the view was stunning. I should have been purring with enthusiasm when I looked over at Mont Blanc in all its glory. Instead, all I saw was a further two hours of torture. The altitude was affecting me and I was beginning to shiver and get thick with those around me. John ordered me to put my jacket on as ice crystals were forming on my fleece, and he handed me the climbing pole I’d left behind me.
I trudged along, roped up to John in front of me and Alex Knecht – who I was clearly pissing off – behind me. Ivor Evans and his buddy Adrian the English defence lawyer were roped up to Matthieu. We passed the Vallot Hut and I snapped out of my moroseness and sensed a second wind. Maybe it’s something to do with getting close to the end but I felt a surge of energy as we approached the Bosses Ridge. We stepped aside to let a team of Italians descend. There wasn’t much room to move but there was no wind and there were high fives all round and words of encouragement as they passed. There wasn’t long to go and I was going to enjoy every second of it.
John turned to shake my hand: We were on the summit, and there was more room than I expected. I pulled off the gloves, drank in the view, looked into France, Italy and Switzerland and took out my phone. The coverage was fantastic and I dialled my brother in Brisbane. 15 minutes of photos later we started our descent. My problems were only beginning.
That my climbing boots were half a size too big didn’t matter on the ascent, but it mattered greatly
on the descent. With every step my big toes slammed into the toe caps. Bit by bit the pain grew and after an hour each step was met with a yelp and some nice language thrown in. The following hours were challenging, and we had the added pressure of needing to make the final cable car for Les Houches. I swapped boots with John back at the Gouter Hut and this alleviated some of the pain. More fun followed on the scramble down to Tete Rousse Hut. We stopped for a break and John put Miles Bright on to me. “Stiff upper lip Dara,” he said, his military background coming to the fore.
On arrival back at Les Houches my socks were caked in blood and needless to say both nails came off a couple of weeks later. I wore flip flops to the pub and night club later that evening.
Having completed two marathons, a half ironman in 35 degree heat, and a number of Olympic and sprint-distance triathlons I’d consider that day on Mont Blanc as having been the equal of the half ironman if not my most challenging physical endeavour. You mightn’t need the physical fitness required for a marathon or a triathlon but the day can go on for up to 12 hours. Throw in some altitude sickness along with a poorly fitted pair of boots and you’ve an interesting challenge on your hands.
13 people have died on Mont Blanc in the last month alone, and while I summited and descended safely, there was a good deal of luck involved. Though the weather was in our favour, I often wonder how I would have felt if I’d been denied the summit because of it. Hiring a guide may not be good for some egos but I’d recommend John Taylor of Mont Blanc Guides and Miles Bright to anyone who wants good professional decisions made in what is a dangerous and inhospitable environment.
From John F. Kennedy announcing that the U.S. would put a man on the moon and bring him back safely to Earth by the end of the Sixties to the reading of the Proclamation of Irish Independence outside the G.P.O. in 1916, the power of making a declaration should be obvious.
Aussie swim coach, Brenton Ford, hit on why it’s important to make declarations in one of his Effortless Swimming newsletters when he wrote:
“A friend of mine has registered for next year’s Melbourne Ironman. It will be his first one. The small act of registering will set in place an entirely different twelve months than if he hadn’t registered. Why? Because he now has a reason not to hit the “snooze” button. When it’s cold and wet outside, the challenge he has coming in March 2014 will be pulling him out the door and to the pool like a persistent child nagging to get what he wants. When you set a big goal it sits in the back of your mind with every decision you make. “Should I eat this donut?” ….”If I skip this session I promise I’ll make it up tomorrow.” When your big goal is set, it’s easy to make those decisions.”
At the outset of large business transformation projects executives often make large ambitious declarations in order to transform the future of their organisations. According to Tracy Goss, a well-known U.S. consultant “a declaration is an act of speaking that brings forth a future the moment it is spoken…Once you declare a specific impossible future, your way of being now operates in relationship to that declaration.” Whatever about the executive changing their own way of being, it’s another thing to change the way of being of an entire organisation.
With my own life I’ve found that declaring that I’d do the Dublin Marathon in 2008 and 2010 as well as doing this year’s Mallorca Ironman 70.3 brought about considerable changes of behaviour in order to achieve those goals. The declarations in 2010 and 2014 didn’t have as much transformative power as the one in 2008 as I knew by then that physically I was capable of achieving those aims. Before 2008 I had never put in the work required to complete a marathon, and hadn’t a clue if I’d be able to do it. Still, I changed my behaviour and completed a training programme in the hope that I’d be able to seal the deal, and I did.
Though a triathlete attempting an Ironman for the first time may not be entering entirely alien territory – which a business executive undergoing a radical transformation project may well be – it doesn’t make the undertaking any less daunting. It’s a huge physical commitment and nobody knows if their body will be able to cope. Both the triathlete and executive may eventually achieve their goal, but more often than not, the process embarked on as a result of making the declaration will be a lot dirtier and more haphazard than the training programmes or the neat Harvard Business Review “in hindsight” case studies will have you believe.