What Got You Here Won’t Get You There

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Apologies to renowned coach Marshall Goldsmith for stealing the title of one of his books but it seemed so appropriate.

Watching Federer play Mischa Zverev  reminded me of the need to amend our strategy both dependent on the occasion and the stage of our career.  This has been highlighted by Federer yesterday and throughout his career.

Yesterday against the older Zverev he was faced with a wily player, with a game well suited to grass ,who he expected to serve and volley and in return games to try and get to the net as often as possible. Federer, like the other top players, is good at getting the ball back into play of big servers by slicing or chipping the ball back, giving himself the chance to get into the point.  This is fine against a big server who stays back most of the time – the type of opponent he faces in many matches.  However, against Zverev it would most likely give him a relatively easy volley. So Federer’s return strategy changed – the vast majority of his returns were driven or hit with topspin, with the aim of getting the ball down at the ankles of Zverev.  Tougher to make the return but harder for the incoming volleyer.  The result of course was a straight sets win for Federer.

So, what of career changes.  Federer, faced with the growing competition from Nadal and Djokovic between 2008 and 2011 was faced with two opponents who were exceotional defensive players who played well behind the baseline.  Both stretch the limits of time allowed between play and, Nadal particularly has clearly messed with Federer’s head in disrupting his relatively rapid rhythm between points.

Federer has not stood still in this but has sought to change and in some instances innovate to compete.  First, in 2009, rather than step back and give himself more time, Federer stepped up, more frequently playing around the baseline – Nadal, Djokovic and Murray will often play two metres or more behind it.  What Federer’s strategy did was take time away from his opponents.  Of course, he’s blessed with remarkable gifts that have allowed him to do that – though this has been coupled with many hours of work on the practice court.

Then, of course, a couple of years ago we saw the sneak attack by Roger (SABR) appear in the American hard court season, where he would step forward to take a second serve almost on the service line.  A tactic very few could execute successfully but it reaped dividends, if not quite another slam.  Years ago he resurrected the forehand slice when dragged out of position, as part of his defensive arsenal, which gave him time to get back into points.

In his time off last year he seems to have worked further on being more aggressive, particularly on his backhand – once seen as a relative weakness.  This year its been a weapon and a thing of beauty.

What’s also been interesting this year and, particularly at Wimbledon, is Rafael Nadal, is stepping in more – something that has clearly paid off.  I think he’s currently playing some of the best tennis of his career.

So, what can we learn?

Firstly, as the world is changing around us we cannot rely on the way we have worked in the past, whether in terms of personal style or business or operating models. That doesn’t mean we throw everything out, indeed, where it works and is sound it may well be the right thing to continue with.

However, a week ago I briefly mentioned the dynamics of the tennis entourage.  These vary and are often unusual.  One thing we can say is that they don’t have the hierarchical, command and control cultures that we see in many large corporates.  Given the focus on achieving results, there are people bringing specific skills to bear on this and all need to be heard and often the strategy around these areas is debated between player, expert and other key members of the team.

There is undoubtedly a high degree of collaboration and debate.  The open nature of these debates is part of keeping the team engaged and on-board.  However, in many large commercial firms (my experience is principally in financial services) the hierarchical, command and control structure is counter-productive.  Lack of openness and low trust often result and bad news does not travel upwards effectively, leading to a degree of organisational blindness.

While many firms are trying to innovate and rightly concerned about the competitive threat from tech firms, traditional management styles are not only counter-productive to innovation, they also inhibit performance and productivity.

As large firms, particularly in financial services, where I have spent much of my career, seek to innovate, this cultural element is an on-going obstacle.  Command and control coaching has long since disappeared from much of elite sport – when will senior managers in the corporate sector learn that such approaches are severely limiting to individual and team performance.

Kerber not a happy bunny…

France Tennis French Open

Angelique Kerber is undoubtedly a talented player, a two time slam winner and the top seeded player in what many acknowledge to be a wide open Wimbledon.

However, despite moving into the third round, not only does she seem unhappy on court but is playing defensively. By that, I mean she is hitting the ball well within the lines, getting the ball back and looking for her opponent to make mistake. She is such a marvellous athlete who retrieves well and so far it’s worked but as she progresses it won’t!

Contrast this with Wozniacki, playing with renewed joy, attacking the ball and dusting the lines.  Caroline is a similar age to Kerber and has had her tribulations in the past.  She’s another player considered to be defensive but is certainly playing with more verve and an attacking mindset than Kerber.  While Kerber is hitting well within the lines of the court, Wozniaki is stretching her opponents by going close to or for the lines.

Last year in building a team with a different culture to that of the bank in which we were working, to facilitate innovation, I asked one team member what she wanted out of her job.  Amongst other things a key element was to come to work and have fun!

In the kind of worlds that many of us work in, having fun is indeed a possibility at work.  Indeed, along with a number of other characteristics, enjoying one’s work is a key element of a productive worker.  So at the moment I wouldn’t stake too much money on Angie Kerber winning Wimbledon!

The Tennis Entourage – Peak Performance Needs Support (Lessons for Tech Investors!)

The Championships - Wimbledon 2012: Day Five

On the eve of Wimbledon, we can learn some interesting lessons looking at the top players and the support they have that enables them to perform at their peak.  We’ll take a brief look at that old codger and bookies favourite, Roger Federer, and the current champion, Andy Murray.

Both players are now family men and have comprehensive support teams – the entourage, as it’s often referred to, is not just a group of hangers on but a team that provides specific support to the player.  The ultimate goal, of course is to facilitate the player performing at their peak.

Different players have slightly different configurations of support team but in terms of Murray and Federer, they are similar in that both have a headline coach (Lendl for Murray and Ljubicic for Federer), a regular full time coach (Delgado and Luthy respectively), fitness coach, physio, nutrition support, agents (coincidentally both have set up their own sports agency with their own agents) and strong family support from their wives and parents. Additionally, in Federer’s case taking four children on tour he has comprehensive child care to free up Merka to support him when playing.

Other players will have slightly different configured teams, often smaller, while more than one role may be taken by a single person.  In addition, specific skills may be brought in to address specific requirements (technical improvement, etc) and different hitting partners are often used dependent on need (similar playing style to the next opponent, for example).  Djokovic, for example, brought in Mark Woodford for a spell to help him improve his volleys.

These support teams are critical for their success and it’s an indication of how sophisticated elite sport has become.  Taking such a sizeable team on tour is a costly exercise and, in terms of the size of the Murray and Federer teams, may only be for the very top players.  However, it is undoubtedly seen by them as providing a clear return on investment.

For players early on in their careers their national federations will often invest in some of this support, of which some may be shared amongst players.

Extended stakeholders in the team include sponsors, including racket and clothing suppliers.  A few years ago the focus for Federer was regaining his number one ranking.  This mission and the plan to do this was worked on with his coaching and management team and openly articulated and shared with his key sponsors.

The dynamics of these teams can be unusual – inevitably the player is the focus but they are unlikely to be hierarchical in the way many traditional corporates are.  `The roles can be fluid and overlap, while the life of members of the support team can be short lived.  Though with Matt Little, who works with Murray, and Severin Luthy, Federer’s long time coach, their long tenure is a testament to the comfort the players feel with these individuals and the on-going contribution they are seen to be making.  Often the length of service of coaches is no longer than 18 months (not too dissimilar to CIO’s in financial services!)

So, what can we learn from this?

There are a number of elements we can learn from. Obviously, providing support for our key performers to achieve specific goals is important.  Having a learning and coaching culture leads to improved performance and growth.  Large firms can learn from the dynamics of these high performing teams.  These are themes that we will look at in future posts.

However, having spent the last year working in tech innovation there’s an angle I’d like to explore based on observation.  In recent years money has been flooding into the tech start-up world.  Private equity funds, large tech firms, financial services firms all have money invested or to invest in early stage tech firms.   There are plenty of interested parties and different approaches.

Ultimately investors are interested in the numbers and making a return om their investment.  Some will provide support to differing degrees, others look to influence with a seat on the board.  The success of varying approaches is mixed – it was brought to my attention recently that one large tech firm has bought several hundred tech firms over the last 10 years – around 80 per cent of these have subsequently been closed down, despite the investor  having built a team in house with the skills to facilitate integration.  This is not too dissimilar to the overall world of mergers and acquisitions, where research suggests that around 85 per cent of mergers and acquisitions fail to realise the benefits that are articulated before the integration.

In the case of early stage tech firms, they vary considerably but may be comprised of a small team, with very specific skills and focus.  Over time to realise the return on investment there will be some help they certainly need and other skills which may be helpful.

While they grow, the operating model will change (potentially several times) – this should not be a fudged exercise but with specific focus around the goals of the company over the next period.  Team members will undoubtedly benefit from coaching, particularly as the size of the organisation grows and culture changes with it, similarly bringing in relevant skills around organisation development will help here.  Specific additional skills may be needed around strategy, product management, sales and marketing, developing the technology.

These are all not too dissimilar to the approach taken by elite performers in sport.  While there are undoubtedly some organisations who get this and do nurture their investments, in the main the world of work in this area, like many others, is way behind in understand the components and psychology of performance.

So when you’re watching the tennis over the next few weeks an the camera pans over to the players box, remember that many of the people there have a clear contribution to make to the performance of the player on court.

Don’t read too much into the upsets at Queens…

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While the form book has been close to being followed in Halle, with a final between Federer and Alexander Zverev (seeds one and four), at Queens we saw a series of early upsets with the top three seeds (Murray, Wawrinka and Raonic) all losing on Tuesday, leaving us with a final between fourth seeded Marin Cilic and the unseeded but highly experienced Feliciano Lopez, the conqueror of Stan Wawrinka last Tuesday.

These are warm up tournaments, they are not always good form guides.  While Murray won Queens last year and went on to win Wimbledon, in 2012, ahead of his first Wimbledon victory he was also knocked out in his first match at Queens.  Coincidentally, the winner in 2012 was Cilic.

Murray and Wawrinka had both had long runs on the clay in Paris, Murray to the semis, where he lost to Stan, who lost in the final to a resurgent Nadal.  So, after a short rest they would have started practicing on grass during the week before Queens.  For the big names this is part of the process of preparing for Wimbledon – working out their games moving to a faster and lower bouncing surface.

Some players need competitive court time others less so.  Federer took time out after winning in Miami in March and returned in Stuttgart the week before Halle – typically he has previously just used Halle as a warm up tournament.  In Stuttgart he started of in fine form against Tommy Haas, dominating the first set but lost in three – however, he continues to roll back the years with his performances in the last week and is the current bookies favourite for Wimbledon.

Each player is different, back in the late seventies, when Borg left Paris for London he spent his days practicing on the grass of a tennis club in London prior to Wimbledon and didn’t play any warm up tournaments – clearly for five years this worked for him. During this time he would work on flattening out his forehand and practicing serve and volley, amongst other things.  Yes, Borg was known to come into the net – something he rarely needed to do on clay.  In contrast, around this time both McEnroe and Connors have used Queens as a warm up tournament.

What works for one player doesn’t always work for another.  The key for the top players is that they are focused on the big tournaments and while the play to win in the smaller events, it is often about using these to get their games in order for the slams.

For those of us who aren’t professional athletes we don’t have the luxury of not worrying about losing while we’re working on our games.  However, we do need to constantly think about how we can improve.  For many of us there are things we work towards, whether it’s a qualification, a big presentation, a project deadline, etc, and we need to work out ways of ironing the kinks out of our performances ahead of these occasions.

Nadal – King of Clay – Experience & timely breaks delivers again!

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So, two of the greatest tennis players of all time continue to roll back the years.

Having renewed their rivalry at the start of the year – with Federer winning in five sets, coming from a break down in the fifth in the Australian Open final. Federer went on to win again against Nadal in Indian Wells and Miami.  Federer has since been out of action but returns this week to grass ahead of Wimbledon.

Nadal has come back to dominate on clay, undoubtedly his best surface, on which he holds a 13-2 head to head with Federer.  Winning 10 titles at a single slam is unprecedented. At the age of 31 he dominated every opponent – not since Borg in 1978 has anyone conceded so few games in winning a slam.  Nadal conceded 35 games through the seven rounds, compared to Borg conceding 32 in 1978. Both players are/were masters of the defensive game.

Nadal does a number of things that set him aside.  His preparation, which appears OCD, is meticulous.  It’s seen on the court in the way he arranges his kit, drinks, etc, together with his step pattern from change overs. It starts before the match in visualisation not just of how he might play the math but of the walk to the court.   Spatially Court Philippe Chatrier is larger than any of the other courts – his experience of it is clearly greater than any and in facing a younger opponent like Thiem, in the semis, he had a significant advantage here in his familiarity with the surroundings.  However, where he’s not familiar he has dealt with that in the past by actually doing the walk to the court and spending time on the court before a match to familiarise himself with his surroundings.

For great performers meticulous preparation is critical – a question for all of us as we go about our daily performances at work, is how much do we prepare, particularly for meetings, or key interactions?

Like all top tennis players Nadal is also an expert at managing his own energy and time – legendary (as with Djokovic) for the amount of time he takes between serves. While this led to a warning from the umpire in an earlier round, the routine he goes through is designed to help him stay present – tuning out of the last point and allowing complete focus on the next.

Additionally, both Federer and Nadal have taken chinks of time off in the past year.  Both acknowledge that this has been a key element in their resurgence.  While my work, as a consultant has allowed me to take breaks (some longer than intended), it’s not the norm in a working life.  Our working patterns don’t readily facilitate the effective management of energy – I often see senior managers go from meeting to meeting throughout the day with little preparation, no breaks and hence little or no time to reflect on outcomes.  It’s a pattern of work that is highly ineffective yet persists.  Jim Loehr, in working with senior executives, observed productivity dropping relatively early in the day as a result of this pattern – rarely do those involved even recognise it.  Long days rarely have a positive effect on output!

Experience Delivers

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I may be seen as talking my own book here but I’m prompted to write this having watched some great tennis in a match between Fernando Verdasco and Alexander Zverev.  Zverev, at 20, is the new kid on the block, just  recently having broken into the world’s top ten.  However, it was the greater experience of Verdasco that won the day in four sets.  Despite having an overnight break at one set all, Zverev and his team were not able to adjust or come up with an alternative game plan.  Despite Verdasco having a reputation of someone who can be mentally susceptible at times, it was Zverev who broke two rackets and was visibly rattled as he lost the last two sets.

It seems that the upper reaches of the men’s rankings are inhabited by old codgers currently.  With Murray and Djokovic hitting 30 earlier this month the top five are now all over 30.  While not present at Roland Garros, we have seen Roger Federer play sublime tennis this year, winning the his 18th slam in Australia and following up with Masters 1000 titles in Indian Wells and Miami, all at the grand old age of 35.

Back at the end of 2003, the year Federer won his first slam, the top ten had one member over 30, Agassi, while other members of the top five included Roddick and Coria (both 21), Federer (22) and Juan Carlos Ferrero (23). The average age of the top ten was just over 24, as opposed to over 28 currently.  Only two members of the current world’s top ten are under 25, Thiem at 23 and Zverev at 20.  What is also remarkable at the moment is that half of the world’s top 50 are over 30.

It’s likely that only the old folks amongst you will remember teenagers like Becker, Wilander and Chang winning grand slams!  So what’s happening?  I think a number of factors are at play.  One is that better understanding of sports science and the management of physiology, both in the management of injury and training for peak performance for specific events. With experienced players continuing to be able to compete physically with young guns later into their careers then that’s where greater experience comes into play.  Of course the top players with plenty of prize winning and endorsement dollars pocketed are able to afford the entourages to better support their health and fitness as well.

Top players in their late twenties and beyond have played every style of opponent on every surface and faced most situations that they will ever encounter on a tennis court.  Additionally, the best players go deeper into tournaments, getting more competitive court time against more opponents and, therefore, building their experience faster, so a top ten player will get significantly more court time against better opponents over the course of a year than a player ranked outside the top 50.

While most professional tennis players work on or are taught techniques to stay present from an early age, it’s always a challenge to do so in the heat of competition but having the experience of having faced most situations before helps develop the capability.  Some players are undoubtedly better at it than others – Nadal is the master of both managing his own energy and manipulating that of his opponent, while Murray (currently world number one) is probably the most susceptible of the top five to allow himself to be disrupted.

In the working world I’ve tended to find that having experienced team members is important in getting projects and programmes delivered – so I am talking my own book!

Reflections on an Old Codger!

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Well, several days after Fed won his 18th grand slam singles title I am still awe struck by the achievement.

Two old codgers got to the final, perhaps aided by early exits of the top two players in the world, Murray and Djokovic.  However, they both had to play some amazing tennis, including numerous, draining, five set matches, only to end up playing a final over five sets with tennis of exceptional quality.

So, how do measure Federer’s achievement?

Nadal is five years younger than Federer, a youthful 30, however, with his recent injury problems he struggled for form and consistency in the second half of last year but found it at the Australian Open, getting to the final.  This is unsurprising, in most sports you would expect players coming back from injury to take time to build form and consistency.

Federer, at 35, is nearly five years older than Nadal.  He hadn’t played a competitive tournament since Wimbledon in mid 2016 – so over six months out, following a knee injury.  He has managed on his return:

  • To win a slam, winning seven matches over two weeks, with three of the last four matches going to five sets!
  • Became the oldest winner of a grand slam singles title since Ken Rosewall won the Australian in 1972 at the age of 37
  • He overcame a player, in Nadal, who has had the psychological edge on him since at least 2008 and who, despite struggling with form last year, at least has had competitive time on the court in the last six months, as well as being significantly younger.

All this having just returned to competitive tennis having had six months out. Whatever the quality and experience of Federer, his achievement is remarkable.

History must have weighed heavily on Federer’s mind as Nadal came from two sets to one down and break Fed in the first game of the final set and as he failed to break Nadal in his next two service games, despite having numerous break points.  On a number of occasions in the past Federer had played out of his skin, only for Nadal to get under his skin and come back to win.

Federer persisted in playing positively and pushing, ending with him winning four games in a row from 3-2 down to come back and win the final set and the trophy.

At an age when many players would have settled on their laurels, or hung up their rackets and moved on, Federer is still competing at the highest level.  He has had to continually adapt and innovate – rather than following the trend and stepping back on the court to give himself more time, he has stepped in with the aim of taking time away from his opponents.  In 2015 the sneak attack by Roger appeared (SABR), as he stepped in, using his remarkable racket head control and reading of the serve to attack the serve of top opponents – in the main this was successful, other than in the US Open final of that year, when he encountered an inspired Djokovic, who he had beaten with similar tactics in the previous tournament.  He continues to use the court as well as any player, with a variation and invention matched by no other current player.

 

When You Haven’t Got A Plan….

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You may remember that last year I did RideLondon and then rode to Paris with two of my kids. Then I took my own advice and put together a fairly comprehensive training plan at the start of the year – completing the reduced (86 mile) Ride London course in under 5 hours, in pretty horrendous conditions and getting to Paris reasonably comfortably, bar a very wet and miserable third day. This year, courtesy of the Samaritans, I have a place in RideLondon but unlike last year there has been no structured training plan. Something that goes against much of what I’ve written on these pages over the past couple of years!

So, I’m going into next weeks RideLondon not in tip top shape (was I ever), with limited training and unlikely to meet the 5 1/2 hour target I had initially set myself!  So, I can always hope!!

So here’s the request – given the kind people at the Samaritans have given me a place, if you’re able to support their work, then they and I would be really grateful if you can donate on my Just Giving page – https://www.justgiving.com/Andy-Aitkenhead – I may even scrape near my target…

Cheers
Andy

Support and Collaboration Lead to Achieving Goals…

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At the end of August I completed a four day ride from Marble Arch, London, to the Arc de Triomphe, Paris, we have been congratulated by lots of folk on our achievement. Sam, my eldest son, Beth, my daughter, and I cycled over 280 miles, climbed around 9,000 feet over the four days. There hangs a tail – I’d told my daughter there’d be some climbing towards the end of the London-Dover first day, some at the start of the second day and not much after that. Well, between Canterbury and Dover I don’t think I’ve climbed so much on a bike in such a short space of time. The second day was much as predicted but on the third day after a lengthy and gradual ascent and then steep descent, we had the longest climb of the trip so far, which was followed by plenty more shorter ascents. Then on day four not long into the ride out Beauvais we met what turned out to be the longest ascent and followed by several more climbs, prompting Sam to say that the climbing had not been balanced by descents. For the first two days we had decent weather, the third day was torrential and a day when we seemed to be continually cycling into a headwind, the third day started off wet but ended in the sun in Paris. However, facing long climbs in wet and clingy clothing was not what any of us would have described as fun.

Standout performances from both kids (if you can call them that at 29 and 23) but we were admirably supported by my wife Ab and son Joe. While, when we started, if we’d known what we were letting ourselves in for, I’m not sure we’d have had the guts to keep going. However, we also had a couple of rest stops on the first two days when we were met by Ab and Joe, who provided us with much needed refreshment. On the third and fourth days our lunch stop also turned into a major recovery break, with a complete change of clothes at lunch on day three. Ab drove, Joe navigated and, I’m sure also calmed Ab’s nerves. He also provided the food for lunch, his own inimitable gourmet sandwiches, together with soup, cake, coffee, etc., though we tended to take too long and eat too much for lunch because of it.

They also did the checking in and out of hotels, packing up, etc – regular soigneurs – but not too many massages though, so not sure we can recommend them to Team Sky just yet.

On day three the change of clothes was significant, swapping next to useless cycling rain capes for climbing anoraks. None of us had waterproof pants, so it was a change from sodden lycra to dry lycra, which very quickly became sodden again! For some reason it was the wet days when we seemed to hit the roads with the heaviest traffic and it was on day three that we had the only puncture of the trip. Just lovely replacing an inner tube on the rear wheel in the pouring rain!

As the three riders all had intermittent knee problems, the support team provided medical support, all invaluable and without which we would have struggled to complete the ride to Paris.

We also had support from lots of other sources to help us prepare, many thanks to all. Elaine many thanks for your tips, including encouraging us to ride on each others wheels to reduce the overall effort we put in. We had practiced a little before but definitely got better as the days passed, with Sam and Beth both doing some immense work at the front and nobody ever being left behind. We didn’t take arm warmers – but the mornings were cold at the start and, yes, it was always a struggle to get going on each morning after day one but being forewarned we managed.

This was a goal that had it’s genesis in a minor heart condition, which thankfully was resolved last year – but being clear as to the goal, how we were going to achieve it (putting the plan together), preparation (training, route planning, getting all the equipment in place – which for Sam almost de-railed the trip) and a mass of support, we eventually achieved what we set out to do.

We used a Garmin and ridewithgps.com for route planning – if anyone wants to use my files, speak to me and I’ll help you keep off the farm tracks – which are not ideal for road bikes and how we got our puncture on day three!

With the kindness of a lot of you we also managed to raise around £2,000 for the British Heart Foundation and the Arrhythmia Alliance, across our three virginmoney fundraising sites:

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/Aitkenheads

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/Acycling

http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/riding_my_bike_to_paris

Best Laid Plans….

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So as a family we are undertaking a challenge that I initiated last year – cycling to Paris. Not on one of these organised rides, which put as much in the hands of the organising companies as they do the charities, but self-supported.

The story is to be found at
http://uk.virginmoneygiving.com/team/Aitkenheads

This got added to when I got a place in the RideLondon ballot, so here are some reflections following the first leg of the challenge.

At the start of the year I put together a training plan to prepare for a 100 mile ride on August 10th and then four days in the saddle starting on 23rd August. Working Monday to Friday meant being constrained to riding at the weekend and one or two sessions in the gym during the week. The training has almost gone to plan – though given the weather we’ve had this summer most of the rides have been in good weather and, when it has rained, we’ve seemed to miss the worst of it. So, it came to Sunday 10th August and an earlier start than any in my training – up at 4.45, dropped off in east London around 6am and a short cycle over to the Olympic Park, grey and overcast but at that point dry.

At the start I got to hear that the route had been reduced to 86 miles, missing out Leith Hill and Box Hill, given the weather forecast and the prediction of encountering the remnants of hurricane Bertha. I had mixed feelings, I hadn’t felt intimidated by the hills but also knew that while my climbing had improved as a result of my training the thought of doing a couple of hills after over 50 miles in my legs was not the most enticing.

Anyway, we got off at the appointed time of 7.10 with a good run through London, over Chiswick bridge and the first drops of rain but fairly straightforward all the way to Hampton Court by 8,20 and then out into Surrey with the rain starting to fall.

What followed I described as apocalyptic, I think Chris Boardman later described it as ‘torrential, then Biblical, then horrendous’. One cyclist said to me that he’d been cycling for many years but had never ridden in anything like it. The roads of Surrey turned into rivers, while ascending to Newlands corner was the toughest bit physically for me, going up against the current as it were, some of the descents were almost nightmarish, with brakes almost useless and so much water on the surface that I was surprised there weren’t more crashes.

I had taken my sunglasses off when the rain had got reasonably heavy, as I couldn’t see through them, but at some point in the Surrey countryside with my eyes stinging from the pounding of water I tried putting them back on – not a good idea! Not only could I not see through the lenses but the amount of water falling was still managing to hit my eyes behind my glasses. At some point I also realised that if I’d jumped in a river with my clothes on I would be no wetter than I was.

Nothing I’d done or planned had prepared me for this specific set of circumstances, thankfully the miles I’d put in through the year had prepared me physically and I finally came home in 4 hours 53 minutes. However, getting to the finish line was not the last of the lessons in planning and communication to take from this day. The previous day I had discussed meeting up with my wife and had explicitly agreed on going to the meet and greet site in Green Park, she was aiming to be there with my two sons. I’d also said that I expected to be back some time after 1pm – before the course had been shortened.

When I’d heard the course had been shortened I text all of them to say they taken out the hills and the course was reduced to 86 miles – I assumed that they would compute this into an earlier arrival time (‘assume’ – hah hah!). So I crossed the line just after noon got my phone out only to find that despite me thinking it was protected it was kaput from the water! I was fairly sanguine about it, after all I’d got round and so made my way through the goody bag area and round to the meet and greet area – only to find no family and with no working phone not straightforward to get hold of them.
So, I thought, the sensible thing to do was stick with the agreement and wait at the appointed place, however, cold and wet I felt. It turned out that the boys had pitched up at the finishing line around 12.30 then called their mum, who arrived 10 mins later and suggested they wait at the finish line, where they could applaud me. They stayed there for two hours applauding an assortment of folks over the finish line, while eventually, in Green Park I encountered a friend whose phone I borrowed (many thanks Lisa), only to get her voicemail, so I left a voicemail and tootled off back on my bike to Fulham. The family ultimately got the message and came back – I wasn’t too grumpy, probably from the sense of achievement.
So what did I learn:

  • Prepare as specifically as possible but also be prepared to adapt
  • When you’re communicating with others don’t assume, be as explicit as possible
  • And, for my wife (!) – when you’ve got an agreed plan, stick to it unless there’s a good reason to change it