“Measure life by the legacy you create.”

Chris and his canine companion
Chris Collins
© Chris Collins

I’ve been following Chris’s blog (http://nzmultisports.wordpress.com/) for several months now and was extremely flattered when Chris offered to be interviewed… I love it when anyone comments on my blog, so an offer to contribute in a greater way was really surprising and exciting!

Like me, Chris is a triathlete who came to the sport later in life, is in his late thirties and is losing weight. As one of his recent blog posts recalls, he had an amazing year last year, with some amazing highs (including getting married, starting a new job and losing 15kg [33lbs = 2st 5lbs]) as well as some devastating lows relating to injuries.

So, Chris, you’re originally from Birmingham, England – when did you move to New Zealand?

I moved to NZ at the beginning of 2009, and have always lived in Auckland.  I had intended to be a tourist for a few months before finding employment. However, I struck lucky early on and my first role was Auckland based, hence staying here. 

I chose New Zealand as an alternative lifestyle after having an opportunity to work overseas in 2007 and saw huge potential for life changes (both in style and approach), so spent 2008 largely gaining my Residency Visa.

I understand that when you aren’t blogging or training you’re a dog trainer and a data specialist – can you tell us a little bit more about these?

Chris and his canine companion
© Chris and his canine companion

Sure thing.  One of the motivations for coming to New Zealand was giving back to the community, and I wanted to do this as a dog handler in Urban Search and Rescue.  One of the pre-requisites was to have some professional dog handling experience, and so I enrolled with Cambridge Institute of Dog Behaviour Therapists to gain this experience.  Part of the course required me to create a company – Confused Canines – which I then applied towards rehabilitating abused and injured dogs from the racing greyhound industry.

I continue this now through the Hibiscus Coast Dog Training Club, based in Orewa by offering different levels of obedience training, tracking and behaviour therapy to domestic pets and their families.

The data side of things is what puts fruit and veg on the table.  I’m a statistician by trade and have spent much of my time working in banking.  Like a plumber, I am armed with a suite of tools and knowledge about those tools to apply them to various situations.  These could be from building scorecards which assesses customer suitability for credit cards, through to detecting and preventing fraud/financial crime, through to analysing behaviour to appropriately communicate to people in ways which is most likely to create inspiring conversations.

What is something people would be surprised to learn about you?

I have an ‘out there’ persona which would mean that if something unusual was learnt about me, most of my friends would say I’m not surprised’.  That said, the one key ability I have is a musical ear.  I can pretty much pick up any musical instrument and within a few minutes play a tune on it.  I’ve applied this skill to drumming in the army, Irish tin whistles in my old local pub (Sheffield), through to jazz saxophone, other brass and wind instruments and now more recently guitar.  My neighbour (an enthusiastic pianist) quite likes this ability as it means we can jam with relative ease; and having another neighbour who can sing means we have some truly fantastic BBQs!

How would you summarise what your blog is about?

My blog is a journey about the highs and lows of my journey towards Ironman, where I hope to inspire others on their journey through exercise by offering my experiences and learnings, as well as those from others which I have found useful and inspirational. 

You started ‘NZMultisports’ in March 2013. Why did you start blogging and are you still blogging for the same reasons?

Screenshot of NZ multisports home page

That is an interesting question, and complex to answer! I started blogging to record the highs and lows of training as a motivator for whenever I felt low/uncommitted.  In November 2009 I broke my spine in a rock climbing accident, the despair that comes from being told it’d be unlikely that I’d walk again, becoming afraid to do anything for the ‘what if’ scenarios, and the inevitable spiral into depression and other equally dark spaces. 

With the culmination of everything that transpired after this injury, the turning point was somewhere in 2011 where I decided I was no longer prepared to be afraid any more.  Life simply couldn’t be called living being that afraid.  So with this in mind, I started cycling and getting control of my life.  Later, I would continue with my teenage passion, mountain biking, competing in The Dual and coming 41st in my age group, and about half overall.  Did I mention it was 50km over a volcano?  Oh well…

Thereafter, the psychological chains that were holding me back broke.  If I could do this, I could do anything, and so set upon a journey of triathlon to see exactly how far I can go before my physical scars limit me.  So far, I’m yet to find them.

I still intend to train for, compete and finish in full Ironman or 70.3 unless I either physically can’t do it, or something more important comes my way; such as fatherhood.

Which three blogs/bloggers have had the most influence on you and why? Are there any particular bloggers that you look to for inspiration?

I have to say, that my friend and superior blogger Vera Alves aka Super Generic Girl simply must be in this top 3 list.  When she writes, she does so like she talks.  And it’s brutal, honest and funny!  The fact she’s a complete nut-job running one of the hardest trail runs in the southern hemisphere helps too.  www.supergenericgirl.com

Gianni at Velo Boutique often has lots of cool tips about cycling.  And he happens to be the guru my ‘besty’ Darren uses to get his bike tuned.  Darren happens to be the most un-cyclist looking cyclist you can find.  Tall, big belly, walks like a penguin.  But damn, he can spin them pedals! (unavailable in 2018)

Finally, I have to give credit to Rich Roll, Ultraman, iron athlete, ex-alcoholic.  While I don’t engage with his blog per se, I do follow him closely on Instagram and on his podcast and read his book.  His situation, while unique, shares the same moments and thoughts of recovery and success for the path I walk on now. 

How would someone describe your blogging style?

Haha, blunt I’d say!  What normally happens is I think ‘damn, that was so amazing I have to blog this!’ and I end up writing 2 or 3 sentences, largely saying something ‘useful’ such as ‘this is awesome!’.  Literacy isn’t my strong point.  So to make up for my writing skills, I often stalk others and reblog their amazing stuff on mine.

Which of your blog posts has generated the most discussion and why?

Hmm, that’s an interesting question! I notice that people tend to engage more with the more emotionally ragged posts than the positive ones.  I guess no one wants to hear ‘my race was sweet, no flats, was strong to the finish, and overtook a guy just before the finish line’!

What tips would you give to anyone thinking about starting to blog?

Have a plan.  The plan can be vague/generalist, i.e. exercise, but don’t deviate from the plan.  Also, it is important to blog your lows as well as highs.  Connect with people.  Share stuff you find interesting.  Don’t waffle.  Post pictures – blogs are worthless without pictures of yourself!

Who do you think the main audience is for your blog? Are you writing with any specific person in mind?

The budding athlete, maybe on a health kick, life changes, aspiring runners, cyclists, swimmers, triathletes or anyone who wants to have a giggle at a fat(ish) guy in lycra.  No really.  I’m stunning in lycra.

How do you decide what is ‘blogworthy’?

If it strikes a chord, does something really well/badly, will be useful for someone else, or simply a record of me doing things (so I can reminisce in my golden years) it goes down.

What do you find most challenging about blogging?

My inability to put into words the feelings I experience.  Guess I’m a typical male in that way.  I wish I could fix that.

I recall reading that you had considered doing an Ironman triathlon this year, but that this may be postponed if you start a family in 2014. What challenges/races/events have you got lined up for this year?

Well, Cindy and I recently married (30 Nov) and we’re keen as chips to start a family.  Not wanting C to have all the fun with Junior (name still to be agreed..) I’ve said to her that training continues as normal until a baby comes along.  Then we’ll see.  So for now, it’s still game on getting the running faster and longer, the cycling still needs an aero bike, and I have to not be a floundering whale in the water.  The game plan for 2014 is to do running and triathlon events with Auckland 70.3 for early 2015 or Taupo Ironman 2016.  Oh, and to drop at least another 10kg.

What skill do you hope to master over the next year?

Run a sub 2 hr half marathon, swim 2km in sub 1hr (sub 45 min ideal) and be consistent on the bike.

What is something you would like to ask the next featured blogger?

When you’re in that pit of pain, what do you do to keep pushing through to the finish?

What is your favourite gadget and why?

I’m not sure it classifies as a gadget, but I do love my Specialized Tarmac road bike. It’s comfortable, fast, looks sexy, and almost always gets me into the zone on the hills, where I can disassociate myself from the burn to enjoy the scenery and wildlife around me.

What’s the furthest from home you’ve travelled for a sporting event?

Not really that far – Auckland has some fantastic terrain that enables it to hold world-class events such as Ironman, through to arguably the best mountain biking NZ has to offer, and everything in between.  Seriously, you can’t move for triathletes or stand up paddle boarders around here.  So, in reality, it’s going to be sub 200km distance.  I guess the most dramatic is Rangitoto Volcano though?

Do you listen to music when training? What music motivates you?

It depends.  Generally, I don’t listen to music whilst cycling – its plain stupid and dangerous to do so unless you’re off-road.  Whilst running, if I’m pounding a given distance for a given pace, then absolutely and can recommend MotionTraxx.com for this.  The music is largely electronica/dance/house music but the benefit is the sessions are designed for set paces; i.e. I tend to run at around 165 foot-strikes per minute, and finding the corresponding tunes to run at (they’re marked up and they tell you how fast they go at the beginning) means you can keep tempo really easily.  This is especially useful for speedwork or getting a little tired.

Immediately after my ankle injury, I found that listening to music didn’t really work for me; and that I struggled to enjoy the run.  So for a while, I went without any music.  That was worse.  So I went to spoken word, podcasts etc and that seemed to do the trick.  These days, I’m happy running with or without; and interestingly tend to run faster without.

You’re currently eating raw/vegan food for a month and you’ve recently dropped a couple of minutes from your 5k time, which you attributed to your current diet. How difficult is it for you to maintain?

Chris and some dairy-free custard
Chris and some dairy-free custard

So after the back injury, my doctor had told me to not lose weight as it would interfere and possibly make the injury worse (I had to wear a corset type thing which needed to remain tight to offer support).  Obviously, I didn’t want anything to happen, so I hit the food hard.  Next thing I knew, I was hitting in excess of 125kg and would get out of breath doing nothing.  Something simply had to change.  Exercise helped, and got me down a little bit.  Wii fit helped a bit more.  And doing little bits here and there offered temporary respite.  However, nothing was consistent.  I also often ignored my dairy intolerance and used the ‘cleansing effect’ of dairy as a means for having extravagant foods the night before.  The trade-off would be sweats, shakes and epic hangovers – even if no booze had been drunk.

During 2013 I’d lost about 10-15kg but plateaued around 110kg, and I just couldn’t drop below this magic number.  That doesn’t mean to say my shape hasn’t continued to change, however.  I simply couldn’t get lean.  This Christmas, I’d eaten something which my body really didn’t like, and I felt like I had malaria!  3 days of being besty with the bathroom and I proclaimed that I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.  Darren is a plant-based athlete and had been extolling its virtues for a while.  Rich Roll says it works.  Durian Rider says it works.  F*ck it – 30 days here we come.

Are you thinking of staying vegan for longer, or maybe being vegetarian permanently? What’s your favourite food/recipe?

Now here’s the kicker – I love the taste of meat and fish, and can’t think of anything better than sitting down to a rare sirloin with some chunky fries.  But the sick, lethargic, worn-out feeling sucks hard.  And so I’ve started this journey, attempting to be raw vegan as much as possible, and while at home this is pretty easy to do.  Out at work is a little harder, but not impossible. 

The effect even in a short space of time (less than 2 weeks) has been dramatic.  My weight charts look like a landslide, and I’m lighter than I have been for at least 5 years now, fitter than I probably ever have been, and feel so alive it’s incredible. I’m more alert, focused, can concentrate better, can multitask, recover quicker, don’t get hangovers, don’t feel ill, and generally feel like a cloud has been lifted from my mind.  I’m not kidding; it is that profound.  If you do nothing else.  Do this.

My favourite meal at the moment happens to be anything with courgette (zucchini), aubergine (eggplant) or beetroot, largely because our home garden is growing these with abundance right now.  I can make this killer aubergine dish with garlic, ginger, palm sugar and sesame seeds.  It’s roasted (so obviously not raw vegan), tastes great and with a bit of coriander (cilantro), lime and fresh chopped tomato tastes almost like tom yum soup!  Takes about 15 minutes and has less than 300 calories for a monster bowls worth.

Because I’m feeling so good, I’m strongly considering going plant-based on a permanent basis.  Cindy is slowly coming to the idea.  I guess she likes her steak more than I do!

You’re a brand ambassador for Jack Oat Bar, a new start-up. How did that come about?

Chris holding a Jack Oat Bar

I actually have to thank advances in Twitter for this one.  Every day or so, it tells me whom of my followers have followed the same new follower, and I’m quite ‘with the herd’ on this one.  So when I saw Brett (the guy behind the oat bars) had been followed, I did similarly.  It was then through dialogue via twitter and then later asked if I’d like to apply to become a brand ambassador, did the magic happen.  Thankfully, the oat bars are bloody tasty, and especially for running really fill the gap.  They are packed full of goodness needed for athletes to be their best, are easily digestible (much more so than gels) and don’t give a massive kick like gels do.  You can buy online, and I’m sure are available in most countries.  They’re price competitive too.  My only point of consideration is that each bar kicks out over 300 calories, so don’t munch on them just because.

What is your strategy for dealing with an injury?

Bitch, moan and complain, haha! I am the worlds most stubborn, ADHD, obsessive patient.  And I love proving nay-sayers wrong.  But in all seriousness, I find that when injured, Google is the worst invention ever, so listen to the professionals, but do remain sceptical.  If the diagnosis doesn’t sound right, get a second opinion.  If the treatment plan isn’t working, get a second opinion.

Do as much as you can and as often as you can – within your limits – if you do find something is working, and you trust what you’re being told.  Remember that most treatment plans are based on the ‘average person’ doing ‘not a lot’.  Firstly, you’re not average, and secondly, you’re likely to be doing a hell of a lot more than not a lot.  Just listen to your body more, and stop when it tells you to.

Do you have any pre-race rituals or superstitions?

Not so much superstition, but I do have rituals, which are closely guarded 😉  The only thing I would say is I don’t panic come race day.  The hard work and training have been done, I’m confident in my ability, so all I need to worry about is being prepared, adequate pre/intra/post race nutrition & hydration, and to enjoy the moment.

Of the three disciplines in triathlon, which do you find hardest and why?

Swimming.  Firstly, I sink; like a lead rock.  Secondly, it is by far the most technical aspect which requires significant practice (and annoyingly is at odds with running; a good runner kicks like crap because the ankles are too tight).  And thirdly, I’m mega short-sighted and really am blind as a bat without my glasses on.  If you can recommend swim goggle manufacturers that make pro-quality lenses that deal with myopia and astigmatism, please do let me know!

Describe your philosophy for life in a six-word sentence…

Measure life by the legacy you create.  Bugger, that’s 7 words.

A question from Jo (my last featured blogger) What is your biggest worry when it comes to triathlon?

Just making sure that I’m prepared and have planned my race, ensuring I remember where my transition point is and to eat and drink appropriately during the race.

On your blog, you state ‘Training today benefits tomorrow’. Is there any other important advice that you can give to triathletes (or potential triathletes)?

An awful lot of people will attempt to suggest it is a stupid idea.  It’s only stupid if you believe them.  Do not expect to be god-like in your first race.  Do lots of pre-big-race races. Get some experience of what it’s like, dealing with adrenalin and thousand-yard stares, bonking, almost drowning, etc etc.  Do this so that come your A-race, you know what to expect, have put the hours in, and are ready.

Is there anything else that you would like to add?

I’ve learnt through bitter experience that we simply do not have enough time on this planet to be unhappy.  If there are aspects of your life which you do not like; do not hide or ignore them.  Change.  It won’t be easy, and sometimes there will be extremely hard decisions to be made, but rest assured doing nothing will ensure no change will happen.  Happiness is there for the taking; you only have to reach for it.

Aside from your blog, do you have any other social media presence where you are happy to be followed?

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