Text: Iwan Martinus Putuhena; Photo: Suhadi; Additional Photos Provided by; Adrian Li
There is a saying that to keep the body in good health is a duty, otherwise, we shall not be able to keep our mind strong and clear. Covering this month’s editorial theme, sports and fitness, I had the opportunity to interview Adrian Li, the Founder and Managing Partner at Convergence Ventures, an early stage technology venture fund that focused on investing in Indonesia’s digital disruptor. Adrian is also an endurance athlete. Though he admits that he is not a natural athlete, he enjoys the challenge of pushing himself in endurance events such as Ironman, which he completed in 2013. Adrian talked about this journey to an Ironman, weekly fasting routine, and how to maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Fitness and sports have been a part of your life. When was the turning point and what made you decide to live a healthy lifestyle?
I think its hard to define a specific turning point because it’s much more of a journey. And gradually it becomes a lifestyle. I would say that I was fortunate when I was young I went to a boarding school and every day we have physical exercise as part of the curriculum. I think part of my upbringing being active is a strong component of that.
When I started work, my first job was as an investment banker in London at JP Morgan I worked at least 16 hours a day, ate a lot of junk food, and drank a lot. That was my lifestyle for two years. I gained a lot of weight, this was in 2001. I was feeling not just physicality but also mentally unfit, because I’m a big believer now that physical health also drives mental health.
So as a challenge, my cousin and I decided to sign up for a marathon. And to make sure that we didn’t drop out we actually sign up with a charity for a fail-safe and to do good as well. So we trained for it, and we both completed it, we raised money from our friends and family to contribute to a mental health charity, so that was my first real endurance. It opened up my eyes to the attractiveness of endurance events.
You completed the Ironman in 2013, how was the experience and what motivated you to achieve your goal?
When I was doing my MBA at Stanford, one of my classmates was an Ironman amateur athlete. As you know, Ironman triathlon is the longest standard distance for a triathlon that involves 4 km swim, 180 km bike ride, and a full marathon. It’s the longest single day endurance event that you can do. What motivated me as I watched a life broadcast and saw all type of people participating in the race, one, in particular, was an old lady. That is the power of mental strength because physically she wasn’t in her prime. So I thought if she can do it, I can do it too.
I signed up for the first UK Ironman in 2006 along with my classmate. We both trained for about 9 months. Unfortunately for me, I ended up breaking my wrist a month before the race. Because of that, I was unable to join the race.
In 2009, once I got my business stabilized, I did a half Ironman event in China. That was my first real Ironman triathlon race. It was a tremendous experience except I wasn’t fully prepared. But I completed, had a great experience, and I learned a lot from it. That got me back in the process of preparing to do a full Ironman.
Then it was my third attempt in 2013 that I finally was able to compete in full Ironman. My friend and I trained for a period of 12 months and we gradually progress by doing Olympic triathlon, longer distance, and half Ironman. We build ourselves up, and we both completed the race. So it was a long journey to get there. I think it was this layering effect of training my body and my mind, and also accumulating the knowledge.
Recently you have become a certified Ironman coach, what is your next challenge? And how do you inspire others?
I continue to find it fascinating, the Ironman training, and that is why I decided to get certified as a coach because I felt I wanted to invest into learning how to train better, to feel myself better and then also if I would have shared this experience and tips to other people I want to make sure I have the knowledge, the factual knowledge in order to do that, not just what worked for me. So I continue to invest in this sport, its become not just a hobby but a way of spending great times with people. And it is a great way to inspire and influence some people to get fit. My dream is one day to compete in Ironman with my family.
Tell us a little about your weekly fasting routine and the benefits
I explored fasting about three years ago. I read a book called Eat Stop Eat by Brad Pilon who was a fitness instructor and nutritionist. He did some bio-hacking and the effect of fasting, which showed that certain blood markers improved when he did alternate-day fasting. So I got intrigued by this, not the science but more philosophically. How we eat, how we behave and our relationship with food these days is driven by the need to eat. Yet if you look back to the Romans, they only eat one meal a day, and if you looked at Hippocrates he wrote how fasting is the nature’s medicine. So to me, fasting is almost like a long lost discipline in the modern day society.
I love food but everything has to have a balance. I started doing once a day fasting for 24 hours and what I found is that it wasn’t very difficult to fast at all. It almost felt liberating to me, to know that I didn’t have to eat every three to four hours. And I felt a remarkable sense of calm and mental clarity.
After reading more books and documentaries on fasting, I step it up and fast twice a week, every Monday and Thursday. In between those 24 hours, I wouldn’t eat any calories, just water, black coffee or tea.
Tell us about your most recent experiment with 5-day water fast
So I had this persistent problem of having this quiet high fasting glucose, which is a pre-indication of potential developing a type 2 diabetes. After reading some blog by Dr. Jason Fung from Canada who actually runs a clinic for treating diabetes and uses a protocol of fasting to do it, I thought why not try this. I felt 5 days seems to be the limit that I can do it without medical supervision. So I decided to do it. I went for ultimately 115 hours, then I stopped not because I felt I’m dying and need to eat. I actually stopped because I was doing a blood test.
The fast was very straight forward, in the morning I drank a glass of warm water with a couple drops of apple cider vinegar with a slice of lemon, and a dash of cinnamon powder. And during the day I drank water, sometimes coffee or green tea and that’s it. And that’s what I did for 5 days. And I have to say I felt incredibly calm. That taught me a lot of things. First of all that there are many limitations in our minds that are simply there by what people tell you.