Monday, August 24, 2015


Eight hours of racing, but it's mostly a blur... © Julien Heon 2015

Ironman Mont-Tremblant
Mont-Tremblant, QC, Canada ★ 2015.08.16

He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.
Friedrich Nietzsche

Life is what happens while you are busy making other plans.
John Lennon

For five seasons, the TV show "Justified" follow US Marshal Raylan Givens, masterfully played by actor Timothy Olyphant, as he waged a shoot-first-ask-questions-later battle to enforce the law in Kentucky's rural Harlan County. The genesis of the show's title is revealed early in the pilot episode when Raylan defends shooting a drug dealer in Miami (which is what ultimately lands him back in his home state of Kentucky) by saying something along the lines of, "He pulled first. The shooting was justified." A good many of Raylan's shootings are clearly justified. A good many are not quite so clear, except in Raylan's own mind. But even in those latter cases, you want to side with Raylan. The show kept my wife and I hooked for five seasons because the writing - and characters - are just that good. Raylan lives in a black and white world. This is complicated somewhat by the birth of his daughter after a brief period of "on again" in his on-again-off-again relationship with his ex-wife. But through it all, Raylan is consistently forward looking. He doesn't dwell on the past. And he is generally unencumbered by doubt. When he makes a decision, he lives with it. Regret is not only not in his vocabulary, it doesn't seem to exist anywhere in his brain. All that matters is, "was the decision justified?" Everything else is a distraction.

When I was at my best, I approached training and racing in much the same way. A wise friend of mine once observed that it was probably my confidence in my training - rather than any particulars of the training itself - that was instrumental in my success. I tend to think this is probably more true for more folks than it is not. You have to believe that what you are doing is right. You have to believe your decisions are... justified.

I made two decisions that I feel are representative of the larger way that I approached the race in Mont-Tremblant. They aren't really related in any direct way, but in other ways, they are very much related. The first was my new helmet, and the reason may surprise you. The priority was NOT aerodynamics. I won one race in the Specialized McLaren helmet - my first race in it. I stopped winning races the same time I started wearing it. Coincidence? To a certain extent. But it was also the first time in my career that I decided to use something ONLY because of aerodynamics. I'd always had more balance than that before. And, eventually, I just lost confidence in the helmet. I felt - sort of - like it was cursed. And when I put it on, I no longer "felt" fast. I used to feel race ready when I strapped on my aero helmet, like Adam doing his "by the power of greyskull..." bit to turn into He-Man. But I didn't feel good wearing that helmet anymore. The POC helmet seemed well designed based on what I saw and what I read, and I asked if the folks who handle media relations might give me one to try. Originally, I just wanted it to write an update to my LAVA article on short-tailed aero helmets. That was it. They were nice enough to send me a helmet, and when I took it out for a ride and knew right away, "yes." It just felt right. After that ride and some brief - REALLY brief - quantitative analysis made me confident it was fast, I decided to race in it. It was aero "enough." I liked the visor (which surprised me). I liked the feel. I liked that it seemed to be a bit more forgiving of head position. And I just felt good - I felt FAST - wearing it. And so I raced in it. As I said to my coach, I just felt like the POC had better mojo. Joel's reply was, simply, "mojo's important." And it seems like he was right, and that it did have better mojo. It was a decision made for a multitude of reasons, and it was a decision I felt could be justified. So I made it.

The second one was a decision on how to approach training. I was asked during a pre-race interview about something I wrote on here earlier this year, after Texas, where I said my greatest strength was also my greatest weakness. My discipline and drive and obsession has been why I've had success. And also why I've had failure. In preparing for yet another Ironman, I knew I was going to have to ask a lot of my family. In many ways, I felt like my family had become my biggest weakness. I had never won a race as a father of three. Could I manage being a parent and being a world class athlete? The answer seemed to be, "No." But then I thought if my strength could also be a weakness, could I make a weakness a strength? 

One particular area where I had struggled was in balancing family and training. I felt at times like I was half-committed to both. So I decided to work to change that. I decided I'd only train six days a week. I'd commit one day fully to family each week. I didn't really change the amount I trained, so I don't feel like this was one of those examples of mistaking less for more. Joel and I just crammed what had been seven days of training into six. Thankfully, I've always been a bit on the lighter side with a "typical" week being about 25 hours of training and just under 30 being a really big week. Many other athletes do more like 35 hours and up to just under (or even just over) 40 hours. I felt that really making a commitment to family on that one day would make it easier to commit to bigger days of training on the long days. I'd had success with this more "polarized" approach - harder hard days and easier easy days - in the past, but never quite to this extent. Nevertheless, I felt the decision was justified and committed to it. And I think it was a positive for me, for Jill, and for the kids. Ultimately, I do think that this approach improved my recovery, but I think it was entirely mental. I was able to get more out of my time off because I was actually off as opposed to half-off.

Overall, I believe I did a better job of trusting my intuition, though at times my intuition was very often, "don't overthink it and just go with the plan." I tried not only to learn to better trust my instincts, but also to accept that sometimes my instincts didn't really offer any great insight and to just sort of keep on rolling. I tried not to force things, which more often than not meant not trying to force myself to listen for something that wasn't there. Most days I just woke up, did my best to execute what was planned to the best of my ability without thinking too much about it, and then went to bed. Wake up and repeat. Of course, as I said to Joel, when things are going smoothly you wonder what the fuss was all about. It's easy to lose perspective, even when I looked back at how far I came, but perhaps that's a good thing too. It doesn't always work out that way. Some risks do not pay off. And you have to be willing to risk it all over again. Perspective is valuable, but a lack of perspective can be equally valuable. Aeschylus said, "there is an advantage in wisdom won from pain," but the cliche, "ignorance is bliss" is equally true.

Tapering into the race, traveling to the race, and executing on race day just sort of followed that same pattern. Be smart, be intuitive, but don't go "looking for clues." In some ways, I wish I had more to say about the race itself. But like all good - and bad - races, the race was really just the expression of the previous seven weeks. By the time I showed up on race day, I just had to let that hard work show itself. And so, with just under seven weeks until the Ironman World Championships in Kona, my goal is simply to keep the train rolling. I have good momentum. I have good mojo. Best not to think too much beyond that. The only decision I know I need to make (or not make, as the case may be) is, unlike in 2012, do not go do another eight hour race three weeks before Kona. That can't be that hard. Though I've managed to make colossally bad decisions before. Paging Coach Joel...

I was very much on the fence about racing in Kona. But when I thought about my other options, it was hard to justify any of those decisions. How could I not race in Kona? I couldn't answer that. But when I asked the next question, can I justify racing Kona? Did I perform at a level that makes me confident that I can be top-10? My answer was, initially, much less sure. I believe that it will take a better performance than I gave in Tremblant to be top-10. How much better? That likely depends on a bunch of things beyond my control, mostly weather and luck. But I believe I can be better. I believe I did not reach the limit of what I am capable of. I set out to hit Tremblant as a mid-point in a 15-week build to Kona, and there are just under seven weeks left. My intuition is to put my head back down, get back to work, and see where I end up. I won't know until I do that whether or not I can be better in Kona. That's the only way. But committing to that process is the only decision that I see that can be... justified. 

Tuesday, July 07, 2015

Being A Dad (Not A Fad)

My motley crew...

The incredible Dave Mirra and his wife Lauren have started a combination social media movement and webshop called #BeADadNotAFad. It's an amazing project that injects a little positivity daily into my life. My friend Nate is about to become a father for the first time, and he sent me a list of questions that he sent to other friends of his who are dads asking them for their insights. The questions are likely better than my answers, but I thought this was something worth sharing. And at the very least, it's my contribution to #BeADadNotAFad for today...

What is the best thing about being a father?

For me, I think it is the sense of being a real "provider." I have a very non-traditional job, but we have a relatively traditional family structure in that Jill does not work. That gives me a lot of pride, the ability to fill that sort of traditional male role in spite of having chosen this wacky career. I'm all in favor of the "new" normal with two working parents, or a working mother and stay-at-home dad, etc. But I also think there's something nice about a traditional family and being able to make that work and to support that is something that really resonates with me. It makes me feel good about being a "man." I feel like I'm doing what I am meant to do. In that way, I feel like my sense of self is really fulfilled because there's a harmony between what I do and what I think I should do.

What is the most difficult thing about being a father?

It's related to the above. It's that sense of responsibility. That this family is relying on you to provide for them. That's an awesome burden, in the literal sense of both words. And, at times, it can be overwhelming. Like most things, the best and worst things are the same, just a matter of perspective.

What is something you never expected?

The sense of "protectorship." I didn't really know what sort of feelings I'd have towards my kids. But the most overwhelming feeling I have is a drive to "protect" them. To keep them safe. To insulate them from anything bad. That's hard to prepare for, because I don't think you can feel it for anyone other than your own child(ren).

What is one piece of advice or something you wish you would have known when you first became a father?

In my experience, fatherhood is really learned behavior. Specifically in contrast to motherhood. Especially in our house, as soon as Quentin was born, Jill immediately was a different person. Like, the moment she sees the baby, she is now a mother. But being a father is a learned process. Especially for the first six months, when you are largely useless (assuming she is breastfeeding), you can easily get left by the wayside as mother-child bond. So your immediate reaction is probably not going to be like, "oh wow, this is so awesome." I mean, there are moments of that, but there are also moments where you wonder if you will ever get your wife back. And if this baby will ever care about you. So that's a learning process. In my experience, fathers "learn" to love their children much more than mothers, who just do. I'd say it took me about 6-9 months with Quentin to really get to the point where I was like, "I would do anything for this little person." 

What is your best "fatherhood" moment (so far)?

The unexpected moments when your child just says something so heartfelt. Like, out of the blue, they will say, "I love you so much." Or something like that. That is the best. No matter what has been going on in your life, everything is made better at a moment like that.

What is the single most important aspect to being a great father?

Patience. It's probably cliched, but I think it ties into the whole aspect of protectorship. Kids can be super frustrating at times. Maybe most of the time, since they basically have no sense of a lot of what is normal - self-preservation, cooperation, and all sorts of things that we require to interact in a functional way with other people. Kids have none of these things. They need to develop them. And that's a process. And supporting them in that process is the hardest part and also the most important.

Monday, July 06, 2015

Maybe. Might. Perhaps.

My new 2015 kit from Louis Garneau

Ironman 70.3 Buffalo Springs Lake
Lubbock, TX ★ 2015.06.28

"There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self." - Ernest Hemingway

There's a common disclaimer in the financial industry, "Past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results." This appends basically any advertisement for any sort of financial product - mutual funds, etc. This same thing applies equally well - if not better - to sports. The major league drafts are perhaps the greatest evidence of this - LeBron James was 1st OA pick in 2003; Greg Oden was 1st OA pick in 2007. Countless other examples abound. Even within my own career - especially lately - I feel like I ought to put this rider somewhere on my kit. It's also true in training. Like any athlete, training and preparation always involves some risk, often with the potential for no reward. One of the most frustrating parts of this year is that I've done probably the best training I've ever done, and I've not really seen anything come of it. But that happens. That's the risk. It was this particular risk - inherent in high performance sport - that was Joel's biggest concern about winding things back up after Texas to make a push for Kona. What if this failed too? Could I handle that? Once you can't deal with that risk anymore, it's time to find a new goal.  

Long term, I made a concerted effort to really become a better swimmer, and I'd say it was largely a failed experiment. But, it might have worked. There are several examples of guys who have improved a lot more as a swimmer than I have managed to. I do feel like I lost a step at the start of the race that I've never really regained since my accident. All of my best swims came before my wreck, in spite of the fact that I'm clearly a better swimmer - overall - than I was then. I think I just had better start speed. I have some ideas about why this is, but the practical takeaway is largely irrelevant since immersing myself full-time in a competitive tri-focused group that does bi-weekly open water swims is neither practical nor feasible for me at this point in my life and career. I need to figure out a new way to get faster at the start of races, though I will admit that I've pretty much resigned myself to the fact that I will likely win any future races on the bike and/or run, just like I did in the past. Though, of course, "past performance is not necessarily..." and all that.

Going into the race in Buffalo Springs, it was hard to be as relaxed as before Eagleman, since I had "precedence" in Lubbock which I did not have in Cambridge. I had what I think was likely my best overall race of the year in 2014 in Lubbock last year. I had an average swim, crushed the bike, and ran pretty well on a brutal course. It was as good a half-Ironman performance as I've ever had. Despite the fact that I had done well last year under quite different circumstances, I still put some level of burden of expectation on myself going into the race. But I think I did a good job of managing those expectations. Unfortunately, that didn't mean that everything went smoothly. In fact, quite the opposite. Travel to Lubbock is never simple because it's a small airport. Due to the whole "shit happens" aspect of travel, I arrived at my awesome homestay at 2:00AM instead of 6:00PM. Given that lack of sleep has been my achilles heel this year, this was not ideal. But here's the thing, life is rarely ideal.

Waiting in the airport for my bags, which were supposed to arrive two hours before me  so I could just grab them and go but instead arrived an hour after I did, I started having a rather surprising talk with my host for the weekend, Andy Wilson. Andy and Heidi Wilson are pretty incredible folks, and not just because they gave me a bed. Andy commented that one of the things that he loves about endurance athletes is that they tend to make the best of what life serves up, because that's the attitude you need to be successful as an endurance athlete. Andy and Heidi have a challenge that is staggering, and yet they have found a way to turn it into something incredibly rewarding. The details are not important. If you know them, you know what I am talking about. If you don't, I hope you get to meet them at a race some time. Andy's insight made me realize that I could either dwell on the fact that I had pretty much the exact opposite of the sort of day I'd hope for a couple days out from a race, or I could just make the best of it. I chose the latter. I slept in a bit later than I would have and went to sleep earlier than normal the next night. Was it ideal? No. Did it affect my placing in the race? Maybe. But I'd bet that every other athlete ahead of me - and behind me - probably had something they had to overcome at some point before or during the race. Perhaps it was worse. Perhaps not. Doesn't matter. And if they didn't this time, they will. I've had those races where everything went right. And I've had races where it didn't. I've won or lost those races more based on how I dealt with stuff rather than what did or didn't go wrong. 

Generally speaking, I had the same race in Buffalo Springs this year that I did at Eagleman two weeks ago (not really surprising). I swam a bit better, rode a bit better, and ran a bit worse. My margin to the winner was roughly equivalent. But in Buffalo Springs, a bunch of guys had better races (relatively) than at Eagleman and so that performance netted me a fifth instead of a second. But it was basically an honest effort and a representative reflection of where I was at. This was a good thing as it gave some clarity about what to do going forward. I had been on the fence about betting my fitness would come around in time to have a good race at Ironman Whistler or taking a longer build to Ironman Mont Tremblant with the goal of making the August KPR cut and carrying that momentum into Kona. After the race in Lubbock, it became clear that the Tremblant option was the better choice. When I've had my best races, it's always been the result of a focused build (one exception - Leadman 2011). It's been clear before the race that things are on track. I've had hiccups in the final period before, notably Ironman Canada 2009 where I got sick two weeks out from the race (though that might have been a blessing in disguise). But I've always raced best off a solid foundation in training, something that I do think is as much mental as it is physical. I derive my confidence from what I've done. I wish I just "had" confidence, but that is not me. Best just to make the best of it.

I still feel like there was a chance that I could have had a great race in Whistler, but really I was tired of racing as I did at Wildflower, IMTX, Eagleman, and Lubbock - "Maybe I'll have a good race. My fitness might come around. Perhaps everything will just click." Ironically, once I gave up that, things started to come together quite nicely in training. Typical... To me, this really emphasizes the importance of having a good support structure. I had a lot of talks with Joel. Really, I talked a lot at Joel for a while before he basically said, "yeah, I don't think that's a good idea." Which was what I needed to hear. A lot of times the best advice you need is what not to do. And this idea is really what inspired me to write about these topics in this post.

My race in Lubbock was my first in my new monochromatic kit from Louis Garneau (yes, the whole black/white theme was intentional, and yes I'm sure it says something about me). Valerie at Louis Garneau did an incredible job with the design, and it's easily my most favorite racing outfit of my career. It also has a new logo that you can see in the pic above, that of Raymond James. If you follow that link, you will see all sort of phrases that I love - "don't just expect the unexpected, PLAN FOR IT." And that sort of thing. What's noteworthy is that in my experience, this is a firm that actually abides by these phrases. I feel lucky and fortunate that Jill and I have some savings. And we have a great friend - who was our friend before he was our FA - at Raymond James who manages it for us. Why? Because sometimes you need someone to tell you what not to do. 

Raymond James really impressed me when they stepped up to support my World Bicycle Relief fundraiser in 2014 by offering a free financial analysis by a CFP to anyone who donated. It was a great perk that a few people took advantage of - all really thought it was valuable, and it's one we are offering again this year. I expect many more people to take advantage of it now that people actually (sort of) know what it is. And we also plan to do a better job explaining it. It really was an incredible gesture. And I feel really proud to represent this firm through my racing. Just as with racing, there's never a guarantee when you make plans for the future financially. But having someone you can lean on and trust is huge. Just like in sport. I rely on my coach Joel to help me make good decisions about racing and training. Sometimes those decisions don't work out. I rely on my friend Mark to make sure I can provide for my wife and my kids. Again, sometimes those decisions don't work out. This is the nature of anything that's important.

As Andy said, the skills required to be good at endurance sport are the same as those required to handle life. Take some risks. Know what you do well. Know what you don't. Listen to someone you trust. Simple. Now time to go do it. 

In spite of the fact that you don't have a guarantee that what was successful in the past will work again or that your plan will survive at all intact, you need to start with something. In my last post, I quoted the famous Eisenhower maxim, "Rely on planning but never on plans." Having kids is a daily lesson in applying this practically. And I suppose that being a good athlete is a lot like being a good parent. It requires daily commitment. There are a lot of unknowns. There's not a manual though there are a lot of good books and good advice. There's also a lot of bad books and bad advice. Don't ever give up. Do the best you can. Good luck is important. 

I'm fond of another maxim - "Hope is not a strategy." And I do still believe that to be true. Hope, in and of itself, is not a strategy. But there's a ton of hope involved in even the best laid plans. And while I may race in a black and white kit, that's only because the journey to - and on - the race course never is. Even if I wish it was.

Monday, June 22, 2015


What I'm normally like...

How I aspired to be in Maryland...

Eagleman 70.3
Cambridge, MD ★ 2015.06.14

This post started out as a lie. It started out where I basically talked about how things came together for me through getting back to work, nose to the grindstone, and things like that. That's not really true. However, I also was putting in some stuff about being rather laissez faire about the whole thing, which isn't really true either. I aspired to simply not care. But I did care, though I think I cared a lot - too much - about the wrong things. And what did work out was when I only cared about the right stuff. For a profanity-laden version of what I'm driving at, Mark Manson's piece is awesome. It does, however, use the word "fuck" 127 times. I will endeavor to have that be the lone usage in this piece. Simply because I think Mark used it enough for both of us. 

The genesis of this amended post came from two really awesome conversations I had with Simon Whitfield today. Simon called me - our kids share a birthday - which is a rare thing. Simon is basically impossible to get on the phone. He will text me. I will text him back. He'll text me back. And then I'll need to tell him something that's too long to type, so I'll call him. And he will not answer the phone 9 times out of 10. But he will text me back. He just doesn't care. And I mean that in the best possible way. He is a massively frustrating friend at times, but I don't care. I decided a long time ago that I like him for who he is, and I don't waste time worrying about who he isn't. So Simon called me. And he asked me how I was doing. And, because I've known him long enough that I don't bother with the pleasantries that we all bandy about with people we don't know all that well, I simply told him, "I don't know. I'm struggling a bit. I had a rough go of it around Texas, and since then, the more I train, the slower I seem to get." The rest of the conversation is something that I need more time to process before I can put it down into something that might make sense to anyone else, but the gist of the suggestion ties back to the post I wrote about "crooked timber" and sort of trying to define what exactly it meant to "recommit to triathlon." 

One way in which I'd committed in a new way was that Quentin came with me to Eagleman. We went and stayed with my parents for the week leading up to the race, then drove down to Baltimore to visit my sister, and then I went down on Saturday to Cambridge for the race. My parents brought Quentin on race morning. I got to hug him before I crossed the finish. It was awesome. Last time I did that, I won Ironman Texas in dominant fashion. This race was not quite so good, but seeing him was even more awesome because he is more awesome. Jill and I talked after Texas this year about needing to find a way to race for something bigger than just myself. Having Quentin with me played a huge role in that. I didn't want to "win" for him. But I wanted him to see me give my best effort. I wanted him to see something that I'd want him to emulate as a person.

On the swim, I had a good swim, and I swam on Cody Beals' feet for most of the race. But overwhelmingly my goal was to stay on his feet mostly because it is easier to swim on someone's feet than it is to swim alone. Swimming alone is awful. Once on the bike, I simply tried to hold a reasonable pace (though I actually wagered high and couldn't keep it together) for the ride, without really caring much about how I was doing. On the run, Barrett Brandon passed pretty early into the run, and I decided to just follow close to him mostly because it's easier to let someone else set the pace. Then, in the last mile or so, I decided that I actually cared about something subjective, and I managed to pass Barrett back to take second because second is better than third.

It was not a great performance. I finished 10 minutes behind Cody. In a half-Ironman. I've won full Ironman's by that margin and considered them to be an ass-kicking by me of the rest of the field. In a half? We weren't even really in the same race. But honestly, I was happy. I didn't really care, because I thought, well, I still came second, which is good. And I finished the race, which is good. And there were some bright moments, which is good. And a lot of the race was pretty fun, which was good. And it was really hot out but I didn't think it was that hot out, which is especially good. And Quentin was there, which was awesome. And after the race we went swimming in the Choptank and then I washed him off with a hose that was set up to spray athletes coming out of transition. (We made sure to only use it when there were no athletes in need of it.)

In the lead up to the race, most of the training I did, I just did by feel. My parents live on this great network of trails, but the trails are very rolling, and there are a LOT of trees, all of which conspire to make GPS unreliable. So I just ran pretty much how I felt. I didn't actually care how fast I ran. And that was good. The best training I had was training where I just did as much as I wanted to do. I think that perhaps the worst mistake(s) I made was that I probably didn't let go enough about what I had planned. I did some sessions that I didn't really want to do. I went a bit longer in some than I wanted to. But the best stuff - what I think got me second in Eagleman - was the stuff where I went more by feel. I did what felt "right." I cared about how I felt. And that was pretty much it. The run was the best part of Eagleman, and that was the training where I was the most subjective. 

There were some obstacles. Parts of my training were better than the week before. But a lot of it - from a strict quality standpoint - was not. Overall, I'd say that three weeks ago was better than the week before the race. And the week before the race was better than this week. I'd also say that each week I cared - objectively - more which resulted in subjectively caring less. Three weeks ago, I was more hesitant. I was just getting back into it. And I didn't know how I'd respond. And, in a number of cases, I really surprised myself in a positive way. This week, I had more expectations, and I was let down more times as a result.

I think that's part of why I hesitated to write about Eagleman. The same feelings I had about training were also true about the race. I wanted to write a post about getting back in the game. But that wasn't really true. And I also wanted to write a post about being totally laid back. But that wasn't really true either. So I didn't write anything.

But the conversations with Simon made me want to write something. And then as I was writing this, my friend Mark sent me this - "Swimming for Your Own Reasons." While I don't believe that "everything happens for a reason" - in many ways, I don't really believe that ANYTHING happens for a "reason," unless of course you want to say that certain things happen because of of decisions you did or did not make - I do feel like there's a reason. I know I basically just contradicted myself, but whatever. I have to deal with that so so do you.

I remember after Paula Findlay returned to sport after the London Olympics, one of the things that she talked about was - in some fashion - comparing herself to what she had been. And I told her that she should forget about that, and just focus on being the best she could be now. I should have - could have - been talking to myself. One of the reasons that I think I had success coming back from my wreck is that I had no expectations, and I also didn't really hold myself to what I had been able to do, because for a long time, it was so far away it wasn't relevant. I found myself exceeding it. This year, when my training was going well, I found myself exceeding my expectations. But then, of course, as we are all wont to do, that created expectations. Early in the year, I found myself being surprised by my body. "Whoa, where did that come from?" Lately, there's been less and less of that. Though it still sneaks up often enough that I know it's there. I just can't seem to grab it. So I try harder, which doesn't seem to be working all that well.

It is my goal this week to care not at all. I love the race in Buffalo Springs. I fell in love with it last year the first time I did it. The race is brutal. It is hot. It is dry. It is windy. It is awful. And it is awesome. I had a great race there last year - honestly, I think it was my best of the entire year - because I tweaked my groin the week before in Syracuse. I had no expectations leading into the race. And it was awesome. I just enjoyed being out there in conditions that were truly terrible. Because I actually think that's fun.

And I suppose that's what matters to me right now. I want to enjoy what I do. That's a lot harder to do now. There's way more pressure on me now. I have a family. I have a "career." I have responsibilities. It is a job. That's amazing. But it's also a challenge. And it's one that I have yet to master. In many ways, the best parts of my race Eagleman came from doing lots of things that you don't do when it's your job. But I think there's a lesson here.

This post feels very incomplete, but I think that's okay, because I don't really have a plan for what I'm going to do. I talked a bit about needing to have concrete goals so that you don't define success simply as what ended up happening. At the same time, sometimes goals are abstract enough that it is hard to really define them until you look back and can see where you started and whether or not you're where you want to be.

I believe I have the drive and the discipline to make hard choices. I am going to try to trust that through Buffalo Springs and see what it gets me. Realizing that sometimes that harder (or hardest) choice may not be what it seems. I don't think that doing that would have gotten me any better a finish at Eagleman. But I do think that the extent that I was able to do that at Eagleman is why I had as good a race as I did.

Shout out for the title of this blog goes to my good friend Brandon Marsh. Brandon introduced me to the acronym form of the phrase. And talking about Brandon is a good way to conclude this. Brandon and his wife Amy were both fantastic pros. Amy, especially, was really one of the very best female professional triathletes in the world. She was diagnosed late last year with Acute Myeloid Leukemia. She just received a stem cell transplant that, ideally, is the start of her "new" (cancer-free) life. For the past two weeks, her WBC (White Blood Cell) count has been 0.0. Yes, ZERO-POINT-ZERO. On June 17th, 13 days after her stem cell transplant, her WBC was 0.1. Last year, I raced with Brandon and Amy a bunch of times, including at Buffalo Springs. This year, I won't get to see them, because they are hunkered down at MD Anderson in the oncology ward.

The thing about coming back from being "mostly dead" is that you take whatever positive life gives you. 1/10th of a point? You bet. I cheered hard for Amy when I read that. Because she deserves to have that come to her. I don't know that I deserve anything more than what I've already gotten from this sport. But I think I've got more left to give back. But you can't force it. I tried. Many times. But my best days were those days when I started to run again and stopped feeling like I could do more. It is my goal to find that feeling again. At Eagleman, I felt I could have done more. And I think, in many ways, that is what made me happiest.

Wednesday, June 17, 2015

Why I "Pro"

My wife sent me a link to a blog post written by Kendra Goffredo. It's the follow-up to a discussion that she had with Andrew Messick, CEO of WTC (Ironman). At the end of their conversation, Andrew asked Kendra why she raced as a pro, and - as she was pondering her answer - suggested, "it's for the 'free' entry, right?" In my opinion, that was a joke. Humor is often lost in translation into writing, and I wasn't there, so it's entirely possible I'm wrong here. I don't really think it matters. What does matter is that I know that Andrew is genuinely interested in the answer to this question. Kendra goes on to say that the answer to the question was too long and too hard to describe simply, so she just gave a simple answer (paraphrasing), "it allows me greater impact in raising awareness for the charity I support, the Multiple Myeloma Research Foundation."

There's a history to Kendra's answer that she felt was hard to explain simply, which is why she wrote the post she did. What I think is interesting is that there is a history to Andrew's question, which is why I decided to write this post. Andrew was roundly lambasted - unfairly, in my opinion - for a topic he broached in an interview on changes to the pro qualifying structure and prize money. The interview is on Slowtwitch and can be found here

The particular question/answer was:
ST: If you cut down the number of your races offering a pro purse, fewer people can contend for that pot. Do you anticipate that this will shrink the number of pros because they will have a harder time making a living?
Andrew: You would think so but I don’t know. We don’t know why people choose to be professional triathletes. To be a professional triathlete within our system you have to be designated by a national governing body. You need to be a professional licensed by us. Those are the two process steps that place you as a pro athlete. According to sources, there are 1,100 pro triathletes. And every one of them is doing it for their own reasons. I don’t know why Rachel Joyce is a professional triathlete as opposed to practicing law. She is lawyer. I am not sure why Amanda Stevens is a professional triathlete as opposed to practicing medicine because she is a doctor. I am not sure why Meredith Kessler left working in finance. But I trust that all of them had a good reason for it. And that they chose being a professional triathlete because that is how they wanted to live their life. Hopefully, that choice provides them a combination of benefits and money, [and advantages based] around flexibility and chasing a dream that made it worth it. 
Many people interpreted Andrew as saying, roughly, "I have no idea why anyone would want to be a pro." But that's not at all what he was saying. He elaborated on this recently at an AWA meeting in The Woodlands prior to IMTX where Heather Wurtele and I spoke. What he said elaborated on what he said earlier, and that was to say that almost every pro, especially in long course triathlon, has his  or her own very different reason for wanting to be a pro. Contrast this with football or baseball or basketball or golf or most any other "mainstream" sport, where the answer is some combination of "I love the sport" and (overwhelmingly) "I get paid a lot." For most professional athletes in mainstream sports, being a professional athlete is probably the highest paying job they can get. For some athletes in triathlon, that is also true. But for a large group (maybe even a majority), being a pro is perhaps the lowest - or at least a lower - paying job they could get. This isn't to say being a pro cannot allow for a good living. I feel incredibly fortunate to support my wife and three kids doing something I love. But I do recognize that in that regard, I am probably more the exception than the rule. But still, I am biased to believe that I could likely earn as much or more doing something else. So why am I am pro? 

The title of this blog post is a play on the Ironman social media hashtag "#whyitri" which asked people why they do triathlon. The reasons are legion. But the reasons as to why the roughly 1000 pros who are ranked on the KPR race as a pro are also legion. And, certainly, there are a fair number for whom it purely is, as Andrew suggested, an economic calculus: it's cheaper to pay $800ish dollars for unlimited race entries and the ability to enter sold-out (to age-group athletes) races than it would be to race as an age-grouper. That's reality. It may not be Kendra's reality, but it is a reality nonetheless. 

And this legion of answers to the question #whyipro is a topic of real concern to Andrew and to WTC. Because this variety makes it really challenging to develop any sort of comprehensive approach to how pro athletes should be treated. It's a classic tenet of economics that, "People respond to incentives." Looking at the negotiations, for example, between the MLBPA and the league, there's a relatively narrow set of interests. Same with other major league sports. This makes negotiations "easier." There's obviously still a lot of head-butting within the players' association. But there's enough common ground that the association can still function. History has, so far, argued that there is not enough common ground for an association (a union) to function within triathlon. Kendra Goffredo, based on her own accounting of why she races as a pro, has very little in common, at least by traditional professional athlete standards, with Sebastian Kienle. Now, certainly, I think they do have common ground - it offers both of them a richer life experience, but I also think that has very disparate meanings to each of them.

This profound difference in what  has a very real impact on the direction of the sport. Kendra wondered whether or not Andrew would read her blog post. I would say he likely did (or will), based on what I know about him. But the bigger question is, really, "what does he do with that information?" Imagine if every pro wrote such a post. Would there be any logical takeaway from that collective? Or would it simply reveal just how fractured the pro side of the sport is? 

In my own reading on Kendra's post, I saw very clearly why she chose to become a pro. What I didn't see is how that decision offers any insight into the question about the future of professional triathlon as a whole. How can we take what Kendra wrote and say, "okay, based on why you are a pro, how do we make professional triathlon better for pros as a group?" And "How do we make it better for you?" And, then, "Are those things compatible?"

These are questions Andrew is trying to answer. These are questions I am trying to answer. This is a big part of the role I play as an Ironman Pro Ambassador. At times, it seems like what's best for the future is incompatible with what's best for the present. There also, at times, an incompatibility between what is best "for the sport" and what I think is best for me. These are challenges that need to be reconciled, both weighing where professional triathlon should go and how to balance that with where we are right now. And then, of course, there is the tough balance of pros accepting things that are not in their own best interests but are in the best interest of the sport going forward. These are not easy balances to find. And there seems to be very little agreement currently, just as there has been very little agreement throughout the history of the sport. Dan Empfield wrote about the failed history of professional unions on Slowtwitch more than 15 years. And it's just as accurate today.

This is backdrop against which Andrew's question needs to be set. Perhaps he should taken the time to explain all of this to Kendra. But maybe he asked the question briefly for the same reason that Kendra replied only briefly - the backstory is a long one. But professional athletes need to understand that getting WTC to understand their own motivations is important. Likewise, they need to understand that understanding Andrew and WTC's motivations is essential to moving triathlon forward for professionals. 

Kendra wrote:
I am not sure why he asked or what he’ll do with the information or if he’ll remember our conversation at all, but I stopped there. There were so many more reasons, but this wasn’t the venue for a conversation of such magnitude. 
Mr. Messick would have had to come with me the following week on my bike trip through rural Vietnam to understand why I race as a pro.
I disagree. It's part of our job as pros to be able to convey why we do what we do in casual conversation. It's a story we need to be prepared to tell. And if a face-to-face conversation with the man who has the most power to change the direction of our sport isn't the right place to share that story, I don't know what is. I will say that this was exactly the right venue for a conversation of such magnitude. Because the flipside of this story is, That time I couldn't explain to the IRONMAN CEO why I race pro.

As triathlon continues to evolve as a sport, having a compelling argument for the pro side of the sport is essential. As pros, we need to be able to explain not only why we race as a pro, but also why that is important to the present and future of the sport. Kendra said, "I am not sure ... what he'll do with the information." And I think this mirrors Andrews own statement, "We don't know why people chose to be professional athletes." It's the same dilemma, posed from the other side of the table. But I think there's a logical question that emerges from that, and it's one that we all need to answer individually and, hopefully, collectively - "What do we want to achieve by explaining why we want to be pros? What do we want IRONMAN to do with this information?" I know #whyipro. But what's really important is whether or not that actually matters and, critically, why it does (or doesn't).

Post script: some people have pointed out that I didn't answer the specific question of why I, personally, "pro." In fairness, my goal here was more to talk about the importance of the why of the why. In other words, why it matters why you pro. But, since I was asked, here is my why.

Fundamentally, it is because I am terrified of a desk job. The other reasons have changed over time. I wanted to win an Ironman. And then I did. I wanted to win a world championship. Then I did. Now I feel like it's largely about self mastery, which I touched on in my prior post "Crooked Timber." This last concept is the one I feel is the most relevant and valuable, because I think it echoes the reasons that a lot of age group athletes race, which means (ideally) that I can share a larger part of their experience with them. And for a participatory sport like triathlon, that is - in my opinion - the way that pros deliver value: by enhancing the experience of the age group athlete.

Post post script: Kendra chimed in on Facebook with a good comment in reply to what I wrote. She said,
Hi Jordan, Thank you for sharing! You make some interesting points. Now, i'm just having trouble moving those points forward into action. Can you provide some examples of changes WTC could (or should?) make if they knew what motivated their body of pros? For example, what suggestions would you make to WTC if it was discovered the majority of pros race pro for the reason you cited, fear of a desk job? I'm having trouble envisioning what actionable step WTC could make with that information. Again, thank you for sharing your thoughts! 
I tried to give a thoughtful reply that gives some concrete examples of the relevance of what I wrote, and I thought that was a worthwhile addition to the piece as whole.
Let me start with a concrete example of a change that was made. At most races (at least in North America), there are now two dedicated toilets in transition for pros. This wasn't a significant cost, but it still represents a cost. But this was a huge positive for *all* pros. I think virtually every pro would have voted "yes, I would rather have two extra toilets than an extra $200 in the prize purse." So that was a no brainer. That was an easy decision for WTC to make.  
At the other end of the spectrum are questions like, "how deep should prize money go? And how should it be distributed?" That's a hugely divisive issue. One particularly divisive topic is travel support. Now we are starting to talk about bigger dollar figures. There's a huge discrepancy in what pros want when the discussion becomes, "would you rather see another $10,000 in the prize purse or would you rather see $500 in travel support for 20 athletes?" The typical answer is "we want BOTH!" And that is typical of how many - most - of these conversations go. There's very little sense of trade offs, compromise, etc. 
So to circle back to your question, one of the biggest opportunities for moving the sport forward comes with things that WTC can do that do NOT cost them money. In your case, let's take the MMRF. In my case, it's World Bicycle Relief. The work I do with WBR is hugely important to me. Through the Ironman Foundation, I'm able to dramatically increase the reach I have in my fundraising efforts. That's great for WBR. But, selfishly, it's also good for me and "my brand." It doesn't really cost WTC anything - or, rather, the incremental cost is pretty minimal - if they can support you and your charity efforts as opposed to any other charity. So, there's a real example of how your motivations could make a real difference in how WTC works with pros. Because if a lot of pros have charity work that is important to them, that means that the IMF suddenly has a whole new group of potential ambassadors to work with. Everybody should win. 
In another example, one of the things we've (meaning folks at WTC and I) talked about is trying to leverage what WTC has a lot of - and that is business expertise. Everyone rails on the fact that WTC is owned by a private equity group. But that's an opportunity as well. A lot of - basically all - pros could use mentorship on the business side. And providing that has a cost to WTC, but it also has a very real ROI - more professional pros. But how to tailor that mentorship? That's where the motivation of pros becomes relevant.
Hope that helps give some insight. 

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Crooked Timber

At the start of The Big Loop, this tree reminds me.

Out of the crooked timber of humanity, no straight thing was ever made. - Immanuel Kant (as translated by Isaiah Berlin)

First off, before I get into the heavy writing, there's been some chatter about my run-in with a jet ski at the start of Ironman Texas. There was, it seems, an inexperienced water safety person near the start line. Ironically, I actually thought before the race, "That jet ski guy is going to get out of the way, right? Of course he is..." I've never had a single issue in ANY Ironman race I've ever done with water safety. And even this, it might have been a mechanical malfunction as opposed to an experience issue. I don't know. I just know that the jet ski I was certain was going to move did not. I heard it a split second before I felt it. It was a crack. That was my head smashing into the jet ski at full speed (such as it is, in my case). A split-second after I heard my head hit the jet ski, I felt the impact. But aside from losing a few strokes - I was in the midst of what I think was a really good start and actually felt like I had a chance to make that front group - which I am simply not fast enough to overcome, I didn't perceive any ill effects. I actually totally forgot that it had happened until I took off my helmet after I decided my day was done and felt this tender lump on the top of my head. I had no headaches, no blurred vision, nothing that indicated a head injury of any sort. I had a good swim. It wasn't a great swim after losing some strokes at the start, but it was a good swim. On the bike, my head felt fine. But my legs just weren't there. I had struggled in the weeks immediately prior to the race. The makings of my DNF came three and four weeks before the race, not three or four seconds into it. Just so that is clear. I had plenty of fodder for good @TriExcuse material at this race, but none of it had any factor in my pulling the plug. I blew my preparation. The only thing the jet ski incident resulted in was that I had a bruised head as well as some bruised pride on Sunday.

Reflecting on the race that wasn't, I find myself at a crossroads. Once again, I need to answer the question, "what does it mean to be a professional triathlete?" I've been at this  same crossroads twice before in my career, one at the beginning of 2005, when I realized I needed someone to guide me on this potentially crazy journey I was undertaking and so contacted Joel Filliol for the first time and really took the first true steps towards becoming a professional. The second was at the end of 2006, in a situation much more analogous to this current one, where I was struggling to mesh the hard work with the lack of results and which was also probably my first real experience with pushing myself beyond what my body (and/or brain) could handle. 

The idea of "overtraining" is still a bit of a concept I struggle with. I dislike the term for two reasons. The first is that it sounds like something that happens to you, instead of something you do to yourself. Overtraining is not like the flu or any other illness that is typically a mix of both bad luck and bad decision making - like you push yourself too hard at the same time your kid happens to bring something home from preschool. And it's definitely nothing like those diseases that are purely bad luck or misfortune, like the awful leukemia my friend Amy Marsh is suffering from. So I tend to shy away from the term, because it seems to reduce - rather than increase - the sense of culpability. As an athlete, overtraining is on you. Maybe, in certain group environments and with certain personalities, the coach bears some responsibility. But ultimately the athlete does the sessions. And certainly, in my case, I am 100% responsible for what I have done to myself. The other thing I dislike about the term overtraining is that it seems to imply a sort of epicness that just isn't there. Like, "Oh, I worked so hard that I buried myself." Overtraining is most typically a death by a thousand cuts. It's something that sneaks up on you, at least in my case. There's nothing epic about it. Plenty of people could do the exact same training and be left thirsty for more. You don't become overtrained because you are epic. You become overtrained because you are stupid. Or prideful. Or insecure. Or have some other vice. Or combination of vices.

But, like all vices, that vice probably accompanies a virtue. Stoic is a nice way of saying cold. Reserved is a nice way of saying aloof. Dedicated is a nice way of saying obsessed. Carefree is a nice way of saying lazy. It's all a matter of context. In my own case, I am a perfectionist. Or I am obsessively compulsive. Whether you choose to interpret those statements as positive or negative or both is up to you. For much of my career, they've been a positive. But they've also been a weakness. The same work ethic that allowed me to win races, come back from my accident, and have success in a great run in 2009, 2011, and 2012 is the same thing that has been haunting me since 2013. I cannot be moderate, which is romantic in some ways, but not entirely pragmatic. Eisenhower famously said, "Rely on planning but never on plans." I struggle to separate the two. I don't just rely on plans, in many ways, I am my plans.

And so I find myself at this crossroads. It has been a dismal start to 2015. I will say that Monterrey had the makings of a great race, and that if ever I can claim that a bad result truly was not my fault, that race was it. In every other case, the results are on me. Typically, in my career, I've had two types of results. Results where I trained more than I could handle and had a poor result. And races where I got it right and had a good one. I've had really only three races where I was "underprepared," and they were all pretty good - IMC 2007, my first Ironman, that I decided to do on Thursday before the race (yes, three days before); IMAZ 2010, after my accident; and IMAZ 2014, somewhat by design out of a fear of overtraining. 5th, 4th, and a 3rd. There's a lesson in there I suppose. Every DNF performance has been the result of going too far. And I remember every DNF. It may not be true for everyone, but for me, I will absolutely say that dropping out hurts way worse than simply finishing. In some ways, pulling the plug so early in Texas is a decision I am proud of, because it's one of the first times I've made a decision to stop before things got really bad. I wish I'd had that same courage four weeks before, when I just couldn't let go of the fact that I was going to taper for one week before Wildflower and then do two easy weeks into Texas. Of course, my inability to relax meant that plan went totally to hell as the week before Wildflower and two weeks before Texas were basically just hope, and as I'm fond of saying, "hope is not a strategy."

In 2005 and 2006, the decision at the crossroads was the same. And I believe it's the same one I have to make here. Those decisions turned out well, I think. And I believe this one will as well. In all cases, the question was sort of existential - what does it mean to be a professional and - critically - how do I live that meaning? In all cases, the decision was to double down. To commit more fully. In 2005, that meant hiring Joel. In 2006, it meant packing everything I owned into my CRV and driving to Flagstaff to hitch my wagon to the Simon Whitfield train until I either made it or broke down trying. And now, in 2015, I think it means the same thing and also something entirely different. I need to recommit to being a professional. To being an athlete. To being an elite. But I think that means something very different, practically, than it meant back then. In 2005, that meant learning how to train. 12 hours was a "full" week of training for me then. After a few weeks with Joel, I remember sleeping for 30 minutes on the side of the road during a bike ride just so I could make it the 10 miles back home. Oh, that is what real training is like. In 2006, it meant leaving my parents' house and the safety of my hometown and friends and the ability to comfortably sit on the fence in order to risk failure. And risk success. Now that I have had success, now that I have a career, I believe it to be more of a process of removal than addition. Not what do I need to add - a coach, a training group with accountability. But what do I need to subtract. What I need to say no to. And, most critically, realizing that saying no sometimes - most times - will mean saying no to myself.

Some of it is stuff that feels absurd. In spite of my results over the past two and a half years, I still have a remarkable number of people interested in me and my time. More than I deserve. In 2006, a glut of "opportunity" was most definitely not a problem. I feel ridiculously fortunate that I risk losing myself in a focus on business opportunities as opposed to a focus on the process of preparing to be a world class athlete. But that doesn't change the fact that it is still a risk. Simon Whitfield was notorious for buying stuff that he felt he needed - stuff that he could have likely gotten for "free" - because he didn't want to owe a favor. He'd rather pay money than pay his time (nothing is ever really free). I swore I'd learn that lesson, but sometimes I feel I've forgotten it. It's an easy lesson to practice when you're talking in pennies. Harder when you have a wife and three kids that you support. But not impossible. 

Eisenhower (who I admire greatly) also said that, "Freedom is the opportunity for self-discipline." I have enormous freedom as a professional athlete. But that freedom requires self-discipline that I bring in some areas - I'm good at getting out the door and working hard - but not in others - I'm not good at separating work and home; I'm always at home so I'm never at home; I'm always working so I'm never working. I think I need to flip that self-discipline a bit. I need to be better about separating work and home - to put more energy into that, even if it means less energy into getting out the door (though I suspect that's not the actual tradeoff I'll make). 

Most of what being more committed in this way is subjective - how I weight certain things, deciding I really value, what is important to me. But some of that is objective. It is concrete. I want to go to Kona. Though I don't just want to "go" to Kona. I only want to go to Kona feeling like I can be prepared to race well there. I have no interest in chasing points simply to show up and hope. And I will also say that it's more important to me to race well (subjectively) there than it is to race well (objectively). Now, before this seems like some sort of "I define success on my own terms" cop-out, I will say that I very much want to win. Because I think you need a concrete goal to measure yourself against. Too often people who define success on their own terms simply define success to be whatever it was that happened. You need to be able to fail and have it count. Failure has become something hip. Silicon Valley loves "fail fast." And everyone talks about the importance of failure like it's a good thing. Failure is only a good thing in hindsight. This idea of setting out to fail is absurd. Don't set out to fail. Set out to succeed. And then, as you look back, realize that some things that were failure were essential to the process. But not because you failed. But because of how you reacted to that failure. 

My goal for the time that I have left in my career - and there is certainly less sand in the top of the hourglass for me now than the bottom - is to keep perspective. To realize what I've done and what I've achieved and also what I have not yet done and not yet achieved. It's a tenuous balance - making something important enough. It's just sport; it's not life or death. But it's also a rare and special opportunity to chase being the best in the world in a competitive environment where you have a real, defined, objective chance to measure that success. Perspective, I think, comes from the process. Of realizing the importance of any - and every workout - to the overall piece of the puzzle. What role does any given day - any given workout - play in the success on a race day  That sort of long view mandates perspective. It mandates a focus on process. Results follow from process. 

In that sense, I'm lucky that my process can be repeated every year, instead of every four. Simon Whitfield set out a goal in 2005 - when I first met him and when he also started working with Joel - to win a gold medal in 2008. But he did it by a day to day commitment to the process. Simon and Joel are both fans of the phrase, "Chop Wood. Carry Water." Personally, I hate this expression. I don't quite know why. I suppose that part of it is that it ignores that larger goal. What is the end game of chopping wood and carrying water? Where is the chance for failure? I also hate it because it seems to make training for sport seem more special than it is. Swimming, biking, and running is mundane enough. It doesn't need to be analogized to some other mundane activity. I tend to think analogies like that are better suited to grandiose tasks - like building a skyscraper. But I think that setting out to do something like winning a gold medal - or winning Kona - is maybe closer to building a skyscraper than it seems. Or that you can make it that important, if you choose to.

So I suppose I plan to focus more on simply chopping wood and carrying water, at least in part because I might be better able to not do those things sometimes. The larger idea is that I need to commit - or recommit - to the things that matter to me. At one time, the only real answer to that was sport. But that also, now, means my family. I need to be more present for them. Which I think will help me both to let go of work and to commit even more to it. I swim. I bike. I run. I write. I work. I do a lot. Some of which is necessary. Some of which is not. And I don't have the luxury of the not necessary anymore. And I also think that learning what is - and what is not - necessary is something that is critical to success in life as a whole.

I am setting out, once again, to win in Kona. Some of what will define my success will be whether or not I actually achieve that, because that is, ultimately, an important measure of success. But most of it will be on how I pursued that. On the integrity of my process. How much did I respect the necessary? How little did I allow myself to be distracted by the unnecessary? How committed was I really? 

I won't do anything to win that race. And I think that's important too. I feel like there's some sense of the importance of process in most people's minds anyway. Cheating, for example. I won't break the rules to win. But I also know I can't break my own personal rules to try to win. However, it's equally clear to me that I will need to break some of what I have defined as my own personal rules to try to win. I won't compromise my commitment to my family. Though I have. I will compromise my obsessiveness. Though I have not. What's really important. And what is not. Can I figure that out? And then can I race, train, and live accordingly. 

It all seems a bit new agey and flakey. The reality is more practical, though I'd be lying if I said I know exactly what it really meant. There'll be some trial and error. I'd say it can't get any worse than dropping out 40 miles into a race that I spent months preparing to win, but I know that's not true. I am suffering now, and suffering is a strange phenomenon. David Brooks wrote in his outstanding Road to Character that suffering is a unique yearning because it does not lead to its own end. Hunger leads to fullness and the end of hunger. Tiredness leads to sleep. Suffering only leads to more suffering. Unless it actually has a purpose. A direction. Unless you can learn from it. And the lessons can be continual. Brooks talks about how you hit the floor, and then that floor drops out, revealing another level below. But then that drops out. You can always go lower. And that may be the case here. I thought I hit my lowest in a hospital bed in 2010. And I came back from that. But then I fell again. I thought I knew the lesson. I thought I knew the bottom. But it turns out there was another. And I expect another, somewhere else down the line. That's the nature of a life well lived. Of a life where you try to squeeze everything out of it. I don't fear the suffering. I just don't want to suffer for nothing. I will take a DNF if it gets me closer to the top, eventually. And whether or not it does is on me.

I'm struggling to end this already too long piece, to wrap it up neatly with some sort of conclusion. That's part of why it's so long; the other part is that I just write too much. I guess there isn't one. I'm at a crossroads. And that's a good place to end because I do need to acknowledge the other path. I knew I didn't have "it" in Texas, whatever "it" is. But I also wondered, after two years of struggle, if I have "it" at all anymore. I wondered if, like Faris, it was time to step away. That's the other path. The path away from this life. I'm at the crossroads, but I have chosen a path. Do I still have "it"? I don't know. Where does it lead? I do know that it leads me back into this sport. What does that mean? I guess that's what I'll find out.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Put A Ring On It

Happy Mothers' Day to Jessie Clark

I'm sure some of you were beginning to wonder what ever happened with the 4 C's Dimond giveaway. Honestly, there were times when I wondered about it too, because giving a bike away gets harder every time I do it. It becomes even worse when I'm training a lot, and my judgement and overall mental capacity becomes severely limited. I am always terrified about making a bad decision, though really there were no bad decisions to be made with the group of people whose submissions I had the privilege of reading. I wish I had five bikes... no, make that 25 or even 125... to give away. To everyone who is not named Jessie Clark, please don't feel like your submission or your story or anything about you was somehow not worthy. There were so many incredible stories I mostly feel like I'm not worthy to actually make this decision.

Because the whole process can be so overwhelming, I try to make some priorities that help me narrow the field down. I never want to post these in advance for a couple reasons. The first is that I never want anyone to feel like they don't have a chance. One of the five finalists was someone who didn't really meet any of the items on my mental checklist, but his story was so good I couldn't not include him. No one's story is ever any better or worse than anyone else's. Everyone's story is his or her own, and that's awesome. But I want to share Jessie's story with you and talk about the things that made me know that she was the right person for this bike. 

First off, she is a she. In the future, I may have to go back giving away my own bike again. I love doing that, but there's some flexibility that comes with being able to give away a demo bike. Namely, it means I can fit anyone, instead of needing to give the bike to someone who runs closer to my size. In prior years, many of the best submissions were from people, most often women, who simply would not have fit on *my* bike. Jessie is such a case. Women tend to be, on average, shorter than men. That's just biology. Or genetics. Or whatever. But it's true. She is 5'7". Were I giving away my frame, there's no way that she'd fit on it. So I was definitely biased towards giving this bike to a woman, because this might be my only chance to do so. If the Dimond crew is able to let me give away a demo frame again next year, I'll scrap gender as a factor. But for this year, it was important to me to give it to a woman.

Jessie is also a mother. Seeing what my own wife sacrifices, and how little she buys for herself, I realize that there is basically no way a mother of three would ever make this purchase for herself, even if she could. I gave weight overall more heavily to parents this time, because this is the first time I'm giving away a bike as a father of three kids with the sacrifice that entails, especially for the mother, staring me in the face every day. Jessie is a mother of three. That's how she got into the sport. She was fighting to lose weight after the birth of her second child and turned to triathlon. 50lbs (and another baby later), she's hooked.

I really love giving this bike to someone where the need - on the bike side - is really clear. A tribike that fits is not quite as dramatic a change as a tribike where all you had before a $500 cheapo road bike you bought off eBay. That's what Jessie *was* riding. It's pretty cool to say, "was." If you go 13:07 in your first Ironman on a cheapo road bike, as Jessie did for her debut Ironman at Chattanooga in 2014, a tribike is going to be a huge upgrade. 

I also wanted someone that can - and will and has - raced. I liked that Jessie had done an Ironman. There were a couple stories from people who were becoming triathletes, but for those people, I think you should do what Jessie did - you buy a cheap road bike and fall in love with the sport first. If you live in Central Tennessee, Jessie has offered to let you borrow hers. She doesn't need it anymore (well, not all the time).

And lastly I wanted to reward someone who asked for themselves. The past two years, I've given it to someone who wrote for their spouse. And that was awesome. But it takes a lot of guts to put yourself out there to a complete stranger. And I tried to respect that. It's not an easy thing to open yourself up and know that it might not pay off at all. And that hurts. I realize that, to some extent, everyone who wrote in is hurt that I didn't pick them. And all I can say is that I'm sorry. I feel truly honored that you all share what you do with me, and I wish that nothing I do or say is interpreted as a judgement on you. You are all awesome. But knowing that it hurts more when you know you put yourself out there, I gave extra weight to people who opened themselves up for this. Kudos to all of you.

Jessie does a lot of other great stuff that made her a great choice as well. We've had a bunch of back and forth, and she's given me permission to share what she has written. I hope that gives further insight into Dimond's newest rider.

This was her 250 word submission. From the 250 word group, I narrowed it down to a final group of five. One of those five opted-out by choice (which I found very honorable) because circumstances changed since they submitted. That really warmed my heart. So thank you. Here was Jessie's 250 word submission:

I am a true underdog, the one nobody expected to be an athlete, the nice girl who always finished last. About six years ago after the birth of my second child, I decided to lose weight and started working out. Over the course of a year, I lost 50 pounds and discovered that I LOVE CYCLING! This soon led to an indoor triathlon at the gym and buying my first used bike for $500 bucks. Over the years, she has carried me through numerous training rides, triathlons of every distance, AND in September we completed my first Ironman in just over 13 hours. I’m finally living the life I’m meant to live! My pals and I created our own local tri club which now has over 70 members. I’ve become a cycling instructor and personal trainer, helping others to accomplish their dreams. I am an ambassador for this sport that we love and I get to encourage others every day.
I cannot keep dumping any more money into my old bike, so this new bike will truly carry me to the next level in the sport. Your gift would inspire me to show up on race day and make you and Dimond proud, giving my best performance, worthy of the bike I’m riding. I have plans for my old road bike too – she’s going to be made available to anybody I meet who wants to try out cycling, growing the sport and changing more lives.

Of the final five, I simply said, "tell me what you would have told me if I hadn't limited you to 250 words," It was there that Jessie told me more about her story.

I am a regular person, a regular Mom, a Mom who has struggled with her weight and got into fitness so my fat butt could fit back into my pants.  In the process I found out that I am a decent cyclist and I have a high threshold for pain which makes me a natural for triathlon.  I'm an average swimmer and an OK runner too.  I went from taking indoor cycling classes at my local YMCA to doing a full Ironman (finished in 13:08) in roughly 5 years time.  I also got certified to instruct cycling and became a personal trainer all because I wanted to give back to others.  Through all of this I lost 50 pounds and fell in love with this sport.  I want to help others get into triathlon and show other regular people that ANYTHING is possible.  I have learned so much that I want to pass this knowledge along to others.    
I would EARN every cent of that bike you give me through serving as an ambassador for this sport and for YOU.  Dammit, I would make you proud.  I would step my game up and make sure I compete to best ability in every race I enter.  I would take my ol' road bike and loan it out to anyone who was considering buying a bike and just wanted to make sure they wanted it.  I would ride in every charity ride and local group rides and tell everyone about the bike I'm riding!  I know it would be an amazing gift for me and I would totally embrace it.  Whatever you needed - pics, posts, blogs, articles, general awesomeness - count me in!!!!
I have a really big heart, I love to write, I love to talk to people, I was BORN FOR THIS opportunity!!  Pick me, you'll be glad you did.  It will make the best story and will catapult ME into another stratosphere.  I will then, in turn inspire the thousands of other regular folks out there, showing them that anything is possible and they too can become an Ironman!!!!  
Thank you in advance for what you are doing AND for what you are accomplishing in this sport.  I'm a huge fan! I've attached a picture from my first triathlon 5+ years ago.  As you can see... the Dimond bike would be a HUGE upgrade for me - I need this, I really really need this!  
That's a LOT of exclamation points! But I was drawn to the simple earnestness of her story. She downplays her story as "regular," but I think it's anything but. The great old adage is, "everyone has the will to win; few people have the will to prepare to win." Lots of people want to lose weight, get in shape, etc. How many people do it? Well, a lot. But even more don't. And well, the final email she sent about jumping around for joy with her kids at the park and making a scene, that was what let me know I made the right choice.

Jessie's charity is the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation, which is very special to me as one of my closest friend's has a son who is Type-1. There are so many cheesy cliches about being a parent, but they are all true. And being a parent also makes you a kindred spirit with every other parent. I can't explain it. If you are a parent, you understand. If you will be, you'll understand then. If you won't ever be, well, then I'm just crazy like the rest of us.

So, congratulations to Jessie Clark, age 39. She's a triathlete, wife, and Mother to three kids.  She lives in Middle Tennessee just outside of Nashville and trains with local tri club MidTN Multisport. And she's brilliant under pressure. She's also going to be riding a Dimond.

Thanks again to everyone who submitted. Can't wait to do this again next year. It's hard. But it's awesome.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

The Road To The Woodlands

it's by no means perfect, but it helps tell the story...

"How much do you train?" This is a common question for, I think, most pros. Simon Whitfield gave me the best answer to this question, "As much as possible." The key, then, is simply (or not so simply, as the case may be) in defining what is possible. After a lot of trial and a lot of error, I seem to have pretty much settled on what's possible. For me. Thanks largely to my wife, this hasn't changed too much even with three kids. Thanks Jill!

I've always avoided talking too much about the specifics of the training I do for a variety of reasons. The first is that, at its core, I consider the structure of my training to be the intellectual property of my coach. I also think that this sort of discussion - on specifics - often tends to be less, rather than more, helpful to age-group athletes. And, truthfully, I've never found the training that I do to be particularly remarkable, and I suppose I never wanted to put it out there so people could say, "that's it?" Even when I was winning races, I was never much of a high volume trainer, at least based off of what some other athletes post about what they train. But after the past two seasons, when I struggled to match the training that brought me success, I finally feel like I've got my legs firmly back under me. And I guess I've made my peace with what's possible for me. I expect to continue to push the envelope and to improve such that even as the absolute performances improve, on a relative basis, I figure this is pretty close to what I can manage. There is no magic in this. No secret. I definitely once thought there was, largely because I didn't have enough faith in my own ability to reason that it was actually me - rather than the training - that was the success. This was enough to win some big races. Will it be again? I don't know. We will see. But, thanks to Joel, I realize that magic, such as it is, is in being able to execute at this level week after week after week after week. What's the difference between this year and last and the year before? The difference is in the consistency. I've already had more really good weeks to start this year than I had in all of last year. And I've had more long strings of good weeks that were longer than any I had last year. As I begin to taper down for Wildflower and Ironman Texas, I wanted to reflect some on the road to this point, somewhere I wasn't sure I could get to again. It's amazing to look back at when I thought I was here and to realize just how far away I actually was. I started thinking about this after seeing something Joel posted on his Facebook page: "My coaching heuristics in three words: Consistency, Progression, Patience."

It all really started in late January in Mallorca. It had been a very long time - January 2009 to be exact - since I'd be at a training camp under the supervision of a coach. But Joel and I both felt that it was an important - critical even - step after a year spent rebuilding in 2014. Joel and I started 2014 together in less than optimal circumstances, only seven weeks before Ironman Texas. This year, we started off the right way, with a year together, a proper offseason behind us, and with a clear set of goals going forward. And, most importantly, a reliable and healthy me doing the training. 

The camp environment was a mix of successes and challenges. The weather in Mallorca didn't help much, with it being in the mid 40s and 50s (Fahrenheit) most days with a lot of rain and not much sun. And, after my crash in 2010 and years and years of doing 99.9% of my rides alone, I just couldn't get comfortable riding in a group. But it was great to have Joel watching me, seeing how I responded (or didn't). It was great to be in a distraction free environment with like-minded individuals. It was nice to swim in a group that didn't get in the water at 5AM. The first week was especially challenging with the time change. And the shock of being on someone else's schedule. By the end of that first week, I was pretty disheartened. I had gotten some good training in, but all in all, I felt like I was still stuck in a bit of a rut. I wondered if maybe it wasn't a sign that I had just seen the high point of my career, and if I wasn't just now in a position where I was going to do my best to just sort of fade away as slowly as possible. I had originally planned to stay for three weeks total, but after that first week, I decided to change my flight home to a week earlier. Faced with the prospect of having flown across the world to come away no better than before, I decided I'd make the most of the week to come and see what happened. And it was a revelation. Getting over the jet lag helped a lot, but I also think that facing a definite timeline brought out the best in me. I had a numerically good week (I like round numbers) with 10 hours of biking (relatively low for me), 10 hours of running (relatively high for me), and 30km of swimming (quite high for me). At the end of the week, preparing to head home, I had a great talk with Joel. It was definitely a "holy shit, I can still do this" moment. After a rocky start, I left Mallorca with more than what I expected to gain from the experience. I left with confidence. After a very long day of travel home, I fell right back into the routine of training, and kept that rhythm going for quite a few more weeks until it was time to get ready for Monterrey. With such a big start to the year, Joel and I decided to rest further out from Monterrey and then build up to the race the week of, which worked out well, except for the part where I had a panic attack during the race... C'est la vie.

After Monterrey, I was in the once again (finally) familiar position of getting ready for the first A race of the season - Ironman Texas - with a solid foundation under me instead of facing a game of catchup, like last year for IMTX and in 2013 for Kona. We got back into a pretty good routine, matching the structure and flow of the earlier weeks of the season. The most notable change from early in the year was a downtick in running and an uptick in cycling. After a year and half (or so) with a heavy focus on swimming with only modest returns in the water and a clear detriment to my bike and run, we decided to go back to what had gotten me the most success and, in particular, what had shown the best returns. When I run a lot, I get a lot faster. So I ran a lot to start the year. In both January and February, I logged well over 400km. And the improvement was immediate and noticeable. With a solid foundation there, we started to ramp up the focus on the bike for March and April. Last week (not the week we are just finishing, where I've already started to lighten a bit for Wildflower, but the prior one) was what I'd consider a "representative" week of Ironman training. It was a big week. Rarely, if ever, will I train much more than this. But it was not an outlier in any way. There is a lot of that in this sort of posting, especially when it's "describe an average training day" and the day that some pros list blows my mind. I don't really have an average day; I have an average day for any given day of the week, but the days themselves are all relatively different. So here's what I consider a very good week of Ironman training.

Some general notes. I start my training relatively late in the day. This is because mornings are the hardest time in our house, getting everyone going. So I make breakfast for everyone, make coffee for Jill if she hasn't made it yet, watch the kids for a bit while she gets changed, etc. Jill wakes up with the twins at about 6-6:30AM. They go downstairs and have some quiet time. Quentin and I usually wake up at about 7:30AM. Banana-walnut-chocolate chip pancakes (gluten-free) are our most standard breakfast, and if I'm good, it's on the table by 8:15AM. On Tuesdays and Thursdays, Quentin goes to school at 8:45. Usually Jill takes him, and then heads off with the girls to do something. I finish up breakfast, and usually do some work on my computer. I'd love to swim closer to now - about 9:30 or so, but the pool doesn't open until 10:30. Some days, I will ride or run first, but just as often, I start my day at 10:30. I usually finish my day a bit later - 6:00PM or 6:30PM - as a result. It seems to work well enough. I used to swim more often in the morning (our pool has lap swim M/W/F/S from 6AM-9AM), but Jill found it was better to have me around earlier in the day than later. So we adjusted. We live only a mile from the pool, so the transit time to/from doesn't really make a difference in terms of affecting things. I typically eat dinner after everyone else - more like 8PM - even if I make dinner (which I do most of the time when it's "normal" training, but which I do much less often during the heaviest part of Ironman training). In between sessions, I eat, try to catch up on work, etc. In the evenings, I try to catch up on work and ideally watch a bit of TV together with Jill to unwind. I go to bed between 9:30-10:00PM. I like to sleep. I used to sleep less at night, but then I would nap during the day. That's harder with three kids, so now I usually just get a big sleep at night and the occasional 30 minute nap during the week.

I do all of my training alone.

So that's the general stuff. Now to the week itself.

Monday: recovery day. I just swim. And it's easy. 3km (3300yds) of pretty relaxed swimming in mid-morning. Then I take Quentin with me down to Ventura (35min drive) where I go to see my trainer/body-work guru Blair Ferguson of Ventura Training & Athletics. Blair does MAT and we do a mix of treatment and specific strength training. Quentin watches movies on my phone. I have been working with Blair on a roughly weekly basis since 2009. I don't do massage, chiropractic or anything else. The only person who works on my body is Blair. If I was super rich, I'd bring him to all of my races. But I'm not, so I drive down to see him once a week. Quentin and I usually do something together afterwards. This week, we went out for a late lunch at Ola's Mexican Food in Camarillo, which I fell in love with during my stay in the hospital. Jill brought me food from here almost every day. Beats hospital food by a long shot. This the boys time together, which is awesome. I usually make dinner on Monday because I don't have much else going on. If I have to talk on the phone, I try to do it on Monday too. 

Tuesday: track day. Track Tuesday is a favorite. Being close to Ironman, track Tuesday became more like Tempo tuesday. I started the day earlier (like 9:45AM or so) with a variable speed tempo session. Run was 75 minutes with 10x800m with 2min rest done as odds @ 3:20(ish)/km pace and evens @ 3:40(ish)/km pace. The idea is to make the 3:40ish pace (somewhere between 70.3 and IM pace) feel easy. And to keep the foot speed up. This was a relatively easy session. My run fitness has been good enough that I had blown myself up a bit in prior weeks by going to hard, so this was more of a maintenance kind of run, with an eye on keeping my legs ok for the bike workouts. 

After a quick lunch, I head to the pool for what has been the normal Tuesday swim for about a year now: 4000yds with a main set of 2x(30x50) every 4th 50 fast; otherwise steady. Round 1 is band-only on 45s. Round 2 is paddles only on 40s. 

Finish the day with 90min easy (220w avg, 235w pnorm) on the road bike. Oh, I weigh about 72kg (158lbs).

Wednesday: work day. Typically one of the bigger days of mid-week block. HIIT work in the pool. 4400yds with main set of 3x(20x25 VERY fast with every 4th 25 easy. All on 30s. Then 300 paddles only long strokes on 5:00). I use a tempo trainer and just set it at 85spm. I focus on matching the tempo with good long strokes, and this has been a great addition to the staple after doing it in Mallorca. The tempo trainer helps keep me honest without someone in another lane to race against. 

Tempo day on the tri bike. 3hrs total with main set of 60min progressive TT done as: 20min @ 300w, 20min @ 320w, 20min @ 340w. This was a pretty good session as I felt in control the whole time.

Easy basic run. 45min @ 4:30/km done in the early evening around the "grass track" (1km loop of grass and dirt around the softball fields near my house).

Thursday: long run. This was the last really long run before Ironman Texas. 2:15. I had really crushed some long runs earlier in the year, but then they had sort of crushed me, so I tried to keep a bit of a lid on this and not bury myself. This is the only workout I drive to (except for swims). It's about 15min to the Wendy Trailhead, which puts me on a trail to the ocean. It's a great route, downhill to the ocean, uphill on the way back. The run gains about 1000vft, but it's basically all at the start and finish, as you bomb down this huge blacktop hill to start and then have to run up it when you're really tired near the end. (Link is to a run I did on the route last year on Strava.) I averaged 4:06/km, but the NGP is more like 4:00 with the elevation, and that's pretty close to the pace I hold except for the monster hill. This was again a really good run, as I felt in control and not wrecked afterwards. 

After I run, I grab lunch and then head to the pool for a short 2km flush swim. This is really about focusing on swimming frequency. It'd be easy to just not swim on a day like this. But there's a big difference - for me - between doing SOME swimming and doing none. So this is really about frequency rather than any sort of particular fitness goal.

Friday: recovery day. Friday is another easier day. I start the day with my biggest/hardest swim of the week. 5200yds with a main set of 12x300 as 6 pull paddles (pull buoy, paddles, & band) on 4:00 holding 3:35ish and 6 paddles and fins (TYR burner short fins) on 3:45 holding 3:25ish. Paddles and fins is a new-ish addition. The goal is to have good long strokes. The more tired I get (meaning the deeper into Ironman training), the more likely 
I am to rely on tools to keep this session good. When I'm still pretty fresh, I'm more likely to do something like 20x200 or 20x150 swim. But once the legs get trashed...

90min easy ride. Similar power numbers to Tuesday - 220w or so average and 230w or so normalized. Also on road bike. 

Saturday: work day. Another day of pull focus in the pool. Very similar set to Tuesday. 4000 yds with main set of 2x(15x100). Round 1 band only on 1:35, Round 2 paddles only on 1:25. There's no change of speed here, and goal is to be a bit steadier across the board. Solid effort for all 30x100s. Plenty of rest. Usually going sub-1:20 for band only and sub 1:10 for paddles only.

Big gear day on the bike. I alternate doing big gear stuff on my road bike and on my TT bike. This week it was road bike. Main set was 8x5min with 5ish minutes (it's a loop - shorter climb, longer descent) low cadence (sub-60rpm) at threshold watts (360-365w). Total ride time was 3hrs. 

Basic run. Not an easy run, but not hard either. 60min @ 4:15/km. Pretty steady across the hour, though of course I start out a bit slower and finish a bit faster. 

Sunday: long ride. The Ironman standard. I usually ride my road bike for this. 5hrs over a hilly route (about 2000m of evelation change). Average power of 222w with pnorm of 239w. Run off the bike. 30min @ Ironman pace (3:55/km) and 15min easy jog to cool down. That's a full day.

Totals for the week:
Swim: 23,100yds (I credit swimming at 1100yds/15min for everything. I don't actually pay attention to how long it takes. Since I'm consistent, I figure it doesn't matter). So that's 5:15 (sort of) total time.

Bike: 446km in 14hrs. 6hrs on the tri bike. 8hrs on the road bike.

Run: 86.4km in 6hrs.

Strength/gym of 1hr.

26:15 total training hours.

And now the numbers that really matter...

2015 YTD:
Swim: 311,376m [pretty much the same as 2014 YTD.]

Bike: 4979km (161:13:51) [3755km in 123hrs in 2014 YTD - 31% increase. 4590 in 147hrs in January-April, 2012.]

Run: 1488km (111:57:22) [1157 in 92hrs in 2014 YTD - 29% increase. 1458km in January-April, 2012.]

I had never even looked at any of the numbers from the prior years until I wrote this article. But, being such a data geek, I started wondering. And I was pretty pleased with what I saw.

That's pretty much my life in a nutshell...