by Gordo Byrn
The optimal plan is often suboptimal.
Here at Endurance Corner, our most popular content talks about living optimally. Optimal nutrition, training, race strategy, body fat percentages, pacing -- those are the most popular topics on our site.
How many of us can live optimally?
The majority of athletes that pursue athletic excellence ultimately find that it is more satisfying to optimize their lives, rather than their race performances.
Age-group triathlon contains many successful business people with families. Within that demographic, there is a large cost of going for the last few percentage points of athletic improvement. Even in the elite ranks, self-aware individuals often make a decision to walk away at times that strike many of us as “too early” -- elite athletes for physical reasons and elite business people for ethical survival.
In my life, the transition from athletic excellence to “doing my best given my life” has been a tough one. I have a particularly difficult time at the end of each winter when the fitness from the previous year has gone dormant!
Aside from writing, I have a couple of coping strategies that I’d like to share with you.
The Nicholson Effect (from the movie “As Good As It Gets”) - Associate with peers that make you want to be a better person.
To illustrate, a coaching buddy has a test that he uses with athletes that want to Qualify for Kona. He builds in 5:30 a.m. masters for their initial programs. If they can’t get themselves to dive into cold water in the early morning then he know it’s unlikely that they will sustain what’s required to qualify.
What does early swimming have to do with being a better person?
A life with meaning is largely about making a habit to do things that other people find too difficult. Taking my buddy’s lesson into my own life (of comfortable midday masters swims in sunny Boulder), I ask myself, “Who motivates me to take actions that move me towards my life goals?”
I keep a list of these folks and do fun things with them as often as possible. I am willing to radically change my life to associate with them (marriage, geographic relocation, career path, consulting relationships). Each of my major life changes have been about radical change to learn from specific people.
As I wrote in Survival Tactics, I was outgunned at my first training camp of the year. These days, perhaps like you, I’m outgunned a fair amount in my training. Now that I’m less able to build my ego by relentless crushing my pals, I use my vacation time to associate with friends that have characteristics I’d like to emulate.
Before each trip, I make lists of points that I’d like to cover with people. I often find myself exchanging racing protocols with a friend that’s teaching me about wealth, personal happiness or parenting.
Athletes are extremely open in the low-intensity periods that are scattered through a long endurance workout -- more and more as the days are stung together. To learn you simply need the fitness to be nearby, and the presence of mind to recall a catalyst to get the discussion rolling.
This year, I’m doing a training camp each month from January to August. Each camp is different: big/small, short/long, structured/informal. What’s similar is I am going to be enjoying time with people I know and respect.
We have a ton of great people in our sport. Make time to make memories with a few of them.
Gordo is the founder of Endurance Corner. You can find his personal blog here.