Wednesday, August 20, 2014

triathlon

Advice to a Young Elite

I am currently on the World’s Favourite airline heading to London and onwards to Miami.

It was a very useful week in Scotland and the JV keeps rolling along. We had an open board meeting and ran through a lot of the items that I wrote about in my finance oriented pieces. The BOS lads are very switched on. When they are being tough on us, they know it! We had an honest chat about why they are being tough on us. By sitting down and talking about everything openly, we realised the logic behind their positions – all of which seemed far more reasonable than what we were dreaming up in the absence of communication.

Some of you had follow-up questions, tips and advice stemming from my last few entries. Responding is a bit down my list as I want to finish off sharing my Kona ideas.

On to our topic…

Over the last six years, I’ve helped a few elite athletes through a mixture of coaching, training and financial support. It hasn’t been charity (not even close) as I benefited through training partners, technical instruction and companionship. Helping people can be a tricky business but I’d say that it’s worked about 70% of the timen (my batting average is improving since I last wrote about this!). That’s a pretty good hit rate in my view.

I’ve also learned a few things about how best for me to play it: (a) clear expectations; (b) high standards; (c) open communication; (d) my way or the highway (if you are living under my roof); and (e) mutual respect. When I’ve tried to “be nice”, or compromise my expectations then it hasn’t worked as well.

Spring is here and summer will follow soon. Most elites (most people for that matter) will follow the same pattern in 2006 that they have created over the last few years. They can be beaten!

What follows is some advice having watched the progress (but mainly the lack of progress) of various elite athletes and neo-pros over the last six years.

Training
For ten months of the year, your #1 priority is your training and everything that enables you to do your training. You will not improve without consistent, focused training. A lot of athletes are great at being “hard” in public – that’s NOT what it is about. Where the great athletes move ahead is by being consistent and focused in private.

Your natural talent will get you to a point – to move beyond that, to breakthrough, you need a consistent, focused total athlete approach – when nobody is watching.

The role of an athlete is not to travel the world chasing races depleting limited financial resources. Until you can crush everyone at all your local events, stay in one place and train consistently. Otherwise you are fooling yourself and merely living a triathlon vacation. Seasonal migration is useful but only to improve the quality of your training – seeing young pros drop three months spending money to DNF or detonate in Kona strikes me as ridiculous. Get out there and win a hot weather Ironman first.

With your training, search for a training partner that shares your approach to fitness. These people are invaluable. Also ensure that this person has an attitude and character that you respect – you will spend a lot of time with them. As a result, they will impact the way you think, so choose wisely.

With your coaches and mentors – look beyond results, look to the life that they actually lead outside of their sport. Is this the life that you want for yourself? This is a fundamental consideration because what you actually learn from mentors (consciously or unconsciously) is the life skills that you’ll carry with you for the rest of your life. Choose wisely.

If you happen to make it to the top, what next? At some stage, you will have to consider life beyond actively competing. This is where the best coaches/mentors will provide real assistance.

Finance
As they say: ‘There is a leisure class at both ends of the socioeconomic ladder”.

The alternative employment choice for most of your competition is retail sales, massage therapy, bike maintenance or personal training. Training all day is an attractive alternative.

Bear in mind that civilians work for a living. You are incredibly lucky to have the opportunity to give-it-a-shot. It amazes me when I listen/read to athletes (and their supporters) talking about “how hard it is” for Dude to make ends meet as a triathlete. No kidding! Dude is typically a 9:08 IMer and about 125th in the world. Society doesn’t owe him the right to go on vacation. Entitlement mentalities leave me shaking my head.

Your #1 medium term goal is to achieve cash flow breakeven. Give yourself three years to figure out: (a) are you well suited to elite athletics; and (b) are you going to be able to have a decent quality of life. Assuming that you start as a top agegroup athlete, then after three years of living-the-dream you should have an idea about what further progress is going to entail.

What is breakeven? Supporting yourself completely from your own efforts. I’d strip out cash used from: spouse; parents, personal savings; sugar daddy (or mommy); and other unearned sources.

Now if you happen to have three years worth of cash flow in the bank then that is a clear advantage but you’d better be sure you want to use it because triathlon is a low pay vocation!

Financial stress is like any other – it distracts, reduces energy levels and makes you less effective at achieving your goals. However… it can be a great motivator when used appropriately.

Summing Up
You might notice that I didn’t talk about winning races, getting fast, hammering yourself or any of the other things that a young elite might consider being important. That’s because I don’t think that they really matter all that much.

Where I would spend my time is…

*** building my aerobic engine, improving skills, enhancing flexibility and learning personal limiters;
*** associating with people that use sport to create a satisfying life; and
*** improving my ability to support myself over the long haul.

Ultimately those are the items that will lead to success (or prevent roadblocks) over the ten years that it will take for you to achieve your athletic potential.

Coaches & Athletes

A few ideas that have been rolling through my head this week.

All coaches have biases, insecurities and blind spots. When your needs as an athlete bump up against one (or more) of these; that’s when errors of judgment occur.

The toughest and most important part of athletic success is getting out of bed every morning, on time, for many years. When we take actions that risk our ability to back-it-up (even if physiologically beneficial) we are gambling with the big picture of what it takes to succeed.

Be wary of coaches living out their athletic dreams (and managing personal insecurities) through pushing their athletes over the edge.

Is the coach seeking to control the program or the athlete? My most effective coaching relationships are more like conversations than prophesies.

Having had the opportunity of five years of world class coaching – where I went wrong is when I took advice and added to it. The most counterproductive (and common) change was going harder, for longer, than instructed – I’ve completely ended my season twice.

Don’t spend any time with a coach with weak ethics. Life is about a lot more than athletic results. Repeated exposure to a man of weak character can impair you for years.

The best training partner is one that gets you out the door, supplies a few laughs and keeps you from inadvertently nuking yourself. A lot of great athletes have benefited from a training partnership with “weaker” athletes.

The key benefit of athletics is providing us with a forum through which we can overcome ourselves. Ultimately, that is the only thing that a race, or a competitor can offer us.

Athletes that miss this point spend their entire lives chasing a finish line that never satisfies.

Epic NZ, Epilogue

So I am at the airport in Christchurch now. About to start a long journey to Scotland via Auckland, Sydney, Singapore and London. Not the most direct way to get there but the most comfortable & productive that I could schedule.

Had a great swim this morning. At the start of Epic Camp, I swam 2000m in 29:10 at max effort drafting like the dickens. This morning, I did a 2000m main set leaving on 1:30 base, holding 1:27.5 down to 1:22.5 per 100 (effort was steady to mod-hard).

Bumped into Scott and told him about it (I get excited by improvement). I said that it was great that Epic Camp helped me out so much. Scott pointed out that the several million meters that I swam from 2001-2004 might have helped me a bit more than 25K of swimming over the two weeks of Epic Camp.

He might have a point.

Because of my work commitments, I won't be able to train as consistently as I might like. However, a bit of forced rest is probably a good idea to keep me on track. When I get to Scotland, I am going to join a health club that has a 25m indoor pool. My game plan is to aim for five swims and five runs per week -- 20K swimming and 80K running. Cycling will probably be slim to nil. Still, I plan on getting an indoor trainer. Having it staring at me over the weekend could result in a few bonus hours of training.

My real European training mission is to make progress towards my 400 IM goal -- that makes short course more fun for me. Miss M says that I need to rip a 2:45 200IM (LCM) to have a shot at six minutes for the 400. She says that builds in a "buffer" for me. I figure that the number is closer to 2:52 or 2:53. I ended my workout today with a 3:02 so I have about 10 seconds to come out. I'm planning a TT for February 14th (three weeks time). Not sure if I'll go for the 400 or the 200. I'll let my coach decide.

The Achilles is perking up more and more. My massage guy was a little concerned that it might puff up due to all the flying. So... I am back on the anti-inflams for the journey to Scotland. I’m not the ideal traveler because I enjoy the freedom of being able to mix wine and coffee with my meals (a bad idea when I need to sleep).

So that's my news post Epic. To close out the Epic Reports, here are a few bonus ideas that I was mulling over the course of the camp.

What Price Leisure?
Friday morning, I woke up with plenty of time to get ready before heading off for the last day of the camp. It was a very pleasant morning, warm and clear. I made my coffee, chopped my fruit and sat down for a solo breakfast overlooking the estuary.

Realising that the view is just as relaxing from a rented house as one that I own myself.

Realising that breakfast is just as tasty when prepared by myself as opposed to live-in help.

I sat there trying to figure out the price of my relaxation, my moment of peace looking out at the Southern Alps and the water. What would I pay for this view? What would I give up for this view?

It is quite difficult for me to price the tranquility that comes from the combination of big training and nature. That's probably the best lesson for me from Epic. The fact that there are things that we can't price -- shared experiences with friends; time away from noise close to nature in beautiful surroundings. These experiences are very uplifting -- especially when combined with 70 hours of endurance training endorphins.

The Curse of Talent
Given the choice, would you choose to be a great talent or a great worker? We get both kinds of people at Epic Camp -- talented and hard working. Generally, most of us tend more towards one than the other.

For me, I'd want to learn how to be a great worker. Being able to achieve satisfaction from working towards a goal is a fundamental attribute of achieving both success and satisfaction.

Most the talented people that I've met (by this I mean genetics) -- by an large, they do the minimum required to get by and it's no surprise that they are often merely surviving. The workers on the other hand, they know that they have to constantly strive towards achievement. Gaining satisfaction from their daily effort, independent of the result at the end of the day.

Clas is one of the most dedicated worker-athletes that I've ever met. It's no accident that I have spent so much time shoulder-to-shoulder with him over the years.

A few hours later now, I’m on a flight from Sydney to Singapore and I’ve just finished the book Fooled By Randomness. Great read that had me looking at a number of things from a fresh angle. I might write about those ideas a bit later. Made me view myself in a new light.

Always More, Always More
I was driving the crew in one of the Epic Vans that Jonas claims to love so much (a classic story that he’ll tell you after a few Red Bull & Vodkas some time). So I was in the van and Clas and I were chatting about our ride across the USA – NINE (!) weeks of averaging 100K per day.

We get to the Lodge and Molina points out that he had three YEARS in the 80s where he averaged 100K per day. With riding like that I asked him why he didn’t win the Tour de France. He pointed out that he won a hundred races instead.

Point taken.

Later he would confide that with five to six hundred 200K plus days (literally) in his back, he might have overdone it a bit. I can’t win either way!

The next day Miss M points out that my two swim PBs were on par with the average nine year old girl. Love your ladies, challenge your men.

I’ll show you two!

Tap the Hate
When all else fails go to hate.

That’s what I kept advising the crew on Epic. I come across an ability to manufacture and access the power of anger/hate in many of the best athletes that I know – Baron gets pissed off a lot but you need to know him to see it. As for me, I can’t hide anything from Monica. We both do it and that’s why it’s tough to do real training together. You don’t want to “bring the hate” when your sweetie is nearby.

Plenty of good books cover that observation better than me. Just wanted to let you know that you aren’t the only one using that technique. Lots of people feel a bit “bad” for using it as training tool.

Epic NZ, Week Two

Phew, what a few days. What does a guy think about when he’s pulling for eight hours? Not a whole lot really but here are some ideas. I could probably make this a pretty decent piece but I’ve only got just over an hour until dinner.

Have you been reading KP’s blog? It’s being able to spend time with guys like him that makes these camps special for me. Always outnumbers, always outgunned, always moving forward.

Today at the base of Arthur’s Pass he asked me for my recommendation on whether he should continue. Earlier, he was completely screwed and Darryl (uber-support dude) asked me if KP was going to continue… my reply – that is up to Kevin, not me.

Anyhow, by the time we got to the base of the climb – we were all soaked, KP had his Northern Cali wet weather gear on (he thinks he bundles up, he has no clue – not his fault, he grew up there). KP’s back is history, he can’t even stand when off the bike.

So he asks me what to do – I told him the truth – with that back, there is no way you can make the climb, it is the hardest climb that I’ve ever done. I also knew that if he ceased up then there was a good chance that he might die of exposure before we could get him off the mountain. He let me ride away.

Riding up the mountain, there are massive waterfalls all over the place –Jurassic Park stuff. My Achilles tendon has been acting up a bit – due to loose pedal and my Week One pacing strategy (more about that later). I’m trying to get up on minimal wattage but as the guy with powermeters are sure to report, there was no easy way up that climb. Most of us learned that it really is possible to keep a bike vertical with a cadence <20 rpm.

I saw a second support vehicle heading down so that gave me some comfort that the lads weren’t going to expire on the climb. It really was that kind of day. If they post a photo of my riding kit you’ll see that I was quite well prepared.

Brandon rode up to me and was singing! I wasn’t sure if he’d truly lost it or was simply happy. It was the sort of day where we were all training well past ridiculous.

Still, we’re all safe now and that is a relief to me. Having Monica and many of my best pals on the road means that I get concerned when the conditions get dicey.

Oh yeah, we had an aquathon this morning. Monica took down the Terminator! It was the best that I’ve ever seen her run. She looked fantastic. Later she crashed due to a series of events and some wet train tracks – she’s OK now and resting beside me in bed.

Life can change very quickly. Up or down.

That was one of the things I was thinking about on the way up the climb – cold, wet and very happy.

You know, the ride is going to end soon – better savour it.

+++

The last two days (not today), I instituted a change of tactics. I wanted to see how fast I could get my mini-group from A to B without blowing anyone up. Some of the lads on the gTrain thought that I was doing them a favour. Like I told M, I wasn’t doing anyone a favour, I was showing off to my wife!

Molina tried to teach me something a couple or three years ago – we were on a four day bike tour and heading downhill. A couple of guys that had arrived that morning (Weekenders) went to the front and starting DRILLING it on the way down. I was like… what-the-heck? Scott smiled at me and said, “hey, don’t worry about it, let them be strong.”

Let them be strong.

Here at Epic Camp we have a stack of people that are used to always being strong. Probably always being the strongest in their training groups.

Well, part of what we do on these camps is take everyone to the point where they aren’t strong. We’ve all cracked on this camp – well, maybe not The Baron, but I’ve seen him crack other times!

Anyhow, the flip side is that we’ve all hard our strong moments. Part of what being a good training buddy, coach or friend is about is letting people be strong. Not giving in, rather giving people a chance to show that they are strong.

Once you look at athletes through that lens, well, a lot of their actions seem more reasonable. The guy just wants his shot of being strong – let’s give it to him. Probably took me a week to work that out – a week of getting drilled, an injury and two years since Scott made the point. I get there eventually!

Scott and Stephen are really impressive and I am glad that the lads had a chance to seem them in action. I’m also glad that Stephen had a chance to see how Clas approaches training. I suppose that part of what I might have offered the lads on my wheel was an insight that they wouldn’t seen with Clas (because they are out the back when he does that kind of training).

In a unit, if you build the trust of the weaker riders that you aren’t trying to kill them then they feel secure. When folks feel safe they focus on what they need to do – heads are clear – just ride as best you can – no man behind – the stronger will do a bit more work. It’s a different kind of strength and when you contrast it with a group that’s constantly attacking itself – it is amazingly efficient.

Besides showing off, I wanted to make that point to the people in my group. Set an even pace, keep everyone together and you can go a pretty decent speed. It doesn’t take a lot of strength to shatter a group – you merely need to choose your moment. However, to keep a group together and deliver that group with everyone (even me) knowing that they couldn’t have done the ride faster – that takes a mixture of strength and patience that you don’t see a lot. Clas has it – he’s an 8:21 guy – if you play nice then he’ll show it to you – if you play silly then you’ll likely ride alone. He won’t tell you though; you’ll simply find yourself with a bunch of crazies attacking each other.

Some days I can see it more clearly than others. Fatigue, injuries and long pulls – they clear my mind.

+++

I can’t remember what kind of shape I said I was in at the beginning of the camp. Suppose that I could check. I do know that I am in far better shape now and I haven’t (yet) received the physical benefit from the training. When we come back from a lay-off (or injury) there is always a bit of confidence in our bodies that needs to be restored – I told Mark the other day that he was my insurance policy when I was pulling the crew. I didn’t know if that was possible and felt better knowing that he was there in case I detonated.

I really love this stuff. It’s a relief to find out that my immune system is up to the challenge. I think the main thing that was holding me back was life stress and I’ve taken steps to sort that out.

Not sure when I’ll write next, perhaps on the plane heading to the UK after the camp.

December

If I get myself rock-star-fit again then I hope I come back to this post so I can appreciate the turnaround.

Had a look through my log for December and did a few calculations -- I'll end up with a decent kick-off month -- given the previous nine months...

Depends on what I get up to tomorrow -- which won't be much because the cold isn't really budging -- so I estimate... Swim 11 hours; Bike 52 hours; Run 17 hours; and Strength/Core/Balance 5 hours. Grand total 85 hours and 3 zeros (zeros are killers at lower volume).

FWIW -- 85 hours was my total from Epic Oz last January (12 days worth). I've also got a piece in my head about what my 'real' strategy is for getting back into shape. I might save that for an Epic NZ entry or perhaps crank it out this coming week -- I'm not good at waiting once something is in my head.

If you look at the SBR allocation then there will be no prizes for guessing what I think is important for getting my endurance back.

As for the Four Pillars... I managed to swim 4000m (LCM) three times this month -- average time was 68 minutes. On the bike, I managed one five hour, fairly continuous ride (the rest had plenty of breaks). On the run, I managed a few 1:40 runs -- probably 20K each.

I had three overuse injuries and one illness. Plantar Faciitis, Popliteus Tendinitis and a general knee tendinitis that I haven't quite diagnosed. All three of stem from moving my bike volume from 5 hours in November (last four days) to 50+ hours in December (probably more fair to report that I went from 0 to 55). I've dealt with them all before and (thanks to M's massage) managed to get them reasonably under control.

I was getting a bit on myself about my month, I was well short of target. I figured that might happen and that's why I didn't publish any targets.

To perk myself up, I pulled out my 2000 training log (God Bless it) and selected two months at random Feb/Mar when I was training for IMOz (10:0x was the outcome, I think). Neither was over 80 hours -- only two zeros for both months combined and one of those was during a USA/UK/India trip and might have been caused by the date line. Pretty consistent, a lot of frequency and a few races.

OK, no need to panic just yet.

Still, I can't help but think how far I need to travel from where I am today -- I suppose that's the real challange. Keeping my will and plugging away. It seems pretty daunting given how easily I get totally shagged these days. Epic will be a lesson in pain!

M suggested an indoor bike trainer for Scotland -- I'd already planned on a pool/gym membership. She's been pretty spot on with her 'suggestions' and is the newest member to my coaching team.

She didn't know that she'd been appointed.

Guess she does now.

There will come a time...

If you’ve surfed my new coaching website then you’ll see a few pictures there. My web guy, Brian Johnson, chose them and I was surprised that he managed to capture some of the my favourite memories. Cool.

In one of the photos I am handing over a framed IMC finishers photo to John “Dr. J.” Hellemans. The Docta’ is a guy that I hold in very high regard and I consider him one of the finest people I’ve ever come across. So I was pretty stoked to be welcomed to the Wall-of-Honour that sits behind his desk.

Since I am kicking back and reminiscing, here are some key things that I learned from John…

I like my athletes to learn how to train by feel.

Heart rate monitors, powermeters, pace… all of these are meant to help the athlete dial in their subjective perception – learn how different efforts feel. Gizmos support our ability (and responsibility) to learn.

Know two things about Scott (Molina), he has spent more time overtrained than any other person that I know. [thinking…] …and, I suppose, he has won more races than anyone I know.

We were kicking around training protocols in 2003. My approach had concerned him a bit because I was pretty much always shelled (but happy). In my lactate tests, I had zero top end for over a year. Like all great coaches that I’ve known, even if he disagrees with a protocol, he has a respect for results.

I wouldn’t worry too much about that, in my view you were pretty close to full blown overtraining.

Offering me comfort when I DNF’d Ultraman in 2003. He had been worried that the race was going to finish me off after pushing very hard through IMC2003 fatigue to prepare.

Bear in mind that your constitution is better than most.

Remember that you have to do the training that is right
for you, not him.


Two reminders that we must match training protocol to the needs of the athlete, rather than the athlete fitting the needs of the protocol.

The first quote was explaining, in a way, why he still thinks that my approach to IM is risky.

The second quote was a form a reassurance, in a sense. I was a bit worried about the way a buddy was approaching his race. John’s advice was that ultimately we must do what we think is best for ourselves – I like that approach because sink/swim I have ownership for what I am choosing to do.

Are you sure that you don’t simply like working with him because he does what you say?

A doctor’s reminder that as a coach we must be wary of control factors in any advisory relationship. It caused me to think deeply about the plan I was offering a friend. I tried offering him “what I thought he needed” – turned out that didn’t work to well! So we took a break then went back to what my heart knows works. Hopefully, that will turn out to be what he needs!


But the #1 thing that Hellemans told me – I haven’t needed it yet but perhaps that is because I think about it so much. With regards to honour, drugs and cheating:

“Gordo, there will come a time when you have to choose”

Sitting here more than a year past my life best performance. I understand more fully what he may have meant.

I think that folks tend to lose their moral compass when they start to define success relative to others than themselves. It’s also a key to enjoying the work required for success. Whenever I have shifted a training emphasis from “enjoying what it takes to improve” to “doing the training required for a target performance” – things have become a lot tougher.

A good safety mechanism is working on holding our intent to ethically overcoming ourselves. There is a clear risk if we lack purity of intent because short cuts work, in the short term. In the long term, you lose a lot more than simply knowing that you ethically quit.

There is an element of irrational obsession required to achieve a high level in any field, particularly ultraendurance athletics where performance goes far beyond any reasonable view of health or well-being benefits. Of course, there is a counter argument put forward by many-a-compulsive athlete, such as myself, that the alternatives to excessive exercise aren’t all that palatable to me, or those around me.

Anyhow back to John. As a physician I think that it is fair to assume that he’s armed with a wealth of knowledge on both sides of the sports ethics fence.

As my own knowledge of the physiological requirements of a blazing fast Ironman have grown…

As my evangelical dedication to the training required to improve has borne fruit…

…I’ve come to realise that a well trained athlete in a thinly competitive sport such as Ironman triathlon can easily move from international class to world class with a single cycle of PEDs. Nothing new there as we have all seen what PEDs do to a world class athlete.

I suppose the difference is that I never thought that the dilemma could reasonably apply to me. I always figured that I’d be 30-60 minutes behind the best. Now I see that in my best shape, I was likely 5-15 minutes behind. That gives me a fuller appreciation of how it can be tempting.

Not related to John but that reminds me of something – Scott was telling me about something that bothered him the other day. Perhaps he’ll write about during Epic – I hope so because he’s pretty darn entertaining when he goes off about something that he feels strongly about.

What drives him a bit crazy is reading comments from folks that have never come close to achieving their athletic potential debating ideal protocols for relative mediocrity.

Greatness is there, if we’d simply wake-up and commit ourselves to working our butts off.

As you can see, I am still working on John’s internal calm while letting athletes make their own mistakes.

Who knows? Maybe it will work and we’ll learn something.

That’s another of my favourites.

Choose wisely.

Epic Prologue

Where the heck do all these ideas come from? I've no idea but they just keep rolling. My only escape is to write them down. Typically, I publish about 10% of what I write (and actually write down about 10-30% of what I dream up). With this blog, I've been writing a lot more. Perhaps I'll settle down in a bit.

I've been thinking about this piece during all my runs for the last week.

Johno wanted to know if I wanted to give a talk at the start of Epic. I passed on that as I figured that Scott would be well placed to cover it. Perhaps it was a bit of fear on my part given that I am not going to be the best prepared athlete at Epic. So I've been mulling over "what's epic" or "what's epic for me".

Typically, for my first piece of Epic I write something for the outside world. Well this time I think we are going to have 32 people on the trip including the support crew. We're also going to have four ladies along -- we've never had more than one. It will be interesting to see how that changes the dynamic, if at all. Three couples too, another experiment.

Often when I dream stuff up during training, it makes perfect sense on the road. Everything seems so clear on the bike! Then I get home, settle down, the endorphins wear off and I wonder what the heck was I thinking. So if this doesn't make sense -- no worries -- it might make sense one day when you are training...

So we've invited you along to Epic. You probably think that what's coming up is a big physical test. Actually, you'll find that the true test isn't physical. We wouldn't have invited you along if you didn't have what it takes to finish. The true test is one of character.

It's like John Collins says about Ironman -- you can quit at any time, if you don't then you win.

No excuses -- what do you think when you hear that?

I tend to take it two ways.

The most typical way is a "hard" interpretation. No excuses -- I'm going to make the toughest plan possible and stick with it come hell or high water. That works for some but, generally, we can only be truly hard for a portion of our lives. It varies for each of us but a consistently "hard" strategy normally ends with physical burnout (injury/illness) or mental staleness.

The second way is softer in one sense but the self-knowledge isn't always sugar coated. What if someone took away all our excuses. They sorted our meals, accommodation, support... and the responsibilities of our typical lives were removed for twelve days.

What could we achieve?

Well, when you remove all the excuses you can achieve quite a bit! What makes it a bit complicated is that at the same time, we get ourselves so shagged that quitting is the easy option. We'll even have a sag wagon filled with cold beverages (beers for Molina!) and friendly staff. You can quit at any time... but if you don't then you'll win.

Anyhow, it's not always a DNF that signifies quitting, we can fold mentaly and keep on moving forward. I know that I've been so tired that I'd long given up and simply accepted the situation. That's a great place to become familiar with if you are an Ultraendurance athlete because removing the emotional content of fatigue leaves us free to get on with finishing our event!

I didn't realise it fully but over the last few years I'd had a few experiments with excuse removal -- for myself and for others. With others I'm probably batting about .300 in terms of whether people really wanted their excuses removed (most don't). Either they are comfortable being "prevented" from achieving their stated goals; or their intent (what really matters to them) isn't what they tell you at all. Slackness is can be appealing at times -- appealing yes, rewarding, no.

When evaluating folks I try to focus on what I see them do, rather than what they say about themselves or other folks say about them. I'll be watching myself closely over the camp!

So we will be removing all the excuses; surrounding ourselves with a bunch of people that hate to quit and we will see what happens.

We will get so shelled that the raw reality of our characters starts to show. Hopefully, we'll all enjoy what we see!

If we don't quit -- then we'll win.

Don't let yourself down.

Back To Basics

My seven month break from triathlon training has given me the chance to learn and try out a few things.

Fitness – everyone always wants to know how much fitness you lose and how long it takes to come back. I’ve been on a low volume, sporadic training program for most of 2005. I started the year in fantastic shape and am now still in pretty reasonable shape. Not fast in triathlon terms but healthy and fit relative to the population at large. How’d I do that?

Well it wasn’t by design. I’ve been doing what I felt like all year and haven’t used any technical equipment to track my volume, pace or duration. Most weeks were in the 4-7 hours of training range and I took a stack of zeroes when work, travel or my mood meant that I choose not to exercise.

I managed a few solid running weeks where I was close or over 100K/60M. Two nice bike weeks between IMNZ and the end of November – I was in the 400-500K range for each. My last real swim training was the steakhouse challenge back in March or April.

I didn’t really notice the fatigue from the few decent weeks that I had because when I got run down I’d simply take three days off! I am also fortunate in that I am flex-time for 20-25 days a month and can sleep a lot and do my work at odd hours.

Nutrition – I need to put on a suit a few days each months. One of the nice things about a suit is that while the wearer might change size, it doesn’t. So you get clear feedback. My suits also date back to my days in Hong Kong as a working athlete (my business partner points out the date frequently). Whenever my suits start to get a bit tight, I know that it’s time to tighten up on nutrition. This seven month period is the longest that I’ve been able to keep a stable weight (while training single figures) in my adult life. Stable weight is one sign that our nutrition is in balance. When I was a triathlete, I would start each year heavy but still in OK shape. This time I _knew_ that I wasn’t going to be in great shape. So I had to start the training year in good nutritional condition. That gives us a big advantage when starting up – in terms of energy, in terms of being able to move, in terms of positive self image.

On that self image point – shaved down the other day. It’s worth 2KGs mentally. If you are a non-triathlete reading this – then you’ll simply have to trust me.

Four Pillars – if you are interested in any form of endurance training then I’d encourage you to read my Four Pillars article on my tips page. It is the best piece of training advice that I’ve ever managed to write. Having coached it for the last five years, and now living it, it’s the fastest way to improvement. I won’t run through it again in detail here. I’ll just say that it I am following it to the letter right now and have a way to go before hitting the volume benchmarks in the text.

The game plan is to: (a) get my swim to 4K relaxed, continuous; (b) get my bike to six hours; and (c) get my run to two hours. Once I have achieved that then I will try to do ABC in the same week. Once I have achieved that then I will try to do ABC in the same weekend. If I achieve than then it will be time for Epic New Zealand and we’ll try to that that about 4-7x in twelve days.

Recruitment – I read a lot on the internet about specificity. What I’d really like to know is what muscle group and movement pattern do we not require for triathlon? My first week back was a real eye-opener because I was moving like I’ve seen many age-group athletes. Basically, my body was pretty much asleep. While I’d been running, most of the major muscles groups, especially in my core, were completely asleep. I had an inability to recruit muscles and that left me extremely weak. Ten days in, my muscles are waking up – due to a broad, lightweight, non-specific approach to strength training. I feel far, far better immediately and my performance has improved. Ten days is simply not enough time for fitness to come into play (and my running had me in pretty good cardio shape to start). So I think the specificity argument is a poor one for working triathletes. We need to have our total body awake and two 45 minute core, balance, conditioning sessions can really help.

Stretching – we’re not getting any massage these days. I need to work about 45 hours per week on my property business; combined with shopping, meals and training means that time is tight. So we have a deal that we will stretch 15 minutes after our longest bike or run workout of the day. It is making a big difference for both of us and even that little bit has us making progress in terms of recovery and range of movement. 15 minutes a day. I’m working full-time, training once or twice a day and still getting the shopping done (laundry is a bit behind though!).

The Basic Week – my basic week is pretty basic! From 9am to 9pm I am working everyday. We have a proper sit down meal whenever we eat at home. I turn off my machine and lay out the table French-style. Out of my work day I take breaks for training, food shopping and trips to the post office. We haven’t gone out yet, and probably won’t more than 2x the entire time we are in Montpellier. We’ve planned a two day trip to Paris at the end of December as that gives us something to look forward to. Pretty basic, eh?! Well, that’s what it takes. I was the same way when I was training in Hong Kong.

So the training week is six days “on”; one day “open” (last week open meant “off”). We do three days where the training break is a ride. The other three days consist of a morning run then a combo session in the afternoon (coffee, core conditioning, swim – in that order). So we get a coffee-date three times a week. We hold hands when we go shopping too!

Soreness and Fatigue – what used to qualify as a recover day or workout in January/February is now a proper session for me. I’ve gone past four hours of daily training two times since we started. Both times resulted in 11+ hours of sleep that night. Phew, I get tired – I can’t remember the last time this little volume would wipe me out. I also get sore as the little muscles involved with triathlon wake up and are used anew.

4K really is a long way to swim! I haven’t got there yet. When I hit the benchmark, I might drop back in and let you know.

Sixty Zeroes

So Ced told me to keep parking illegally -- bet me that I'd save money over the month. I decided to skip that and smiled as I saw the ticket man (and a line of twelve cars with tickets on the way to the pool). Must be the season for giving in France.

Monsy seems to be confusing the local workmen. They keep walking in on her when she's changing. I told her it's standard operating procedure for the lads in the South of France. Still, she's not used to having to lock herself down in a cubicle to get ready to swim or hit the gym. Apparently a couple of guys "when to jail for that" in Boulder -- we're a world away from Colorado!

This week marked the start of my five week campaign to get myself in some sort of reasonable shape for Epic Camp. Trying to make it out the door on a daily basis and not fall behind in my work. Starting back from ground zero while managing my inbox is a good reminder from my earlier days as a working athlete.

How did I go? Well, I enjoyed myself by was amazed at how weak I am and how tired a little training makes me. As for the specifics, they are going to remain confidential as I don't want to place any undue pressure on myself. Suffice to say that you wouldn't be awed by my current performance. My goal for the end of December is being able to complete my swim/bike/run goals from my Four Pillars article.

About the title... what's a zero? A zero is when you don't do any training for a day. I'm not sure exactly how many zeroes that I pulled down so far in 2005 because I stopped my training log in March or April. However, I do know that it's a lot more than sixty. I took a zero today to end my first training week.

So where does the sixty come from? Friday night I was lying in bed mulling things over. I've been having quite a tough time turning my brain "off" these days. I wake up and it just starts rolling... or I lie in bed and it keeps rolling... the fatigue that I get from training is so pleasurable precisely because I clears my head of all those thoughts. I can remember when I started training in Hong Kong the feeling of pleasure from a mind full of nothing at the end of a day of trail walking. Exercise addition being one of the more socially acceptable sleep aids I've used over the years.

What do you think of when you are training? For me, when it is going well, I am thinking of absolutely nothing. Pure nothing. Wonderful stuff.

Back to the sixty zeroes -- that is how many my good buddy KP had in the bag from his pre-epic preparations when he arrived in Auckland for Epic North Island a couple of years ago. He got through that camp, survived the desert road, avoided "the tape" and shared more than a few laughs with me and the lads. As Dr. J said last year, "life is good, sure, but these times, these experiences, this is what it's really about". That keeps me smiling as the camp ticks closer with each day. If it's hard, if I suffer, if I get crushed, blown out the back, whatever... well that really is the point. So the 'worst' it goes, the more hilarious the experience. Plus, Molina tends to lay off a bit when I am getting beat on. I'm looking for a bright side a bit with my training these days -- I could be the first epic participate kicking off with triple figure zeroes for the training year. It is a concern.

We are a bit isolated here in France. I still have my internet connection and my email -- thank god for wireless global roaming or I'd be hooped. In reality all we have is each other and that's a nice opportunity for us, espcially after a summer where I spent five out of the first seven weeks of my marriage on the road.

There's quite a bit that KP and the boys would appreciate about France. #1 is the real deal coffee that they are serving up all around the place. Espresso is what they call coffee. Hard core coffee you feel. Coffee that is so strong, I am a little nervous going for a second round. The French are great with their coffee -- they go for the single shot versions and alternate with cigarettes. I imagine that one could get pretty charged up with that. Being used to Starbucks, I have to slow myself down from slamming a double shot in two swigs.

How do you feel when people who don't know you write nice things about you? I feel quite nervous. I think that it's a mistake to place our faith in anything other than our own itegrity. I know me and I am pretty normal from the inside looking out. Perhaps the nervousness comes from a sense that whether we are positive (or negative) it's the same trap to seek satisfaction/inspiration/motivation from sources outside of our own actions.

Not much of a point to this one. Just had to clear my head.

Back Yourself

The guys that I used to work with in London recently launched a five billion euro investment fund. That struck me as a heck of a lot of cash. It also made me smile. Generally, terms in the venture capital industry are “2 & 20” – an annual fee of 2% of the fund and 20% of the capital gains returned to investors. Let’s say you double the investors’ capital, then you are talking about a profit share of one billion euro as well as a hundred million euro per annum of management fees. Inspirational stuff when you consider that their first fund (before most of the current team joined that business) was less than 100 million euro equivalent 25+ years ago, the annual management fees of the business could be close to double that today. Shows what a group of smart, motivated people can achieve with sustained long term focus.

Why is that relevant? It’s relevant because how often do we hold back because we aren’t sure if we are worthy of success? I can assure you that the folks in that business are regular folks (as “normal” as any of us, at least). They work hard and take advantage of their opportunities as best they can. For the senior folks, I imagine that it’s long ago ceased being about the money. They were always a pretty humble bunch in terms of how they lived.

Another neat stat is that my first boss’ current business went through a benchmark this year where they returned their first billion pounds to their investors. Raising a billion is pretty impressive – actually returning it (successfully) is even more impressive.

Stuff like that makes you think as I am not far off my first boss’s age when he hired me. Of course, simply doing things because one “can” is also a bit dangerous if our ethical compass gets out of whack, or if we fail to consider the best use of our intent.

Somebody asked me about recruiting the other day – I didn’t really answer them all that clearly at the time. I’ve been thinking about it. Having had a couple of weeks to consider, I think that I’d recommend a recruiting trip to Harvard Business School and focus on the Baker Scholars. I’ve come across six of them in my working career, all successful folks and good people to have backed. Been trying to figure out how I can tap that knowledge. Perhaps just file it for the future.

Thinking to triathlon and a couple of my training buddies. Folks generally fall into two camps, improving athletes and lifestyle athletes. The lifestyle crew often seem to be on a triathlon vacation. The improvers are enjoying themselves too, but have a certain fanaticism in their approach. When lifestylers talk about their races, they tell you what went wrong. I rarely hear about that from the folks that improve.

Perhaps, it is that people that move ahead focus on what can be done in the present, rather than what’s gone wrong in the past.

So many similarities between athletics and business. That is certainly the benefit of moving between worlds, countries, interests… we are able to gain perspective. Oh yeah, it you happen to be long on Dubai real estate? I’d be a little careful – I’ve only seen a few places that remind me of how Dubai looks right now – Bangkok, Shanghai and Jakarta. Shanghai was driven by global and domestic demand combined with the world class work ethic of the Chinese. Bangkok and Jarkarta ended in tears for a lot of people. Anyhow, the tourism infrastructure won’t be wasted but I certainly have my doubts on what level of real economy will be created there given the nature of the geographic neighbours. It will be a fun place to watch develop over the next few years. They are building a city-state from the ground up. Pretty impressive regardless of the return on equity for FDI.

This weekend is Ironman Australia, for an athletic example of what sustained backing yourself can do then do a google search of the 2001-2005 results for a guy called Chris McDonald. I bet he’s done 5,000 aerobic hours over the last five years. Not many folks give themselves the opportunity to see what’s possible. Chris certainly has.

Dark Power
My buddy Clas has been clearing bush in the forests of Sweden. He’s a “glass half full” sort of guy. If you are a triathlete dealing with near total darkness, cold and snow… well you might as well enjoy it. I used to think that the Vikings must have loved getting away from the cold for their trips kicking butt around Europe. However, in getting to know the doodes, I sense that getting away to a warm climate is fun but… there is an element of recharging that they receive from the cold and dark. That and the winter seems to be a good time to do “man stuff”.

Hangin’ in Paris
Monsy and I were walking across Pont Alexandre III a few days ago. Heck of a nice ‘pont’, I recommend it if you happen to be in Paris. So one Italian guy kisses his girlfriend and triggers a make-out break amongst just about every couple on the bridge. Gotta love Paris.

Monsy and I later decided that the entire country must smoke. Perhaps we’ve been spoiled from the smoking bans that have been implemented throughout most of the countries where we spend our time.

If you do get to Paris then I recommend the Musee d’Orsay. Pretty cool – walk up to the top and look across Paris through the clock that faces the river. Also check out the polar bear sculpture on the second floor. Being Canadian, I suppose that I am partial to a good polar bear sculpture.

The Café Marillon also has a great selection of West Coast rap. Team Mongo were grooving along with TuPac while hiding out from the sleet yesterday. Some kid sitting beside Monsy apologised to the waiter that he didn’t have any cash to buy coffee – but we did note that he had enough smokes to nail four back-to-back in 20 minutes! I sense this could be a recurring theme with our interactions with our euro-conterparts.

Follow Up
A buddy wrote me some interesting thoughts based on the last entry. I thought that I’d share two parts that really appealed to me:

How do you separate "accepting what was your best effort at the time" from what is actually a truthful best effort. It is tempting to let myself off the hook… …Maybe the answer is to judge myself in the present. After all, the present is what we can impact. Positive actions going forward make the past a valuable learning experience.

I think results are like wattage -- they come from effort. For some that effort is fun, for others it is work.

Successful people, that achieve peace, seem to have the ability to draw the line at how good is good enough. Successful people that achieve success, they often fail to achieve peace – that feeling of never measuring up stalking them.

Fun/Satisfaction – for me that comes from being able to move forward – the little steps – so long as I can move forward. It’s when I am not moving forward, that’s when my dissatisfaction climbs. Now, learning to think that I am moving forward when chilling out, recharging, resting – that’s something that I’ve been working on. Read a book called – In Praise of Slow recently. Quite repetitive but it did make me consider where speed might not be the most appropriate method of attack.

At my recent wedding, Chris reminded me (and the entire dinner) about the time that I took over his secretary’s computer because she wasn’t typing the drafting changes fast enough into the deal legals. That was 1993 and I was certainly in a big hurry back then.

That’s all for today. Actually sitting on the tarmac in an Air France airbus right now. Pretty neat use of technology. I now have global internet roaming to go with my snazzy new machine.