04 March 2006

Tasmanian Technology & Training Retreat

Miss me? I really enjoyed my break.

In 2004, one of the best things that I did was take the whole month of October “off” from my normal routine. It was a very refreshing time for me and I gave myself the chance to sit back and review most aspects of my life.

When I logged on to my server this afternoon, it had been ten days since my last internet session. That’s the longest that I’ve been off-line since June 1998.

Back in November, I was having lunch with a friend in Hong Kong. My friend is quite a bit older than me and very old-school in his approach. We were talking about mobile telephones, email and technology in general. I was talking about what a nightmare it was for me when I went off line because all my email built up. My strategy has been constant connectivity to stay on top of my inbox.

Alan scolded me (in a kind way) and pointed out that I really needed to get some context on whether these things couldn’t wait a couple of weeks if I went on holiday. He pointed out that I was hardly the Prime Minster, so things could probably wait until my return. I said that I felt I needed to be on-line all the time because I was moving around and wanted to maintain my geographical freedom by being constantly available.

As in many things in life, the voice of experience proved correct. While there were over 2,000 messages lurking on my server (nearly all of them spam, thankfully) – there was nothing that couldn’t have waited for a couple more days (and they will have to as Vodafone roaming charges are STEEP when traveling abroad).

So now that I have the benchmark of ten days established, I need to figure out when I will be able to take a shot at extending it towards my overall goal of thirty days – that was my original plan from 2004 – a month each year to relax and reflect.

The change that happened to me once I removed all the clutter from my mind was pretty impressive. I did have one quirk with my technological retreat – I went a bit anti-television as well and M would ask me to plug the TV back in on occasion. We had a deal that she could watch when I was out of the room or having a shower.

So the changes I noticed…

>>>sleep // I was falling to sleep far easier and I woke up before my alarm every single day during my little retreat.

>>>peace // There was quite a bit of noise residing in my head during the first week. However, by the second week, things calmed down during the day and I was very relaxed and chipped during my sessions. A lot of week one’s main sets were fueled by “tapping the hate” as I like to say. Once the noise was gone, my main sets were driven more by “quiet power” – a great source of energy that I hadn’t been able to access for a while.

>>>clarity // With distance, comes perspective. My personal sources of fatigue, stress, energy and happiness. A clear break is quite useful for enabling me to see them for what they are. I write about them all the time but without directly experiencing them, it is very easy to get caught up in the chaos of the outside world. It’s tempting to tell ourselves that we can merely “ignore” the noise around us – however – it is equally effective to eliminate the sources. Some might argue that exclusion is a poor strategy but it strikes me that it is the most practical answer in situations where the sources of noise fail to offer any positive aspects to our lives. When I think about the peace that comes from elimination, I ask myself “why not” – why can’t I seek to exclude any sources of discontent or distraction from my life.

>>>energy-antsy // M said that I was a bit edgy at times as I deprogrammed during my retreat. It didn’t feel that way from the inside but I also remember that I never felt stressed when I lived in Hong Kong in the 90s.

Athletically, the question that I have been wondering about for at least ten months now was… will I ever be able to achieve the level of fitness that I hit in the summer of 2004. Lurking behind that was a fear that I would never be able to sustain the level of training that I achieved in 2003 & 2004.

I now see that it isn’t a matter of being able to do the training, rather it is a process of eliminating all the noise and distractions that prevent me from being able to achieve my goals. I write about that all of the time but it isn’t until we actually experience it that we can see the effect that the outside world has on us.

There are other questions that surround that main one as well. Why put the effort into achieving that level again? For me, it has never really been an “effort”; it’s simply been fulfilling what I wanted to do, what I felt that I was born to do. Not necessarily finance, triathlon, or any of my interests – rather to simply work towards something that I enjoy.

So living a balanced life, for me, might be better qualified as leading a diffused life. Given the importance that I give to achievement, a diffused life doesn’t seem to work for me. Nor does it really work for my pals and the people that I enjoy spending time with. The simplicity of giving one’s self the space and opportunity to do something properly – that is highly rewarding.

That’s one of the key lessons that we aim to show the lads at Epic Camp – we can achieve far more than we ever thought possible once we remove the obstacles, habits and attitudes that (we think) define our limits. Removing them (athletically) for a couple of weeks is a once-in-a-decade opportunity for most of the crew. I was fortunate at being given the opportunity to nearly completely remove them for a few years. I now see that was the unique opportunity, much more so than anything inherent in myself.

Removing all distractions to enable one’s self to follow a vocation/passion that provides a lot of personal enjoyment. Be it finance, academics, business or athletics sustaining that over many years is rare indeed.

++++

So that’s covers the “Technology” and “Retreat” aspects of this piece. What about Tasmania and Training?

I often wonder if folks actually try to apply the training protocols that they preach. Have they actually gone out and tried to do what they are responsible for directly, or indirectly, advocating?

If yes, then have they demonstrated a consistent ability to translate training effort into performance? Have they demonstrated an ability to translate any effort into performance?

Do they hold themselves to the high standards of personal excellence? Are they good people, do they work with good people and what are they seeking to achieve in working with athletes?

Those topics featured clearly in my mind as I worked through a few main sets during Week One of my training camp. I often use imagined dissatisfaction to drive myself onwards in training.

It all started with the Hobart International Triathlon. I raced the AG-non-drafting race – I’m currently between triathlon federations and asked both the Bermudian (residence) and Canadian (citizenship) feds if they would have me. I’m not sure if things will really matter until 2008, I turn ITU-40 and I want to race ITU Long Course Worlds. Now that GTG are self-certifying I wonder how they go about certifying elites for their races. I simply want to race and, based on Hobart, don’t appear to be much of a threat for any short course prize money.

Hobart was my first race in 50 weeks and my first Olympic distance race since 1999 (!). What a fun way to do some hard training – I surprised myself with an ability to elevate my heart rate and keep it up. Nothing like chasing Marty Gaal to motivate a guy! While it was non-drafting, the course was 8 laps on the bike – that gave Monica a chance to feed me splits every 8 minutes or so. Before the race, I thought that counting the laps (I don’t have a speedometer on my bike right now) would be a hassle but I really enjoyed the format as well as the tough, but safe, course.

What I experienced with the race reminded me of something that I think is very important for athletes to bear in mind. The depth of steady-state stamina & fitness is a key component of how long we’ll be able to sustain our higher end intensities. I didn’t really start to make up ground until the second hour of the race. And there was quite a bit of ground to make up! Anyhow, I’ve always seen my best time at any given intensity following periods of high volume training. I also see that with most (but not all) of my athletes – certain populations, such as experienced super-vet athletes, simply get more tired, rather than more fit. So, I suppose the lesson is to search for our optimal volume mix.

And while I often say that protocol doesn’t matter – I suppose that what I really mean is that given that the optimal protocol is out of reach for most people (for whatever reason) then it is best to focus on what does matter, that’s in my Four Pillars article.

And, I suppose, therein lies the source of my dissonance with much of discussion I read on the internet. Again and again, I read folks debating the optimal way to train a sub-optimal approach. Again and again, I read folks that have yet to truly tap their personal potential advising others on the way to the top. There is so much certainty out there amongst the mediocre.

The coaches and mentors that I’ve come across that have been (and/or advised the) truly great. I never experience the same degree of certainly and negativity to conflicting ideas that I come across in many of the various on-line communities.

So I start to question if the disharmony that I feel is worth the benefit that I offer to others from participating in the discussion. I have to admit that while I missed my friends a lot, I didn’t really miss most of the cyber-characters that inhabit much of my world. The break was useful for giving me that context and spurring me to consider how best to interact with a medium that is open 24/7/365.

I’ll be trying some changes.

So back to the training camp – we had a blast. The roads in Tasmania are fantastic in terms of their overall quality – a great surprise as I had prepared myself for some rough surfaces. By and large, even on the minor and remote roads, we found great riding conditions. Average speeds were low due to the terrain, though. I’d briefed Bri & Marty before the camp about that. Didn’t want them to freak when they noticed how slow they were going because… we were ALL going that slow.

We took in the East Coast, Cradle Mountain, the Central Plateau, Hobart, Launceston and some other areas. M says that my training must remain classified (it’s a Mark Allen hold-your-chi-thing) but you’ll be able to put together a bit if Marty posts his report. What was most important to me was finding myself (once again) in the position to be “strong” and set a “good example” of how I believe that athletes should approach endurance training. It was nice to be able to train well and enjoy it.

We had a great time and hope to be back in the future.

Gotta run and catch a flight to Christchurch.

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