03 October 2008

Old School Endurance


This week, I am going to have some fun and write about a topic dear to my heart -- Old School Endurance.  Not quite "Old Time Hockey" but Paul Newman's passing has been on my mind.  Watching Slapshot is a rite of passage for a lot of my Canadian pals.

Management and communication tips can wait for another week -- if you are like me then you could be a little burnt out on reading about the dire state of the global economy.  There is going to be plenty of time for working through the aftermath.

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Two quick announcements before we get started:

I was looking for photos on the web this past weekend and discovered my interview on Endurance Planet -- scroll down the page, I am July 1st.  13 minutes long with some ideas about performance and coaching that might interest.  

Bobby McGee, world-class running and triathlon coach, is featured on Endurance Corner Radio.  Greg Bennett is coming in two weeks.  Send questions to Justin Daerr.

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This past week, I was running (in the rain, wearing a cotton t-shirt... Chuckie you would have been proud).  I was rolling along thinking about this article and Ironman Hawaii in particular.  

The legend of Ironman is fairly well known... a few military guys sitting around trying to dream up the wildest event they can consider... Waikiki rough water swim, ride around Ohau, Honolulu marathon... something like that.  For me, that's Old School Endurance.

Sit around with your pals, dream up something off-the-charts then figure out how to do it.  Outside of Ultraman, there aren't a lot of triathlon events that fit that mould any more.  You are most likely to discover old school endurance on events like the Triple Bypass, Leadville 100, Hard Rock 100 or by bumping into an ultra-amigo on the Continental Divide trail.

Ironman has gained a lot over the years, lives have been changed for the better, and many cottage industries have popped up -- pretty much as a direct result of that original dare.

As a private equity guy, I think the sale this year could mark the high water mark for Ironman, but not necessarily for the WTC, as a company.  From the outside looking in, I can see clear opportunities for further profit enhancement:
  • The launch of the 70.3 series was a good move, when faced with an aging demographic as well as a need to attract younger customers.
  • The ability to bring race management in-house via acquisition, or competition.
  • Superior licensing arrangements -- to me, there has always been a disconnect between the marketing strategy (mass market) and the people that actually do the races (niche market).  Perhaps the most lucrative customers are the one's watching the NBC broadcast?  I suspect that there is a lot more that can be done with those of us that are actually doing the races.
Ramp things up and either fold into a larger entertainment group, or sell a piece of Ironman through the public markets.  I keep coming back to Planet Hollywood in my mind, though -- not a great outcome for the IPO shareholders but a great franchise name.  I'd be wary if they take m-dot public.  Of course, history tells us that select buyers will pay a large premium to own world-class brands.  My concern would be the risk of declining cash flow.

Why sell?  Long term capital gains tax rates are likely heading up; and a vendor wants to leave enough in it for the next buyer to generate a fair return.  The deal made sense to me from both sides. 

How to maintain growth of an expensive and time consuming hobby in the face of a declining economic environment?  The 70.3 series is a good strategic move.  It will be interesting to see how Ironman handles a significant economic slowdown within its demographic -- the Ironman target market has had a sustained bull run -- we should get Dan Empfield to share his thoughts.  Perhaps he'll write something about his -- SlowTwitch reflects the pulse of the sport and Dan has a historical perspective that few can match.

Back to Old School Endurance.  Before I ever did a swim set or bike repeat, I was a weightlifter, hiker, and (very average) sport climber.  Like many of us, I got a kick out of dreaming up new projects -- my progression to mountaineering was the ultimate in Old School.  Find a volcano somewhere in Asia -- use a three-, or four-, day weekend to fly-in, summit and fly-out.  I would sleep rough and listen to the jungle.

These days a ten-mile climb wears me out... still it is September.  A guy's got to rest some time!

Some of you might recognize the guy in the photo below -- this summer during Epic Camp Italy, I used my easy day, to ride past the turn off for the Messner Museum in the Dolomites.  Everest, solo, no oxygen, no one else on the mountain.  Pretty Old School! 

Endurance has a number of different qualities -- all of which are important to consider if you want to (ultimately) race well.  Each of these attributes is linked with the others and a breakdown in one area ends our ability "to endure".

Mental Endurance -- the ability to keep moving forward until the objective is met.  Chip away, bit by bit, day after day.  The downside is that people that score high here are the sorts the die in the mountains, or spend years pounding away at an area where they have little potential.  I score reasonably well here, so need to balance persistence (good thing) with consistency bias (risky thing).

Working on our physical endurance benefits our mental endurance in many ways. 

Anger management -- I experience a lot of background anger in the world, specifically what drives a lot of ultraendurance athletes to get so far away from home, from the 'real' world, from everyone else.  

To truly endure, we need to accept the way things are.  Somehow, years of physical endurance training managed to work-out a lot of situations, histories, and people that used to upset me.

Humility -- This could be the ingredient that creates the later life peak for the ultra-endurance athlete.  It takes most of us a many years to have enough setbacks to gain the humility required to stop repeating our mistakes.  The only sure fire way to increase my humility is wait around until an unexpected setback reminds me that I don't have all the answers.

Fear -- for me, fear is what leads anger.  I struggle to see the emotional roots of my fears... ...I only feel the anger.  I spend a lot of time searching for the fear that lies beneath my emotions.  My main fear has to do with disappointing people that I respect. 

Physical Endurance -- just like VO2 max, many people appear to be gifted with bodies that are created to tolerate volume well.  Expeditions are a great example of this trait.  When I was in peak mountaineering shape, I could carry/haul 130 lbs of gear daily, at altitude, for a week -- good for me, "easy" for a sherpa!  I could do a tremendous amount of low intensity work then handle hours of tempo on a final "summit day".  

What I couldn't do was swim, bike or run quickly -- let alone put them all together.  Endurance is an essential component of fitness but it is only a component.  At my mountaineering peak, I was a mediocre athlete.  But my solid endurance base, enabled surprisingly rapid progress when I started converting endurance to race fitness.

Most adult triathletes come to our sport with a focus on race fitness prior to the creation of an endurance (and strength) platform.  This is the piece of the performance puzzle that is missed by intensity-driven programs -- most likely because they are created by life-long athletes that haven't experienced an absence of endurance.

Metabolic Endurance -- I don't read a lot about this in the literature but I see it with people that are able to survive when placed in extreme situations -- as well as athletes that are (ultimately) able to go 'fast' in an Ironman.  Physical endurance is the ability to walk from Boulder to Vail.  Metabolic endurance is the ability to do it on minimal food and water.  Some coaches/athletes seek to train this through (effectively) starvation.  

Perhaps a future article will talk about self-starvation, and self-denial, in an attempt to exert control within a mind that feels out of control.  It's a complex psychological issue that is far easier to observe than treat.  I have had my greatest success with simple acceptance and affection for (fellow) crazies.

Constitutional Endurance -- relates to how fast we recover, our immune systems and what we generally call our "constitution".  We see this a lot at Epic Camp... there is normally one, or two, campers that manage to get stronger as the camp progresses.  Some individuals can simply take more than others -- and keep bouncing back.  In my mid-30s I could get away with extreme training -- at least I thought I was getting away with it!

Molina once managed the first week of an Epic Camp on nothing but liquid calories.  He'd had the trots for a week leading into the camp!  He didn't mention this to anyone lest we rip him to shreds -- Epic Campers can behave a bit like hyenas when they get fatigued... 

Scott's not the only example of World Champions that score off-the-charts for Old School Endurance -- Tom Dolan is a guy that springs to mind.  Talent, motivation, and the capacity to out-train any swimmer of his generation.

Now you might think that Ironman Hawaii is the ultimate test of endurance -- we could be fooling ourselves.  The photo above is how Amundsen chose to spend his summer when he raced Scott to the South Pole.  Great story.  Guts will only get you so far without preparation.

The real test of Ironman is the months, and years, of daily training that are required to put together a fast race.  That is the true test and probably why we see such an emotional release at the finish line -- so much went into that one day.

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Some suggested reading to get your Old School mojo working...
Endurance, Shackleton (pictured above, likely the greatest demonstration of human endurance, ever -- gotta love the frosty beard, Monica won't let me grow one...)

Many enjoy the romanticism of endurance-Samurai that go down in flames -- the problem with that approach is you can't write up your adventures if you are dead on the mountain.  

Being a success oriented guy, I like the stories that centre around getting the team home in one piece.

Molina's 50 in 2010 -- it's going to take me a while to build back up but I'm looking forward to Going' Old School one more time with my good buddy.  We'll need to come up with something special.

Good luck to everyone racing Kona -- when it gets tough remember that it's just one day!

Back next week,
gordo

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7 Comments:

At 8:35 AM, Blogger Alan Couzens said...

"Many enjoy the romanticism of endurance-Samurai that go down in flames -- the problem with that approach is you can't write up your adventures if you are dead on the mountain."

- G, You need to check out the movie (or book) "into the wild". Chris McCandless managed to do just that (admittedly amidst a backdrop of significant regret at the end).

Your post speaks to me on a lot of levels - a timely reminder of the real reasons that I am an endurance athlete in the first place. The possibility of beating others across a finish line at some distant time in the future represents the smallest part of it.

Great read!

AC

 
At 9:42 AM, Blogger Kevin said...

Mental, Physical, Metabolic and Constitutional Endurance -- it's no wonder Ironman and other endurance projects can be such an interesting and enjoyable puzzle.

I also enjoyed "Into The Wild". I couldn't help smiling when McCandless kept flashing that grin that was born out of adventure. My interpretation was that he was enjoying the process of overcoming himself and the challenges he met on a gut level.

Another stroy I am fascinated by: Chuckie's treks up the West Coast

 
At 3:52 AM, Blogger BRFOOT said...

It seems to be all about satisfying our sense of adventure.
It's interesting to contrast the exploits of explorer type folks setting out to discover previously uncharted territory. To those that make up there challenges just to see if they can do it.

 
At 3:50 PM, Blogger Steve Jho said...

thanks for the great post. I enjoyed the history lesson. Your blog is always worth reading.

 
At 8:12 PM, Blogger Derrick said...

Great post as always. made me think of my years in Christchurch where there was no such thing as excessive training just a whole heap of quality things to do with your mates or yourself, thye just don't get that in Sydney. Way too much result based training, sort of resultism all about the time not the experiance
Another good "old School Endurance" book Ranulph Fiennes "mad,Bad & Dangerous to Know" His capicity to simpy endure is amazing.
Love reading your blogs thanks for the reality checks
Say hi to Molina when you see him next

BR.Derrick Murray

 
At 5:44 PM, Blogger james said...

my old school core and shoulder workout gear:

http://flickr.com/photos/jameskupka/2932005667/

 
At 1:42 PM, Blogger Gordo Byrn said...

AC -- I knew that you'd like Into The Wild... :-) and I was thinking of the Stoans when I wrote the quote you cited! ;-)

For my money, Chuckie's PCT diaries are a better example, while he never really let's us into the noise that we all hear... he does offer insights into the ups and downs of the extremely driven endurance athlete. PLUS -- it is written by the source. Into The Wild contains a lot of Krakuaer and Hollywood -- Chuck's diaries are the real deal.

KP -- Molina likes to say something along the lines of "satiate the need"... quite appropriate.

g

 

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