20 January 2007

Why Epic


Games Day is over and, for the record, Mark Pietrofesa won quite handily – remember that name because if you are in the 40-44 then you’ll be getting to know him quite well over the next few years. Steve Larsen nipped him for a slot at Vineman in 2005 but I’m putting my money on Mark for the re-match, certainly over the full distance in Hawaii.

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I wrote some of this a few days ago...

I’ve finished my third monster brew of the day. I’m trying to stay awake until 7pm so I can sleep through the night.

The nutritional cracks have become open fissures – I had a couple of bowls of ice cream last night; tortilla chips the night before and pancakes this morning. For me, the nutrition heading off the rails is a sign that it is time to back off on everything, rest up and absorb the training. I have four weeks worth of business, personal and family travel coming up. So I’m going to take things easy and try to run most days.

In early December, Monica asked me whether I would go to Epic if I hadn’t committed to it. At that time, I was very tired and scared about the camp. Scared? Yes, scared. You see, I know what these camps are like. I also have intimate knowledge about overtraining. It scares me.

[Very] Big Week Training is risky but the risk:reward ratio is worthwhile for me – I’ve spent over a decade learning about how I respond to endurance training. As I want to explore my ultimate potential as an athlete then there are certain risks that need to be undertaken. What I’m trying to do this time around is make sure that I’m following the most appropriate path.

I’m glad that I turned up – first to see the guys and second because this was the best two-week training camp that I’ve ever had. Stripping out the easier stuff, I managed 45 hours of steady and mod-hard training in 14 days. That is a massive amount of work to put into my body in January.

For the top performers in any sport, the physiological training is a given. We must do the work to generate the physiological changes that give rise to the potential for breakthrough performance.

Work is a given – that’s why I remind athletes that protocol isn’t the decisive factor. It has an impact but it doesn’t dominate the path from potential to performance. What really matters is the psychological and spiritual changes that happen during Big Week Training.

Fatigue – an acceptance of fatigue as a physical state of the body, rather than a mental problem of the mind.

Humility – an acceptance that we do have certain limits on certain days. However, learning that our limits are far, far further than we thought possible. By removing ourselves from our daily routines, we “trick” our minds into allowing us to exceed our previous athletic definitions of ourselves.

Work – teaching the mind that work is a relaxing form of pleasure. Getting to the point where five to six hours of steady cycling (in the wind and rain) is more of a meditation than a training session.

Confidence – seeing that physiological superiority results from absorbing more work, over more time – rather than an innate, unachievable genetic edge.

These are the lessons that we seek to bring the athletes that join us at Epic Camp. They are also the lessons that I renew each time I arrive at Epic.

When you read about Epic Camp you may think that it is about pain tolerance. For some of the athletes that could be the case. For others, that might be the way a few of the days feel. For me, Epic is about training my mind that sensations that I may have felt as pain are better expressed as joy. I use nature, the Epic Lads and the “game” to reprogram my emotional framework. There was as much psychological as physical “practice” happening at this camp.

Once the fatigue starts to pile up, the psychological cracking shows first. An athlete’s psychological systems will break down well in advance of their physical systems.

Epic is a direct challenge to what an athlete previously thought as reasonable and challenging. Most the lads deal with their psychological challenges internally. Over the years a few break out in public (generally around Day 7 or 8).

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Coming into the camp, I had a few goals that I wrote about…

***Keep HR under 148 for the first week – managed that for all but an hour of riding on Day Five. Keeping intensity down in a group situation is extremely tough – I was dropped a couple of times on Day One but bridged back when the pace eased. We need a tremendous amount of self-confidence to allow ourselves to go out the back in a group situation. Most people are unable to execute their plan in a group situation or under psychological pressure. They can not do it.

***Pull the longest ride of Day Three (225K) – got that done with Charlesy as my wingman.

***Hit it hard a few times in Week Two – similar to the amount of Week One endurance training, I managed much more than I thought possible – two hours at 300w+ on Day Eight and a tough main set/group ride on Day Ten. I also drove my HR up into the 170s for the entire run on the Day Eight Aquathon.

***Be cheerful, less controlling and listen more – better than previous camps and I’ll keep working on these points!

If you head over to the Planet-X bikes website then you can check out my data from those hard rides. The most interesting data (for you) might be Day Eight and Day Ten. They will give you an insight into my threshold and VO2 power.

My favourite day was probably Day Seven when I broke a spoke fifteen minutes into the ride (and in the rain). Once the crew had me rolling again, I rode alone, playing catch-up, and was able to build the ride, hour-by-hour for five hours. Confidence that I can ride well when fatigued is something that I was seeking at the camp and I found it at the end of Week One.

Many of the lads report a sensation of improving fitness during the camp. I think, what really happens is that the body & mind simply get used to working for long periods of time. Physiologically we fatigue, mentally we strengthen.

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I know some guys where Epic has changed their lives – 50 to 80 hours of training changing the direction of someone’s life. I’m not quite sure how I feel about that. Scott and I are doing what we were born to do – it’s our path. Some folks get that, some don’t.

I ended up with my lowest total (and points “standing”) for any of the camps. However, in terms of training stimulation, this would have to be the most specific camp for my goal of winning Ironman Canada in August 2007.

Sitting here on my flight out of Queenstown, I’m the least fatigued from any of the previous camps. I’m going to absorb the training because I want to get faster, not because I am deeply overreached.

The game plan for February is to physically re-group, run frequently and organize the non-triathlon aspects of my life.

Monica is a very high priority for the next two months.

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In Alexandra, we had a Q&A session with the lads. Here are a couple of highlights that you might want to consider within your own program.

Triathlon is a young sport. I’m fortunate to have been able to learn from a number of the pioneers and experts of our sport. In watching the lads at Epic, I see that what I think is possible (for myself and others) sells our potential short. Many, many times I would have advised athletes to skip sessions (or stop training altogether) if I was “coaching” them at Epic. If we had stopped at a “reasonable” level then (without exception) we would have failed to learn valuable lessons about ourselves and human physiology.

One of these days, we’ll get Dr. J to undertake a study of us at Epic, until then, you’ll have to take my word for it. Much of the triathlon advice that you receive is the equivalent of someone telling you that the Earth is flat.

Please don’t take _anything_ that you hear as the end-all. Take what sounds reasonable, what has worked for people like you and experiment.

Take action, make mistakes, learn and share your experiences.

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Is Big Week Training the “optimal protocol”?

Along your endurance journey, don’t expect to find “one way”, “one approach”, “one protocol” or “one method”. Big Week Training is merely one tool that you can place in your athletic (or coaching) toolbox. For experienced athletes, Big Week Training is a safe way to bump up our performance.

Watching Crazy Mike was interesting because he went both long and hard (daily). I don’t recommend that but… he got through it and put in excellent output (swim, bike and run) session, after session, after session.

High Volume, High Intensity is high octane training and, last night, Scott talked about the risk of staleness and overtraining. In a group environment, it is possible to blow an entire season of fitness across a single fortnight – especially if we forget that we must pay a recovery price eventually. Like me, Mike is planning on recovering through February.

Each camp we continue to learn a tremendous amount from watching the guys. One of Scott’s key observations is that if you get a group of top athletes together and raise your expectations then nearly everyone will step up. We sure saw that on this camp. I couldn’t believe how much they got done. I purposely cut back the volume and piled on the steady-state for this camp.

Week One was 40 hours of training and Week Two was 20 hours of training. Because my relative reality was that I was doing less than the Epic Lads, this was the easiest (and highest quality) sixty hours of training that I’ve done since the summer of 2005.

Day One
***Run 12K steady (used Bobby McGee run:walk for the entire camp, except the Day 8 Aquathon and short games day runs)
***Swim 3K with 2K TT (14:30/14:08)
***Ride Six Hours (five of which were steady to mod-hard)

Day Two
***Swim 3K with 2K steady
***Bike 4.5 hours (four of which were steady to mod-hard)
***Run 10K easy

Day Three
***Ride 7.5 hours (five of which were steady to mod-hard, last 30 minutes mod-hard to hard)

Day Four
***Swim 3K open water (1K steady rest easy)

Day Five
***Swim 3K steady to mod-hard
***Run 10K mod-hard then 1K fast
***Bike Three Hours (middle hour crisscross max aerobic pace; last hour steady to mod-hard)

Day Six
***Swim 3K (1K band only then 2K steady)
***Ride 4.5 hours easy

Day Seven
***Easy 30 min run
***Ride 5 hours build by hour easy to mod-hard

Day Eight
***Ride Four Hour (60 min build to mod-hard; 60 min mod-hard to hard; 30 min steady then easy)
***Aquathon – 10 min steady swim; 15 min hard to very hard run

Day Nine
***Swim 2.4 Miles Open Water 52 minutes (wide range of intensities)

Day Ten
***Easy morning run 10K
***Four hour ride including 6x3 min @ VO2 watts on 90s RI; one hour hard rolling pacing line; one hour steady to mod-hard
***Swim 40 mins include 30 min steady

Day Eleven
***Games day include 6 min 400 IM, Five Minutes threshold running and some power events
***Ten minutes easy swimming

Day Twelve
***Three hour ride (include one hour steady; some big gear work and twenty minutes fast)
***Easy 90 minute run in the evening

Day Thirteen
***Swim 2.4 Miles Open Water 51 minutes (easy to mod-hard)

Day Fourteen
***Run 80 minutes steady
***Catch this plane to Auckland

The top agegroup guys did MORE than the above (Crazy Mike was close to double). Some of you are trying to beat these guys.

Compared to (some of) our competition we achieved one or two months worth of key sessions in a single training camp. It takes many years of patient, smart training to prepare the body for undertaking this sort of training camp.

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I’ll share some of my non-linear recovery techniques that I used over the last fortnight. Nobody ever writes about this stuff as it pertains to triathlon. I can't be the only one with this experience!

So this is what really happened. Much of this is operating at different levels of my experience. I’ve always been willing to access anything that works.

Fit Body, Fit Soul – I used what I learned from Mark and Brant at their weekend clinic. They can teach you better than I can and their lessons have helped move me closer to my ultimate potential as an athlete.

The Sun – On the morning of Day Two, I spent an hour on the beach watching the sun rise. Some might call that a meditation but I was simply looking around, relaxing and asking for help.

The Weather – In heat, or in rain, I will run palms-up for a period of time to absorb energy from the sun or the sky. I use a similar technique within my yoga practice.

Yoga – I did frequent, short yoga sessions – up to three times per day.

Massage – I had five massages in the sixteen days that I was in New Zealand.

Monica – I spoke to Monica five times over the sixteen days that I was in New Zealand. This is the least direct contact that I’ve had with her since we’ve been together. However, I probably held her in my heart for five to twelve hours per day. At my end it felt like I was pulling energy from her. She’s pretty tired right now. I don’t know if that was my doing! Over the years, there have been a few people from which I have pulled energy when training at a high level.

Breathing – When I was surrounded by the power of nature; or saw a flower; or saw an animal; I would breathe the experience into my body. With my little injuries, I would direct the breath towards the part of my body that needed to recover (another technique from yoga).

Dreams – I had dreams about each of the key people in my life. They gave me various pieces of advice. Some of which I remembered, some of which merely made me feel nice when I woke up in the morning.

iPod – I like listening to good music on my iPod.

Some of this I can explain, some of this I am simply sharing with you.

More than understanding my experiences, I’d encourage you to explore your own.

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Protocol is not the differentiating factor between athletes.

Passion, persistence and patience – combine those with any reasonable protocol and you’ll get results. The people that tend to take issue with alternative protocols are, typically, unable to do the protocol they don’t like; or, are trying to profit from an alternative view of the world. For example, most coaches passionately believe in the way _they_ like to train. From a sales & leadership point of view, that belief is essential.

Scott and I really enjoy the camps. We do them to spend time with the lads and enjoy ourselves. We have a deep enjoyment of training.

On the podcasts, there was a tone that Epic Camp is special, possibly elitist. It is special for the Epic Vets because it represents a shared experience, a very different experience and an outside of the box experience.

While it is a unique experience “for us” you could recreate it for yourself. I’ve done it a number of times over the years and it’s helped me.

Epic Camp is unique and special; but Big Week Training is open to anyone with a backpack and a map!

What is unique here is the nature of the athletes. We are sharing a massive undertaking alongside experienced, confident and (mostly) mellow high achievers. The older guys that come have achieved a very high level of success (in multiple fields). With this success comes humility and (if you listen) a willingness to share knowledge.

We also get athletes that are searching for a level of validation (of themselves and/or from others). It’s ironic that we often need to achieve something to learn that it doesn’t really matter. It never was about the goal – the goal merely provides us something around which we can wrap a lifestyle.

The man who competes with no one
In all the world, has no competitor.

And that’s a wrap for another year.

gordo

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12 January 2007

EC:NZ'07 Update

I’m enjoying a home-made mochaccino right on our first of two “regroup” days. I had to negotiate for these days to be inserted!

22 hours of training in three days and I had to haggle for a chance to put myself together!

Because I didn’t run yesterday, Molina is threatening to revoke my “complete the camp” bonus. He’s top of my list for Week Two…

Scott will write about Motivation and I hope you read it. He’s been at this for a very long time. He’s had his ups and downs – perhaps he’ll share those some day. It takes a long time to get good and many people say they want to get good. However, most people don’t want that. Most people want the “good”. The people that get to the top, what they really want is the “work” to get good. To do a lot of work, over a long time… that takes Motivation. Motivation is a habit; success is a habit. Hopefully, Scott will offer up some tips for us.

Here’s how I see it work in myself and others…

We often create imagined injustices to keep us rolling. I’ve found that as I mature, my motivation comes more purely (Quiet Mind, Quiet Power). When I was younger I used a lot of coffee, anger, music or imagined injustice to get rolling. Perhaps that was a sign of carrying excessive fatigue. Clas jokes that when you need a full pot of coffee to get through your main set then perhaps your program is a bit tough! With a more moderate approach, I can motivate from within.

Look for that in your self – recovery is the final option for many highly motivated people (not just athletes).

To do the work required to achieve greatness – that takes a long time. Simply to get back to the fitness I had in 2004, I laid out a 21 month plan. 21 months of planning… leading towards the third athletic peak of my life… in the ninth year of my triathlon career. I hear about athletes seeking to “peak” three times in a season! Life doesn’t work like that.

Molina was planning on leading a contingent of lads up Arthur’s Pass for a bonus ride. However, the rain in coming down _very_ steady right now so we’ll have to see if that ride gets rolling. The clouds are sitting right over the hills and the lake is calm. Doesn’t look like it will blow over anytime soon…

I’m confident that most the Yellow jersey contenders will get out there today. Hopefully, the rain will ease a little for them but I wouldn’t count on it.

So what about the camp so far. Well, after what has supposed to have been a very cold Kiwi summer, we’ve had pretty good weather. Yesterday was quite damp but everyone brought enough gear so that we all made it through without incident. Johno called the weather “patchy” and it seemed like I had a patch that followed me for about six hours!

We’ve got a guy here from London, England – Toby. Yesterday morning, I was suited up with everything, including a pair of neoprene swim gloves (see Aquaman photo of Molina), helmet cover, booties, and synthetic long underwear (good for crappy riding weather, made by Asics). Toby turned up in shorts and reluctantly put on a pair of arm warmers. He said that he wanted to “save” his leg warmers in case the weather took a turn for the worse. I suppose that it is all a matter of perspective. We convinced him to put them on prior to the ride – air temp was 10C at the start and went down as low as 9C before we got over Lewis Pass (about 3.5 hours ride time to the pass).

I’ve done the route before – never in one go, though! To get through what I expected to be an 8-9 hour ride, I broke it up into pieces. I also left my iPod rolling the entire time. I rode with the groupetto yesterday. I haven’t done much riding with the groupetto at previous camps, so I can’t comment on what it is normally like. At this camp, you’ve still got a lot of very strong guys in the second bunch.

I like to set my own pace when riding. That’s a nice way of saying that I am a bit of a control freak and dislike having pace dictated to me. I’m working on that!

Clive, Albert, Mark and Lou – they also like rolling at their own speed and that can be quicker than mine – especially when we are going uphill. I’ve been “backing off” on the hills. By backing off, my power “only” increases by 25-50% from what I put out when pulling. Some of the lads must be lifting close to 100% from what they are putting out on the flats. Those surges add up across a 1,000K bike week!

So we broke up a bit. On the second KOM, I was doing my normal back-off thing and was probably going a little too easy as there were five guys up the road at one point. I figured that I was putting a damper on things with my moderate approach – especially for Mark who likes to give it a go. Albert was almost out of reach and somebody had to give him a push! So I picked things up a bit (five minutes at 375w; three minutes at 400w) to get Mark within striking distance – I went to 151 bpm and sent Mark after Albert. He played it very well and got past the Albernator, never easy!

Towards the end of the ride it was just Andrew Charles and me – KP, if you are reading this then it was a lot like the ride to Westport (except AC didn’t start frothing at the end). We alternated steady main-sets with easy periods to see how long it would take us to reel in the guys up the road.

Clive was particularly tough to bridge back to! With the lads that have been coming to Epic for a few years, it is enjoyable to see their development as triathletes. Clive’s riding great these days, especially for someone who came out of a Canadian winter to join us.

So those are my memories of Day Three. I can still get my heart rate up when I want, so don’t appear to be too shelled.

Some notes on Epic for those of you who might be considering big training to jump start your own training:

***150 bpm // 150bpm is a magic number in my experience. If any of us do sustained work over 150 then there is a material recovery cost. The young guys can burn a lot more matches than the vets. My cap of 148 bpm has served me well in Week One. I’ll get to open it up a bit in Week Two – for now, patience.

***Running // I have only done two runs so far. A solid steady effort on Day One and an easy run on Day Two. I didn’t run yesterday (D3) as I felt that 225K and 7:40 of pulling was enough. The running combined with bike intensity really beats the legs up. I’m a little sore this morning – but the legs don’t feel as “damaged” as previous camps.

Brandon “bdc” Del Campo and Mike “Crazy Mike” Montgomery both ran 2.5 hours on Day Two! Mike’s coming off a solid run camp so he seemed to tolerate it a bit better. Yeseterday, Mike got the location of the first KOM a bit wrong – thought that he was attacking with 20K to go… turn out that it was 50+ KM of rollers. At least he had a light tailwind to help him out – he’s riding without aerobars. Hence the name… Crazy Mike.

***Nutrition // I made the mistake of eating two cans of Thai Chili Tuna on Day One. Phew! Blew through that, quite literally. Nutrition is a real challenge on the camp – not because of the support, the good choices are there… the challenge is making the good choices! I did better at dinner yesterday with lots of veggies. The next two days are low volume days so I will do better. If you have a body that isn’t used to a lot of sugar/starch then a change in diet can be quite stressful.

***Mental // We are all tired. There comes a point – say after six hours of riding on Day Three where the fatigue is mental – that might sound counterintuitive but… it is not your body that decides to back off, it is your mind. This is where the group really helps.

Having Charlesy on my wheel yesterday was great. I’d announce that I was starting a main set in five minutes and he was my “witness” – Scott calls this getting pushed from behind. You don’t want to crack in front of your ride buddies. Athletes of different abilities can ride together all day. This assumes that the guy at the front rides friendly and backs off on the hills. Most male group training is about trying to kill your ride pals – lifting 100% on all hills. It is also how most people race.

Might make good group riders – doesn’t do squat for your IM times.

***Peaks // There’s been a little throwing up and bonking. Yesterday flushed a few people out. When you are doing big training day after day after day, you need to have your training and recovery nutrition wired. Eating little bits continuously as well as ensuring plenty of fluids.

Day Three shook a few people up – a couple of mushroom clouds went up out there. Slight depletion, power peaks and sustained periods over 150 bpm… generally result in some painful personal time to evaluate the error of your ways.

Some people learn, some don’t.

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Back from my only session today (D4) – 3K open water swim event.

Lou gave us a great lead out and we made the front group! However, their pace was a bit punchy so I let them go. Lou hit a tree! So that slowed him down. We swam it in for 5th and 6th. The four upfront were Molina, Scott Davis, Mark P and Albert. Mark’s really able to lift himself for the events.

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I’ll share a few memories from the other days.

My favourite memory from Day One was the swim TT. We started 10s apart and Johno split all the fast guys up so my drafting opportunities were limited. Or so I thought…

BDC was starting 10s back. It was a dive start and I opened with a 1:20 first 100. BDC must have swum a 1:13 because on my second flip turn was RIGHT there. Made me smile. My mood improved even more when he made his “move” at 250m and came by. If any of you wonder how my swimming improved in the last couple of years. It is due to the combination of Monica’s training program and guys like BDC. I enjoyed a very comfortable 550m in the froth behind Brandon. Once his pace settled down, and I was doing catch-up drill, I tapped his calf and came by for a pull. I figured that we’d swap 400s. Of course, at the back of my mind, I knew that there could be a chance to break away and get my 10s back from him.

After 200m we passed Jarret, and the slightest gap opened up… so at the 1K mark I swam a hard 200. You need to be able to do that at ANY time in an IM swim. That is much more important than your first 400m or your sustained pace. At the sharp end, it is surviving the pace changes that determines your swim time. BDC has improved a lot but didn’t make the pace change… he lost at least 40s in the last 800 due to missing the change (and worked just as hard doing it).

I experienced some power fade at the end of Day One during the 70K TT. The TT was my idea because I wanted the campers to experience some legit riding when they were still fresh. Just like the 2K swim TT – athletes rarely do long main sets. A two hour TT after six hours of training gives us an honest insight of our fitness.

If you want to see your real fitness then schedule a 30-90 minute best aerobic TT (not threshold!) at the end of your long workouts. Keep your HR on target and look at your real aerobic pace – some people simply don’t want to know…

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The best part of Day Two was making the group and the fact that nearly all of us finished the ride together. The muffins at 100K were also pretty tasty!

The depth of the riders on the camp means that there is always someone willing to pull the second group back to the front after each set of climbs. As well, the TT took a little bit of the starch out of the young guns. Finally, we didn’t have any points on the line so the Contenders were holding back (just a little) – saving up for their long runs later in the day!

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The Gate of Pride

I just finished a book called Everyday Zen (Charlotte Joko Beck). The author is western and gives a modern (to me) interpretation of certain zen concepts. She uses a wide range of examples to illustrate her points. One chapter talks about how progress is often inhibited when we bump into the “gate of pride”. It’s something that merits consideration for all of us. I’ll give a few examples as they pertain to athletics.

Think about your training partners… it can be tough to see these in ourselves…

How much is enough?

Here at Epic we don’t set any limits on the athletes. We even provide incentives (with our points game) for people to over-do-it. It’s amazing what people will do to themselves in a group environment for a couple of points. We all love to play the game – that’s what life is when you consider it – a game.

It is up to every athlete to decide their personal limits. The group helps most of the guys go far past their previous limits. As well, as I have mentioned before, when we are all tired, the physical limits become mental ones. Pacing, hydration, nutrition, sleep, stretching – these are all limiters.

When we blow, we will cite a physical limiter… however… it was mental choices (pace, nutrition, hydration, volume, intensity) that lead to a (perceived) physical collapse.

The more pride we have, the harder we bang against that gate.

Some bang for weeks… some for years… some forever…

True Strength

I mentioned this on the podcast.

The “weakest” guy at Epic Camp is one of the strongest guys back home. The athletes that join us are high achieving successful people. They aren’t used to compromising with themselves, or due to the force of another. Even the strongest guy at Epic will have a bad day eventually. And when you do… you’ll get smacked down.

I used to get pretty grumpy when that happened.

The “CTI” athletes (can’t take it) are, generally, the ones that race below their training performance. The guys that smile; nod; and say “you got me there”… they tend to bounce back and grow from the group experience.

Bevan and Molina are two guys that seem to enjoy getting smashed. Bevy because pride doesn’t have much of grip on him (he’s probably going to get very good and will need to watch that – nothing fails like success). Molina because he proved whatever it was that he needed to say with his professional career – 100+ wins can take the edge off, for some. Others just keep chasing whatever they seem to be seeking…

We’ve had some great athletes at Epic Camp that struggled with the lack of control forced on them by being in a group of strong athletes. It’s fun to be the Alpha Male but you learn a lot more about yourself when you’re getting dealt.

As I am finding, an evangelical zeal for training (or anything else) will get you to a point (a very successful point if you have the right combination of skills, passion and persistence). When you want to get past that point, you’ll need to consider the elements of your success that have been holding your back. Within my athletic career (and business career), pride always had to give way to humility to truly tap my personal potential.

This has been the second great lesson of triathlon for me.

The first lesson was that we can all achieve far, far more than we ever dreamed possible.

Not sure if I’ll write again but six pages is enough!

Take care,

gordo

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