05 December 2008

Paternal Psychology

This week I thought that I would share some ideas about how fatherhood is going as well as how I have been managing my expectations over the last seven weeks.  As you can see above, my daughter wears her trousers just like daddy -- she's a High Rider.

I was a little concerned through the pregnancy about how I was going to cope with having a baby in the house.  My track record of tolerance with little people is pretty limited.  Even as a camp counsellor, I was never given kids under 10 years old to manage.

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Uninterrupted time - in order to write (or think) well, I need extended blocks of time without interruption.  The office can be a great place for getting things done without distractions, just not during business hours!  As a private equity guy, I used to work late, and weekends, to access this quality time.  Working at home, there is a risk of constant distractions. Given my higher workload these days, I have returned to using Seven-Habits techniques to improve my time management.  I shoot for the completion of up to three tasks per day.

In the house the baby takes priority.  Having been in the driver's seat for a few years, this shift in the family's pecking order has taken a little getting used to! The disruption to my life has been tiny compared to the changes in Monica's routine.

While it might be tempting to barricade myself in my home office... 
seek personal time by long hours spent training... 
purchase an external office and leave my wife a baby-widow... 
...fleeing does not serve my goal of a healthy, long-term marriage.

Three things that I remind myself, pretty much daily, I'll outline them and explain how they are impacting my approach:

1 -- I want to have a successful marriage.
2 -- It was my choice to have the baby.
3 -- What would a good friend do for me? 

While having a breast-feeding wife that looks like an FHM model is entertaining, it's not really what I value in my marriage.  For the single guys out there, I recommend that you look for the following in a wife: (a) kindness; (b) patience; and (c) an ability to gently point out when you are slacking.

If you don't know why (a) and (b) are important then you probably need them even more than me!  My slacking point is a subtle one, it's not about being pushed -- more about helping you be the man that you already want to be.  The approval of one's wife can be a powerful incentive and motivating force. Our wives want to be proud of us.

With that in mind, my "dad" mindset has been to be a good husband.  We discussed this before Monica became pregnant.  To me, being a good husband means supporting her role as mother.  This suits me because it took some of the pressure off from the transition.

This mental mindset helps me frame every request that I get from Monica.  Each time I help out with Alexandra, I am investing in strengthening our marriage.  The more tired/busy/stressed I happen to be... the greater the investment.  

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Just do it -- diapers, snacks, any request... just do it.  Wives value reliability and when you handle any request smoothly, without issue, it will do wonders for your marriage.  By doing the little stuff, you will get a surprising about of time/space when something important comes up (however, the baby shows that there are a lot of things that can wait).

Another tip, get the baby out of the house when she's screaming (the baby, not your wife).  In the early days, when Monica was out of whack from sleep deprivation, taking the baby for a 20-40 minute walk in the middle of an evening meltdown... that made a huge difference.  Monica was able to grab a shower, a meal or just sit down on the couch and sleep for a half an hour.  

I probably only made this gesture a few times but (because I made a genuine gesture and wasn't asked) the value of the action has endured for two months.

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Wife support, rather than child care -- I made a decision to live in Boulder, where Monica grew up.  M's local network makes a HUGE difference with "free" support.  I made a decision to pay for a nanny.  While I could save a few bucks by (effectively) increasing Monica's workload, I calculated that it would be better for our marriage if she was supported (the baby was going to be OK either way).  

I also made a calculation that the expenditure (~40% of our family budget) would provide me an incentive to work a bit smarter.  In a future article, I will explain how I use personal incentives to get myself out of bed in the morning.

Pronoun choice in the above was deliberate.  While "we" discuss the family plan and budget, ultimately "I" accept responsibility and get it done.  I don't think there is any one way to run family finances.  However, it is essential that the structure for financial management is agreed, balanced and communicated.  Finances are a huge stresser when either spouse feels that the relationship is out of balance.

Choice - In dealing with Alexandra, remembering that it was my choice takes considerable pressure off.  When we choose to be a parent, certain tasks automatically flow from that decision -- diapers, screaming kids, cleaning up barf... they are a natural consequence of a decision we made.

Somehow creating that "reality" in my head gives me a lot more patience.  A few times this patience (call it: 'coolness under fire') has been misinterpreted as not caring.  I need to remember that mothers and fathers have different thresholds of urgent.

Reliability - Monica values reliability and, while I change my mind a lot, I am consistent at the risk of being boring!  

The way my day shakes out, I work mornings and evenings.  I place meetings, training and errands in the afternoon.  We've developed a system where Monica sends me a text message when she needs something.  There is no minimum threshold for a request.  Diaper changes, glasses of water, snacks... she buzzes and I wander downstairs from my office (yesterday's office view below - Molina wonders why I am not riding much...).

Similar to Mars/Venus tips, it seems to be a lot more helpful to pitch in with a lot of little items than one big item.  As well, there doesn't appear to be a whole lot of difference between item scoring.  Of course, writing about the "baby game" in my blog will likely impact the overall rules and scoring!  Good thing Monica is kind and patient...

Sleep -- I wanted to sleep "as a family" in the early days.  Trouble was... I couldn't handle it!  Since Monica's water broke, I think I've spent five nights in the same room as her.  Every time I attempted a night's sleep with the baby, it completely destroyed me.  It was quite comical at the hospital... after the childbirth, I slept hours and hours with doctors/nurses/family coming in and out of the room.  I was ruined but I did every diaper change for the first 72 hours.  Invest heavily at the front end to establish your reputation!

It didn't get much better the few times that I tried to sleep with mom and baby at home.  I would "wake up" in the morning, get out of bed, and go sleep in the guest bedroom.  It wasn't working for me, and when I moved out, Monica realized that it worked better for her to have me out of the room.  We're going to "re-introduce" me to the bedroom shortly.  Again, smart psychology to make it a treat to sleep with mom & baby.  She knows me well...

As a final aside, I think the Tao Te Ching talks about the zen of babies.  I could never figure out how a baby could be zen.  Now that I have my own, it became clear very quickly.  

The most remarkable thing about babies is their total lack of memory -- they just "are".  I first noticed it with complete relaxation with hiccups.  Next with oblivion to throwing up on themselves.  

Rather more encouraging is instantly moving from melting down to placid... that keeps fatherly hope alive.  Each minute could be the last minute of a meltdown. 

Hope is a good thing to have.

Back next week,
gordo

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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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15 August 2008

Being Positive




Chris asked:
"Can you expand on your practice of relentless positivity and how you apply it to training, racing, everyday life- and those occasional down periods most of us must deal with."
Happy to share ideas.

The first step for me with any topic/challenge is awareness. Without awareness of our patterns, biases and habits, we tend to roll through life on autopilot. So, I want to create awareness of my current programming as well as the triggers that can toss me into an unconscious reaction.

It has been close to a decade since I undertook the program outlined in The Artist's Way. The program appears really hokey at the start but has a tremendous amount of value. I don't really know how, or why, the program worked for me but it enabled me to gain clarity on my values and biases.

In the case of personal attitude -- awareness would likely concern how/when we speak/write/think of ourselves in a negative attitude. Awareness would also include how we speak/write/think of others in a negative attitude -- in my experience, the more needy our ego, the greater the desire to speak poorly of others.

We too often accept vocal negativity from 'popular' people because of their station in society. If we want to be positive about ourselves, we need to be positive about everything. Remember that fit, beautiful, popular, rich and successful -- none of these imply "positive".

Peer group
is an easy way to improve attitude (or screw it up). Positive people want to be associated with others that reinforce their attitude. In building quiet self-confidence, you will make yourself much more attractive to the sorts of people that you want in your life.

If you note the sorts of people that attract you, then you can quickly learn about your true value system. Over time, your peer group will modify your value system. Choose wisely!

Learning Positivity -- A good technique to start the ball rolling is to carry a small notebook around and record 'good things' as they happen to you (at least one per day). Our brains seem to do a lot better at finding faults then seeing good events. The notebook helps reprogram us by noticing something good; then writing it down and making it more concrete. No need to write down your judgments/negativity and don't worry if you find that there is a steady internal conversation that is less than ideal (its perfectly normal).

Another technique that I use is reminding myself that every person/situation has something to teach me -- even if it is patience, or anger management. So the internal dialog goes, "this situation seems to be stressing me, but I am learning how to cope and manage myself. So, actually, it is pretty useful for me."

Getting a momentary pause into my head to consider the situation is magic. By maintaining my self-awareness, I can often direct the outcome. My (slower) conscious reactions are nearly always superior.

NOTE -- this is why I avoid repling to an email/post/friend when irritated. I give myself 24-hours to mull things over -- the quality of the reply is always better. If I am really wound up then I write a reply (in Word, so I can't accidentally send) and review in the morning. I have never had to send the reply to feel better. Breaking the cycle of attacks is a noble calling!

Interestingly, I have also found that nearly everything in my life will work itself out in a few days WITHOUT my involvement. I suspect that we all greatly overestimate our importance to the world. This is also good to remember because we tend to be so self-absorbed that we fail to notice much of what's happening around us. Very good news as it means that most of my mistakes go unnoticed.

So we have a continuous, and circular process of:
  • Create awareness;
  • Consider (then adjust) peer group; and
  • Seek to reprogram self.
We can most easily adjust our patterns through control of our writing. Diaries/Blogs are very powerful tools that we can employ. Know that public expression exposes us to the slings and arrows of the insecure -- nothing demonstrates our collective insecurity quite like an internet forum that enables anonymous posting. Participation in such a community strengthens its power over us and brings its dysfunction into our peer group.

Once you feel that you have a handle on your writing then speaking/teaching is a very powerful method of reinforcement. Beware of our tendency to insert little self-depreciating 'asides' -- these are not alright. We don't need to pull ourselves down to be attractive to others. Humility doesn't require self-abuse.

The Dinner Party Game -- I've spent over an hour saying something positive about each successive person that was being cut-down at a dinner party. It is a fun game, but fatiguing. I passed on my next invite to that house (peer group).

Teaching -- when I had a public internet forum (that enabled anonymous posting), it provided me with a great platform to clarify and establish my thoughts on a wide range of topics. It also provided me with a daily opportunity to reinforce the views/qualities that I wanted to build into myself. However, be aware that consistency bias is a powerful force that must be battled to retain an open mind.

Feedback -- having a trusted adviser share areas for improvement can be really beneficial but remember that we each have a limit for the amount of "tough love" that we can handle. Quite often, you are best served by advisers with whom you have no emotional attachment. A coach exists to take the blame and (once trust is established) point out items that others would avoid. The client is normally quite adept at taking the credit for progress.

There is always a subtle background desire for reprisal when I receive a direct, and accurate, assessment of my weaknesses. As a result, I ask Monica for feedback when I can handle it and NEVER before bed. I never ask an adviser for feedback when I know that I am unable, or unwilling, to try their advice.

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Coping with down periods. These are the key things that I use to try to perk myself up:

Wake-up time -- if I can get myself out of bed on time... this seems to help. Sleep pattern is HUGE for me.

Light -- I turn on every light day/night when I am awake. Bright light seems to help. In winter, I recommend walking outside during the brightest time of the day.

Sleep -- going to bed early (but not too early!) seems to help. I try to avoid napping more than 15 minutes because that normally means I don't sleep as easily at night. When I was working long hours in Hong Kong, weekend naps were really helpful. Back then, I was so tired that falling asleep was never an issue.

Music -- my iPod is a valuable tool to perk me up when I'm feeling a bit flat.

Intensity -- sustained high intensity is a bad idea (for me) when feeling flat. However, alactic training can perk me up. Alactic training is short (5-20 second) bursts of high intensity training.

Strength Training -- I find that lifting weights helps cheer me up.

Nutrition -- refined carbs are the bane of the mood swinging athlete. If I am going to take comfort in food then I aim for protein and good fats. When I am depressed my brain chemistry is screwed up enough without deviation from my normal (high quality) diet.

Peer Group -- I am very lucky that my wife, and buddies, like me despite my flaws. Hanging around with them when I am flat is beneficial (even if Monica has to drag me out of the house).

Movement -- one hour per day, every day, non-negotiable -- walking counts!

The final thing is a reality check. No matter how depressed I get, I can remind myself of the following:
  • I have felt this bad before;
  • I will feel better eventually; and
  • Only I can take responsibility for my recovery.
The three points above, help me persist with my emotional rehab exercises (outlined above). Once I come out of my funk (not during), I sit down and figure out what triggered it. Key triggers:
  • Sleep disruption
  • Long haul air travel
  • Change in eating habits
  • Change in exercise habits
  • Excessive fatigue
  • Excessive training intensity
  • Excessive use of altitude
  • Illness
  • Injury
Looking at the list above, the two weeks surrounding an A-priority event have a lot of these triggers.

Also beware of anything that can change your brain chemistry -- prescription drugs, alcohol, recreational drugs. As well as major forms of life stress: moving, change of job, divorce, death of a close family member, etc...

When done with a wellness-focus, the athletic lifestyle provides me with the greatest probability of emotional stability. Far better than the false gods of alcohol, sex, work, money, and personal superiority.

It is ironic that endurance athletics is most effectively used as a coping mechanism absent of the protocols that are designed to maximize performance.

Over the long term... the desire to succeed is most effective as a mental trick to get myself out of bed in the morning.

The best lesson that I was taught this year was never mess with another person's motivation. That is a tough thing to do as I battle with the desire to "be right". I want to do a better job at respecting what gets other people out of bed in the morning.

gordo

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01 June 2008

Athletic Legacies and Training Speeds


This week, I will share some ideas on being fast as well as some detail on my own program. I will also touch on a few paradoxes between my training approach and my racing performance.

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Last weekend, I raced the Triple T in Southern Ohio (that's me in the photo above -- I'm on the bike with the Zipp 1080 front -- seriously fast wheel, use with caution!). The race has a unique format. Athletes complete an Ironman but the distance is split into four races over three days (a prologue, two Olys and a HIM). To place well, an athlete needs to be able to perform well when tired – one of my strengths.

Earlier this week, I sent my race report to Planet-X, Zipp and Blue Seventy. I expect that the PX crew should have it live shortly (click HERE on Tuesday). As you will read, I ended up with the quickest time for the weekend and was reminded that it is quite tough to go fast. Alan touches on the physiological reason why it is tough for me to go hard in his latest blog.

When you know the training/approach required to go fast – but can’t seem to do it – that knowledge can reduce your training satisfaction. In 2005, I was dealing with quite a bit of frustration.

Likewise, even if you arm yourself with the fitness to “go fast” – the knowledge of how hard you have to race can make you realize a few things. Now that I am “fit” I am reminded how tough it is to tap my fitness. Riding around the rolling hills of Southern Ohio I asked myself (more than once) why I was spending the weekend, away from my wife, chasing strangers around the backwoods?!

I feel very fortunate in my athletic life -- first (and foremost) to have the opportunity to train on a daily basis; and, second, to have experienced a high level of success. Strangely, just like my success in the corporate world, I have come to realize that there isn’t anything magical at the end of the rainbow. When I finish first, it simply means that nobody faster turned up and I sit around waiting for my pals to catch up.

For me, the satisfaction lies in experiencing the physical sensation of performing close to my potential. I can feel that in training AND, at training speeds, I can relax a bit and look around at nature. During a bike TT, I have to hold my head totally still and avoid creating any additional turbulence with my helmet (!). I save a few seconds but miss the view.

What is my point? Just a reminder of the following…

If you are dissatisfied with yourself at the back of the pack then you will have the same feelings in the middle of the pack. There are a lot of people chasing self-esteem at the races – I doubt you’ll find it in your racing (you could find it in on your athletic journey, though).

If you think that qualifying for Kona, winning your agegroup, or winning a race will change the way you feel about yourself then you may be disappointed. My experience has been that outstanding preparation is more satisfying than performance. However, I seem to be more process-oriented than most.

Coaches (and athletes) should be extremely wary about defining success in terms of relative performance. Our egos greatly overestimate the importance of victories.

The lessons of athletics come from the process of overcoming ourselves and learning to create habits that support our goals. Success is a continual process of finding patterns/choices/decisions that hold us back and eliminating them. These lessons are independent of inherent ability and ultimate performance.

Inherent ability and relative performance impact the satisfaction we receive but those feelings are shallow compared to the deeper meaning that arises when we overcome our fears and failures.

Take some time to consider the legacy that you are creating for yourself. How have the last five (or ten, or twenty) years served the life that you want to create?

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How I Train & Race

With that in mind, I am going to change direction and share some ideas about how I get “fast” relative to myself. How do I improve my performance?

Consistency – the last two week’s articles are a good summary of my Big Picture approach. As a number of male readers wrote in… “it wasn’t just for the ladies”. I wrote that piece to remind myself, and you, of a few things.

Training Load – for ultradistance triathlon, your ultimate potential is closely correlated to the training load that you can absorb. If you have factors (genetic, occupational, whatever) that limit your capacity to absorb training then you will struggle to be a competitive ultradistance triathlete. This can be an unpopular message to deliver.

NOTE -- this point applies most directly to your performance against others -- by training smart, nearly everyone can perform far better than we imagined relative to ourselves.

Your struggles will show as:

***Injury
***Low energy
***Illness
***Poor workplace performance
***Poor relationship performance
***Disordered eating (there is a lot more of this behavior than eating disorders)
***DNS and DNF results
***Low race performance relative to training performance

If you have the psychological make-up to be a great athlete but lack the physical back-up then you are going to get frustrated coping with the above. I know athletes that manage to convince themselves that the above characteristics are success traits (!?). I would characterize them as failure markers – when you are dealing with two, or more, then you are limiting your ability to be successful in the large picture of your life.

My advice would be to consider if there is an alternative avenue for you to direct your energies where you could be great. Even if you are the “total package” for endurance sport, the rate of return on hour invested is low. If you are in it for reasons other than financial return or athletic glory, then acknowledging that fact will help you maintain a clearer perspective on how to organize your life.

In my life, I wonder if chasing race victories is simply a socially acceptable justification for wanting to do endless training camps. Training is fun, racing is tough.

I spent the 1990s banking 24,000 hours of work in the financial services industry. It is the return from a decade of work and a decade of training that created my athletic life (today). If you look at a snapshot of me (or anyone else) – then it is impossible to see the 20-30 years of choices that resulted in their current situation..

OK, now a few specifics…

Within each sport my first goal is to maintain efficiency, strength and endurance – read my Four Pillars for what that means. For EVERY distance of triathlon competition, that must be your first goal – both as a novice and an expert – it all starts from there.

The sports scientists say that our absolute VO2 can be trained up in about ten weeks – because of its quick return, intensity is great product to “sell”. It hurts and you get quick returns – must be good, eh?

By applying the Four Pillars, you can improve your power/pace at AeT/LT/FT for ten YEARS. Further, you will find that your capacity to sustain threshold efforts is linked directly to the depth of your steady-state fitness.

What do I mean by “depth of fitness”? I mean “consistent training load” – the first two bullets of this section. Depth of fitness shows mostly in your training log, not short durations TTs or the lab.

In an race like the Triple T – you see “speed” in the prologue // you see “fitness” in the final 13-mile run.

Now, even more specific…

Swimming – As a beginner, I received a huge return on my initial months of swim training. For my first year, I improved nearly every month. It was a lot of fun and the improvement became addictive. Then I reached my first (of many) swim plateaus. The early plateaus where easily overcome by adding volume. My later plateaus required adding volume and intensity. I had to learn how to “work” in the water. In order to improve from my current level, I need to be swimming 22-25,000 meters per week with three solid workouts and an IM set on my “easier” day. Swimming is the most intense aspect of my current program.

Cycling – Cycling is the heart of my endurance program. To perform well, I need a consistent load of 10-15 hours per week with my big weeks around 20-25 hours. Early in my career I did a lot of “touring” (easy cycling) but that is out of my program now. If I can’t ride at least steady then I cut the workout short. When I am riding well, I have the capacity to ride long periods on the flats (uninterrupted) The core of my program is rides of 3-5 hours duration with no more than two short breaks. Cycling is where I do the most work (effort over time) in my program.

Running – For a guy that runs well in races, I run relatively slowly in training. My program has two goals – run (nearly) every day and make my long runs my toughest sessions. That’s it. As a result, I am rarely injured and have a long track record of consistent running. REMEMBER -- if you want to run well then you need long term mileage. This is far more important than the physiological benefits of fast running.

Strength Training – about 70 sessions per annum with about 25 of those sessions hard enough to leave me sore for more than three days.

Here is the paradox – when I time trial, I turn all of that on its head.

Swim – lowest intensity part of my day

Bike – sprint and oly distance will see lots of power spikes; Half IM distance will see lots of power spikes in the 2nd half of the ride; IM distance very few power spikes.

Run – sprint and oly distance run fast the whole way; Half IM build effort and focus on a very fast final 10K; IM stay relaxed in the first half, quick in the 3rd 10K and hang on for the final 10K.

On race day, I have found that time trialling results in a faster time than racing. However, I have won a couple of events when I raced, rather than TT’d.

One final point, the above is not a protocol for health. It contains FAR too great a training load. Once we go past ten hours per week, we are being driven by something different than personal health – mental wellbeing? a circle of athletic obsession? I haven't figured that one out completely!

g

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Feedback from last week.

One reader commented that she has a strong desire for a "performance" program and asked for my thoughts.

The most important aspect of your program is getting out the door each day. If you are doing that consistently then you are successful. You personal health depends much more on "doing" than the specifics of "what you do". I think that we all spend too much time sweating the details within our programs.

One of the fascinating aspects of human nature is how we (all) assume that a program of consistency and moderation contains a hidden "cost". The articles I share here are my views on what it takes for us to become high performers -- in both life, and the athletic arena.

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17 May 2008

Fear, Self Worth and Performance


This week, I am going to stick with the theme of personal performance and share ideas on two human traits that make it very challenging to think clearly when stressed.

Before we move into the letter, a couple of announcements:

Summer Training Camps in Boulder -- the EC Team have carved out three weekends [June 7/8; July 12/13; and August 2/3] for small group training camps. If you would like to come to town for a weekend totally focused on long course racing then read full details in Mat's Blog. I will be in town for the July and August weekends and available for Q&A.

For the coaches out there, the EC Team would be happy to be your support crew. Feel free to talk to us about how we can back you up.

Boulder Performance Testing -- over on Alan's Blog, AC has been running through a series of articles sharing what we have been learning as a result of our fuel efficiency testing. While testing is the only way to get your personal data, the concepts of fuel efficiency and optimal pacing are essential to consider.

Based in Boulder, the team offers testing/consultancy services to help athletes (all sports, all distances) gain a better understanding of personal limiters and optimal pacing strategies. Our role is often to help athletes consider:

***Is my race performance in line with my training performance?

***What is the optimal pacing strategy for this course and distance?

***Have I been able to execute my pacing strategies in the past (in training, in racing)?

***Is my event dominated by AeT, LT, FT or VO2 benchmarks/performance? (see attachment below for explanation of our terms)

***Does my training program, and race schedule, mirror the specific demands of my key competitive event(s)?

Last week I laid out the general components of a successful plan, the role of a coach is to ensure that the specific components of the athlete's strategy are consistent with these points above.

If you want to read more about the Critical Success Factors for endurance athletics then you will find them HERE. The article is about long course triathlon but is directly applicable to 95+% of the field at every running, cycling, swimming or triathlon event.

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Fear
Two of the greatest fears that we witness (daily) in group training situations are fear of missing out, and fear of being left behind. Two stories...

During an easy recovery ride in Tucson, we came across a female rider stopped at the side of the road. We passed and she jumped on our group. We were spinning very mellow and the rider went around us and headed down the road. Later that night, I asked if anyone got the urge to hammer past the lady for "daring" to ride through us? There were a lot of knowing chuckles.

As a test workout, I often ask my athletes to: (a) get dropped on purpose; (b) ride 20m behind the group for an entire ride; or (c) hold pace as I randomly accelerate around them. It can be VERY tough to mentally handle those situations.

I have found that our capacity to tolerate short term "training humiliations" is tied into self-worth and personal identity. There is a lot of mental noise going on during most group workouts!

When we find something emotionally difficult -- odds are -- the situation is bumping against personal fears and challenging our self-image. True confidence arises from acceptance of our own performance not the capacity to dominate the performances of others.

Hardness has its roots in domination -- softness (or being open) is rooted in acceptance. In what mode would you expect to make the best decisions?

It takes a surprising amount of specific training to become conscious enough to think clearly while acknowledging these fears.

When your race performance is diverting from your training performance -- look outside of your physiology for solutions. Instead of focusing on the last few percent of physical performance -- a large breakthrough could be available by relaxing and softening up (RASU).

Justin's latest piece on XTri talks about coping with his shift from agegroup to elite racer. A very honest look at the mental challenges that we share when racing.

On that fear of missing out... I deal with it every time I decide to rest/recover!

Back Next Week,
gordo

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EC Training Zone Summary

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10 May 2008

Planning and Being Hard


This week, I will shift gears from property investing and discuss two topics that preoccupy the minds of athletes -- The Plan and Being Hard. My thoughts will be slated towards athletics but the concepts apply just as strongly in our daily lives.

Before we roll into the letter, I was back in the Grand Canyon last Tuesday. This time I was running solo and applying the lessons from my first trip. It is amazing how quickly the body can adapt to stress. While I wasn't much faster on the round trip -- the damage that the run did to my body was a fraction of the first time. This time four weeks ago, I could barely walk and my legs were absolutely trashed. With respect to Ironman marathoning, durability is an essential fitness component that is near impossible to measure quantitatively. My average heart rate for the "run" was 117 bpm and it is one of the toughest sessions that I will do all year.

Alan's latest blog piece provides a window into my lab-fitness and a discussion of performance limiters. Something that JD pointed out at the April camp was that each of the Endurance Corner coaches has a different take on the same topic. That is part of what makes us a good team, and also a source of creative friction.

When I test myself I remember the following:

***Testing is three dimensional, performance is four dimensional. The test measures my ability to perform a specific task over a period of time. Performance, in sport and life, requires the ability to execute over multiple years. Life is about coping with the unexpected. By definition, our capacity to manage change cannot be measured in a controlled environment

***X-Factor // At our April camp, Robbie Ventura gave an excellent talk on fast time-trialling. The bottom line of his talk (for me) is some athletes go fast on race day for a range of "little things" that they are able to put together. Robbie calls these little things the X-Factors of racing. Successful people have the capacity to execute a series of little things, consistently, over time. For me, this skill is habit based. Our X-Factor capacity cannot be measured in the lab.

If you review my bike chart over on AC's blog then remember that it is the result of more than 20,000 hours of endurance exercise. We get a lot of question about how athletes can make changes to improve their charts in 6-8 weeks.
In your training do not be in a hurry, for it takes a minimum of ten years to master the basics and advance to the first rung. Never think of yourself as an all-knowing, perfected master; you must continue to train daily with your friends and students and progress together in the Art of Peace.
-- Morihei Ueshiba
I have been fortunate to study under a few masters of triathlon -- even they admit that their main skill is guessing better than average.

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Planning
I play a good "long game" -- by that, I mean my performance over multi-year time horizon is strong. As a result, people are interested in the specifics of my plan.

The power of my plan lies in the general, not the specific. Here's what I mean -- when I get it right (and I make a ton of mistakes)...

***A simple plan that I can remember and execute every day

***Periods of specific overload that address key limiters

***Scheduled recovery, and downtime, before I need it

***No one session, day, week, month compromises the period that follows

***Finish strong

***Enjoyable, relaxing and satisfying

The above factors lead to outstanding execution over the long term. That, in turn, leads to performance.

99% of the noise in our heads (mine is no different) is a distraction from the above, makes very little positive impact on performance and reduces energy available for recovery.

Which brings me to...

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Being Hard
Most people are surprised when I tell them that I am (nearly) completely soft. My close friends laugh when I say that I am 99% negotiable and 1% firm. I accept that the world could appear differently looking out, than looking in!

Given the impossible task of seeking to control the world around us AND our limited willpower, influence, energy... I tend to focus my true efforts on a very, very, very limited set of circumstances. I figure that I can be "hard" for a couple of hours per week, MAX. If I am "hard" more often then my overall performance will, ultimately, be compromised.

One of my past mentors taught me that we live with a six-shooter and no extra ammo. If we are thinking of using a "bullet" then we'd better make sure that it is a key point. That analogy has stuck with me and 95% (or more) of my training builds me up (mentally, physically). I only do a little bit that breaks me down.

I could be a little soft from a sport performance point-of-view // and // that is likely why HTFU gets my attention. However, after thinking about it for over a month, I don't know a single long term high achiever that is "hard".

In racking my brain, I only considered people that I knew. There are hard personalities that we hear about but I suspect that they are fabrications.

The toughest competitors that I know are soft in real life (though they try to hide it in public). Our fears and emotional weak points are powerful motivators when channeled towards performance.

When you reach a point where you can't handle any more... relax and soften up.

RASU -- maybe I'll get some hats printed up...

Cheers from New Mexico,
gordo

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27 March 2008

Tucson Training


Above you have Mat Steinmetz, Mike Alvarez, Sean Fenner and Mark Cook -- my ride buddies from yesterday's 50 mile effort.

I have been in the desert for the last week attending our Endurance Corner Spring Camp in Tucson, Arizona. The camp has been a reminder of a few topics that I will cover in this week's letter.

What's possible // Everyone here is a real athlete, but not everyone realizes it. Justin and I were commenting to each other that everyone is strong, durable and able to log the miles. It is tough to be one of the slower athletes in a group as high powered as this one. Interestingly, I have found that the slower athletes are the least likely to experience mental stress at a camp. Camp is challenging and they expected that!

Attitude & Fatigue // Similar to Epic Camp (where everyone is a bad ass "back home"), the faster agegroup athletes are used to being able to dominate in training _and_ dictate the nature of their training. Most specifically, swim volume and peak power required when group riding. JD warned us all pre-camp... "Don't go looking for work, let the work come to you". That is good advice when riding with a couple of Ultraman Champs. Fortunately, Jonas and I have been feeling gentlemanly -- I did big ring Gates Pass on Tuesday but Mat made me (and the rest of the ride) pay later.

Something that I have noticed across the years is that athletes that are unable to adjust self-expectations in the face of high powered competition are the ones that have the greatest gap between actual, and potential, performance.

Specifically, they convince themselves that they are training easier than reality. Training camps, long races, and descending main sets, are an effective way to benchmark one's reality. It's why I love Epic Camp for my own training -- not that I always listen to what the group is 'telling' me!

Setting one's mind // We've seen some stand out performances this week. Personally, I have been most impressed by the swim training that the campers have done. Scott taught me that (most) athletes will rise to the expectations of their peer group. We have been putting up a "real" swim workout most days. I have been sharing some of the workouts that Monica used to turn me into a low-50s IMer.

Limits // Today at lunch Sean Fenner told me that he wished that he could really hit it a few days and see what's possible. I passed along my experience that even when you think you are holding back... you are likely hitting it quite hard! The camp environment takes us far beyond where we could get ourselves. I probably would have taken a light day yesterday if I was at home. Instead... 10K steady run, 5500 yard solid swim and 50 mile aerobic maintenance bike. Jonas spent the early part of the camp trying to get us to sleep in // then gave up and started training! Even the fastest guy at the camp benefits from the group dynamic.

Ultra Speed // The differentiator between good and great ultradistance athletes is NOT their 20-60 minute power. At a camp like this, you don't see the best from the fittest athletes -- they have tons in reserve. What we do see (but might not realize) is the difference between an elite athlete's easy/steady pace and an agegrouper's mod-hard/threshold pace. Look at Sindballe's heart data BEFORE you look at the power. How many people racing 2-5 hours LONGER than him are able to ride that "easy" in an Ironman Distance race? Thorbjorn held off Tim deBoom -- one of the greatest runners in the history of Hawaii -- he did that on the marathon.

We did a test set within our 5500 yard swim...
5x500 then 4x400 with one goal -- faster each 400, leave 10s after the person in front of you (non-drafting). This is a tough swim for an athlete to get "right" in a group situation. Most people swim them as mod-hard; threshold; threshold; very hard with the last three swims within 6-8s of each other.

In case you are wondering... I went something like 5:10/4:58/4:51/4:41 and tried quite hard on the last one -- my 400 yard PB is 4:20 so I have some work to do! We were leaving on 5:45. Big J dropped a 4:08 on the last one. Bit of a gap.. that's why he's The Man.

The inability to descend is a result of lack of practice (and confidence), not lack of potential. Lacking this critical ability means that the athlete is likely training one intensity zone higher than they think -- all-the-time. Within most AG programs this doesn't show as excessive fatigue -- it tends to show as: (a) late race fading; (b) stagnant aerobic development (especially around AeT); and (c) an inability to really hit the toughest sessions.

Same deal on the bike -- in a group situation, you can pretty much always count on a highly motivated athlete to come to the front and start riding "easy to steady" by siting on their Half Ironman wattage. I comfort myself that the draft is outstanding and it will only be a half hour or so before the pace slows down. Even with the advent of powermeters, most athletes cannot wait to show their strength.

Finishing strong is a very satisfying form of delayed gratification.

We will race the way we train.

Choose wisely,
gordo

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08 August 2007

Mind Training & Investing


Our photo this week is Clas and me in 2004. We're on the boardwalk in Hilton Head Island, SC. Lots of good memories from that trip and I think about Clas quite a bit.

I wrote a short piece on my August training over at the Planet-X site. One error that I discovered this evening -- I ran an 11-23 cassette rather than a 12-27 // sometimes it's best not to know that you are overgeared for a TT. Amazing what we can do when we don' t realize it. I thought that I had a gearing advantage over the boys and that made the TT feel easier -- the edge was all in my head!

In a future article, or podcast, I'll be discussing "Going Pro" -- if you've got any questions that you'd like me to address then send them along via email -- I listed all our email addresses last time.

Sam's written another interesting piece for us on Alternative Perspectives -- it compares powermeters with flying an airplane.

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Investing
If you are thinking about buying assets in the next few months -- I'd pause and consider three probabilities...

a -- that your purchase will cost more in February next year
b -- that it will cost the same to make the investment in February next year
c -- that it will cost less to make the investment in February next year

For what it's worth, in housing, I expect that the worst that you'll do is pay the same price next year -- with yields low (in most markets) that, effectively, means that you will have saved money.

In our Scottish business, we've done very well locking in deals across the winter when conditions are uncertain. We did that with the tailwind of a strong liquidity environment -- with tighter debt markets, there will be attractive deals to be had for fully funded buyers. Within our property development joint venture, margins have started to expand again (after contracting for the last two years).

The press appear to have latched onto the fact that we are in a credit crunch. I don't see that. [Ed Note: Whoops! ECB injects e100 billion into the debt markets.] What I see is that we've moved to more 'normal' debt conditions with borrowers having to demonstrate ability to pay and offer security -- the numbers don't look like a crunch to me. There is a clear overhang of poor credits and marginal developments in many markets -- still, fairly priced, quality product in prime locations continues to attract good pricing.

I think that there is a decent chance that we'll move through our current, benign, conditions through to a real credit crunch. The global liquidity picture should be a bit more clear by early spring.

Greed continues to dominate fear in the markets that I follow. I'm overweight on cash and biding my time.

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Mind Training
I'm going to keep this as simple as possible because, I think, that we waaaay over-complicate mental skills training. Here's the way I see it...

First -- identify our habits and patterns
Second -- remove the "mind" from the playing field

Most of the literature that I real about sports psychology focuses on exercises and techniques to deal with Part One of the challenge. Create consciousness about what's going on upstairs. That is a powerful first step.

For me, what comes after that is shifting from being (unconsciously) controlled by our thoughts to (consciously) observing them. Personally, I don't hold much hope of being able to control my mind -- I merely want to observe it.

I think we all experience thoughts, patterns, habits that we'd like to change -- only a minority of folks seem to be able to pause (a fraction of a second) to gain control of the automatic response that our fears and habits generate within us.

That fraction of a second is the most valuable second in my life -- it is where I am able to achieve a handhold of control over my actions. That small element of control helps me with the many little decisions that, ultimately, form my reality.

It sounds 'new age' to state with certainty that I control my life, my reality. Is it really? Consider the opposite -- how many times have you experienced the complete lack of control over your destiny? Being controlled by automatic responses to people, situations, emotions -- having your mind click into autopilot leaving you unconsciously following along. I spent YEARS like that.

Coming back to athletics -- I found a great article in the archives to illustrate my point. Here is my 2001 Race Plan. I must have been pretty nervous because I considered just about everything! The Plan worked great but there's no way that I could have remembered all that stuff on race day.

Six years later, here's my race plan for August 26th...
Swim -- long strokes, peaceful mind
Bike -- smooth power, patience
Run -- hands up, ribs down, WIN

No prizes for guessing which race strategy is easier to remember. Six out of seven components are under my direct control for the duration of the event. The seventh is a reminder (to me) that racing is a test of will (at many levels).

More than being able to remember/execute. What I notice between 2001/2007 is that, over time, I have incorporated many of the "Phase One" lessons (of racing) into my life. I don't need to be reminded of them, they are part of my life. So when you are working through mental skills training; consider that the ultimate goal may be to get past the exercises.

In my life, the "not thinking" is often more valuable than the "thinking".

Cheers,
gordo

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19 April 2007

Approaching Information & Intellectual Arrogance


This week, I'll share some thoughts on how we can best deal with information as well as ponder the concept of Intellectual Arrogance. As you see in our photo, the Easter Bunny was very good to me! Bob-the-Bunny is on my lap and the book at my side is Raising The Bar (Clif strikes me as one of a few nutrition companies that have our best interests at heart).

Tomorrow, I am off to the high desert to attend a clinic that is being hosted by Mitch Gold's Counterpart Coaching. Mitch is a great guy and I'm looking forward to spending a week with him and the campers. You can follow along on Mitch's Board. We had two lads from Ireland cancel on us at short notice so there are a couple of last minute slots open -- click through the camp link above to get details and Mitch's email.

I'm back in Boulder in early May and have been invited to a swim technique clinic at Boulder Elks Pool on May 12th (2-5pm). We'll work on swimming for the first two hours then have open Q&A (any subject) for the final hour. Cost is $45 for non-members and $20 for Elks Members. If you are interested then drop me an email and I'll send you registration details. For the Q&A discussion, Siri Lindley and, my wife, Monica have agreed to share thoughts with us.

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Approaching Information

Have you ever felt uncomfortable when faced with clear feedback about your current situation (be it fitness, financial, family or social)? The areas that make us feel most uncomfortable are, often, the areas for greatest personal growth.

When I get uncomfortable information (tight cash flow, high overheads, shortfalls against projections, illness, injury), I look past the "data" and search for the cause. What can I change in my approach so that the externals (that might appear to be at fault) will no longer impact my performance?

Sitting here on Thursday afternoon, I'm nursing a niggle in my left soleus. It likely happened because I ran 100+ miles last week -- not Mark's idea, he suggested a cap at 90M (max). So, the injury provides me with a learning experience. A clear reminder about the importance of being able to "consistently do" and the risks of "over doing".

The North American Ironman season opened up this past weekend and, I imagine, that many athletes found themselves nursing injuries, illnesses, anxiety and infections that occurred just as they began to "rest". There is typically only one cause when rest is followed by stress bubbling to the surface -- you over-did-it.

When you look for a person that's likely to improve, look for self-evaluations that focus on what will be changed to improve.

Be wary of the temptation to focus on the (uncontrollable) externals that prevented a successful outcome. This pattern of thinking creates blockages to learning -- successful outcomes derive from doing our best despite external challenges. It is these challenges that offer us opportunity for meaning and learning. It's normal to be a bit scared, what you do about it is what matters.

Under performance in competition (relative to training) is most often due to the combination of over-preparation and under-execution. You tried too hard. You may have lost your opportunity for a great race, but you can still grasp the opportunity for learning. In this situation, I like Joe Friel's advice that the only difference between a good race and a poor race is that we can learn more from a poor race.

I've certainly been there myself.
...I've blown whole seasons trying to get "fast" for a single competition...
...I've started ultramarathons at Half Marathon race pace...
...I've ignored sixty minutes of flashing heart rates at the start of a TT...
...I've convinced myself that "I'm different" only to be (forcefully) reminded that, actually, good advice seems to work pretty well for me.

A good advisor helps us see the difference between what we think we should do and what we can absorb. Mark's key (physiological) advice to me centers around maximizing what I absorb, rather than what I complete. That is a fundamental shift in my approach.

The focus on absorbing (with specific overload periods) requires a lot of discipline. In the coming weeks I'll share ideas on how this concept impacts Working Athlete Periodization as well as "Grip Tips" (the few areas where Mark has given me specific guidance).

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Intellectual Arrogance

One of the neat things about having worked with so many great athlete-coaches is that I get to hear each of them describe the other. Of course, I am hearing all of this through my personal filters, dogmas and biases!

Scott likes to point out that there can be a large variation between "what I hear" and "what he said". If you work with remote advisers (or clients) then count on half the message going missing each time. I'm working more and more with a combination of written with verbal follow-up, especially with my clients/co-workers that don't like to read!

While, my mentors share a deep respect for each other, there is often a current of "...but MY way is RIGHT" lurking beneath the surface. I see this as an element of effective leadership (or sales). Acknowledgement that other methods can be effective but a total commitment to the chosen protocol. Early in my finance and athletic careers, I lacked the experience to see any merit in alternative approaches. I had commitment without tolerance -- I was intellectually arrogant. This blindness slowed my learning and reduced my success. Fortunately, I was assisted by first-class mentors that demonstrated that change was essential for development.

Drucker's paragraph, about believing that being bright substitutes for knowledge, described me perfectly at the start of my first career (see link in last week). In 1990, a very good friend even warned me that I wasn't as smart as I thought that I was. It took five years (!) of hubris to learn that lesson -- it still pops up in my personal life!

I can remember emphatically explaining to someone that "being nice was lame" and "ultimately, all that matters is results". You can still hear that talk in elite athletics as well as international finance. When we are batting 1.000 that may be the case. However, we all take a few lumps and that's when compassionate co-workers (or family) can help. Nothing like a set-back to make one appreciate friends.

I'm still working on identifying my current intellectual biases -- they're so much easier to see (then share...) in others! Perhaps I'll ask Monica once I have overcome my reluctance for clear feedback on my current situation...

Back next week,
gordo

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05 March 2007

The Magic Formula

Blogger is having a little trouble uploading my photo. So...

There's an alternative one posted on Planet-X with my race report. That photo is of the Snowman Stampede. As you can tell from that snapshot, the day lived up to its billing. The race was my first sustained effort of the season and it went well for me. I can attest that an hour of drilling it at altitude gives a pretty strong hypoxic training stimuli.

For those of you that enjoy data, my average heart rate for the hour was 165 bpm and my max was 170 bpm. That compares to my heart rate cap of 148 bpm -- I've been using that for all "endurance workouts" as well as during "endurance" phases of training.

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I was sent a weblink the other day to a philosophical website. I enjoy reading these sites and surfed around for a while. Around the same time, I was contacted by an athlete looking for an exact determination of his endurance training heart rate threshold, what I call AeT (aerobic threshold).

The two events reminded me that our minds craved certainty as well as clarity. We're always looking for...

...the magic formula
...the magic protocol
...the perfect partner
...the perfect wave
...the perfect day
...the perfect conditions
...the ideal plan

A man more wise than me pointed out that this craving for something other than what we are tends to make a lot of people unhappy. Still, I think that spending time learning from experts can be time well spent.

It's interesting though... my experience is that you have to learn a tremendous amount to get yourself to the point where you see that nearly everything that you learned is a distraction from what matters.

The people that get the most practical use from their knowledge, tend not to be the ones with superior knowledge. Individuals with the greatest reach excel in clear communication, rather than technical detail. This drives many experts absolutely bananas! Personally, I find that entertaining for some reason.

So on the site that I linked up is a quote about success. You can read the entire essay here.

"The secret of success of every man who has ever been successful -- lies in the fact that he formed the habit of doing things that failures don't like to do."

That pretty much sums it up for me. There's nothing more that I can tell you about success.

..but I'll give it a shot anyhow!

I prefer to program myself in positive, proactive ways. Figure out what you want to achieve then seek out experts of character and pattern yourself on their actions, thoughts and beliefs.

That's all great but... you are going to need a HUGE amount of energy to keep up with an individual that has deeply engrained their success patterns into their mind, body and spirit. In fact, most people will get overwhelmed by the power of their mentors.

So while the author of that essay is pointing out the difference between success and failure -- he is not addressing why the failures struggle to keep up. When people breakdown, it is their process that falls apart.

So how do we give ourselves the energy to maintain our circle of success? How do we give ourselves every chance to form those successful habits?

Here are some ideas that I came up with. They are what work for me. Perhaps they will help you. I'd encourage you to find out what works for you. Much better than following what works for me!

All of the following are things that we can "do" in order to build the energy that we have available. The closer that I stick to these guidelines, the easier (and deeper) I find my ability to achieve my goals.

Simplicity
-- most people try to do too much. At any given time, I can manage doing two things "right" in my life. Everything else is being done "ok" at best. If you come over to my house then you'll see the two things that I'm working on right now. I posted it on my fridge. I want every single person that is close to me to know what I'm working on.

Nutrition -- there is a clear link between nutritional quality and mood. Running deeper than mood, there is a direct link between energy and nutrition. I smile when people tell me that "a calorie is a calorie". It's not that way in my body and it's not that way in terms of our impact on the Earth.

Our bodies are the most direct expression of how we feel about ourselves and our nutritional choices are the most frequent actions that we take with respect to our (physical) selves. Food choice is easier than thought choice!

Recovery -- there is a certain pride in many cultures (and sub-cultures) around sleep deprivation and self-suffering. At a certain level, something inside us can "feed" of this stress but (eventually) you'll fade away. The "hard" path may feel satisfying for a few years but it is worth remembering that most of us are playing an 80 year game! I have big plans for my body twenty years from now -- some of the lads might get me this decade but if I just hang on long enough...

Love -- this is a big one and I'd encourage you to think about love in the absolute broadest sense of the word. What I mean is any thing, person or experience that enables us to feel more "open". In my world this includes: Monica, nature, church, friends, training, old tress, snow, sun, wind, animals, little kids, water... all of these are spiritual "openers" for me and lift my energy.

Attitude -- attitude is mission critical. My mentors/advisers/pals and I had an email thread the other day about "coaching elite athletes". What started as a discussion on coaching elite triathletes (rather infrequently elites in life), turned into a platform for some very successful people to define their personal definition of success. What was fascinating to me was that EVERY one of the successful people had achieved their person definition of success. They may not have achieved my definition (or your definition) but they achieved their own. A clear reminder that we must choose our goals wisely. What comes next is important...

Successful people cultivate an abundance mentality for their goals within themselves. They "are" what they are seeking to achieve. Through this self-expression, they achieve success prior to achieving their goals.

Unsuccessful people (unconsciously and consciously) cultivate a scarcity mentality within themselves. The focus on their "lack" of what they are seeking and long for the day when they will achieve it. This day rarely comes.

Change in our life situation most effectively stems from an improvement in our personal outlook, expressed by what we cultivate in ourselves. We are most able to attract the things, experiences, people that we cultivate within ourselves.

In, then out.

Our culture has it completely backwards with many of the messages that we are fed within the media. The searching for satisfaction (and change) without. The unsucecssful are constantly wondering why their impression of the world remains rooted as a reflection of what they hold within. The truly successful smile and give thanks that they have learned to be satisfied with what they have created within themselves.

So that's my Energy Creator list! What about my personal energy reducers?

Related to simplicity -- I train myself to say "no" to attractive opportunities. If you have trouble with this point then start by saying "no" to unattractive opportunities. No joke, I know plenty of people that repeatedly choose to do things that they hate rather than having to face saying "no" to somebody that's probably too caught up in their own life to notice.

Nobody likes saying "no" to people (comes back to the opening quote about successful habits) -- I was fortunate in that I was forced to learn how to say "no" in my first job. In venture capital, we had to say "no thanks" to a lot of people. Given that it is as tough for the partners as it is for us... the junior guy on the team gets plenty of practice saying "no" early in the investment process -- the partners get the really tough ones... saying "no" late in the process!

I tend to extend my zone-of-no-thanks from opportunites... to situations... to people... to habits... to foods... to the web ...to anything that is a distraction from my ability to devote myself to my two main goals.

Sounds a bit extreme, and I suppose that it is, however I am looking for a very deep level of achievement, satisfaction and success.

The Magic Formula -- a self-sustaining circle of sustained action over time.

Choose wisely,
gordo

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29 October 2006

Consistency Bias

I was mulling a few things over yesterday while doing yard work. It was a toasty day (the snow's gone again) and I was enjoying rounding up leaves.

Over the last week, I've been reading a wide range of race reports and discussing season reviews with my athletes. There are a number of recurring themes that come out of these:

***the desire to train harder all year
***the desire to train harder earlier in the year
***the desire to "figure out" nutrition strategies

The way our heads work, we have an in-built bias towards following our past decisions and beliefs. High achievers have a natural bias towards deepening this attachment. This influences the way that we perceive people, events and ideas.

This week Scott reminded me how it can be painful to accept a valid idea from a source that we find personally unappealing. The flipside also holds true, it is very difficult for us to reject a concept from a person (or coach, or mentor) that we find personally appealing.

Continual improvement requires a willingness to rethink our past actions and beliefs.

Our method of achievement will take only take us so far -- in many cases this is VERY far. However, eventually, we will need to consider if certain success traits (harder, harder, harder & more, more, more) could be holding us back.

Likewise you'll often see a level of anger or player-hate present in many top athletes -- that can work for a main set or even a long ride // however, it's a tough way to go about living and you can't maintain it indefinately. The next time that I see Mark & Brant -- top of my list is exploring ideas for moving through emotion to a place that I call "quiet power".

Back to the reviews and race summaries -- the observations that attract my attention run something like this...

...I choose X and it didn't really work out for me. I'm going to remember that and do Y next year.

A statement like the one above is very rare to see in public. If Faris only races two IMs next year then you'll know that he followed is his own advice from the Competitors Radio show.

My athletes, generally, share their most honest observations in private and (like me) need to be encouraged to consider if their choices could have been made a bit better.

How many times have you heard a coach say... "well, we didn't really get that right. Unfortunately, my program and strategy blew her up."

I don't hear it a lot -- however -- I do live it!

The best coach, and the best trainer, that I know... those two guys will readily admit that they make a lot of mistakes. It's the nature of life.

Many us suffer from consistency bias when we ignore the results of our actions (or our athletes, or our races). Everything in life is offering us feedback -- IF we are open to receiving it.

A common form of consistency bias is blaming external factors for sub-optimal results -- carbohydrate mixed with water seems to have a particularly toxic effect of many racers // it just might be worth considering pacing -- if you happened to be wearing a heart rate monitor.

Coaches should look to the results of their athletes -- athletes should remember that having a coach doesn't relieve them of the obligation to think for themselves.

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Dave and I were talking about training this week. I told him that I'm putting together a team of top agegroup training partners for 2007.

He noted that I won't be racing agegroupers in Canada next year...
...I noted that I don't plan on racing in training next year.

In a group training environment, everyone compromises a little bit -- generally -- the strongest athlete compromises the least. I get dropped a lot in training (even when fit). It takes a lot of humility to stick with your session -- many of the top guys end up alone to avoid having to deal with this aspect of the group.

Be wary of our tendency to avoid information sources (and people) that would provide us with evidence that we need to change our beliefs/actions. The best example of this in athletic training is the heart rate monitor -- many people simply don't want to have to deal with the fact that they are training sub-optimally. They say that it isn't "fun" and it isn't "fun" to be confronted by the dissonance created by consistency bias. For me, the fun has always been in knowing that I am doing everything possible to achieve my goals.

When our attachment to performance is greater than our attachment to the past -- we will find that we are open to new ways of doing things.

Most people would rather be right, than effective. We should think about that as we surf the internet searching for threads to reconfirm our biases.

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Probably my most cherished belief is that the athlete that does the most training wins. In fact, I've often said in the past that I have never run into a problem that couldn't be overcome from excessive volume and focus. Well, that worked to a very speedy point (8:29) but I've decided that it is time to take a gamble to try to get past that point.

The gamble doesn't involve modifying any of my training protocols -- so if you think that there is a change there // I haven't been effective in communicating. My protocol is exactly the same with two exceptions...

#1 ***my focus is on absorbing (not doing) training

My first four weeks were 15/12/17/17 hours, including yoga. Typically I would slam right back into 30 hours weeks. This year I'm focusing on eight months of preparation, for eight weeks of training, for eight hours of racing.

The last time I "peaked" was August 2004 and I don't intend on peaking prior to August 2007. It takes a huge amount of patience and I am tested daily (by good friends with good intentions).

#2 ***I've placed a ceiling of 148 bpm on all my efforts

I am using my exact same training protocol, simply under that ceiling. I'm a lot more diligent with my strength and yoga than I have been since 2001.

When you start losing the ability to undertake the small things -- that could be a sign that you're hitting it a bit too hard. In October, the fact that I am enjoying my yard work is a good sign.

Aerobic Run Test #2 showed 20 sec per mile improvement. I don't expect that every three weeks. For those of you that haven't used a moderate protocol before -- results will probably be slower. Remember that I was in <3 off-the-bike marathon shape only two months ago.

I'll leave you with an observation that Mark shared with us in Texas. A high intensity early season protocol will rapidly move you to the SAME level of fitness that your achieved the previous year (it works). Mark's protocol is what, he believes, moves us to a HIGHER level of fitness later in the year (it works better).

If you've been peaking in April then choose wisely.

Remember that everyone around us has bought into our past actions/beliefs. Expect to be tempted by old patterns and partners.

To get different results from the masses, we need to train differently.

Cheers,
gordo

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26 October 2006

Giving Up

Before I get into this post, if any readers have ideas for securing 10 commercial treadmills at a discounted price then please drop me a line.

Step One of our pool project is establishing a year-round training centre on the site. The largest single cost item is our treadmills. We'll have world-class athletes (and kids) using them -- it's a worthwhile cause and I can tell you more if you drop me a line.

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I’ve been thinking about useful traits for self-improvement.

If you’ve read my stuff over the years then you will have read about the importance of “one thing” – essentially the ability to focus on the repeated execution of one simple task. Success in any field is the result of linking up thousands of “one things” over time – in fact, that’s pretty much life – a series of present moment decisions. The decisions of the past creating our current situation.

The challenges within our life are often created when our decision making process breaks down.

Superior results, results that have satisfaction and meaning, most easily flow from an ethical and effective decision making process. There is an interesting conflict with all those present moment decisions – the trade-off between short term satisfaction and longer term development.

Successful people have an ability to take satisfaction in making decisions that most benefit their long term performance. This desire for long term performance (or the pleasure from working towards a challenging goal) dominating short term temptations.

Now we can take this too far, I have a very good friend that always seems to choose the option that is most personally challenging for him – this results in a lot of self-imposed discomfort. He seems to like it, though.

Another risk to success is dilution of effort from over-scheduling. Our society seems to have this concept that it is “good” to have a wide range of interests. Personally, I’m interested in winning Ironman Canada and growing closer to my wife. Those are my two true interests. I have other items that I spend time on BUT I don’t fool myself that outstanding progress can be achieved in them. I simply don’t devote enough time to them. You can’t win Le Tour and run General Electric – well, we know that… but how often do we block our greatness by seeking exactly that.

Success through simplicity. Why is simplicity important? Because success requires overcoming ourselves. I don’t know about you but when I deal with myself I really need to keep the message simple!

Training is a great example. Here’s my list for Ironman excellence (your list will be different, this one really only makes sense to me):
***train daily
***wake up early
***don’t drink alcohol
***limit travel

Those four items form the legs of my performance platform. Without them, I won’t get the full benefit from the tens of thousands of actions that I’ll do over the next year. With them, any reasonable training protocol will show good results. Without them, I won’t be able to support the protocol for great results. With them, my year will be successful regardless of outcome. A virtuous circle starts from the application of a few simple principles.

The creation (and nurturing) of simple success circles is a key role for leaders, mentors, coaches and parents. Within my own circle, the way it seems to work is that the opposite of each category (skipping training; sleeping late; getting loaded’ traveling lots) leads to other effects that derail increasing fitness. So while the circle is good, its greatest benefit lies in helping me avoid paths that don’t enhance fitness.

By making things as simple as possible, it gives me a structure to get comfortable saying “no” to myself and others. An inability to say “no” with empathy holds many of us back. I see some very kind and generous people that have their souls sucked right out of them by a failure to limit commitments. Within my own life, being grouchy is nearly always due to being overscheduled, or having made a decision inconsistent with my goals. Simplicity helps me avoid both.

Your circle will have different criteria – but mine is a pretty good one for adult athletes. All the athletes that I know that stick to it are pretty solid – and the folks that I know that deviate would likely improve if they figured a way to incorporate the criteria.

Okay, that’s just the opener! So there are all these positive actions, decisions, beliefs that need to be created, executed and reinforced for success. In addition, there are many items that I need to “give up”. There are a lot of different ways to give up…

…giving up items to create more free time
***internet surfing
***12 hour email turnaround
***hangovers
***most elements of a normal social life
***vacations
***many interesting business opportunities
***many needy (and worthy) people

…giving up to stay within my success circle
***binge training
***showing off in training
***hammering myself for no particular reason
***being publicly “strong”

As an aside, a need to be publicly correct is a killer for learning – learning to be “wrong” is a toughie . I’ve been fortunate in that being open to change is something that doesn’t seem to cause me much stress. In fact, I probably seek change more often than I need to achieve my goals. I haven’t quite figured that out.

My key challenges within my training:
***make continual progress with my fitness between now and August

***stay healthy and avoid overtraining // avoid creating situations that impair my ability to absorb training – as an agegroup athlete, I quickly realized that my #1 limiter was absorption, not execution, of training.

***stay within my circle by declining attractive opportunities

This piece is mainly for reminding myself because one of my challenges is continually adding stuff to my life.

To achieve more, I spend a lot of time focusing on doing less.

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06 October 2006

Unifying Theory

A few years back, Scott and I were in Taupo the day after Ironman New Zealand. If you scan the results over the years then you'll see that the year I was 7th (I think) there was a South African guy that was 2nd or 3rd. His name escapes me but he's an accomplished Ultrarunner -- does the Comrades Marathon.

That evening, Scott leaned over to me and said, "hey, let's go see what we can learn from that guy". We sauntered over and I had a practical demonstration of Molina's view that every successful person has something to teach us. Over the years, I've tried to carry this view with me -- some days I do better than others.

An openness to new ideas is a trait that characterizes many of the best Kiwi coaches. Staying open to new concepts is really tough due to our minds constantly trying to impose a Consistency Bias on us -- as well as -- our tendency to filter all input in a manner that supports pre-existing beliefs. Fire up any (and every) forum the internet and you'll see many experts demonstrating both consistency bias and pro-active filtering. It's something that we all need to watch if we want to make effective decisions with imperfect and uncertain information. As an aside, when I think I have certain and perfect information, I get a bit nervous. Life, as opposed to death, is more probabilities than certainties.

So that's the Molina bit of this story. Now Physics... first up, I have a grade eleven physics education so don't take _anything_ that I write as accurate on the science itself.

When I was reading The Quantum World I noticed that the author (Ford, I think) had a deeper desire that underlay his explanation of the technical detail. He had a desire for a unifying theory that could bridge between Newtonian and Quantum mechanics. A grand theory that would bring harmony to discussion in his field by fitting everything within a new framework.

Ford also ran through what physicists like in a theory -- simplicity, broad application, able to test, robust... these were a few things that I remember. His chapter does this subject a lot more justice and is a worthwhile read simply to understand (one view) of the components of an effective summary of knowledge.

Now what's this have to do with Molina. Well, whether it is: (a) endurance training; (b) property investing; (c) choosing life partners; (d) personal satisfaction & happiness; (e) a life with meaning; (f) raising kids; or (g) anything that is important to you...

In all these areas...there are a multitude of theories, protocols and methods for achieving an end goal. Some of these are stated explicityly and others are implied through our implicit actions, statements and beliefs.

Personally, I have the same end goal for everything in my life (My Prime Directive) but that's me. If you think about it then you'll likely have various end goals that are important to you and their importance will vary over time.

Time! Consider where you spend your time in your life. Depth of knowledge, over time -- perhaps that's a form of wisdom. Perhaps it is depth of self-knowledge independent of time? Perhaps wisdom is consistency of right action -- treat others as we wish to be treated.

I was on my run this morning and backing off from 147 bpm each time I got excited on this topic. On my run I came up with an exercise in the Unification of Knowledge. I'm writing it here so that I can come back next September when considering what to do for my retreat!

Choose any topic that's important to you.

How do you know that something is important to you?

Choose the topic upon which you spend the most time each week. If this isn't the most important thing in your life then you should probably re-prioritize before you unify your knowledge.

Another aside... don't be fooled by words or thoughts -- the items that we do consistently are the ones that are most important to us. Overlooking actions can be a fundamental mistake in business, especially unethical actions. The best lesson I learned in my early career was never back a "crook" and always be willing to make less money in order to retain your personal ethical standards.

I've known many people that spend the bulk of their week on actively feeding a sense of victimization; worrying; or being fearful. Know that you WILL get what you most focus on -- choose wisely!

Back to our topic -- let's choose Endurance Training because that was the context that I was thinking about.

1 -- Start a little book and in it write down statements and beliefs on your topic. Spent a month simply noting these items -- try to get as many different views as possible, don't classify them.

The internet is a great for sourcing a wide range of views -- someone once asked me if I was worried that reducing the amount of media input I receive would reduce the availability of good information for decision making. Here I would answer that one needs to separate "noise" from "signal". Most of the input from modern media is merely noise designed to attract our attention (through fear, envy or entertainment). In order to give myself a chance to process information on subjects that are important to me I try to actively reduce the noise in my head. I spend very little effort remembering things that aren't important to me.

2 -- So... after a few weeks of building the Statement List -- review it and beside each "fact" note: (a) I agree; (b) I'm unsure; (c) I disagree.

3 -- Once you've got all your beliefs down on paper -- sort them into their categories (yes, unsure, no).

4 -- Spend some time on each belief figuring out under what conditions it would be appropriate in the "other" camp. In other words, under what conditions would your true beliefs become false & false beliefs become true. A great reality check for an investor that doesn't want to sell is to ask him under what conditions he would be willing to sell.

5 -- On your unsure beliefs consider the sources (written, verbal, practical, theoretical, other...) that can help you learn more about them.

I often remind myself that most of my best lessons came from learning what was _not_ appropriate for me. When I blow it -- that's when I really learn. It's also something that I bear in mind with my coaching. We need to have a willingness to let ourselves, and our clients, make their own mistakes -- the lessons learned are far more powerful and longer lasting.

6 -- Then consider the various philosophies that are present in your field.

For example, a great swim coach once presented his philosophy to me as "build power; recover; repeat". That was his over-riding objective in working with all his elite athletes. Its simplicity had an immediate appeal to me. If you were an athlete in his squad, you would always know the overall objective. There can be a lot of power in simplicity.

List out all the various philosophies that you've studied in your area. For example, if your topic is "success in the workplace" then think about the most successful people that you've worked with. How did they approach the task? Which of your beliefs are consistent/contray to their own.

By the way we generalize all the time...
...Friel Training, Molina Training, Gordo Training...
...Buffet Investing, Value Investing, Momentum Trading...
...Yield Play, Arbitrage Play, Capital Growth Play...

What I want to do here is look at the assumptions that underpin the generalization. Spend more time on seeing the similarities than the differences -- our brians prefer it the other way.

So after all this... we come to what I've been thinking about over the last little while...

The most powerful philosphies are the ones that are: simple; inclusive and effective.

If we are seeking to build a successful personal protocol then we want to spend the most of our time studying under teachers that excel in these areas. We also want to study under (ethical & effective) teachers that have approaches different than our closest mentors. We probably want to study a few heretics as well but not so closely that our ethics are diluted. Within my own life, there are a few very successful teachers that I don't want to study under because I find their ethics lacking.

Phew, that sounds like a lot of work. Well, it's a good summary of what happened to me in my 20s (through luck more than choice) in Finance. In my 30s, it is an reasonable summary of my conscious and unconscious approach to learning about sport.

Most people are not willing to invest the work (effort over time) required to become masters in their fields. Ultimately, success (at one level) derives from undertaking (and absorbing) the most work in a given field.

Anyhow, I know that many of us spend a ton of mental mindpower on the areas in which we have a passion. Within my own life, I think that this exercise would help me redirect a portion of my effort from strengthening my biases towards identifying, and broadening, my decision making framework.

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One final thought that has been shown to me in September is that to receive we must learn how to successfully give.

If you are finding that your sponsors/clients/customers are not as forthcoming as you'd like then consider what you have been offering them over the last little while.

Effective people spend as much time figuring out our needs as they do in satisfying their own.

Happy Fall,
gordo

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05 September 2006

Channeling Success

I had an interesting DVD sent to me last week – it’s called “What the bleep do we know?” I was chilling in my hotel room and quite pleased with myself for being able to get my inbox into single digits and decided to treat myself to a movie.

The film (for me) is about “quantum living”, applying the thoughts of quantum physicists to our own world. It must be seven years now but I was fortunate to spend a week with a quantum physicist on a business trip to CalTech. Some of the things that he said to me on that trip made a lot more sense when interpreted with the aid of the film.

Whenever I listen to physicists explain the quantum world (in terms that I can understand), I’m always intrigued about how close their description mirrors the views of Krishnamurti; Zen; Buddhism and other people/philosophies that are, generally, associated with the spiritual, rather than material world.

I included an HTML link in the first paragraph if you happen to be interested in checking it out. Paul sent me the full boxed set of DVDs so I could review when I am flying around the globe (I logged over 250,000 air miles on BA in the last 20 months – I will be trimming that in 2007).

There are a lot of concepts discussed in the opening DVD. The one that most rang true to me was this:

***Emotions are chemical and electrical responses to stimuli;

***The chemistry is felt in our bodies and the electricity experienced in neurological pathways;

***The pathways most often stimulated in a neural net become hard wired over time;

***Repeated emotional chemical stimulation in our bodies dulls our cellular experience of these emotions. In order to generate the same physiological effects, we need more extreme and more frequent cellular dosing;

Now consider how certain emotions “feel” // also consider how certain people, places, experiences “feel”. Think about your boss, a specific friend, the house you grew up in, anything at all…

In our lives, many of us find similar patterns, responses and emotions repeated time and time again. Probably the two that cause the most damage within us are anger and victimization (the sensation that we are helpless victims).

If we accept that emotions are electrical and chemical stimuli created by our bodies…

If we accept that emotions are only experienced by our bodies…

…then who is responsible for our emotional patterns?

Even emotions triggered by our autonomous nervous system, we can certainly magnify or moderate them through conscious effort.

Further, one of the speakers on the DVD queried, “what is addiction”? If you click through then you can read what Wikipedia has to say on addiction.

Overlaying the Wiki thoughts with current thinking on the source of emotions… I’m left with the DVD’s inference that many of us are chemically addicted to our repeated emotional responses. I don’t know about you but that sure explains a lot of what I see in myself!

This gave me a wry smile because I can clearly see my success in channeling my emotional addiction in the direction I want to experience life – there is no more socially acceptable addiction that personal excellence.

Thinking more closely, I have two areas where I constantly try to redirect my emotional experience and one area where I have a more automatic and subliminal redirection.

Conscious redirections – harmony and optimism

Unconscious redirection – success

How do each of these three words “feel” to you? Within me, I know exactly how they feel to me. I also know that I have a deep and profound attraction to the way those words are experienced in me.

Harmony – feels a bit like exhaustion but more peaceful

Optimism – a pure form of love; a clean happiness

Success – feels like work; working being experienced as an efficient application of my talents towards a series of goals

These feelings are fascinating to me. Why? They explain so much about what I find in my life. They also explain my reaction (and effect) and many folks that I come across.

The first example that I didn’t consciously realize. When I think about M, there are two characteristics that I experience through her that I find lacking in many people around me. Kindness and a lack of anger. These two are essentially – harmony and optimism – the two items that I have spent the last seven years cultivating in myself.

As I run through the people closest to me, about two-thirds of them share a similar association in my head. They may not think of themselves in that light but I experience them through the prism of harmony and kindness.

Many people resist the idea that we create our own reality, that our thoughts have a direct link to our experience. There are advantages that accrue to chronic victimhood in our society, generally, personal satisfaction isn’t one of them.

Reflecting on the people around me, the situations that occur in my life, my flaws, my successes… it is tough for me to avoid the conclusion that I am creating every single experience around me. There are daily example of my experience being more satisfying than folks that are right there beside me.

This conclusion is very empowering for me. The implications:

***People and situations that are actively working against my desired reality need to be quickly and permanently removed from my life.

***Repeated undesirable patterns have their root within me.

***The high quality of my personal life experience is due to a relentless on three emotive elements (harmony; optimism; success) and dulling my emotive response to undesirable emotive elements (lust; lechery; anger; fear).

***Practicing emotional channeling (steering, rather than totally controlling myself) is the most effective way to gain control over my life situation.

***Every moment of every day provides me with a chance to enhance these skills.

Folks that are held captive by their emotional addictions – I feel empathy towards them. While I may seek to educate the world to how I experience it, my ability to change the experience of others is highly limited.

One last favor for me would be to read slowly and think about this phrase…

Gordo Byrn 2007 Ironman Canada Champion

Thanks for that,

g

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14 May 2006

Who's In Charge?

Four or five years ago, I read a book called Consilience by Wilson – you can google “consilience wilson byrn” to read what I wrote back then.

The book touches on a wide range of topics but the two that have stuck with me:

a – genetic modes of expression: our genes determine who we are; nurture/environment impact us in determining the extent to which our preprogrammed traits are expressed.

b – free will: our brains are a sophisticated array; if you understand the inputs and biases then you’ll be able to predict thought/actions. We are far less “free” than we realise – many (most?) of us are prisoners of our programming.

The concept of a lack of free will can be a bit daunting. Many of us certainly pride ourselves on the control we are able to exert over our lives. Athletes honing our bodies; parents passing their “good traits” through spending time with their kids; and other areas.

As I’ve touched on earlier, I’ve been studying behavioural psychology because I want to make better decisions in my own life. To do that, I decided that I needed to understand how people generally make decisions. Some of you have asked for the titles of what I’ve been reading. Well here are a few to get you started.

** Fooled By Randomness, Taleb
** Influence, The Psychology of Persuasion, Cialdini
** Hedgehogging, Biggs
** Irrational Exuberance, 2nd Edition, Shiller
** How to win friends and influence people, Carnegie
** Deep Survival, Gonzales
** Collapse: How societies choose to fail or succeed, Diamond
** The Wisdom of Crowds, Surowiecki
** Freakonomics, Levitt & Dubner

All of the above were excellent on their own. Taking them together and viewing them through Wilson’s concepts made it even more evident to me that we make many decisions without thinking. We also make a lot of “poor” decisions. Even when we try to make good decisions, we are up against some strong automatic programming.

One of the clearest examples of automatic responses is people that get angry for no apparent reason. I’ve had a few (short term) training partners and (even shorter term) acquaintances that fit this profile.

Without exception – they:
** greatly underperform when stressed
** lack consistency in their approach to life
** wonder why progress is so difficult in their lives
** truly wish that they had better emotive control

Maybe they are stuck? However, my own experience is that while we’ve been dealt a certain hand, it is up to us to play the cards. Specifically, how our genetic traits are expressed will be based on the people/environment around us and our own actions (or inaction).

Even the most “unconscious” and belligerent people that I know have moments when they are clear, reasonable people.

Within these moments of clarity is where we must take action to note our nature and build patterns/reinforcing actions that help us head the direction that “we” want to go. I think the new age folks call this following our “true selves”. To me, it’s simply tapping into the moments where we are most sane and not running on autopilot.

The books above talk a lot about the nature of our autopilots. If you can’t see it in yourself then you’ll certainly be able to spot it those that are close to you.

When I notice the self-sabotaging traits in those close to me… I look within to see how I am doing the same thing to myself. Odds are, the people around us are quite similar to ourselves.

My success in athletics is built on making fewer mistakes than the guys that I am racing – errors in pacing, nutrition, training, intensity, preparation, race selection – the entire package. The further an athlete strays from an extremely dedicated process, with low attachment – the more space he creates for his competition.

In watching my own approach to athletics and seeing my blindspots within my sport – I have learned valuable personality insights that I can apply back to my finance and investing careers.

THE KEY – the patterns that we create in one area of our lives are likely to be found across ALL areas of our lives.

As a recreational athlete, the lowest stress project that you are managing is likely your athletic career. The patterns that you create in sport exist in your workplace; your home; your bedroom.

That is one of the best things about coaching adults – I don’t have to “teach” anything. My athletes and I learn a tremendous amount about ourselves from the endless case studies that each season provides.

With my highly motivated athletes – I help them practice relentless moderation with periods of goal specific overload.

It’s no different in business.

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Back to decision making…

Much of what I’ve done in my life (academics, finance, project management, athletics and coaching) involves making informed guesses with imperfect information.

While I work in finance, I don’t consider myself a professional investor in the classical sense. To me, the classical investor (the institutional investor) is running a portfolio and making daily decisions on asset allocation and specific purchases. I’ve never been attracted to that – possibly because it seems like a mugs game to me. Margins are low, as well.

When I was doing buy-outs, we’d make zero to four investments a year. Our record was pretty good but not surprising given that we had superior information; good people; and solid advisors. It was a time of limited competition, favourable economics and great returns. It was also a lot of fun – “buying” is something that nearly all people have in-built “joy” in doing.

People love to buy. Nobody every wants a bull run to end. Easy money is popular with the masses. Our decisions today are heavily weighted on our experience of the last three years.

Conversely, people HATE to lose, even a little. We find losses highly stressful. When under stress nearly all people will make poor initial decisions.

This is why I’ve decided to wait and see with my personal investing. I’ll probably miss out for a while but that’s OK. I plan on being around for a few more years, yet.

Next up, why I changed my mind on affirmative action.

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26 March 2006

Peaceful Vibe

...Many times, I don’t feel like I have the inner-peace to be calm, and I felt like getting sucked into the vortex of the materialistic world..., while knowing that I should not have attachment to things and outcomes. It (feels) great when I achieve the inner-peace not (affected) by noise around me, but there are times, I (feel) like I was having 1 step forward and 2 steps back… Any advice and comments on arousal control, and achieving inner peace?


If you asked the five folks in the world that (I think) know me the best about my general state of inner peace then you'd probably see them chuckle at the concept of my zen-like qualities. So bear that in mind when you read onwards.

Here's what works for me.

Accepting -- accept that you'll have times when you get caught up in chasing the socio-economic fantasy that is fed to all of us through various influence. Even more important than that is to simply accept yourself. Nearly all of the noise in our heads is created by someone trying to convince us that we have to become something different than what we are. That's the story of retail -- selling cosmetics, selling clothes, selling food -- aspiring to cars, houses, vacations, status. At a very deep level, the persuaders are trying to convince us that we would be better "if only". When we get ourselves to the point where we are happy "with or without" then you have gained the upper hand on the persuader and can make an informed decision.

Expectations -- Personally, I would never expect to achieve "nirvana" because there is simply too much noise around. Here I like to use the popular metaphor of a body of water. Many people find that their minds are like confused seas -- choppy with whitecaps. By making certain changes in our lives (and thinking patterns) we might arrive at a point where the water starts to smooth out a bit. However, as the waters calm, we start to become aware of the smaller ripples that were completely buried by the massive noise previously.

Influences
Thich Naht Hanh has a nice way of putting this, it goes something like... "we have the seeds of both good and evil within us, be very careful about the seeds that you choose to water".

When you look at popular culture, entertainment media, violent media, pornography and the influences below through that prism, often we are able to see how the choices in our life are directly impacting our life situation (and satisfaction).

Media -- In order to enhance my personal satisfaction, I've made a decision to greatly reduce my contact with nearly all forms of media. Most specifically -- TV, newspapers, popular magazines, internet magazines. It is very difficult to pull that off, especially at say, 4:38am in Hong Kong when I am typing on blogger.com (my mouse trigger finger is twitchy). However, the benefits have been so immediate and large that I have a very good positive feedback loop in place.

Friends -- You should assume that you will become the people with whom you associate. Even if you don't "become" them, most everyone will treat you as if you have; making it even tougher not to "become". For this reason, choose the pals the personify the life you want to lead and the person that you want to be. M motivates me to be the man that I want to be. You can't get a better life partner than that.

People that are inconsistent with your personal vision have to go. Sounds a bit harsh, I know. However, the influences that our companions, mentors, friends and associates bring to our lives is massive.

Work -- I find work to be a tricky one for many. This is due to a mistaken belief in a lack of choice, or perhaps, a lack of personal responsibility. There is a movie called Holywood Shuffle that is about an actor trying to break into the movies. It is a comedy but contains quite a bit of truth. In the end the actor decides to forget about it and joins the post office. The personal sacrifices to achieve his "dream" weren't consistent with his self-image.

Books -- I really like good books. Reading and internally experiencing good advice is an amazing defend against undesired influences. On the flipside, it is the main reason why I write. It is a form of personal defense (most often against my own ideas).

Actions -- I have found that written commitments really help my ability to get myself to action. Further, making sure that my words are 100% consistent with my written commitments reduces inner conflict. I never talk myself down.

Training -- some think that I mistake exhaustion for tranquility. For me, daily exercise has a very positive impact on the attitude towards the craziness that surrounds us in cities. Before a key meeting, I will make sure that I complete at least 45 minutes of training. I find that my ability: (a) to see the true motivation in others; and (b) to make clear decisions in my best interests -- are greatly enhanced after exercise. I don't recommend anything too hard though. You don't want to be exhausted when trying to make important decisions!

++++

I like your tips about NAV and burn rate. I am wondering if you can provide some high-level examples or hypothetical scenarios with some numbers, like you case studies in “Going Long”. Even though, I am a bean-counter by trade, my personal finance and investment (need work), therefore, I (feel)like I am not where I should be financially. And I could
be making some mistakes figuring things out and (end) up living like a college student again.

Interesting that you mention college because it touches on two aspects that I believe are essential for understanding what drives our perception on personal NAV.

When I was in college... I spent a lot of time with folks that were at a similar level of "wealth" as me and life was simple. While some people had more than others, by and large we all had the same standard of living and lived uncomplicated lives. We each knew our position and were (largely) equal between each other.

If you want to improve your perceived standard of living then associate with people that have a slightly lower one than you.

This an interesting paradox for me and contrasts with my advice to "be your goals" in many areas. Using an athletic example, if you are constantly training with people that are better than you then often they will lift your overall standards. However, you might find that your perceived level of performance is lower than if you were the strongest athlete in your training group. It is for this reason that smart coaches have their athletes compete in a range of events (letting them be strong at some and letting them be humbled at others). Not everyone has the maturity and self-image to sustain frequent humbling (especially when they have the wrong set of influences).

Back to college -- when I joined Schroder Ventures after university I was making about $1,750 per month (pre tax). As a B. Comm with first class joint honours in Economics and Finance, that wasn't a whole lot of cash. However, I felt very well off. Why?

The quickest way to increase disposable income is to reduce personal expenditure.

Coming out of university, my personal expenditure was at such a low level that any reasonable salary was going to leave me feeling very well off. I had excellent control over my expenditure.

Fast forward sixteen years. When I think about my peers that have been successful at saving capital and investing wisely -- successful at creating personal financial flexibility. Their #1 thing was to ensure that personal expenditure always lags personal income.

As my peer group moves into their 40s, most of us have a very similar standard of living. However, my friends that decided to increase personal expenditure in line with (or in advance of) personal income -- those guys do not have the same financial flexibility. In fact, many of them have little financial flexibily and feel trapped into their careers because of the level of debt service they have chosen to place into their lives.

It takes a long time for the financial benefit of a pattern of fiscal maturity to mature. If you've blown it in the past then learn from it. By making changes today, and sticking with them, you can place yourself in a more stable position later in life. Even if you are in your 50s you can make decisions today that will greatly assist you in your 60s and 70s.

As for specifics? Finance is like nutrition. Simple, not easy. I prefer to share concepts rather than specifics. It's not the type of food that I eat that enables me to be maintain elite body composition any more than it is the investments that I make that result in financial freedom.

It is the patterns that I create and sustain which result in my life situation.

Choose wisely.

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10 December 2005

Choose Wisely

Here's an interesting post I wrote six years ago.

What makes me smile is that I was thinking six years back when I wrote it. And now... we are six years ahead.

...and I had absolutely NO clue what was possible back then, as a "speedy" 10.5 hour guy.

...and I realize that, even as a 8.5 hour guy, I was merely decent. For me, now, speed doesn't really start until you are a low 8-hour guy and even that seems reasonable on certain courses.

We don't need a whole lot of single sport talent to manage a 20-minute 1,500, hold 250w for the bike and hold 3:50 min Ks for a marathon. In fact, as a single sporter, you'd simply be "good for a working athlete". Hardly international class.

Molina once told me that was the great thing about triathlon -- you truly can out work your competition. My experience is that it's the way in most things, providing we define success correctly.

I was reading an article the other day when the writer basically said... "I wish that it was different but due to my lack of **** I'll never..."

Three reactions when I read a person writing that about themselves (and I read it a lot, maybe I look for it).

First is compassion, dude you really need a hug when you've settled once-and-for-all in your life.

Second is a strong reaction to grab the guy through the screen and shake some sense into him. Amigo, don't fold before you've even started! Don't you see that it's not about world domination, rather simply a quest to do a little better than you thought possible. Becoming a bit more than you thought you could be!

I react a bit violently because I don't accept (fear?) the implication of this kind of attitude. If I'd accepted my internally/externally defined limits then there are many, many things that I'd never have achieved.

No fate, no fate but what we make. So much good material in the Terminator series!

Finally, after I've settled down, there is a certain acceptance that some folks want to define their limits. I wonder about that... Why could that be? Perhaps to relieve themselves of any obligation to try and the personal responsibility that comes along with accepting that we create our own life situations.

Often, a smile then spreads across my face as I am reminded that herein lies the opportunity for ethical competition. Explain exactly what you are going to do, explain why you are going to do it, then out work the competition while enjoying yourself.

Years later, some will shake their heads and describe why they wouldn't have been able to do it, and overlook ten thousand hours of dedicated effort.

At least that's what I read the other day. The lads were talking about me but seeing as I don't know them, I can only assume that they were talking about themselves.

I do seem to get a big charge out of negative motivation at times. There is an deep (not so saintly) glow that appears when the work and persistence pay off. Leaving some to wonder about the road not taken.

I wonder where I'll be in six years?

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20 November 2005

Why Wait

I was out running last night running through the streets of Edinburgh. While running around physically, I was running through my head mentally, taking inventory of the year. It’s been a pretty big year for me. Actually, it wasn’t night, it was the middle of the afternoon but after a week in Asia, the return to Scotland had my head a little confused in daylight terms.

I’ve no idea how often I’ll be writing here but various things keep rolling through my head and it helps to clear them out by getting them down.

Why Wait – that’s short for “why wait to be great”. You can apply it to a wide range of things. Such as:
There’s always a good reason to party
There’s always a good reason not to train
There’s always a good reason to put myself last
I’ll stretch later
I’ll start tomorrow
That’s a conversation that I hear all the time.

Anyhow that wasn’t the main thought that was running through my head. I’ve been reading the internet as usual and the conversations are starting to fade in their appeal to me. I normally don’t mind the repetition but for some reason it was wearing me out. I probably need a vacation… or to simply train a little bit more… or to get back into my routine – I’ve been on the road for weeks and there is only so much fine dining one fellow can handle.

I read so much about folks focusing on what doesn’t matter and I wonder if they are killing time so they don’t have to take action on what does matter.

Actually, I don’t wonder. I know. At least I know for me.

So back to my run. My reflections – it always seems easy for me to achieve. For years, I couldn’t figure out why I was able to move ahead so quickly. Actually, those thoughts didn’t really start until I moved into athletics and shot ahead so much faster than I ever thought possible. When I was in finance, it’s a lot more up and down, the progress isn’t really as clear because each deal is pretty similar, the growth appears in terms of deal complexity, deal size and overall portfolio size. Also, in finance, much (all?) of the growth appears outside of ourselves. The closest things to marks is salary – suppose that’s why we can get trapped into seeing ourselves in our paychecks.

1990 – first class honours econ/finance, university scholar
1993 – youngest partner in my firm
1998 – climbed Denali, my first true expedition
1999 – first IM, little over 11 hours
2000 – left venture capital after ten years, moved to New Zealand to focus on elite athletics
2002 – spent summer in Edinburgh helping start a property investment business, won Ultraman
2003 – first sub-9 IM
2004 – rode across America, first sub-8:30 IM
2005 – pretty solid year:

March – Had a decent result at IMNZ but found a lack of satisfaction in the overall experience because everyone (other than the guy that I wanted to race) beat themselves. Have to say “chapeau” to Cam Brown. Ended the month by getting engaged.

April – Took on an assignment to re-domicile a fund management business. Decided to sell my house in New Zealand and wind-up my Kiwi Consulting business.

May – Started the month with a road trip to find a suitable jurisdiction for the fund management business. My vote was Cayman – everyone else preferred Bermuda. Decided that they were probably right, incorporated a new company in Bermuda and got the wheels rolling to move the business. While in the UK, realised that there was an opportunity to launch a new company, spent two weeks creating a business plan and info memo for the new company.

July – Got married.

August – Managed a couple of 100K run weeks. Saw the results for Ironman Canada and saw no reason to give up on my dream.

October – Decided that Hawaii is a lousy location from which to conduct business with the UK.

November – Closed the first round of funding for a new company focused on Scottish residential property investment. Six months from conception to legal completion. Joined the board of the new business.

Monica pointed out that we have, we will, spent/spend Saturdays…

In Kona
In Boulder
In Saint Paul
In Edinburgh
In Dubai
In Glasgow/Edinburgh
In Paris
In Montpellier

That seems like an awful lot of travel. One of the things that I do well is being adaptable to a wide range of people and situations. We’ll see how adaptable because I am going to be commuting between hemispheres in early 2006.

“I believe that, generally, people that are good at something are good at everything.” – that’s a quote from my business partner and his key hiring criteria.

My first boss used to hire associates and junior executives based on two criteria – school results and value for money (lucky for me I did well and was extremely cheap).

So why all the outlining? It is a preamble to some things that I’ve observed. Looking back over the last twenty years, I’ve managed to do reasonably well at some very diverse fields: academics, financial analysis, international finance, elite athletics and fund management.

What is the key component that I’ve observed in myself and others around me?

To succeed relative to others: a willingness to consistently out-work the competition for as long as it takes.

To succeed relative to self: a deep satisfaction from taking the actions required to work towards challenging goals.

Intent – if you want to learn about a person’s true intent then look to where they spend their time. What do they really do? Not what they say. True intent is seen through actions. That’s why when our actions aren’t true to ourselves, we slowly crush our spirits. More on that perhaps some other time.

Mile Twenty
Patrick wrote on my board… “…most of us have "accepted" that the wall will come and we can't do anything about it so might was well push it until it hits us and then we can create our own laundry list of excuses (nutrition/wind/temp/etc). this fear is hard for me to grasp on an intellectual level (not athletic, b/c I have been there myself)...why fear the possibility of underperforming by going easy on the bike when you know that this bike effort is undoubtedly going to force you to under perform once you hit the run…”

Great piece of writing…

The challenge of getting past Mile 20 is present daily. All achievement stems from creating the environment and habits that support getting past lots of little Mile 20s.

Most of us are too deeply programmed into our existing patterns to break out unless we are in a new field. Amateur athletics is so new to most of us, we haven’t had the chance to create self-defeating patterns.

Even with a, relatively, clean slate – we bring our existing patterns along wherever we go. As a result, we see many successful AG athletes with pre-existing success in a range of fields. The field depth isn’t as strong as single sports so new athletes can make a mark quite quickly, say five years of focus.

The illogic of self-sabotage might be driven from an underlying fear. If we do everything right and don’t perform… then we might realize our ultimate fear – that deep down we really do ‘suck’. I’ve met more than a few people that are driven by this contradiction.

OK that’s enough for now.

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