Last month at Ironman Maryland, I raced in the most humid conditions I’ve ever been in. It was 99% humidity at the race start, and dropped off to 90% at the end of the day. It was warm, muggy, and all together pretty painful, with the conditions wreaking havoc on the field of the almost 200 athletes in my division. In the end, I was 5th in my division, but I was only a few minutes off second place, and 83 seconds off 3rd place. 83 seconds over the course of an almost 10 hour race!
Over several weeks, I’ve thought back many times to that race, assessing where I could have made up those seconds. Had I done a few things differently, I could have been second in my division on the day (the first place guy in my division won the entire race outright- an example of how competitive it is in my group). Over the course of almost 10 hours, there are dozens of choices to make, and any number of details that can contribute to either success or failure. As I reflected on the race, It was easy to determine exactly what went wrong. I had mismanaged a few very important details in my nutrition planning, which led to my legs cramping on the bike and causing me to need to slow down significantly. I'd forgotten to pack a few salt tablets for use on the latter half of the bike portion of the race which really ended up making the bike difficult and later made the run incredibly difficult. If I had remembered to pack those tiny 4 tablets of salt, it would have changed the outcome of the race.
One of my favorite scriptures states “By small and simple things, great things are brought to pass”. The ‘little things’- the details- make the difference. Not only in Ironman racing, but in all areas of fitness, and certainly in life in general. My race result wasn’t what it could have been and was almost derailed by omitting a few seemingly small details. Conversely, amazing results can be the result of focusing on the small seemingly insignificant things. In essence, details make the difference.
One example is British cycling, which has risen to meteoric heights after a century of mediocrity by implementing a strategy coined by director David Brailsford, “the aggregation of marginal gains”. By focusing on every detail of what goes into bicycling racing, and improving it by 1%, the increase is significant once all added together. The Brits began to integrate this simple approach, with incredible results. Once the laughing stock of the cycling world, British cyclists soon became Olympic medalists, World Champions, and multiple-time Tour de France winners.
Now, most people aren't professional cyclists, or Kona-qualifying Ironman triathletes...but we all can apply the principles of ‘small and simple things’. Whether we’re trying to become a better athlete or simply trying to get in better shape, these principles apply to us all. We can begin by asking ourselves a simple question: What small things, if we improve, can propel us to meteoric heights? And conversely, what details if we overlook, will have major negative consequences in our lives? In the short term or In the long term?
For me, I’ve struggled for a while with having a consistent basic morning routine. Late nights, young children, and an erratic work schedule makes it difficult. However, on the days I dial in my mornings, the rest of my day flows much better. After all, there's a reason highly successful people have a morning routine. It’s simple and basic, but it sets the tone. My suspicion is that many struggle with the same challenge as I do. A “small and simple” routine might look like this: arising at a set time daily, have a few minutes of meditation/prayer, drink a sufficient amount of water, complete a workout, shower, have breakfast, then off to work/school/time with kids, etc.
Sounds easy, but how many of us go to bed every night with the intention to do just that, but when that alarm sounds, the execution isn’t there? One key aspect to a morning routine is adequate sleep and a consistent bedtime/awake time. Setting that alarm to go off at the same time daily- both for the morning AND for bedtime could be the “detail” that allows us to execute the planned morning routine. Ensuring adequate sleep (going to bed for example at 9:30 then rising at 5 or 5:30) gives you the energy to exercise, the clarity to perform at work, and the coveted time in the evenings to spend with family and friends.
The famous Chinese proverb states, "A journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step". Having a solid morning routine can be just that step we need to become a little better. And the 'first step' in that morning routine can be setting that alarm. Maybe give that a try. Pull out your phone and set a bedtime alarm, then a morning alarm. Give it a go tomorrow and see how you do- and how the rest of your day goes. My guess is you’ll be glad you did. And it might just be the ‘small and simple thing’ that ends up making a big difference.
Imagine if that daily morning routine was done with consistency every day for weeks, months, and years on end. How would things change if you were able to do so daily? What tone would that set for the other aspects of your life? I suspect that we may not see monumental changes right out of the gate, but the aggregate of those small changes- that small routine applied day in and day out- could be the difference between a dream and reality. Small changes over time certainly was the key for British cycling- and it could be the same for you.
Usually when a personal trainer, coach, or fitness expert starts talking about nutrition, our eyes glaze over as we conjure images in our mind of exhausting meal prep, weighing our food, and force feeding ourselves bland, ‘healthy food’. I myself have been guilty of droning on and on with clients about macros, carbohydrate periodization, and the pitfalls of fad diets. What I’ve come to find is that most people want a few simple ‘go to’s’ in the kitchen. Simple, tasty, healthy meal options that work for them and their families.
So, in the spirit of summer, I want to share with you my top 3 summertime healthy favorites: an appetizer, main dish, and dessert. These dishes are light, packed with nutrients, AND taste delicious. And as an added bonus- they are EASY to make! So regardless of your current fitness regimen or training level, give one or more of these a shot and see how eating healthy makes you feel amazing.
Nothing lights up my summer taste buds like fresh tomatoes straight from the garden- or alternatively, straight from Trader Joe’s. A simple tomato-cucumber salad is a delicious way to get in some healthy vitamins, minerals, onti-oxidants, and fiber. It’s a light and simple side dish, but can be altered to make it a more hearty main dish. We eat a variation of this at least once a week!
To make the salad, simply chop into bite-sized pieces and combine the following ingredients in equal parts:
(to make a main dish)
I don’t get too caught up in how much of what goes in- you really can’t mess this one up. Super simple and easy to make. And even easier to eat. Chill this or eat it fresh- either way it’s delicious. My personal favorite is adding feta and corn to the salad. Mmmmmm!
I LOVE salmon. It’s one of the healthiest fish you can eat, loaded with proteins and healthy fats to help enable muscle recovery and brain function. Asparagus and mushrooms are great sources of fiber, vitamins, and minerals. This dish is also versatile in how you cook it- you can bake it on a sheet in the oven (I use aluminum foil to divide two sides of the pan- one for the veggies and one for the salmon), on the grille (also using aluminum foil to wrap the salmon, lemon, and herbs, and mushrooms, with the asparagus roasting on the rack), or sautéed on the skillet.
This is what you’ll need:
I typically bake this, so I preheat the oven to 405 degrees, line a baking sheet with foil, then place a touch of olive oil on the sheet, adding the salmon skin down. Then I combine fresh lemon juice, a touch of olive oil, salt and pepper, and dill, then pour mixture over the fish. Add more dill, salt and pepper, and/or thinly sliced lemon on top of filets if desired. 13-14 min in the oven is about perfect. I like to saute the veggies while the salmon is cooking. Heat olive oil in a large skillet, toss in asparagus and begin to cook (they take 5-10 min depending on the thickness and how firm you like your veggies). Season with salt, pepper, and a touch of lemon juice. Add in mushrooms with about 4 min left, then finish with a splash of balsamic vinegar.
To make this a heartier meal, I like to add mashed sweet potatoes (peel, chop, and boil 2-4 med-large sweet potatoes, then drain and add back into the pot. Add salt and pepper and/or cinnamon to taste. Add a pat of butter or coconut oil if desired and mash. For creamier potatoes, add a few tablespoons of greek yogurt, milk, or nut milk and whip with a hand mixer.
Anyone who knows me knows I have a sweet tooth. And this is perfect to both satisfy that sweet craving at the end of a meal, and still remain on track for our nutrition goals. Blueberries are packed with antioxidants and peaches are a good source of both vitamin A and C. The walnuts in the crumble are packed with healthy fats and are a good source of LDL (the good cholesterol).
However, this IS a dessert so it can be ‘dressed up’ by adding a scoop of vanilla ice cream, or ‘dressed down’ by adding a few tablespoons of full-fat plain greek yogurt to finish off the dish. You’ll need the following:
To make this summer masterpiece, slice the peaches (you can either leave the peel on or off- If i’ve got the time, I usually remove it) add to a hot skillet with a touch of lemon juice and a pat of coconut oil or butter. Stir as to not let the peaches burn or stick. As they begin to get tender (usually 5-7 min), add in the blueberries, careful not to crush them as you stir. Add in a touch of cinnamon. Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
For the crumble top, combine oats, nuts, flour, 1-2 tbs of melted butter or oil, and honey/syrup/brown sugar, and 1-2 tsp of cinnamon. Sprinkle liberally over the top of the hot fruit mixture and put the entire cast-iron skillet into hot over and back 15-20 min or until the crumble is golden brown and fragrant. Serve with ice cream out of the oven for dessert or out of the fridge with Greek yogurt for breakfast.
So there you go. Three of my all-time summer favorites, packed with nutrients and loaded with taste. Even though summer is quickly coming to an end, you can enjoy these healthy, tasty dishes year-round, keeping you on track to nail your fitness (and waist-line) goals.
In the dead of summer, running can be a struggle to say the least. Getting out to fight the heat and humidity, especially when the sun is beating down can be a big ask. And that doesn’t just pertain to running - cycling, hiking, paddling, swimming, or any other outdoor activity is that much harder in the heat. In fact, at times, even indoor workouts at home, at the gym or in the pool can be a struggle when the temperature is high and the motivation is low.
So what can we do to stay motivated to run (or exercise in any fashion) during the peak of summer? That was a question asked of me by one of my runners earlier in the month, as she was struggling to find the desire to get out and run in the heat. Here’s a 6 suggestions I gave her to help keep her motivated:
Whatever you do to stay motivated, keep it up! And if you’re having some trouble finding the energy or motivation to get out - especially in this heat- give a few of these suggestions a try. Find that one that will get you back on track; whether that be an actual track, or your fitness journey.
With the world slowly opening back up, many of us have the chance to start doing things we haven’t done for a while. With the availability of the vaccine and more restrictions being lifted, you may be heading back to the pool, the gym, or the office again. For triathletes, races are starting to happen after an 18 month hiatus, and it’s safe to say some of us are a bit rusty when it comes to racing triathlons (or many other things for that matter). As such, I’ve put together a race timeline and checklist for triathletes and runners to help us dust off the cobwebs and avoid rolling up to the race start without a critical piece of equipment.
Regardless of how you feel about swimming, biking, or running, there is a lesson here for all of us to remember: we can all become a little more organized to reduce stress and increase the chance of a positive experience. Whether that’s facilitating your first in-person boardroom presentation in 14 months or your first marathon in 2 years, having a system in place is helpful. While THIS system (a checklist) is for triathletes racing complex endurance events in a post-lockdown race season, you can also decide to be more organized in your fitness routine. Maybe it’s just packing your gym bag the night before. Or prepping your meals on Sunday night so you avoid the fast-food drive through. Or writing out your own lunch-time workout schedule Monday morning. Resolve to get organized and see how much easier your fitness routine will be.
Now, for all you rusty triathletes and runners gearing up to race in the next few months, take a look at this helpful checklist:
3-6+ Months from Race Week:
Here’s where we start putting the ball in motion for our event.
2-4 Weeks From Race Week:
This is the time to begin the taper, put the finishing touches on your nutrition plan, and get major ‘to do’ items crossed off the list:
This is the most stressful (albeit exciting) week of the entire process- it’s finally here! Time to dial in final adjustments and cross off the last minute ‘to do’s’.
This is it! You’re now at the race site (if traveling to race) and time to exhale a bit and take it in. Relax. Rest. Stay calm. Expend the minimum energy you need to get ready. (If not traveling, here’s when you pack your gear) This is your rest day, so use it to REST!
Get your shake out run and bike safety ride in early, then get everything checked in and get back to the hotel for a very restless night sleep :)
Details and logistics can vary greatly from event to event- With some I’ve zipped open a tent and walked 100 yards to transition, and in other races I’ve driven 2.5 hrs race morning to the event, and others I leave the hotel room and walk a half mile to the race site. Whatever your situation, rehearse it well in advance and leave yourself plenty of time to get to the race site a few HOURS early. Yes. A. Few. Hours.
Recently, my client Kate (a Southern California grandmother of 9) summitted Kilimanjaro. There were months of preparation, both physically and logistically, just to get to Tanzania. Once there, the hard part began and she had to put on foot in front of the other and push on for 7 days straight. After she arrived back in LA where she lives, she and I discussed her adventure. I asked Kate what was the biggest factor in her success on the trip (some in her group didn’t make it up). She answered without hesitation: The guides. According to Kate, those hardened Sherpas had literally grown up on the mountain and knew every step of the way - and they were the reason she was successful, no question.
Seasoned experts - guides, mentors, coaches, professionals- those who have tread the path many times over, can be the difference between our success and failure in many aspects of life. We can take advantage of their wisdom and experience, learning from their mistakes and successes. In fact, last year I wrote a blog post on the lessons we learn from elite athletes. While that’s more specific to athletic endeavors, here’s two critical lessons we can learn from Kate’s Kilimanjaro quest about the importance of guides- not just in African adventures, but in life.
Kate had the good fortune of having guides that were dedicated to helping the group succeed. They were focused on her success, telling her when to rest, when to eat, when to drink. Not only did they literally lead the way, these men told her where to place her feet, how to move her body, and where to hold on to as she climbed. They told the group when to change boots, gear, and clothing. At one point, when they were running low on food, one of the guides hiked back down the mountain several hours and returned with much-needed food from another camp. These men were dedicated to Kate’s success, AND had the capability to help her succeed.
When utilizing a guide to achieve goals- whether that be on an African mountainside, in a corporate board room, or preparing for an Ironman race- there are two key factors to consider:
First- we have to identify the RIGHT guides. Anytime we embark on a challenge, it seems there is no shortage of voices shouting advice. Whether we are starting a weight-loss journey, signing up for a half-marathon, beginning a workout regimen, or taking the first step on the slopes of Kilimanjaro, listening to the right people is paramount to your success. Instagram, YouTube, and Google can be poor substitutes for those who have succeeded in helping others reach that goal. Notice I didn’t just say that THEY were successful, but that they’ve helped others do so as well.
The RIGHT guides are not only dedicated to your success, but they must be qualified to get you there. Unfortunately I’ve heard many novice athlete horror stories about poor advice received from a friend with the best of intentions, but zero qualifications. This is also evident in every gym I’ve ever been in, when I see the overconfident boyfriend trying to teach his novice girlfriend how to do a deadlift, power clean, or back squat. Typically, the common result is a confused girlfriend with a sore back. Seeking out the right people to guide your efforts can be an exercise in persistence, but is well worth the time.
Second- we have to TRUST the guides (coaches, mentors, and teachers) in our lives. It may seem that this goes without saying, but it’s surprising how many times I have clients that will hire me as a coach, and spend years working with me to build up to an Ironman race or Ultramarathon. Yet in the last days leading up to the race, they will get panicky, and deviate from my advised training regimen, overdo a particular workout, or follow some YouTube advice which leaves them depleted, sick, or injured going into the event. The result is usually a sub par performance and a lost opportunity to truly maximize true potential. Trusting the guide throughout the entire process is paramount to reaching your goal. A seemingly small thing might not seem like a big deal, but the guide knows. He/she has been there before. Trust them and the process they prescribe.
On the trip up Kilimanjaro, Kate’s tentmate was a former marathon runner half her age. Fit as she was, she failed to make the summit. “What happened?!” I asked. Kate simply said, “She didn’t listen to the guides”. They would tell her to eat, but she wouldn’t. They told her when to drink, but she didn’t. They even warned her that she wouldn’t make it to the top unless she did- but she didn’t listen. Her reliance on her own wisdom and not the voice of experience robbed her of a truly incredible opportunity.
As I listened to Kate tell the story, I truly felt for this woman who spent thousands of dollars, several months of training, and weeks of traveling in a foreign country preparing for an epic adventure. Yet she failed, simply because she didn’t heed the advice of her guide. It reminded me of a similar experience in my own life.
In another lifetime, I was a collegiate pole vaulter, and before every indoor season, our pole vault coach would invite us out to his family’s ranch in rural Montana for a weekend of hiking, eating, shooting, and skiing. At the conclusion of one such weekend, six of us, including the coach, were preparing to leave the ranch as the snow lightly began to fall. Before we began the 8 hour drive back to campus, my coach told my fellow teammate, the other driver of the vehicle, “Now Jeremy, stay behind me. There’s black ice and I know the way around it”. He agreed, and we piled into the two vehicles, myself with one athlete and the coach, and Jeremy and two other athletes. My coach was in the lead for about an hour, driving slowly, almost methodically across a snowy, windswept highway.
Jeremy became a bit impatient and at one point, drove around my coach and spread off ahead into the distance. About 10 minutes later, as we slowly rounded a hill, we saw the flashing lights of an ambulance and a vehicle on its side. It was Jeremy’s. We spent all night in a small-town emergency room, waiting for two of our teammates to be stitched up. Then, all 6 of us crowded back into Coach's truck and drove another 6 hours back home.
My friend Jeremy failed to trust his coach. His guide- the person who had literally traveled that road dozens of times and knew all the pitfalls and hazards of that perilous drive. Had he stayed behind our vehicle, chances are they would have been just fine. But my friend was overconfident, thought he knew better, and paid a dear price for it.
So, in athletic endeavors, outdoor adventures, or just in life- it’s not enough to just find the right mentor, coach, teacher, or guide- it’s about adhering to their counsel. Have faith in their wisdom, continue onward, and you’ll find yourself that much closer to success.
With 2020 in the rearview mirror, the entire world is breathing a sigh of relief as we get this most difficult year behind us. So much has changed in just 365 days, with a global health crisis dominating so much of our lives for what has seemed like an eternity. Entire countries have been locked down and huge events such as the Olympics, the Boston marathon, and the Ironman World Championships (along with almost every other athletic event) have been cancelled or postponed. On a smaller and more personal scale, families have been separated for weddings, funerals, baptisms, birthdays, and holidays. In short, it's been a really hard year.
I’ve been thinking about gratitude over the past several weeks. After all, it is the time of year when we give thanks for the many blessings, privileges, and opportunities we’ve been given. I certainly have had my fair share. I’ve got my health, my faith, my wonderful family, and my business- no small thing in this time of pandemic.
At a time when so many people are struggling and hurting, when political strife and unrest abound, when illness and death literally ravage the world, it can be a tall order to be grateful. As a society, and as individuals, we can be anxious, stressed, and hurting in ways that we have not felt before. I have had many conversations with clients over the past several months about the depression, anxiety, and frayed nerves they’ve experienced from pandemic, the shut down, and the political unrest prevalent today.
Yet, even amidst the turmoil, stress, and hardship, I would submit that there are silver linings to this cloud. Families are spending more time together. As a society, we are learning about how to better care for ourselves. We are reaching out to family members, friends, and neighbors in ways that we wouldn’t have just a year ago. In fact, there are many blessings that we can identify if we have the right perspective. In doing so, we can feel better, have a deepening perspective that allows us to grow, and help bless the lives of those around us.
Recently, fellow members of my faith and I were challenged by the President of our Church- a prominent former heart surgeon- to express gratitude daily for the next week on social media (#GiveThanks) in an effort to spread positivity and help bring peace and calm to our troubled world. (you can find it here: www.youtube.com/watch?v=tlcILxGmVrI ) I took him up on that challenge. And while my sample size of one isn’t scientific or really measurable in any way, I have simply felt better as I've expressed gratitude for all I have in my life these past few days over social media.
Expressing gratitude isn’t just an exercise in social psychology or spirituality, it actually has physiological and neurological effects that have been identified in several scientific studies. In fact, the expression of gratitude positively affects our brain in numerous ways- here are 5 cited by Positive Psychology:
1- The expression of gratitude releases toxic emotions. In a 2005 study, individuals seeking mental health guidance that expressed gratitude via letter writing showed significant improvement over those who did not. (Moll et. al 2005)
2- Expressing gratitude reduces pain. A 2003 study showed that 16% of participants had a reduction in physical pain after keeping a gratitude journal. The expression of gratitude was found to release dopamine, promoting feelings of vitality and reducing feelings of discomfort.
3- Expressing gratitude improves sleep quality. A 2009 study showed that expressions of gratitude activate the hypothalamus region of the brain, which is critical in regulating sleep. Someone practicing ‘gratitude and kindness’ is more likely to sleep better and wake up feeling refreshed. (Zhan, et. al 2009)
4- Expressing gratitude aids in stress regulation. A 1998 study showed that those who felt grateful saw lower levels of cortisol (stress hormone) in the body. Multiple studies have later showed those expressing gratitude are more able to handle stress than others.
5- Expressing gratitude reduces anxiety and depression. Because of the reduction of stress hormones, those who regularly practice gratitude are generally more positive. In addition, expressing gratitude is associated with an increase in prefrontal cortex modulation (helping control negative emotion like shame, guilt, etc.)
So as we all try to navigate the craziness of 2020 with all of its stress, disappointment, and mayhem, remember to be grateful. This Thanksgiving, let’s spend a few extra moments before we dive into turkey and football to write down a few things we’re grateful for. Maybe just scrawl a few things out on a napkin, or maybe even start a gratitude journal, or simply type out a quick email or text to a loved one and let them know you’re grateful they’re in your life. As we do so, we’ll not only reap the spiritual and emotional benefits of gratitude, but the physiological ones as well.
A few weeks ago, an “Elite only” version of the London Marathon was held. On a typical British day, some of the best runners in the world battled the cold, the wind, the rain, and each other to see who would be crowned champion. Kenyan superstar Eluid Kipchoge was the heavy favorite. The Olympic champion, world record holder, and the only human to ever run 26.2 miles in under 2 hours, had not been beaten at the marathon in 7 years.
He placed 8th.
On that fateful Sunday, the greatest marathoner in history had a bad day. He’d struggled with cramping and an ear infection, and it cost him. Even the best can’t be at their best every day.
We ALL have bad days. And for most of us, that doesn’t look the same. Instead of a 7 year winning streak coming to an end, your bad day may look like a 7 day ‘eating clean’ streak coming to an end. Instead of failing to break a marathon world record, it could mean failing to break your personal record in the mile in a virtual race or training run. In lieu of not crossing the finish line in first place, your bad day might be not crossing off ‘workout’ on the daily ‘to do’ list.
So, what do we do when the best laid plans go awry? Well, there’s an infinite number of answers to that question, but let’s break it down into 3 simple tips on ‘what we should do’ and what we ‘should not do’:
First, the “Should’s”:
Now, the “Should not’s ”:
The other story from the London Marathon was American Sara Hall. She had gone into the US Marathon Olympic Trials held in February 2020 hoping for a top three finish and a ticket to Tokyo. And she was ready! Many had predicted her not only to be on the podium, but to win the Atlanta race. However, with 3 miles to go, Sara stepped off the race course, her Olympic dreams shattered. She had a bad day. And dropped out.
Seven months later, however, she redeemed herself in stellar fashion. After Atlanta, Sara took some time to assess what went wrong, reset her goals, shift her focus, and resumed training- and it paid off bigtime. During the London event, she began to run down the leaders one by one, steadily gaining on the best marathoners in the world. In heroic fashion, Sara ran down the reigning world champion Ruth Chepngetich with 150 meters left and took second! Talk about redemption. Sara ended up running a personal best and ran the 6th fastest time by an American woman ever.
Now, none of us are world-class marathoners, but we can sure learn from them when we have a bad day. By assessing what went wrong, taking steps to move forward and set new goals, all the while NOT shifting blame, setting overzealous goals, or giving up all together, we can all move forward and find success in our individual health and fitness journey.
I recently read a scripture that said, “by small and simple things are great things brought to pass”. Essentially the verse states that big changes are made by doing the little things consistently over time. A profound example of this principle is the Grand Canyon- carved ever so slowly over millions of years by a simple trickle of water. That water, miniscule in comparison to the vast rock and sand of the Arizona desert, was consistent over time and carved one of the greatest wonders of the natural world. As I contemplated this principle in relation to life in general, naturally my thoughts turned to training, competition, health, and physical fitness, and how small and simple changes can yield big results.
Like many of you, there is a lot I’ve learned over the last 2.5 months hunkered down with my wife, our dog Bella, and our little guy Evan in a 1,000 sq ft apartment. Certainly I’ve learned a lot about myself, and my family, but I’ve also learned from you. All of us have gone through unique experiences during this time of quarantine - and many of us have gone through very similar ones. Hopefully we can come out on the other side of this with some lessons learned that will serve us in times of peace as well as times of crisis. While the pandemic casts a dark cloud over our lives currently, hopefully we see the silver lining of perspective - of lessons learned from this pandemic and lockdown. Here are 6:
I’m grateful for these and other lessons I’ve learned during the Pandemic and subsequent lockdown. These 6 and many others can help give us perspective as we move forward. As life slowly begins to return to ‘normal’, hopefully we remember what we’ve learned and apply it in daily life.