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.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, many aspects of daily life have taken a backseat. And rightfully so. The fitness world has seen its share of turmoil as the Olympic games, the Boston Marathon, all NCAA championships, and all professional sports leagues have been cancelled or postponed indefinitely. Many personal fitness goals have been compromised as races and events world-wide have been cancelled, gyms and pools have been shut down, and most places are enacting ‘shelter in place’ protocols.
These unprecedented measures generate lots of uncertainty and decrease motivation for thousands if not millions of people. However, as with any health crisis, safeguarding your personal health and fitness goes a long way in helping bolster both the immune system AND improve mental health. As such, the CDC recommends exercising, eating healthily, staying hydrated, and getting enough sleep as important measures to take even during the ‘shelter in place’ orders that many cities have enacted over recent days.
So, for those of us used to hitting the gym, the treadmill, the spin class, or the pool on a regular basis, how do we keep up our fitness routine when we’re asked to ‘shelter in place’?
Here are 6 suggestions (and 2 workouts) to help you keep fit while staying home:
So, take advantage of your time at home to get fit in your own space. These 6 tips should give you a few ideas to go on. To help you get started, here are two HIIT workouts, one more basic along with modifications to make exercise easier, and one more advanced with a harder and easier 55 time variation (40/20 seconds is harder, 30/30 seconds is easier).
Good luck everyone; keep up the at-home fitness and stay safe!
Workout 1: Beginner HIIT (with modifications)
1-4 rounds with 1 minute rest in between rounds. Each round is all exercises: 20 seconds of work, 10 seconds of rest in between each exercise. Total duration is approximately 4-16 minutes
Workout 2 : Advanced HIIT
3-5 rounds with 1 minute rest in between rounds. Each round is all exercises: 30 or 40 seconds of work, 30 or 20 seconds of rest in between each exercise. Total duration is approximately 26-43 minutes
This weekend is the highly anticipated USA Olympic Trials for the Marathon in Atlanta, GA. I’ve been counting down this date for several months, so excited to see which three women and three men get to wear the red, white, and blue for Team USA in Tokyo later this year. It will be an incredible display of talent, grit, and determination for everyone to see. Some of these athletes are full-time professional runners, but most wear many hats in addition to being elite runners. With over 700 in the field, their backgrounds and stories vary wildly. However, each of those runners have a few things in common- and those are things as amature atheltes we can all take note of. In fact, the best athletes across ALL disciplines share several keys we can utilize to help us become better or faster or stronger:
1- Elite athletes build a strong foundation.
I once had the privilege of hearing 3x Ironman World Champion Miranda Carfrae speak at a forum. It was a great opportunity to hear about the work it took for her to compete at the level where she was so dominant, hearing about her beginnings and success in short-course racing and once having won her first half-iron distance event (earning a slot in the Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii), she deferred her entry and chose not to race. She waited for 2 years before she felt strong enough (mentally and physically) to compete. Great athletes pay the price for excellence in their sports. They build a strong foundation first by doing the hard work required to excel. For us non-elites, this means putting in the time in the gym, running the slow miles, and focusing on health, daily nutrition to help build a foundation from which to grow.
2- Elite athletes pay attention to the small things.
As the elite marathoners take the course on Saturday, each one of them will have a custom hydration/fueling bottle on course for them every 5k throughout the race. This gives each athlete the opportunity to customize their fueling and nutrition strategy to give them the perfect balance of electrolytes, carbohydrates, and calories necessary to perform at their absolute best on race day. These athletes focus on the small things that are critical to their success. As weekend warriors, we can do the same. And while most likely we won’t have customized fueling/hydration options at every aid station during the races we run, we can be just as meticulous in our preparation for workouts, races, everyday life. We can plan our meals so we don’t have to resort to the vending machine snacks at work, and fuel smartly during workouts and races to help maximize our efforts. We can lay out clothing and gear choices in advance of our workouts, keeping our gym or swim bag in the car so we can hit the gym or pool on the way to or from work.
3- Elite athletes are consistent over time.
Elites practice over and over and over again. They have a training plan and they execute it in preparation for an event or season, being consistent over time. Think of the thousands of free throws Kobe Bryant shot in practice before each season even began. Kobe was one of the greatest players of all time, punctuated by his play in clutch situations- such as free point shooting. For me, a more relatable example comes from 7x Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong, who in 2003 was asked by my Dad’s company to give a keynote address at an annual conference (for a fee of $250,000). The request was submitted approximately 9 months in advance of the event, yet his immediate reply was no, because that was the date of a long training ride. Not a race, not a camp, not an event. He was practicing that day and was not willing to give up one day of hard practice for a quarter million dollars. For all his faults, Lance Armstrong was a meticulously hard worker who was on the bike day in and day out. Every. Single. Day.
4- Elite athletes have help.
All Elite athletes get help. The grand majority use a coach, and many have a team of professionals who help them prepare themselves to perform the best during competition. Consider the Super Bowl winning Kansas City Chiefs, or any NFL team for that matter. The average NFL team has 15 coaches in addition to a large staff who supports them. Professional runners, tennis players, track and field athletes, swimmers, and triathletes all have coaches. A coach provides critical feedback, guidance, and perspective that are vital for optimum performance. Trusting a coach to focus on things like training periodization, daily workouts, and season planning, frees up the athlete to simply focus on executing each workout as best as possible.
5- Elite athletes give back.
From charitable financial contributions, to coaching others, to raising awareness for humanitarian efforts, to helping underserved communities, Elite athletes (especially professional athletes) give back. International soccer star David Becham is famous for supporting UNICEF, the Red Cross, and AIDS research. LeBron James has raised millions of dollars for the Girls and Boys Clubs. And marathon world record holder Eliud Kipchoge recently broke the 2:00 barrier to inspire others with the idea that 'the impossible is possible’. While we may never have the financial means or grand stage these superstars do, we can give back in our own way. One way I along with a few other TFE athletes have been able to contribute, is by running with blind athletes, allowing them to train and race for running and triathlon events. Many of you may coach your child’s soccer or basketball team. Others may contribute a few dollars to the local high school swim team fundraiser. We can all be “professionals” in how we pay it forward to help others.
While our athletic talents, achievements, and bandwidth fall far short of Elite and Professional athletes, we can learn the lessons that make them great. So this weekend, as you tune in to watch the best mathoners (or basketball players) our country has to offer, look for what makes them great. Find something that resonates with you, and incorporate it into your daily life For me, building a foundation, focusing on the small things, being consistent, utilizing help, and giving back, can go a long way in making me (and others) become just a little bit more ‘Elite’.
HAPPY NEW YEAR! I hope 2019 was as good to you as it was to me. And I also hope you’re looking forward to an even better 2020. It’s not just the start of a new year, but an entire new DECADE! What a great time to evaluate our lives and examine the challenges, opportunities and blessings we’ve been granted over the past 10 years, and think about where we want to be in the next 10.
In all our zeal to push hard with lofty goals into the next year(s), we can get tempted to bite off more than we can chew. It almost seems like human nature to ‘go big’. We’ve all seen those who post audacious goals all over social media that seem to be a stretch even for the most disciplined of people. And this phenomenon certainly isn’t limited to New Year’s resolutions.
I see this ALL THE TIME in coaching amateur athletes and training goal-driven weekend warriors. The mentality of ‘more is better’ and ‘all or nothing’ can be an alluring prospect to reach goals sooner. For example, many think “if I run faster on all of my runs, I’ll become faster.” or “Instead of working out in the gym 3 days a week, I’m going to workout 7.” or “Instead of simply limiting my carbohydrate intake, I’m cutting out carbs altogether.” And while these goals take enormous discipline to accomplish (and you may even have that in spades), the most important type of discipline I see lacking in most people is the discipline of restraint. And THIS is the key to achieving many challenging goals we set for ourselves.
While the ‘all or nothing, more is better’ approach may be good to do in the short term, there are a few inherent challenges with this philosophy:
Again, don’t misunderstand. I’m all about setting lofty goals! Just rein them in a bit as you embark on the new goals you set for yourself this year. Avoid the pitfalls of the ‘all or nothing’ approach. More is usually NOT better. It’s just more! Remember to practice the disciple of restraint as you commit to becoming a fitter, faster version of yourself this 2020.