Managing My Inner Game

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As a coach, I have come to realize that a number of my athletes rely on exercise to manage their mental health. I have asked the question…

If daily exercise is a requirement for your mental wellbeing then should we consider if extreme exercise is appropriate for your long-term health?

It’s worth noting that I’ve yet to have a top athlete answer my question with a “yes, we should!” While my pals haven’t answered this question, it’s something that I’ve addressed with choices in my own life.

High-profile athletes, and coaches, can feel the urge to fly-the-flag for extreme exercise. Because of the prestige given to “winning,” it takes courage to walk away from fame, winning or vanity => even when these things are unhealthy for our inner lives.

What calms my inner life and leaves me feeling satisfied?

My list:

  • An outdoor workout with 10-20 minutes of elevated HR
  • Time with my spouse
  • Picking up litter
  • Doing something that other people find too difficult
  • Helping other people
  • High-quality coffee or tea

My list reminds me that much of my spending is wasted.

In my life, the only thing that trumps exercise is sleep. I need to get my sleep AND I need to protect my sleep. I protect my sleep by:

  • Waking up each morning
  • No late naps, late nights, late coffees, late work sessions
  • Removing people and situations that cause me to lose sleep

I’m fortunate with the ups and downs of my moods – I don’t have the extremes that follow some of my pals. My swings are moderated by a lifestyle that gives me frequent top-ups and helps me avoid spiraling downhill. I wrote about downhill triggers here,

It usually takes multiple injuries for an athlete to be open to considering their role in creating their life situation. More normal, is gratitude for a return to training. Be aware when you are in a rush to get back to the pattern, and mental habits, that hurt you.

It takes courage to change our approach.

Be brave.

The Preschool Years

Lots of my pals have new arrivals so I thought I’d share from my years of living with preschoolers.

Three years ago, I can remember feeling overwhelmed. Our oldest was a terror, we had a new baby and I could see no end to the frantic energy and whining. Today, we’re up to three kids but I can see light at the end of the tunnel.

Where should a new parent focus?

Three things come to mind…

Marriage – it’s easy to lose each other in the craziness of a young family. Make time to be with each other. We try to spend 2-3 evenings with each other each week. Money spent here has the best return on my discretionary spending.

If you look closely, the baby is purple!

De-escalate – At my best, I have the skill to de-escalate my kids by relaxing myself.

How can you train yourself to not escalate when faced with a screaming child? Here’s my practical mindfulness program…

  • Courtesy to people with no recourse against me
  • Yield in traffic
  • Always polite to spouse
  • Pause when you feel anger
  • Train your relaxation reflex – perhaps by taking a big breath occasionally – here’s an app to help you learn to relax

None of the above has anything to do with kids – most of my parenting habits started far away from any toddlers!

Health – While you may, or may not, regret losing your spouse (or temper) through the preschool years, you will absolutely regret losing your health.

My trap is confusing athletic performance with health.

Other traps:

  • Confusing success with my bank balance
  • Measuring how effective I am by what I publish
  • Co-dependence, where I use serving another as an excuse to neglect myself

I share the above because our minds will convince us that there’s always a good short-term reason to ignore our long-term health. I don’t know your reasons but I know we are all prone to rationalizations.

All up, this phase of my life is going to last seven years.

1,000 days to go.

Soon they will be wiping themselves!

If I Owned Ironman – 2014

mongoIn a recent interview, the WTC noted that they didn’t know what would happen if they concentrated prize money and couldn’t figure out why athletes would want to be pros.

Why race pro?

In a word, STATUS.

Being a professional athlete is a high-status occupation. It is certainly better than saying you earn less than minimum wage and train all day.

The WTC noted that they have ~1,100 professionals in their ranks.

Here’s an idea:

  • Self-sanction your races
  • Harmonize the rules across your events
  • Take over elite accreditation (use a points/performance system based on WTC events)
  • Charge the pros $1,500 per annum for their “pro card”
  • Role 90% of those proceeds into The Race For Kona => $1.5 million bonus pool
  • Allocate points to the events that you want to promote => have the host cities bid?
  • Pay the bonus pool 50 deep (100 total) => no net cost to you, or your best athletes

What to do about Kona?

You only need 25 men and women (50 total) to have a great race.

How about:

  • Last year’s winner (1)
  • Regional winners (4)
  • Top 15 out of the Race To Kona Competition (pulling the pre-qualified 5 out for qualification, but not for cash bonuses!)
  • Five wild cards (once you are self- sanctioning, you can invite anyone you want – past tour winners, decathlon Gold medalists, up and comers, Olympic medalists) => every year there will be a ton of fan interest, debate and complaining. Great for the brand.
  • Every pro that finishes gets a check for $5,000, minimum.

Concentration of money

You said you don’t know what’s going to happen when you concentrate $5 million worth of prize money into a reduced number of events.

I’ll give it a shot.

  • Say there are ~20 top women world-wide => $125,000 per athlete
  • Say the number increases to ~50 for the men => $50,000 per athlete

Most of those folks should be able to set up a bonus deal to double their winnings – so $100,000 to 250,000 per top athlete. The male / female money dynamic is an interesting one. Top women earn more in WTC-triathlon.

A decent wage for exercising all day and the best-of-the-best will be on close to $500,000 per annum.

Sounds a lot like cycling.


As for what happens when we concentrate large sums of money on young people… that story has been playing out since the 1960s.

I’ll honor the first rule of Fight Club and leave what I know unsaid.


You can find my Ironman thoughts from April 2011 here.

Hometown Hero

820My buddy, Justin Daerr, won Ironman Boulder this month. Even bigger, the ladies at my health club have started chatting about him!

He’s truly made it.

Not many people make the transition from average to champion. I was along for the ride.

epic_konaIn October of 2004, Justin came out to Hawaii for a camp that we were hosting. He had a big week of training and finished third in his age group in Kona. I didn’t know it at the time but October 2004 marked the high-water mark of my athletic career.

hawaii_run18 months before that camp, Scott Molina asked me, “What if that’s it?” At the time, I replied, “There’s always more.” Scott was a little early with his question but it was a good one.

What’s next?

After Justin became really good, he put in another 10,000 hours to become great. It’s the profile of a clean athlete, many years of plugging away. No quantum leaps.

runI like to focus athletes on 1,000 days of effort. After 1,000 days, of racing pro Justin was going far faster but didn’t have a whole lot to show for his efforts. He was a long way off the top athletes and, like me, only competitive over long distances.

The link in the paragraph above shows J’s results. He was speedy for a long time. Thing is, everyone else at his level is speedy too! Eight years of consistent sub-9 Ironman times. That’s really fast, for a very long time.

How do I measure my return on investment?

…is a question we should ask

…especially about time we will spend

Absent conscious effort, we will default to the values of our community. My athletic community values vanity and victory. These values rule what I see around me and lead to athletic errors.

As a champion, expectations and self-image change. My champion pals, closer to my age, experience pain with the inevitable transitions that life brings. Whenever that transition happens, I hope Justin keeps what’s best from the last decade.

  • He was willing to inconvenience himself to do the right thing.
  • He persisted in the face of evidence that he might not make it – a good lesson for me to re-learn!
  • He never mentioned the slings and arrows that were tossed at him. Justin’s non-response made me a better person.

These are the good old days.

Remember to enjoy them!

Breaking The Chain

Today’s title is the name of a book that was given to me by my coach. The book is about the impact of 100 years of choices in the sport of cycling. The stories will blow your mind.

The concept, of a continuous chain, is also a teaching in Eastern Philosophy. One aspect is that we can do good works when we DON’T pass along the pain we receive from another person. The gift of “not passing” is something that I practice at home.

FlagstaffA few years back, I made a decision to leave a group of friends rather than engage them over their cruelty of their language to each other.

I thought it would be more productive for me to change everyone’s names and write blog posts instead…

I’m laughing as I type that because it’s true. We all dig in when confronted directly.

Tips that help me be part of the solution for friends and family.

Statute of Emotional Limitations – I got this from Gordon Livingston. He recommends deciding on a statute of limitations for our childhoods. When we turn 25, 35, 45, 65 or 75… …we decide that we’ve grown up and we’re leaving it behind. it’s never too late to decide that you’ve grown beyond the slights of the past.

Young kids are fantastic teachers of this point. A baby holds nothing from her past. Even my three-year old, doesn’t retain emotion for more than a couple minutes. It’s a wonderful way to be and somewhat confusing to a father (me) that’s prone to holding a grudge.

Making time is a useful coping strategy if you’re prone to self-pity.

A favorite book is Tuesday’s With Morrie – Morrie is living with ALS and one of his coping strategies is to really experience his sadness each morning. Being completely sad for a few minutes enables him to live the rest of his day.

Recognizing Limits – there’s some stuff from my past that I might never get past. Some relationships that might never get sorted. Some episodes that will tag along for what remains of my life. I have a choice to own that reality.

Going further, in cases of abuse and trauma, the magnitude of the stress might have permanently rewired how we respond to certain situations. In my own case, just-the-right-mix can knock me off kilter.

As a result, I need to forgive myself for falling short of the idealized image in my head. Take fatherhood, at the end of a challenging shift with my kids, I might never be Christ-like, or tap my Buddha-nature, or whatever I happen to be shooting for at the time.

To deal with my shortcomings, it helps to think about the chain that led to me and understand that I’m going to leave a few loose ends when my time is done.

Lexi_PilotTaking a longer term perspective, my role is to move things along a little bit, not screw up and let my kids take the controls.

Some things take more than one generation to work through – that’s ok.

Be gentle with your short comings – simply try to do a little better.

Managing My Baseline

As I’ve gained a better understanding of my mind, I’ve made micro changes to improve my daily satisfaction. Most of these changes involve reseting my baseline for expectations.

Two simple examples can be found in my approach to coffee and wine.


I was thrilled when Peet’s Coffee & Tea opened in Boulder. However, I noticed that my baseline quickly reset and drinking coffee elsewhere resulted in disappointment.

My ability to easily access “the best” increased my total dissatisfaction across a month.

What to do?

I switched my morning routine to start with a cup of CostCo brew. It’s a solid brew and gets me rolling.

However, a few months ago, I won coffee-for-a-year from Peet’s and get a pound of beans each month. So I started drinking Peet’s in the morning and everything reset again.

More disappointment resulted when, mid-month, we’d run out.

However, now I see my disappointment as a chance to reset and I anticipate each new month’s shipment.

Anticipation is a key part of pleasure – worth remembering that tip in relationships as well!


My senses of hearing, taste and smell are all below average. It’s an area, like my driving, where my self-assessment is more accurate than most.

When buying wine, I combine my known sensory deficit with a simple heuristic – never pay more than $15 for a bottle of wine.

This makes it easy for my pals to blow me away with their moderate vintages, has me drinking less and reduces my total annual spend on alcohol. All good results.

Like my three-year old son, I try to make myself easy to impress!


That’s Laird, Gabby and family above. My wife follows them on Facebook and mentioned that she thought they were a well-grounded couple.

All I could do was laugh and say, “Laird’s your baseline for a husband?!”

Apparently, Laird’s “a little soft” but that’s OK because he has three kids.

For some reason, Laird appearing soft didn’t make me feel a whole lot better.

Anyhow, exercising makes me happy and, perhaps, my wife was giving me a nudge to train more.


Remember what I said about the coffee and the wine, it applies in every aspect of our lives.

Too much luxury can ruin our appreciation for the beauty of everyday life.

Take time to reset your expectations.

Five True Friends

mooseThe Philosopher’s Mail is one of my favorite sites on the web. Happiness is a recurring theme in their writing, as is social connection. As your doctor can confirm, there is a link between social connection and health.

The good people at Philosopher’s Mail shared Epicurus’ recipe for a good life. The link is to a lovely article with snazzy pics of Paris Hilton. The article is worth your time – it describes an antidote if you find that external success fails to lead to lasting satisfaction.

The philosopher’s antidote

  • Five true friends, that reinforce inner values (not the external values of city living)
  • Self-determination by escaping the tyranny of corporate serfdom, regardless of financial cost
  • Daily time for quiet reflection, ideally with low-intensity exercise in nature

It’s an interesting list because most of us will lack one aspect of the troika. In my case, it takes effort to say “yes” to social interaction.

As well, we are usually attracted to people that have external traits that we wish to emulate. This can be a good thing…

  • A politically-connected friend making us feel gratitude that we don’t have the duties that come with being a very important person.
  • A healthy friend inspiring us to start a streak of daily activity.
  • A champion friend inspiring us to persist a little longer at a difficult task.

I have different pals with all of the above and, when I’m at my best, they reinforce good traits in me.

However… I’ve also noticed that my most human, and occasionally screwed up pals, can leave me feeling grateful, useful and valued – three traits that have a strong link to personal happiness.

So while the need for pals is well known, I can lead myself astray. So it’s worth using my daily time to quietly consider…

  • Do I have five people to whom I can speak plainly?
  • Separately, who are the five people with whom I spend the most time?
  • How do those people make me feel?

Once I have insight, it’s up to me to have the courage to change.

Be brave.

Four Hidden Hazards – for aging athletes

Ron KonaBecause the big money lies in helping sick folks, athlete health is likely to remain a poorly understood niche. Here are three hazards that most people miss.

Lifestyle & Nutrition Stress

As an elite athlete, my blood markers would indicate kidney stress. I coached a kidney doc and did a consult to rule out kidney disease. Where we ended up was acknowledging the stress of the athletic lifestyle:

  • High calorie diet
  • High protein diet
  • High sugar diet
  • Constant muscle breakdown

Now, there are many ways that my athletic lifestyle reduces stress (body composition, blood pressure). However, a high-performance lifestyle increases stress, when compared to an active lifestyle.

From 2001 to 2008, I was “fast” but I carried around an immune system that was chronically suppressed.

Around 2010, I cut my training in half, and my blood markers went from good to outstanding.

My kidney function cleared up, my immune system strengthened and my HDL/LDL cholesterol improved. (82/84 mg/dL).

I put this out there because I had a fear that I would “lose everything” if I backed off.

The reality => Moderation improved my health and my marriage.

Passing Out & Crashing

I’ve been exercising daily for ~20 years and it’s the best investment I’ve made.

If you want to slow the aging process:

  • Get enough sleep
  • Don’t smoke
  • Take it easy on the booze
  • Eat real food
  • Move daily

The flip side of being a long-term exerciser is I can go a long, long way on nothing. It’s a trait that can get an older athlete into trouble.

When tired, depleted or “open” from exercise, my blood pressure can dip suddenly. So far, I have never passed out but I’ve felt lightheaded on many occasions.

Passing out is a serious medical condition – Part One and Part Two on the Athlete’s Heart Blog will tell you more.

If you share my profile then be aware that falls and crashes are different as we age. A key part of aging well is avoiding the strength and muscle losses that come from extended breaks.

I have changed my approach to improve my risk profile.

The Scalpel of Eternal Youth

Here’s how I categorize WEEKLY run mileage:

  • 20 miles = “not running”
  • 30 miles = “light week”
  • 40 miles = “basic maintenance”
  • 50 miles = “good week”
  • 60 miles = “enough to run a decent marathon”
  • 75 miles or more = “stretch week”

Follow this running protocol long enough and you’re likely to deal with orthopedic issues.

The most effective treatment for chronic injury is lifestyle modification.

Your orthopedic surgeon makes NO money from this truth!

A surprising thing about middle age => moderation turned out of be healthy and enjoyable.

Who Knew?