Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Don't Stop Trying Something New - Journey to My First Triathlon

I completed my first triathlon on Saturday, August 24th. This is my story of trying something new and what I learned along the way, and it only took about 7 weeks from start to finish!

Someone asked me about 7 weeks ago if I would ever do a triathlon. "No way. Never!" was my reply. I am a terrible swimmer, long distance running has only created injuries in my past, and I didn't even own a road bike. Lots of great excuses.

Lesson Learned: Stop and listen to the excuses you are making. You've likely convinced yourself that they're valid, and they're probably not. If you really want something, it's amazing how the insurmountable excuses quickly disappear because you decide it's time to remove them from your psyche.

After training for and completing a 54-mile backpacking trip earlier this summer (yes, I had done a backpacking trip like it before), my wife asked what I planned for my next big activity/goal that would motivate me to keep training. I considered her question and reflected on my exercise activities over the last 6 months...a ton of time on a stationary bike at the gym. I have friends that own real bikes. They ride outside. They ride in casual and competitive races/events. Maybe I should do one of those. After all, I always enjoyed cycling when I was younger. So I decided to try road biking, bought a used one 6.5 weeks ago, and I can't believe I didn't do it years earlier.

Lesson Learned: Don't be so stubborn or convinced that your current path is the right one that you fail to do what it takes to be on the best path for you, your business, your family, or whatever else is important to you.

All that training on the stationary bike transferred pretty nicely to a real bike...I did rides of both 50 and 60 miles within my first 3 weeks of bike ownership! I plan to do a century (100 mile ride) at the beginning of spring 2014, if not sooner.

Lesson Learned: Whatever you are doing now will likely provide a foundation for you in whatever the next phase of your life will put everything you have into what you are doing's the foundation of your future. 

Purchasing a bike turned me into an avid participant in the sport overnight. With my new-found love of outdoor biking, two of my sons and I decided to become a relay team in a local Triathlon for a great cause, the Share a Smile Foundation, put on by Dr. Eric Vogel and the rest of his amazing team. I would do the cycling part, and they would cover the swim and run. So we decided to go to the pool and see how all of us did at swimming. To say "I tried" to swim is a stretch...I almost didn't make just one 25-meter length of the pool, and those who witnessed the spectacle affectionately named my stroke: "Spaz". My two boys felt strong enough in the swim that they quickly ditched our relay team idea in favor of competing individually in all three sports...the entire triathlon. That left me without a team, and the big hurdle of getting proficient enough at swimming to compete individually, too. Four weeks later I completed my first triathlon, with the swim being the part I feared the most.

Lesson Learned: The only way to truly and completely overcome your fears is to stare them right in the face and do whatever it takes to conquer them. For me it took 4 nights a week in the pool for at least 45 minutes doing drills and swimming laps, and even finding some open water for a practice session. 

I've had spurts in my life when I have tried to be a consistent runner. But I either over-trained and injured myself or I blindly accepted medical advice to wear foot orthotics or do other things that ultimately created new problems and injuries. With a need to run a 5k to finish the triathlon, I finally took ownership of my problems. I read everything I could on my injuries and realized I had been given and was following some pretty bad advice, and I implemented a plan that, after doing my homework, I knew would work for me.

Lesson Learned: Lots of people will profess to be experts and tell you what to do. Ultimately you are still the owner of the outcomes, and you have to decide what is best for you.

In the short time we had to prepare, my sons and I tried to consume as much material as we could about triathlons. Books, blogs, youtube videos...whatever we could find. All of the resources we encountered stressed the need to prepare for the two critical transitions...swim-to-bike and bike-to-run. Precious time is often lost by those who do not prepare sufficiently. So, the night before the race, we set up a mock transition area and practiced each of the transitions, carefully placing each piece of equipment and article of clothing in their optimal location for the most efficient transition possible. We weren't perfect, but the race went so much smoother because we were ready for the transitions.

Lesson Learned: There is no way to avoid transitions in life, including our careers, families, and relationships. Each transition we face will be a little easier if we've thought and planned ahead as much as possible.

Here are the unofficial results of a 400m pool swim, 11.2 mile bike ride, and a 5k run (I was handed this as I crossed the finish line).
Officially I finished 14th overall and 9th in my age category. You can see all of my final event and transition times HERE. Both of my sons finished well and had great experiences with the sport, just one more way to stay connected in their lives doing something we all enjoy. Yes, I am already signed up for my second triathlon (and so are my boys). This one will be a full Sprint Tri with a 750m open-water swim...Kokopelli on Sept 14th.

Lesson Learned: Don't stop trying new things. In less than 60 days I see the world and my life from a much broader perspective, and we can all benefit from more breadth and depth in our perspectives!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Are You Just Doing Curls, Or Are You Building Real Strength?

Let me start by offering this disclaimer...I am not an exercise or weightlifting expert. I have, however, read enough material and listened to enough trainers and fitness experts to know some of the main do's and don'ts of lifting weights and general exercise.

First, a little background and context so you can have the correct perspective on a conversation I recently overheard, hopefully empowering us to apply it many areas of our lives. One of the main rules of weightlifting is that you always begin a workout session with at least one main exercise (like bench press, squats, dead lift, or military press) that works several muscle groups. This effectively warms the body up and ensures strength is being built in a balanced, healthy manner. Then, you move into working targeted, specialized muscles (like biceps, triceps, calves, shoulders, or back). This allows you to focus on improving weaknesses or developing specific muscles that are important for a sport you play or the way you want to look. Balanced workouts among all of the muscle groups are strongly encouraged. An example would be to start with several sets and repetitions of bench press (which works many of the upper body muscles), and then do additional exercises that target the chest and tricep muscles. Then your next workout would hit another group of muscles like shoulders and back, or legs.

Author Note: This is not my bicep!
Next I need to make sure you know what curls are. Curl exercises target and work only the bicep, meaning they should usually be done after at least one exercise that targets multiple muscles (see image to the right). Yet many people bypass the core strength-building routines because curls make biceps bigger and more defined. And those are the muscles you flex when you look at yourself in the mirror, giving the appearance of overall strength and fitness. For more perspective on this subject, read this: Stop Doing Curls.

With that background, here's a conversation I recently heard as two guys walked into a weight room:

Guy 1: "So what do you want to lift today?"

Guy 2: "Let's do curls. I like doing those, and I'm pretty good at them."

Guy 1: "Cool."

As they headed towards the dumbbells, I shook my head a little and then made a brief outline in my head for everything that I think went wrong in that conversation. Here's my list and what I think we can learn from it.

What were these two weightlifters really after? Where do they want to be in 5 years, or even 1 year? Are they training for a sport, or do they have other fitness goals they are trying to achieve? I got the sense they really lacked an overall objective.

Whatever you are doing professionally, do you have an overall objective of where you are going and where you want to be in 5 years, or even 1 year? By taking some time to think this through and articulate it in writing, you are well on your way to achieving it. Failing to define it means you will likely not achieve it. Hard to hit the target when you don't know where it is, right? This can apply to any aspect of your life, especially if you feel like you are "spinning your wheels" in that part of your life.

Without a clear objective, it was impossible for these two weightlifters to connect their daily activities to helping them move closer to accomplishing their goal. If their objective was to try and lift a certain amount of weight for certain exercises at the end of the year, then they could focus their daily activities on what will best help them accomplish that objective. With no objective and no plan, what they choose to do in the gym doesn't really matter. Interestingly, they could end up doing more damage than good if they continue to randomly select exercises without an overall plan and objective. They would create serious imbalance, gain no real strength, and even create the potential for serious injury if they always select to do curls. 

So, think about your life. Are you a dreamer, with lots of amazing objectives and goals for the future, but with no real, viable, plan to get you there? Or, do you love to plan out your days but without an overall vision or objective to guide your activities. Both scenarios are less effective in terms of building real strength (if you are a weightlifter) or making the most progress possible. 

Guy #2 made an interesting comment about liking to do curls. Yet doing what we like is not always the most effective to help us accomplish our goals and objectives. If you are trying to stretch yourself to accomplish something, then it is likely that you have to do hard things. Often you have to learn new things and feel highly vulnerable in the process. Sometimes you have to do things you don't like to get where you want to go. But you're the one that picked the direction and objective, so it must be worth it!

Objectives may change occasionally, but plans need to be dynamic, always adapting and pivoting to best position yourself to accomplish your goals and objectives.