Racing for a cause

In just a few weeks, the family and I will be moving to the Jackson, MS area, where I will start working at Jackson State University. As the typical triathlete, I had to check what races were within driving distance,
and since I was looking for an Ironman for the end of the season, Panama City Beach was just calling me. Of course, I never anticipated that the race would fill up in a heart beat. I never even got close to
being able to sign up. Within seconds, the site was on hold, and that was it. I thought ‘Ni modo’ (that’s when you’ve lived in El Paso for a while) I will race somewhere else. Beach to Battleship maybe.

Then a friend of mine suggested: how about racing for a cause? Actually, despite having been in the sport since 1993 (when you could sign up for an Ironman pretty much at anytime), I didn’t know this was possible.
It happens that Ironman Florida partners with The Children’s Tumor Foundation, a non-profit organization dedicated to finding effective treatments for neurofibromatosis, and helping children affected by the disease, along with their families. Racing for something more than just trying to see whether you can finish, how fast you can go, how many in your age group you can beat, or whether you can qualify for Kona. This
suddenly sounded far more exciting and worthy than doing an Ironman for selfish reasons. Not long ago, we lost a great guy to cancer. He was barely 32, and I used to be his babysitter. One year of battle against cancer.
One year of hope. One year of treatments, successes, and failures. I wasn’t there to see him, but talked with his mom on a regular basis. He was a very fine young man. And frankly, it’s way too young to go.

Therefore, I have decided to sign up for the race through its charity partner and raise $5,000 by September 1, 2014. Although some of my work is in cancer research, I have zero experience with fundraising. But then most patients
have zero experience dealing with cancer, and they have no choice. They have to do it. A concern I had initially was how much of the money raised actually goes towards helping the children and their families. A quick
Internet search showed that the Children’s Tumor Foundation is actually one of the best charities to give to. According to Charity Navigator, the Children’s Tumor Foundation scores a near 64 out of 70 overall rating (for FY 2012), and nearly 80% of its budget is spent on the programs and services it delivers, versus paying for administrative costs of all sorts.

Rating of the Children's Tumor Foundation

Rating of the Children’s Tumor Foundation

When training gets a bit hard, when racing gets a bit hard, I will surely have a different perspective on how hard it really is. After all, I am healthy and do this because I want to. When it hurts, it’s not real pain, more
like discomfort. Besides, the discomfort can be adjusted easily. Just slow down a bit. The mental gives up a tad? Get some sugar in, and it comes back. The children and their families don’t have these options. They have to deal with the
physical and mental pain. Research will alleviate physical pain. Support will alleviate mental pain. But unlike Ironman and its selfish quest, they’re in for a real fight. And we can help them.

If you decide that you would like to support (no amount is too small), please go to my CTF page: DONATIONS

What’s your number? (totally random rambling…)

Recently, I read an article about ‘your number’. No, not the number referenced in that horrendous movie with Anna Faris, the number to just stop working completely, not necessarily because your job isn’t fantastic, but just because there are many amazing things to do, and with the time we have, we need to prioritize. A quick back-of-the-envelop calculation told me that with around $4M, I’m good. Invest $3.5M at 3% gets you $105,000 per year, and with the remaining $500K, you buy a nice place, pay all outstanding debts. Easy. Still have to pay taxes, medical insurance, plus a bunch of other stuff, but you live very very well the rest of your life and still leave a pile of cash to your kids when you say farewell.

I tried to finance it with Texas Lottery, but the odds are slightly not in my favor. But the real question is not about the number. It’s about what would you do if you hit your number? I just checked our bank account, so I know that I’d see a lot more RueLaLa orders, and I would get a powermeter for my road bike, a mountain bike, a fixie in case we moved to Portland (it’s illegal to live in Portland and not own a fixie, and a bunch of recycled stuff). To go back to the original question, you have to ask yourself: what makes me really happy? For me, it’s rather simple. Spend time with my family, chatting with Maya, trying to have a discussion with Gabriel without wondering if he is a human copy of Hammy the squirrel from the excellent “Over the Hedge”

and of course, be training long hours, be healthy, having the time to go to the market get fresh produce, time to cook, and time to smell the roses, and preferably some place that looks like this:

or like that:

That’s for the obvious. I thoroughly enjoy the time spent coaching. It’s a really nice feeling to build a relationship with a person (whether a Kona qualifier, or a complete beginner just starting triathlon to lose weight), to design a program to reach specific goals, to witness the improvements, the excitement of reaching the goals, and ultimately to realize that you contributed partly to someone’s health and happiness. This year, I have 15 athletes I am working with. Some are crazy and run entire half marathons on the treadmill because they can’t read a calendar right. Others send me hate messages in the morning, and love notes in the evening. And some have an incredible passion for life, and I am honored to coach them (Megan, that’s you). But whatever the reasons they got into the sport, coaching is one thing that will stay on my list of things I do when I hit my number.

The value of hard work

One of the questions I frequently have to answer as a coach is the following ‘can you make me faster, faster?’ It invariably leaves me a bit puzzled because I start wondering why is it so important for improvements to happen instantly. Of course, those who know me won’t miss the irony of my saying this, given my impatient nature. However, when it comes to sport, I thoroughly enjoy the actual preparation, and the process of improving.

Instant gratification has been a societal accelerating trend over the last few years, and I am convinced that it makes us focus on the wrong thing, and blatantly misleads people (in all aspects of life). When it comes to athletic performance, losing weight, shaping up, getting fitter, whatever you want to call it, we are inundated with ridiculous commercials: lose 6in of belly fat with just 3 times 10 minutes a week of product ‘A’; improve your running economy while running less with product ‘B’; etc. You never (or rarely) see a commercial or an ad saying: work hard, work for many years, and you will improve, and enjoy the simple process of getting better.

The little triathlon community jumped on the ‘HTFU’ acronym, and quickly turned it into an ongoing joke: how can I improve my 5km time? HTFU. It’s raining and I have to ride on the trainer, what should I do? HTFU. Swimming is tough and I don’t seem to get better. HTFU. My own athletes will laugh at this because I’ve used it on multiple occasions. But truth is, it often IS the right answer. There is just NO SHORT CUT for hard, consistent work. How do you get better at swimming, cycling, or running? It’s simple. You swim, bike, and run a lot. You’re consistent. You focus on what you do. And you start realizing that what matters is to actually get better, at your own pace. Of course, the content of the sessions, the planning, etc do matter, but the sine qua none conditions to improving are consistency and hard work.

A practical example of this was started by accelerate3 coach, Brian Stover on slowtwitch. With the premise that many triathletes want to run faster (it seems we can’t just buy running speed unlike cycling), Brian created the simplest running plan ever: want to run faster? Simple! Run 50mi per week for 12 weeks straight! The content matters. Somewhat. But for the vast majority, it will pay hugely. Of course, you need to take this with a grain of salt. If you’ve never run more than 15mi per week, then try 30mi per week for 12 weeks. Although…start at 15, go up to 50 slowly but surely, and then do 12 weeks at 50mi. You get the idea. The same is true for swimming and cycling. Practice does make perfect. And, to be clear: sure Kenyans have longer lighter limbs, but the main reason for their running superiority is that they just run more. A lot more. My friend Olaf likes to quote Lao Tzu: the goal is the way. Focus on being consistent. Focus on repetition. Focus on making tedious tasks become easy habits. Focus on the process of getting better, rather than goal times. And you may surprise yourself, going way beyond what you thought you were capable of.

Who’s up for the 50mi per week challenge?

A still mind in 2012

Today, a friend of mine posted a New York Times article on his facebook. The Joy of Quiet addresses the issues of being overly connected, among other things. In particular, it mentions the proliferation of expensive fancy resorts where you have to pay a lot to NOT have something, namely, connectivity. Cool idea! I love it. That said, why would I pay to not get something, when I can simply put my laptop and my cell phone away for the weekend? OK, not that easy. It requires a bit of discipline.

Anyhow, this article got me thinking. I am happy when my mind is quiet, when I can focus on the people and things that matter to me. Now that I think about it, I didn’t have a computer at home until late 2001 (the same year I got my first driver’s license). And I had my first cell phone only 6 years ago. How did I live before that? Hmmm…just fine. Really. Just fine. More time to focus on my friends and loved ones. More time to read. More time to workout. More time for what I really enjoy.

After reading this article, I very fashionably decided to add a new New Year resolution: the only connectivity I will get from Friday 9pm to Monday 6am will be with the people close enough that I can hear them talk. Sure, it comes with some (minor) disadvantages. If I get 3 flats on a ride, I could get stranded, and have a long walk ahead of me. That also means a bit more planning. Send my training plans on Friday at the latest. Organize dinners, movies, coffees, etc. ahead of time. And no chance to text so say ‘hey sorry, I’m running late’. I will just have to be on time.

What I expect from this is: less communication, but of much higher quality, more time for reflection and deep thinking, and a quieter mind. As an aside, Simon

will not have to wait that I am done playing my next move at words with friends to go on with our walk.

2012 is going to be a fabulous year.

Life, Love, and my Dad’s Birthday

Today my dad turned 81. I just saw him a few weeks ago in Paris, after 2.5 years away from home. It’s a long time, and I’m thankful that he is still around. That’s probably thanks to his healthy diet based on cheese, chocolate, and ice-cream.

Anyhow, recently, my good friend Brian lost his mom. The day of his birthday. Although I have never had the chance to meet her, I felt very sad that day. Sad for Brian and his family. Sad because it reminds you that we are all going to lose people we love, people we care for. I hope the local delis don’t run out of cheese, chocolate, and ice-cream, so that I can go visit my dad (and my mom!) many more years. I am quite certain I will. But it also reminds me that I don’t say to my dad that I love him anywhere near enough (even when I hear the same WWII story for the millionth time!)

So, Dad, I love you. Thank you for having been here for me (for us) all these years! And Mom, yes, I love you too, but it’s not your birthday yet 🙂

PS: Dad, please do not use this post as an excuse to tell me one more time how your aunt used to cut apples and put chocolate in them 😉

10 things I love about triathlon.

A little preamble: I am writing this for myself. Reading it will probably be a waste of time for anybody else. It will probably give some ideas as to why you love the sport if you are a triathlete (or biker, runner…)
and it will certainly confirmed to you that I am a bit nuts if you aren’t into endurance sports. I am not quite sure why you would be reading anything on this blog however, if this were the case. Anyhow, unfiltered, unedited,
and in no particular order, here it is.

1. I love the great friends I have made through our little fringe sport (Chamach, Nick, Olaf, Bobby the Pohmmy, Brian,…) I wish I’d see them more often.

2. I love bike bling…powermeters, fancy aero bikes, aero water bottles, carbon junk, ceramic bearings that have no impact on performance whatsoever unless I hit 10,000rpm, GPS, all of it!

3. I love that I can shave my legs and have an excuse to do it (it’s faster, it’s for massages, it’s to avoid infections if I crash…no, it’s because I like it.)

4. I love that I can go on a 5h bike ride, followed with an 1h run on a Sunday, be trashed for the rest of the day that I spend napping and eating.

5. Back to eating…I love that I can eat anything in huge amounts (when my stomach allows.)

6. I love to pick races in exotic places. New Zealand, Australia, Brazil, Wisc…hmm…no, not Wisconsin. OK, I will race IM South Africa and Lanzarote some day.

7. I love that I can be average in all 3 sports and still give the impression I’m actually good at one of them.

8. I love to workout. Really. It’s my dream job.

9. I love to go to training camps. I haven’t done it in a long time. I miss that.

10. I really love the great friends I made. A training camp is in order!