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Archive for the ‘triathlon’ Category

You’re always in beta. Always. If you think you aren’t, you’re already falling behind and bleeding relevance.

What does being in Beta mean? It means being in perpetual test mode. It means constantly asking “how could I do this better,” even when this worked just fine. How can I listen better? How could I improve customer service? How can I make my billing process smoother? How could we improve the UI/UX of our websites? How can I engage my user community even better? How could this brochure have been better?

I know what you’re thinking: Poor kid. He’s terminally obsessive-compulsive. 😀 (Actually, I’m just compulsive, not obsessive, but that’s a topic for another day.)

The point is this: The moment you start thinking that you have found the perfect model, the second you start adopting a “let’s not change anything” mentality, you’re screwed. The “don’t fix it if it ain’t broke” saying I hear a lot in the South is may have been pretty good advice a hundred years ago, but it isn’t anymore. Not if you want your company to stay competitive. Not if you want to see your company grow. Not if you want to see chronic improvement in everything you do.

Check out today’s video if you haven’t already. And if it doesn’t launch for you, go watch it here. (Thanks, Viddler!)

Interestingly, the “you’re always in Beta” mindset that I am talking about today seriously reminds me of the mindset athletes and coaches get into when it comes to improving performance. Say you’re currently a 24:00 5K runner, and you want to relive your college glory days by running an 18:00 5K a year from now. How do you do it? Simple: By stressing your system one little bit at a time. By challenging your comfort zone with every run. Going from 24:00 to 23:55, then 23:50, then 23:45 for the same distance, and so on. Turning up the heat and the intensity for a few weeks, then giving your body a chance to adapt. To plateau. And then starting over with a new cycle of stress and adaptation followed by a rest period. During that time, you are constantly testing your boundaries, monitoring success and failure, learning what works and what doesn’t. (And yes, measuring your progress to know what works and what doesn’t.) Pretty basic stuff.

The alternative would be to keep running the same 5K route every day at the exact same speed, in the exact same way. What would happen? Well, you would become pretty good at running a 5K  in 24:00. Comfortable? Sure. But whatever happened to improvement? See where I am going with this?

Okay, now let’s complicate things a little bit:

As a triathlete, training and competing in what essentially amounts to three sports (swimming, cycling and running) adds some pretty substantial layers of complexity. Not only do I have to figure out how to train for three specific sports, but I have to figure out how to combine and integrate all three in a way that doesn’t lead to injury or burnout. I also have to fit all three in my already busy schedule. Then I have to consider how to time my training cycles to coincide with specific races. In addition, I have to incorporate changes in nutrition and hydration based on my workouts, my training mode, outside temperatures, etc. And if I get into my head that I am going to train for a marathon, half Ironman or full-on mac-daddy Ironman, all of these variables take on a level of complexity I can’t even begin to explain in one blog post. How much Gatorade should I drink per hour in 94 degree temperatures at 80% of my maximum heart rate? How many energy gels can I absorb per hour without getting sick to my stomach? What cadence should I adopt to sustain an average speed of 21mph for 112 miles? Only one way to find out: Test it.

And I haven’t even talked about gear. Will the improved aerodynamics gained from dropping my aerobars down 2 millimeters shave 20 seconds off my 40K time? Maybe… but as a result, will my upper body’s new angle offset my hip angle enough to reduce my power output or stress my hip flexors enough that I will start cramping up 5 miles into the run? How will I find out? There’s only one way: Getting out there and testing that theory. It’s clipboard and stopwatch time for the next six weeks.

Should I go with a disc wheel or a deep dish rim for my next race? How will I know which works better for me on a moderately hilly course in 15mph crosswinds? Only one way: I have to go test each wheel configuration on a variety of courses in completely different wind conditions. Then I’ll know what works best in specific course conditions.

Rear-mounted bottle-cages or frame-mounted? Aero helmet or regular helmet? Motion control shoes or racing flats? Test test test test test. You get the picture.

Call it an occupational benefit or a pre-existing condition, but being a triathlete kind of trains you to be in a perpetual Beta mindset. And it isn’t a stretch to jump from the world of competitive endurance sports to the world of business performance. Different application, but same principles and same basic methodology: Ask, test, observe, validate, learn, repeat.

But before you do all this – the testing, the experimentation, the analysis and learning and adaptation – you have to make a choice. You have to pick a camp. You have to decide whether you are satisfied with your business performance as it is today (“good enough” is good enough for you and your customers), or hungry for improvement.

There’s no right or wrong answer here. It doesn’t matter what camp you decide to align yourself with: The one happy with the way things are or the one looking to kick ass a little more each day. What matters is that your decision work for you. But let’s be clear about the impact that your choice will have on your business: Sticking with a “let’s not change anything” mindset will not earn you more customers, increase customer loyalty or generate more sales. Where you are today is exactly where you will be tomorrow. If you’re lucky. Eventually, perhaps not next week or next month or next year, but eventually, this mindset will seal your doom. A Beta mindset, however, will help you uncover ways to innovate, earn more customers, cut costs, increase customer and employee loyalty, improve product design and performance… You name it: Whatever the opportunity to improve, do do things better and smarter, may be, you will systematically uncover it in the same way that Apple, Nike, BMW, Cervelo, HBO, Michael Phelps, IDEO, Lance Armstrong, Comcast and Zappos have.

If you want your company to be best in class, to own a market or an industry, to be the trendsetter, the example to follow, the leader in a category, you must adopt a perpetual Beta mindset. You have to constantly stress your systems and processes. You have to turn every action into a test an look at every activity as an opportunity to experiment.You have to measure, analyze, learn, adapt and repeat the cycle over and over and over again.

Question everything.

Work harder than the next guy to build the best XYZ the world has ever seen, and then find ways to make it even better.

Perfection is a process, not a milestone.

Embrace a state of perpetual Beta.


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Every year, I try to end my summer with a half Ironman or some other 5+ hour endurance race. There are several reasons for that little bit of annual madness (like, believe it or not, fun), but perhaps the most important one is to make sure that I don’t fall off the fitness wagon half way through the summer.

Occasionally, I am as serious about performance at these late season events as I am about shorter, more focused races, but most of the time, nope. For me, the most important part of doing a half or full iron distance triathlon is participating. (And finishing.) This past weekend was no exception. Setting up my transition area under a beautiful pre-dawn sky surrounded by some of the fittest people in the US’ South East, my plan was simple: Have fun, take it easy, and enjoy every minute of this race. That is precisely what I did.

Not that I would call mile nine of the half Marathon all that enjoyable… but you get the picture.

Towards the end of the race, I did something that I seldom ever do in athletic competitions: I stopped and waited for a friend who wasn’t having a great day. Instead of running the final few miles to the finish, I walked alongside him and we had a great conversation – something we hadn’t had a chance to do in a very long time. Sure, it didn’t help my run split, but this race – like so many of these late season mile fests – wasn’t about setting personal bests or placing in my age group. This race, perhaps more than any before it, reminded me how much I enjoy the multisport lifestyle I chose to be a part of. How much I enjoy mixing an early morning mass swim, a rugged time trial and a long group run. How much I enjoy the sun’s warmth on my shoulders, the comforting southern wind against my face, and the sights and sounds of hundreds of fellow citizen athletes break a sweat for a few hours.

In nine years of competition I have yet to meet a triathlete I don’t like. There is just something refreshing about the can-do, no bullshit, let’s get it done attitude displayed by this great family of fitness hobbyists. You aren’t likely to hear a whole lot of excuses or “poor me” stories come out of this bunch. What you are likely to hear though is “Good job! Way to go! Looking good, number 123! Hang in there, number 345!” These folks give you a thumbs up and a smile when they pass you, and shout encouragements when you pass them. What other sport generates that kind of positive attitude? The smiles stretching across people’s faces before the gun goes off and once they’ve crossed the finish line tells you volumes about who they are. There are no game faces here. There is no posturing. No political maneuvering. What you see is humanity at its best. Humanity at its most humble. Its most caring. Its most honest. Its most respectful. And yet at its most confident.

I’ve never met a dumb, lazy or mean triathlete. I’ve never met a dishonest one either. I guess there’s something about the psychology of a person who would spend months preparing their body and their mind for a battle against the miles and the desire to quit that just doesn’t click with petty self-serving behaviors. Counting myself among the ranks of these fine men and women is something I am more grateful for than words can convey. I am very lucky to be part of such a wonderful community of human beings.

Here’s to an all too short but memorable triathlon season with the Finish Line-Hincapie Sportswear Triathlon Team. Looking forward to getting even fitter and faster over the cold months ahead. (Spring will be back before we know it.)

Have a great weekend, everyone. 😉

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Don’t get me wrong: I am very happy with a 1:10:45 finish (a personal best on the Greenville Sprint Triathlon course)… But I was chasing 1:08:12.

Next year, Green Goblin. Next year. Muhahahaha.

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1. I need an aggressive and consistent training regimen in the pool.
2. I need an aggressive and consistent training regimen on the bike.
3. I need an aggressive and consistent run training regimen.
4. Racing without being well prepared is a dumbass thing to do because it kind of hurts, and to top it all off, you don’t win anything.
5. For me, the difference between being race-ready and or not in a sprint distance tri is about 10-12 minutes on the clock.
6. Some of the finest people I will ever know are triathletes. True class acts. Eric, Dave, Mendy, Julie, Janice, Holly, Roby, Beth, Jay, Hal… the list is long and I apologize if I didn’t include you here. (You’re on my long list.) I am VERY lucky to count these people as my friends.
7. There’s no bullshit in triathlon. There is nowhere to hide. The clock doesn’t lie.
8. Racing reveals every single flaw. There’s no escaping it. What you do with those flaws is your choice – which is pretty eye-opening in and of itself.
9. Triathletes are a bunch of VERY fit and VERY twisted people.

Yeah, I had a blast.

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I should have stuck to the training plan.

Going into one of the most competitive races in South Carolina with maybe 5 miles of accidental running in the last two months, maybe two miles of swimming in as much time, and no real bike training other than a few long rides is probably not the best idea in the world.

Am I fit? Yes. Am I lean? Getting there, yes. Am I race ready? Absolutely not. Not even close. This is going to be a VERY rough race for yours truly. I’m just hoping to survive.

This is NOT how I wanted to start off the season. Even for me, this is a pretty slack way to pop the cherry on this year’s triathlon schedule.

This is what happens when you take a management job with a Fortune 500 company, sure, but that isn’t the whole story. All groaning and moaning and butterflies aside, here are some cold hard truths about my utterly demented psyche:

Come Saturday morning, standing on the edge of the water at Lake Hartwell, surrounded by hundreds of men and women far better prepared than I am this time around, worried and nervous and drowzy from not having slept all that well, I will be sporting a possum-eating grin from ear to ear, and I will relish every damn second of the experience.

There was a time when I did come prepared for these things, when I walked away with age group awards and bragging rights, and single-digit rankings. But I was bored. Every race bled into the next. Each season became indistinguishable from the previous one. I eventually lost interest and checked out of the sport for almost two years, opting instead to photograph the races instead of participating in them.

In my own sick, twisted way, not training ensures that I will show up unprepared and nervous and full of self doubt, because at the core of my love for triathlon is the need to challenge myself. To test my will and my body. To overcome the unknown.

Hell, to overcome. Period.

Which is why the last two weeks at work, as challenging and stressful as they have been, as unpleasant and frustrating and time-consuming, have been my best yet.

The truth of the thing is that as much as I love to bitch about being stressed out, as much as I long to hang out on a Mediterranean beach drinking Orangina all day, I am at my best under pressure. I know this. I don’t like to admit it and certainly don’t want to give my boss an excuse to keep me under impossible deadlines indefinitely, but yeah, I’m one of those freaks who lives for thos impossible deadlines. The painful, uncertain races. The most ambitious projects.

I like the gauntlet. No… I love the gauntlet.

So this Saturday, let it be understood that I won’t be walking away with any trophies. My finish time at the Clemson Triathlon will be decent at best, but probably pretty average. I will grit my teeth when the results get posted, and I will kick myself in the ass for weeks for not having trained for it. Months, even. But deep down in my heart, I will know that there was a reason why I opted to skip the runs and the swims to instead work on powerpoint presentations and project proposals and business plans.

It won’t be because I want to kick ass at my job. (I could do both the job thing and the triathlon thing if I really wanted to.) No, the real reason is that I like to dig myself in a hole just to see if I can climb out. And how. And how well. I’m sure there’s a name for this kind of pathos in psychotherapist circles. And I’m sure I could deconstruct it if I really wanted to take the time. A lurking father complex, a hint of narcissism, a dash of masochism, a spoonful of quirky curiosity, a pinch of social anxiety… Whatever. Who cares. It is what it is.

I guess the way I justify it to myself is this: It isn’t like we have to go out and hunt mammoths anymore. We don’t have to outsmart man-eating sabertooths. And that’s too damn bad. Our foes these days are rush hour traffic jams and telemarketing calls during dinner and obtuse aftercare nazis. Twisted guys like me, we need more to get the juices flowing. Some guys are adrenaline junkies. Me, I’m a stress junkie. That’s all it boils down to.

My job, my schedule, my showing up at races unprepared, my tackling public speaking engagements without notes… It’s all part of my little life game. Knowing that I am at my best under stress, I find ways to create the stress.

Sick and twisted? Me? You bet.

See you at Clemson Saturday. I’ll be the guy with the grin sweating bullets and breathing really hard. ;D

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Yep, our friend Roby is back in the States looking all healthy and whatnot. His war isn’t over yet, but he is back for a little while, which is pretty damn cool. It seems that only yesterday, we were waving goodbye and wondering if he’d make it back in one piece. (Not that we ever doubted he would. This isn’t his first time doing the military thing after all.)

If you’re going to be at the Clemson Triathlon this weekend, you might even score a Roby sighting. (Word on the street is he’ll be the runner in a team relay. Hmmm. The plot thickens!)

Anyway, welcome back Roby! Good to have you back.

I’m sure Roby will start lining up graphic design and photography projects in a few weeks, so if you want to get to the front of the line, go to http://www.f360photo.com and follow the links to his very own section of the site (his contact info will be there).

PS: I hear there will be a war photography book in the works very soon. More info on that in a few weeks. If you’re thinking “autographed coffee table book,” we’re on the same page.

Now stop wasting time reading this blog post and go kick ass on the project you SHOULD be working on right now. Go on! Shoo!

😉

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My good friend and super personal trainer Holly DiGiovine sent out an email over the weekend that struck a cord with me. Here’s some of what she had to share:

When you have a goal that is as huge as the marathon-it will “keep you honest.” It’s not like a smaller goal that you can announce and then put off or fake your way through. Once you sign up, commit months to training, and take your first step on race day-you better have done your homework.

The beauty of this is that it goes against 99% of the natural tendencies of our culture that favors gratification without effort or devotion. But is that kind of achievement ever as satisfying? Linda Hill once told me she loved the quote, “There is no glory in training, but there is no glory without training.” In no way is this more true than in running.

And business.

One thing I’ve found over the years is that many of the folks I train with (and race against) are for the most part as devoted to their jobs (if not more) as they are to running or cycling or triathlon.

Unlike participation in say, golf or softball or basketball – no offense to club/league sports – the type of determination, discipline and emotional focus that comes with training day in, day out for extremely challenging endurance events (often by yourself) tends to bleed over into people’s 9-5’s.

Whether you’re training for a marathon, a century or the Ironman triathlon, one thing you quickly find out is that there’s no room for bullshit out there on the pavement. You either do the work or you’re screwed. Politics won’t get you to the finish line. It doesn’t matter who you know or how well you can work the system. When you’re out there, every weakness bubbles up to the surface and stares you in the eye. Lack of prepapartion, lack of motivation, lack of dedication will all come back to bite you in the ass. there’s nowhere to hide. They will all find you and jump up on your back to stop you dead in your tracks. The choice becomes this: Do you let them stop you, or do you accept them and keep going?

You learn a lot about yourself, training for that type of event.
You learn a lot about how to break thresholds and get past your own little ego, training for events like these. When you’re tired and sore and hungry but you still have four miles to go, guess what? You still have four miles to go. How you get through these last four miles is entirely up to you. Nobody cares whether you walk those last four miles or run, or hail a cab. Nobody made you set 26.2 miles as a goal. Or 100 miles. Or 144+.
Once you’ve broken past your lack of will and learned to keep going, you are transformed. A similar thing happens to Marines during training. At some point, who you used to be before you went beyond what you thought your limitations were, before you kissed excuses goodbye, before you left all of the bulllshit that stood in your mind’s way ceases to exist. You become someone else.
That someone else, the marathoner, the long distance cyclist, the triathlete, the Ironman, he or she walks into your place of work with you every morning.
We all work with two types of people: Partisans of the least amount of effort, and dedicated professionals.
The latter aren’t all marathoners and triathletes, but I have yet to meet an Ironman or marathoner who didn’t take his or her intensity and dedication to their job.
Not that there’s anything wrong with drinking a case of beer and watching sports on TV all weekend, but who you are outside of your work does have parallels with who you are when you are at work.
Something to think about.

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