Monday, February 1, 2016

What it takes By Gordo Byrn

What it takes
By Gordo Byrn

We have made it to Queenstown, New Zealand on Day Six of Epic Camp. Seeing as I managed a 90 minute nap this afternoon, it will be a few hours before I fall asleep. So, I am going to take a chance and write an epilogue-type piece when we still have two days to go.

Early in the camp one of the guys asked Scott, 'Why Epic?' I was nearby and Scott's reply was to ask me. At the time, I didn't have any reason. So I have been thinking about that on my bike for the last few days (six days, 935Ks of riding). There are two answers that ring true to me -- three years ago, I probably would have told you that Epic is the best way to prepare for Ironman racing. Not as sure of that now -- Epic is certainly an effective way to train but there are a lot of effective ways to train and we have had athletes that score great at the camps but struggle to race well. We've also had athletes that score low in the camps but, clearly, have what it takes to succeed. So don't read too much into the General Classification for the camp.

For me, there is no reason, per se. I enjoy exercising all-day and have always been good at it relative to my peers. Nobody at the camp is a current world champion at anything -- however -- everyone at the camp is a good athlete. These are the types of people that are fun for me to hang around and help me get more out of myself than is possible on my own. I have done at least 400K of hard, hard cycling this week. I don't even ride 40K hard when I train on my own. I am getting more done than I thought possible and re-training my mind to cope with fatigue. The camp mixes what I am great at (long days) with what I am weak at (others controlling pace, short duration TTs, jumps, bridging). Is it optimal? For personal health, I doubt it. But I am happy, soaking up massive training load and proving to myself that I can do a lot more than I thought possible. In terms of my athletics and the way that I want to live my life -- the camp is a good thing, for now. Molina says that he's going to wear out before me but he always talks like that when he's tired!

The other answer is that Epic Camp provides an insight into the key elements that are required for ultradistance athletic success. Epic Camp is not what it takes. However, if you pay attention to how you do at Epic Camp then you will gain insights into whether you have what it takes to succeed at ultradistance athletics.

In December, I thought that I might be 'cured' of my desire for athletic success. In reality, I had lost sight of my enjoyment from physical exertion. To recapture my enjoyment of training, I got rid of everything that measured how I was training. My only benchmarks were -- #1 did I enjoy my training; and #2 how much training did I complete? I shared my new training secret with Monica and she asked me if that wasn't what I had always done. Of course she is right, I have struggled with my motivation as my goal shifted from out-training my competition to out-racing my competition. Training is what I do best -- I'm not a great racer.

I wear my watch in three situations on the camp -- to time my open water swims (we need to swim 3K to get a point); to time my runs (we need to run 50 minutes to get a point); and to make sure that I wake up with enough time to coffee-load each morning before training. I haven't used a speedometer, powermeter, GPS or bike computer this entire camp. Why? Because they don't matter.

Until you can do the training required to achieve your athletic goals, the structure of your training doesn't matter. The people that try to convince us otherwise are, mostly, trying to control us, or sell us something. Money spent on advice that you don't apply is totally wasted. Unless I am going to apply expert advice to the best of my ability then I don't ask for help.

I train with guys that positive split every swim (clock is right there, ignored); every run (wearing an HRM, ignored); and every ride (while looking at their powermeter, ignored). The camps offer the chance to clearly see the effects of starting out too hard, burning matches and blowing yourself to smithereens. Epic Camp lets the campers identify self-sabotaging emotions and training strategies. Workout 'failure', a van ride, or overuse injury, can provide a learning opportunity about personal limits. The only male ironman champion that attended Epic took a van ride (once) on camp. He described it as one of the worst days of his life. In his case, a brief personal weakness made him a lot stronger.

The good news is that the campers quickly learn that total detonation isn't fatal and they can bounce back quickly. Fatigue isn't an emotion, it is a state. While fatigue limits work, it doesn't prevent work. These lessons are essential to put together a fast marathon after swimming 2.4 miles and riding 112 miles. What limits performance in 8-17 hour events is arousal control, pace judgement and capacity to work under stress.

I suppose we all wonder -- do I have what it takes to become 'great'? If someone could lay out the magic formula then we convince ourselves that it would be simple to follow their plan. The successful people that I know can't explain their process of success -- however -- they all share an enjoyment of the work required along the path of success. Not enjoying Epic Camp (or your training) is a sign that the huge amount of effort required to achieve your maximum potential may be better spent elsewhere.

Many athletes believe that they could become great athletes if were able to remove all the distractions that prevent them from achieving greatness. Epic Camp is a chance to remove all the distractions, train big miles with strong people and see if you enjoy it. I'd say at least half of the people that come to these camps return to the real world realizing that they do a great job with their athletics given the other priorities in their life. The camps can be inspirational as well as educational.

While we can become great relative to ourselves, only the select few will become great relative to others. There is a paradox that surrounds talent and achievement. Most talented people are unable to overcome the factors that limit their achievement -- and -- nearly everyone underestimates their talent until they truly apply themselves. A tremendous amount of talent is required to overcome the athletes with the greatest work ethics. Scott Molina has the rare combination of talent and work ethic -- it's fun to see that on display. I rode until I was bleeding on my bike yesterday and he STILL beat me on the uphill TT. I might never beat him on an uphill TT but I will keep on trying. He needs me...

The final point is one that Scott taught me early in my triathlon career. It takes a long time to get good.

If you want to get an idea about what it takes for you to succeed then: (a) take Epic Camp; (b) cut it in half; and (c) repeat it 40 weeks a year for three years. �If you can do the training, support yourself financially, have fun and find yourself at the very top of the agegroup ranks then you may have what it takes (whatever that means!).

At that stage (not before), consider if you want to take three years and remove everything in your life that isn't directly connected to athletic success. �It is not surprising that many elite athletes come from humble socio-economic backgrounds, they have the least to lose from following the path to athletic greatness.