Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Fit Body, Fit Soul By Gordo Byrn

Fit Body, Fit Soul
By Gordo Byrn

Here on XTri, I’ve shared my experiences with Scott Molina and Dave Scott. This article is about spending last weekend with Mark Allen.

I first met Mark outside of the Energy Lab in Kona. I couldn’t believe that you could just walk right up and talk to him! Scott was racing and I asked if Mark knew how he was doing – Mark said that he was 4th female but didn’t look great. We had a chuckle over that… then I started peppering him with questions about training protocols. He answered all of my questions with patience and, eventually, excused himself to go back to covering the race. I could have talked all night!

My second memorable meeting was in Boulder during the summer of 2004. While training for Canada, I only left the house three times for an event that wasn’t directly related to Ironman. The first was a talk that I gave to the Boulder Tri Club; the second was to attend a dinner with Mark; and the third was to eat lunch with the woman that would become my wife. Achieving focus has never been an issue for me…

Something that I don’t write about a lot is that I’ve spent at least 20% of my elite career overtrained. If you are an ultraendurance athlete then getting smoked is an occupational hazard. In fact, I tend to believe that experiencing overtraining was an essential part of learning my limits. However, coming back from overtraining is a lot like bouncing back from an injury – we need to learn to trust our bodies again. Perhaps a better way to put it is that our bodies need to learn to trust us again!

When Mark talks about the 1989 Ironman, he notes that Dave forced him to look inwards at what might have been holding him back. With that in mind, I spent the first week of September thinking about what’s held me back over the last year. I came up with two things: (a) a fear of smoking my immune system again; and (b) a fear of self-detonation in a race.

Mark sits at the top of the sport when it comes to the mental side of racing. Given the events of the summer, I figured that there might be a window of opportunity for Mark to share a few ideas with me. So I dropped him a line and he suggested that I come to the seminar that he gives with Brant Secunda.

Heading into the weekend, I wrote down a list of things that I wanted to cover:

* Scheduling rest
* Phasing the year
* Basic week structure
* Strengthening intent
* Purifying intent
* How much hard stuff & when
* How many races per year

I missed my connection on the way to the conference so arrived with things underway. Brant opened with a reminder that we are guardians of planet and I noted the irony of my burning eight hours of jet fuel to arrive in Austin.

What was the clinic like? At times it was pretty outside of the box compared to the last twenty years of my life. Probably the closest description would be summer camp for adult athletes. Growing up I spent many summers at a YMCA Camp and have fond memories of campfires, singing songs and skits. So I relaxed and treated the spiritual aspects like camp. It helped a lot that Brant is a great storyteller and has a way of putting everyone at ease.

By Noon on Saturday, I’d ticked everything off my hit list and even had a bit of one-on-one with Mark to follow up on a couple of points. From that point on, I considered the rest of the camp “gravy”. If you clickthough in the margin then you can access my full notes.

One of the most useful things that I picked up at the camp was a better framework for training my mind. I often find the sports psychology work is a lot like stretching… I rarely get around to it until race week! What Mark and Brant offered was their approach to integrating the physical with the spiritual. The methods that they explained were simple but covered personal expectations, affirmations and our subconscious minds.

Given that most Olympic medalists report extensive mental training, I was surprised that there weren’t more athletes at the clinic. We had a broad range of attendees from a former naval intelligence officer to a surfer. If you have a spouse that enjoys studying spiritual traditions then the clinic is a great way to spend a weekend together while feeding your triathlon habit.

Seven years ago, the clinic would have likely been “too simple” for me to understand. In my early days of triathlon, I loved complexity – still do at many levels. While the presentation is simple, to follow their advice daily is far from easy. It’s going to be a lot of fun to try.

See you at the races,