Monday, February 1, 2016

Sue Aquila

Big Training Week: How the Best Recover

I had a brief moment of panic the other week when I found myself in a paceline on a bumpy, rutted road behind three champions. In front of me were Marilyn McDonald, Chris McDonald and Angela Naeth. The only thought running through my head was to not cause an accident as these incredible athletes do this for a living!

Competing for Health

Fifteen years ago I opened my business. Not long after I opened my first retail store, a national chain decided to open a competing store across the street. Before they opened, I was invited to meet with some of their corporate executives. Their message was direct and simple: sell to us for a paltry sum or we will put you out of business.

I bluffed my way through the meeting with a polite “no thank you” to hide the genuine fear I felt. Everything was riding on my business -- financial health, personal health and my ego.

Experiencing the gut wrenching fear of intense competition was the best thing that could have happened to me.

Rebooting Your Health for Your 2012 Season

The past year has been an amazing year for me as my performance improved dramatically. My training volume was high and challenging. I am pleased that I did so without getting sick or injured.

Often we hear the horror stories of people destroying themselves with too much: too much training and too much intensity. Preparing the 2012 season starts now with a focus on being as healthy as possible for the big weeks of training ahead.

What do I recommend now to be physically and mentally healthy later?

After Your Big Race: Recovery and Reboot

Due to geography and my target market, the business that I own is cyclical. Very busy in the fall, not-for-profit over the holidays, very busy in the spring and moderately busy in the summer. When I started my business, the holiday period felt very stressful. After a few years I learned to embrace our slow time as one of recovery and reboot for our staff/business.

The same principle of recovery and reboot applies to our training.

Digging Deep to Your Best Ironman Marathon

Having your best IM marathon starts with training. Let’s assume you have done the training and you made good choices in the race to not be “one of those guys.” You know, the guys who look in great shape and are describing to their marathon walk buddy how they crushed the bike. Five hours of walking should give you plenty of time to realize crushing the bike was probably not in your best interest.

Becoming a Fast Age-Grouper: Work It!

This past spring I won the Master’s division of a half marathon and another competitor in a similar age group asked how I was able to run a strong race. I looked at her sheepishly and replied that I was not normal. I trained. A lot. After I filled her in with what my training consisted of she suddenly had a huge smile on her face and thanked me. She felt much better about her performance in the context of her training.

Having the Time of Your Life - Part II

Last time, I told you about some of my approaches to time management -- the things I do that help me live a less “cluttered” life. Today, I’m going to share some of the external resources I rely on to enable more efficient use of my time.

Having the Time of Your Life - Part I

One gift of long course training is that it has helped me to identify some important tenets in my life: family, health and business. By knowing the three things that matter (and conversely the things that don’t matter) I am able to prioritize the one asset that is fixed: time.

Lessons from the Best

At the Endurance Corner Boulder Camp, we had amazing speakers including World Champion Triathletes and exceptional coaches. I thought I'd share some of my notes about their unique perspectives on pursuing excellence and long course triathlon success.

Boulder: Postcards from Endurance Corner Camp

I recently attended Endurance Corner's Boulder Camp. I thought the best way to describe the camp experience was to share some of our moments.

Three Degrees of Planning

by Sue Aquila

Last fall, I decided to continue my triathlon education and become a certified USA Triathlon coach. Part of the certification process involves attending a weekend training including a session on the annual training plan for your athletes. There is a pretty nifty excel spreadsheet where you can carefully plan the athlete’s training from base to race prep. Essentially, it is your athlete’s strategic plan for the season.

The concept of an annual training plan or strategic plan is great... in a perfect world. The world is rarely perfect.

Twelve Tips for Your Next Triathlon

In my home office, I have a lovely display I call my “wall of shame.” It is the memorabilia I have received from any and all races. It’s an idea I stole from a successful author after visiting his office. My wall is a great reminder of where I have been, what I have seen and where I am going.

I have been fortunate to learn/steal many good tips during those races. Here are some of my favorites.


I have a friend who has been an entrepreneur for a very long time. I like to think of him as a mentor and a friend. What have I learned from my experience as his mentee? What not to do. If we talk about an idea I have and he expresses any hint of excitement or interest, I know my idea is dead in the water.

Most people think of mentors as people we want to imitate personally or professionally. I think that we need to have both mentors we emulate and mentors whose choices we want to avoid. They make life even more interesting!

Seven Steps to the Top of Your Age Group

I remember the pre-race excitement and fear of my first triathlon. I asked an Ironman finisher for advice during the transitions. She told me the key is to “take your time.” I failed to mention to her that my first triathlon was a sprint triathlon. I followed her advice perfectly. To this day my training partners make fun of me for stopping to make a cappuccino and eat a croissant during T1. It seems redundant to even mention that I finished at the back of the pack.

Three years later and I am enjoying moving to the “pointy end” of the field. I have embraced the following principles to move up the field.

Measuring Success

As a business owner, I initially defined my success on the bottom line of my business. If my revenue exceeded my costs then I was profitable and successful. The business and I have matured enough to broaden my standards of success from the quantitative to the qualitative.

How does that apply to triathlon?

Race Awakening

I had a friend mention that she is haunted by performances of races past. Easy to understand when you are used to winning races at a young age and have now become a Master’s athlete with your best times behind you.

I am relatively new to the sport and I am haunted by performances of races in my future.

Letting Go

About 10 years ago, a young college student showed up needing a job. She was bright, funny and a hard worker. Life had thrown her a few curve balls and she handled them with introspection and grace. She was competitive and wanted to prove that she was the best. At everything. She was.

As my life goals changed, I eventually realized that she was the person to run my business. Ten years later she is the COO (Chief Operating Officer) for our two core businesses. She has grown into a leader and a woman that others admire.

Having someone else run your business or your training requires letting go. Letting go of control, letting go of mistakes and sometimes letting go of money. In exchange of letting go, I received the gift of time.

Are You Fit?

Sometimes it rains.

Six months ago my best friend Ann was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer. To most people, this would be catastrophic. It was.

Despite the cancer, Ann was ready to implement her plan of attack. Why? Because a couple of years earlier her adult son, Zachary, died after developing multiple lymphomas. Ann is an excellent student and applied the lessons she learned from her son’s cancer to her own.

Ann knew that it rains and she was prepared. How? By being fit in every way possible.

Triathlon Outsourcing

In a few short weeks, many of us will be back in the training saddle. As winter begins to move on, this is a perfect time to outsource the distractions in your life to focus truly on the things that are important: your family, your health (a nice euphemism for training) and your work.

Low Hanging Fruit

During the act of vacating (vacation), I had an opportunity to capture the picture of the man to the left trimming a palm tree. Who knew you had to trim palm trees? This man scurried up the tree with a rope and a machete. He proceeded to chop off the coconuts and the dead branches. I thought, wow, that is a tough dangerous job and it is a metaphor for so much of what we do professionally and as triathletes.

Four Habits of Successful Triathletes

Anyone that spends a lot of time in the kitchen knows that there are three types of cooking: using a recipe, using a formula or winging it. A recipe is perfect for repeating a dish in terms of flavor and consistency. A formula is necessary for anything involving a chemical reaction such as baking. Formula’s are much less forgiving than recipes and frequent tinkering often results in a baking disaster. Winging it is fun and leads to often terrific dishes that the chef is never able to replicate.

I know triathletes and business owners that generally fall into the three cooking categories. Many successful ones tend to fall into the recipe method. The truly outstanding ones seem to subscribe to the formula method.

Nine Areas of Intention

The last two months I have focused on technical improvements in my swimming. One thing that helped was hypoxic breathing (aka the "every breath I don't take" drills). The first time I attempted hypoxic breathing was a disaster. Breathing every five strokes was difficult, breathing every seven was a nightmare and breathing every nine would require a therapist and medivac.

I realized the problem was in my brain and my intentions. Time for a change.

Tidings of Comfort and Joy

Winter snuck up on me this year. Almost overnight the sky has turned grey, the biting winter wind appeared and somewhere along the way my vitamin D levels fell off a cliff. I am now swimming indoors, cycling indoors and dreaming of warmer climates bathed in sun.

This is the time of year that I hear the siren call of the tidings of comfort. Maybe you have met him/her? He/she suggests a roaring fire, a wedge of brie, a great big crusty baguette and a terrific glass of wine. The cold and gray seem to invite the comforts of all the things I avoid in season: inactivity, rich food and heat.

The Onseason: Debt Analysis

Everywhere I turn I experience individuals and companies that share one common trait: debt. We have lots of fancy words for debt that include deficit, mortgage, leverage, loans, and the most offensive one being credit cards. Imagine how little people might use that piece of plastic if they were called “debt cards.”

All of the words for debt mean the same thing; I owe, I owe, and it is off to work I go. As someone who is debt phobic, I have had some opportunities for self-analysis this week. I realized that I have accumulated some serious debts that have nothing to do with money.

The Doing of Your Season Review

by Sue Aquila

"The doing of the doing is why nothing gets done."

Triathletes and business owners share a common trait: neither want to stay in one place very long. Place can be exchanged with the following: a chair, a market, a city, a marriage or a house. Both triathletes and business owners are objects in motion. As Newton states, "An object in motion, stays in motion." We resist changes in motion especially if you have a love for a sport that only involves one motion -- forward.

The challenge for the athletes and business owners is to turn off your cruise control. I am not asking you to stop your workouts or your business. I am asking you to be present. Apply the associative skills you use successfully when racing to the rest of your life.

Body Composition: Managing My Assets

by Sue Aquila

Ten years ago, I was 40 pounds heavier and sedentary. Every time my daughter shows her baby pictures I cringe. I believe running and later, at the suggestion of a friend, triathlon saved my health and eventually my life.

As I started my athletic journey, I learned to apply the principles of my business to improving my body composition. The same principles I use to maintain a profitable business I apply to managing my body composition.

Choosing an Elite Life

by Sue Aquila

When someone comes to me for advice on starting a business, most often they are not really looking for advice. These budding entrepreneurs are looking for someone to listen to them talk about starting their business and often hoping that the listener will be inspired to invest.

I find the same is true in triathlon. Now people are coming to me asking for advice on their training. Usually they are three weeks out from their A race. They are not really looking for advice, but rather reassurance. My responses to both entrepreneurs and triathletes who just want to be heard is very similar, “Do your homework and follow your heart.”

Cutting Endurance Corners

by Sue Aquila

I recently went into my local organic food coop to get my multicolored veggie fix for the week. After selecting my organic meats (is there any such thing as inorganic meat?) I worked my way to the register. At the register I asked the woman for a plastic bag to keep the meat isolated from my veggies. The woman explained to me that they no longer keep plastic bags at the register and that I would need to remember to grab a plastic bag at the meat counter. Given my obsession with service, I asked her why they made that change. She explained that the register area had gotten too crowded for the staff. The staff had decided to cut corners for their comfort rather than service their customer.

In triathlon training, cutting or not cutting endurance corners can be an excellent predictor of success/improvement. What do I mean by cutting corners?

Heat Wave: Crisis Management

by Sue Aquila

This has been the summer of business crisis management-- actually, it’s been more like the summer of how not to manage a crisis! We have had Toyota blaming crashes on floor mats, BP leaving every trace in the Gulf, and Apple instructing us how to hold our cell phones.

In triathlon, our crisis management is often weather related. Usually our concerns revolve around how hot it will be during the race. Lately, it seems like every race is “damn hot” and ridiculously humid. In the beginning of my triathlon career, I had a horrible time learning how to overcome the crisis of weather. Over time, I have learned to “adapt and improvise!”

Tapering: The Art of Detachment

I will feel like crap. I refer to it as the taper hangover.

I will complain about tapering. I will describe it without hesitation to anyone I meet (boring them to a slow and painful death).

My coworkers dread it. The increase in energy level is frightening and if harnessed could solve our alternative energy crisis.

This year I am adding a new weapon to my taper arsenal: detachment. Business has races or key events that require tapering similar to training and may require tapering in training. The events requiring tapering share common traits -- a peak event for revenue and/or an event that has an unusually high level of risk or reward.

Over time I have learned to research, make the tough decision, reduce my work fatigue and get ready to do the work. Once the decision is made I practice the art of detachment and focus on the success of the project. Failure is not an option. What if I don't detach from my decision? I find I am plagued by second guessing, worry and made up problems.

How will I apply my business taper to my training taper? By practicing the art of detachment. I recognize that my body lies. During training, we all are incredibly connected to our bodies and it's myriad of idiosyncrasies. We listen to every gurgle and feel every tweak as we analyze how far over the edge we could fall. Ironically this connection is a strength in my training but a weakness in my taper.

This year I am prepared for my body to lie. The taper hangover and tweaks are all a conspiracy for my body to get the training it craves. The body is a cruel master requiring us to push ourselves over the edge or to do utterly nothing.

This year I will approach taper as the end game for my business of training. I will rest, I will sharpen my tools and I will get ready to do the work. If my body has anything to say about it, I will send the call to voicemail.

By the way, I never check my voicemail.