by T.J. Murphy
One of the simple tips gleaned from the Dave Scott’s triathlon camp I attended this summer was Dave’s advice on how to frame individual workouts. (Here’s a piece I wrote on the camp.)
“Make a game of it,” he said.
Simple yet the more I thought about it, profound. It explains in part why someone like Dave, a six-time Hawaii Ironman champion, has never burned out on training. Despite swimming, biking and running for more than 35 years.
Make a game of it, Dave says. One story Dave told at the camp was how he routinely exhorts his athletes rides in Boulder to make up such games on the spot with whatever might present itself, not unlike kids conjuring up games on the playground.
“We’ll see someone riding ahead of us and I’ll say, ‘let’s get him!”
In other words, imagine that the unsuspecting cyclist a quarter-mile up the road is not just some local roadie but your arch nemesis whose ticket you want to punch. Presumably, these folks have been roared by Dave’s training groups for years now.
During the camp, while I was peacefully scooting along on a Felt tri bike on a section of the Queen K near the Four Seasons Resort Hualalai, I had the feeling I had fallen prey to one of Dave’s games when he blasted up next to me out of nowhere. I was wrong, as he spent the next few minutes sympathetically going my pace to talk through my position on the bike, mechanics and pedal stroke.
Make a game of it: Giving each workout and perhaps each training phase a scenario of competition. I’ve been thinking about this tactic lately and applying it to something quite different than training for a spring or summer race. My wife and I are expecting our daughter to be born in late February. This will be our second. Our son, Milo, just turned three.
It was three years ago I went into being a father for the first time blissfully ignorant of the immediate challenges an infant makes on the idea of a schedule or routine. As in, routines and schedules are obliterated. New dads tend to get caught by surprise, their health plummeting.  A 2015 study confirmed the impression that “resident” fathers were more likely to get fat and out-of-shape then non-resident fathers and non-fathers during the same time period.
This definitely happened to me three years ago. My fitness and health spiraled downward. The side effects of this—and the sleep deprivation obviously plays a big part—were on my levels of energy and my cognitive sharpness. Speaking of making a game of it, you’re just not on top of your game when you keep forgetting where you put your car keys. There are also the ancillary issues of low-overall energy, stress on top of stress on top of stress and the impact that has on hormones, blood biomarkers and health, and the ability to function well enough at work that you don’t get fired.
In other words, this isn’t about being able to retain a triathlon PR or look good on the beach. Rather, the game I want to be able to play as a husband/father in the wake of a new and 24/7-demanding addition to the family is this: How much can I mitigate the impact of poor, irregular sleep and high stress? To what I navigate the really tough first 6 weeks to 6 months-worth of the situation so that I can 1) be a good/supportive father/husband 2) perform well enough at work I don’t lose my day job and 3) don’t end up blood/biomarkers indicating that my inflammation and stress levels are causing me to shed years of life expectancy.
From this perspective, it becomes a fairly high-stakes game. One that last time I could have done better at. Our son was born about 20 minutes to midnight. I once heard Dr. Kirk Parsley, MD, a former Navy SEAL who is now an internationally-acclaimed expert on sleep, talk about how one night of sleep deprivation is enough to do the following: Negatively affect pretty much every category of physical and mental health and performance; screw with the expression of your genetics; fry your system with cortisol during a time that should be restorative.
Chronic sleep loss leads to: Inflammation, poor body composition, anxiety and depression are some consequences.
“I don’t think there’s any area of your life that isn’t significantly impacted by sleep,” Parsley said in an podcast.  “Good quality sleep is probably the most important elixir there is.”
Sleep loss/deprivation is the biggie, and Parsley offers tactics to stem some (but not all) of the damage. (He advises Navy SEALs on these tactics, who have givens within their job that obviously preclude going to bed every night at and blissfuly wake with the sunrise). Sleep hygiene, sleep supplementation, meditation, breathing exercises, autogenics.
Nutrition is another leg of the stool. I know that when my overall stress level increases, my ancestral fight-or-flight instincts seem to kick in and if there’s a donut on the counter, I grab it and eat it in about 12 seconds. My limbic brain kicks into war mode.
Then there’s exercise. While I’m sure it’s been done by others, being a new and sleep-shell-shocked parent, working a job and training 12 hours a week for triathlon would tear me to shreds. Something would give. But the right kind of exercise and in the right doses, whether it’s 10 minutes of calisthenics or a 3-mile run with sprints, or a session of weight lifting or a half-hour of yoga, can help steer hormonal regulation in the right direction as well as enable some energy flow and help with the inflammation/body composition problem. Not to mention burn off stress and keep the brain a bit more alert.
This is the game I’ve been thinking of. Also, taking advantage of technology to help me make the right choices. In particular, easy-to-use/access techs that help me monitor health and recovery.
I have these in mind to help me play the game I’m picturing.
Compression wear. Promoting circulation and recovery. It’s low-hanging fruit. You just have to put them on.
Heat Shock. I just wrote about this. If I can find a sauna that’s hot enough that’s in range of where I live, once a week would be nice addition.
A gym in my basement (already being assembled: dumbbells, a mat, a TRX System). I’ll be following the program model offered by Greg Amundson/Firebreather Fitness. Simple, quick workouts based on old-school exercise movements and a very flexible, adaptable program. I just got the TRX by the way—writing about in a future column—and hooked it up to the ceiling and then did a 20-minute workout. I’m liking it—definitely a good choice for the triathlete who wants a home gym but doesn’t want a Universal taking up a room. And the TRX may be even more effective than a $3000 Bowflex unit.
Sleep monitor. EmFit (a non-invasive sleep monitor that can track quality of sleep)
Masimo Pulse Oximeter. A super-easy way to know how destroyed you are/or (hopefully) aren’t destroyed 30 seconds after you open your eyes in the morning.
Kirk Parsley’s Sleep Remedy. It’s the same stuff he created for the Navy SEALs to help them sleep whenever they have a chance to sleep. It’s a natural sleep aid that helps you nudge yourself into a restorative sleep. As opposed to taking Benadryl or NyQuil or something that basically just knocks you out—which is not a hormonally-optimizing state of sleep as one might suppose.
Compex Electrical Muscle Stim. The more I’ve learned about EMS and fast-twitch muscle fiber, the more I’m a fan of this tech.
Periodic InsideTracker blood testing to help me steer the nutrition and exercise boat. I met with the Cambridge-based Inside Tracker crew last week and was really impressed with their knowledge of what is clearly a new and strong frontier in fitness and athletic performance.

Daily mobility exercises from the likes of Kelly StarrettBrad Cox and Sonia Pasquale. As Dave Scott said at his camp, “There is no strength without mobility.” For a triathlete or runner wanting to generate power and efficiency as well as possible, mobility is a key target.  Anyone who has ever coached me knows knows how I struggle with mobility, particularly in the hips, hip flexors, hamstrings and ankles. And feet and shoulders. I’ve learned (over and over) that if I don’t work on it every day it fades in a puff of smoke. And then my back goes out. And then I start all over. So this is another biggie. Part of my home gym is an assortment of mobility tools (rollers, trigger point devices, etc). As Brad Cox told me in an interview last week, you don’t need an hour to deliver an effective mobility punch. “You just need a few minutes to achieve some solid work. It’s going to be painful, but it will do the job a lot more effectively than aimlessly rolling around on a foam roller for an hour.”

 T.J. Murphy is editor-in-chief of LAVA Magazine and author of Inside the Box.