By T.J. Murphy/@burning_runner
In introducing this new editorial series, I mentioned one thing I’m interested in exploring is the value of starting off a triathlon program, of any scope, by investing time in knowing the ‘why’ of it. What’s your purpose? Not just a race goal but the reason for taking it on. For those embarking on a journey into Ironman triathlon, it’s an incredibly important question that I have come to believe demands self-honestly. I have this memory of watching a video shown at the pre-race dinner before the Hawaii Ironman, many years ago, where an age-group triathlete was being profiled. When they interviewed his wife, who was holding a baby in her arms, you could see in her eyes the distress being caused by the amount of time being sucked into the Ironman training. In her words she was supportive, but she also said (tears welling in her eyes) that she hoped when it was over they could have him back in their lives.
This was some years ago. I wasn’t a parent or even married at the time. But it made an impact on me. The profile never did investigate what the athlete’s purpose was in taking on the Ironman (I don’t recall it anyway). But one thing it shouldn’t be is an escape from real-life responsibilities. The case might be made that training for and doing an Ironman would help someone develop qualities and character traits that would make them a better parent. I could certainly see that. But there’s a discussion of trade-offs and sub-optimal trade-offs and make-goods that I think would be necessary for that discussion.
Recently I started listening to a new podcast called Cleared Hot. It’s being put out by Andy Stumpf, a medically-retired Navy SEAL. Stumpf served in the SEAL Teams for nearly 17 years, a time that started a few years before 9/11. So as you can imagine his service included numerous deployments into combat.
I think it’s a must-listen to podcast for any endurance athlete. In an authentic, no-bullshit fashion, Stumpf talks about issues like purpose, the value of hard work, focusing on what you can control versus what you can’t, often drawing up on his experiences in the military but also new domains he’s more currently involved in. He offers well-thought out beliefs on subjects ranging from service, to the value of visualization, to learning from mistakes and failure, to cogent criticism of the “secret hack” methodologies that sell all to many books. It’s refreshingly honest stuff—he often takes in a quick, nervous breath when he’s diving into something he feels fervent about. He offers and explains his favorite mottos, like Do What’s Hard First and Be the Example. Simple words, not easy to execute, but with profound impacts.
I think you might enjoy listening to a number of them but there are two I think you shouldn’t miss. One is a solo podcast on the difference between motivation and purpose. I came across Stumpf’s podcast a few days after I had written about how my new personal framework for training for a triathlon is to start off defining the purpose, and this was the show I listened to. Another is with decorated Marine, Brian Chontosh, who talks openly about the deep value he gets from challenging himself in severe ultra-marathon contests. (I didn’t know this, but the new 100-miler is now the 200-miler).
My thinking after listening to Stumpf’s podcast on motivation vs purpose was to consider ways to make what is more or less a fun thing for me to do (jump in a triathlon to be a part of a race and hang out with other triathletes; travel to the destination; be outside; get a dose of race challenge in my life) that have a stronger connection to my personal purpose. Number one, I think the display of discipline and following a long-term training plan are things I’d like my two kids to see me do and trigger some sort of modeling in their circuits. The second is also about my kids. As mentioned, the mission of this column is to explore better ways to train for a triathlon—training and nutrition that build the body up, from metabolism to lean muscle mass to mobility—rather than just wear it out (the way I did it for 25 years). Can I train in a way that his lower volume, higher in intensity, uses better technique, and relies on anti-inflammatory nutrition and come out the other side not only having raced a triathlon but truly healthier, fitter and producing a boost in potential longevity? That’s the idea. I’m an older dad so I want to make choices that will help me last a long time and to last in a form where I don’t become a drag on them.( I was recently listening to a radio interview with a person who had gone into a retirement home. He was like 65. Good lord, I thought. That’s something to be prevented at all possible costs. That and type-2 diabetes, and the likely combination of the two. It seems like it should be low-hanging fruit).
Another value of the high-intensity/low-volume model is that I can keep weekly training time to a minimum, so it’s not simply a vanishing act, leaving behind a 4-year-old and 7-month while I’m out biking around Massachusetts all day.
So that’s where I’m at with the line of thinking on attaching the drive of purpose to my training for a triathlon.
Speaking of someone to model, when it comes to marrying purpose and endurance athletics is Rob Jones, retired Marine who lost his legs in combat and runs with prosthetics. He’s going to be running 31 marathons in 31 days to raise money for organizations like Tunnels To Towers and the Semper Fi Fund. He’s probably running near you sometime and he’d like to put in some miles with you. We spoke to him recently and his website is http://robjonesjourney.com. (We’ll be following his progress here on LAVA).