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Sunday, December 7, 2014

So, you want to go pro?

This post is, primarily, a shout out to readers who have always thought about trying to become really good at something (and maybe even make a career of it) but figured it’s just not possible due to time constraints, obligations, limitations, and other “real life” stuff.  That said, the ideas below are just as relevant to you if you work passionately for a company/organization, if you’re an employeepreneur who’s working to climb the ladder, or if you have already found your niche and just want to get even better.  

Hopefully at least one of the categories above resonates with you at least a little bit.  OK?  OK.  Let’s roll.

If you ask me, you’re a certified pro at something if:
  • You’re making or have made a career of it.
  • You make at least a little bit of money doing it.  Or a lot.
  • You rank in the top few percent of the field or hold a pro license.
  • You really like doing it and have set up your life so you can do it a lot.  

So, why would you want to go pro?
  • Maybe you want to spend more time in flowand less in trying to simply make it through the day.
  • Maybe you feel like getting better just for the purpose of growing.  
  • Or maybe you want to be the best. Period.
  • Maybe you want to be proud of yourself.*
  • Maybe you’re ready for a change.

And, most importantly, how do you go pro?

This one’s the key and our focus here because, well, I think it’s important to go pro, in one way or another.  (Hint: one way to start is by thinking of yourself as a pro in something you already do).  Sometimes, people fall into a rut, feeling trapped within a certain job, lifestyle, mindset, field of work, or way of doing things.  They want to go pro with something else, but don’t think it’s possible.  

It is.  Here’s how.  (And even if you are already going pro at something you really do feel passionate about, you might think about applying some of these to your quest therein).

Trav’s Top 5 Go Pro Tips

1. Believe you can do it.
A decade of ultra endurance racing around the world in a variety of sports has taught me that you won't get anywhere without a commitment ahead of time and believing in yourself.  As I say in The Ultra Mindset (for sale now on Amazon), you should, "Have an ego and use it."

2.  Cut the pork.
Going pro is going to take time, and you'll have to get that time somewhere.  They say the average American watches four hours of TV every day.  Four hours per day is enough time to be a pro at almost anything!  Heck, a person could watch two hours of TV and then train for two hours and still be an Ironman triathlete.  You're probably not the average American though (thank goodness).  Could you shift work so that you spend less time commuting?  Could you go pro early in the morning or during lunch break?  Could you go out for a walk or easy run while you're on the conference call?  Could you hire people to do things (housecleaning, accounting, etc.) that are taking time away from your quest?  

3.  Remove choice and make it a habit.
When I was writing my book alongside work, training, and raising kids, a simple if/then rule made putting in the time for writing nice and simple: "If it's between 5:00 and 6:00 a.m., then I will be writing my book."  The rule was set, and all I had to do was follow it.  Pretty soon, I had a book.  What's your if/then rule?  Where do you need to develop a habit?  Or, maybe your key will be to stop doing something that's holding you back.  If you like this thinking, you'll really like "The 4:30 a.m. Rule" in the book.

4.  Be a wannabe.
Here's what John Hanc and I say in The Ultra Mindset: "Get close to the people you want to be like—make the most of goal contagion. By identifying people you would like to emulate in one or more ways, you can find examples of people who are reaching goals similar to your own. Utilize the synergy and push each other."

5. Be vulnerable, ask for help, and get ready to hear "no" more often than not.
I've really been enjoying Daring Greatly, by Brene Brown, Ph.D.  The book is about the significant advantages of being comfortable with being vulnerable.  How does that work?  Read the book.  Or, read my book, which actually addresses the ego topic as: "Have an ego and use it--until it's time to put your ego aside."
If you’re going pro, I’d love to hear about it and support you if I can.  Shoot me a message by replying here or through
I did my best to apply the “go pro” mindset at the USA Track and Field Trail Marathon National Championshipin Moab a few weeks ago.  Race Director Danelle Ballengee, who’s a good friend, put together an awesome course, complete with plenty of very technical terrain and a couple of solid climbs.  I wrapped up the season with a fourth place finish, and I must say I’m stoked for more ultra and trail running in 2015!

Thanks for reading,


*If you ask me, you should already be proud of yourself.  Start with happiness.  Once that's in place, I bet so-called “success” will come a lot easier than when achievement recognized by someone else was a prereq for satisfaction.

Monday, October 27, 2014

Having Kids is a Reason to Follow Your Dreams

This topic was originally planned as one of the chapters in my new book.  We had to cut some chapters to fit the publisher's guidelines for length, but I still want to share it with you.  The book draft material comes first; keep reading for some inspiring commentary from two newsletter readers who are also parents chasing their dreams.

Do you want to be the parent who looks his or her child in the eye and admits, “Well, I had this big dream that was and is very important to making the most of the short life I have here, but you came along and messed it all up”?

Do you really want to tell your kids that?

“Well,” that voice inside says, “I could just not say anything--my kids won’t know I’m scrapping my dreams and using them as an excuse.”  Kids pay attention.  They will know.  And thinking of them learning to give up and to settle for mediocrity by watching their own parents almost brings tears to my eyes.

Personally, I want to be able to say, and to do so honestly, “I have dreams, Wyatt and Lila, and I am pursuing them wholeheartedly because of you.  Because I want to show you how important it is to go for something big, and to show you just how to do it.  I want you to see that I fail all the time, at least as often as I succeed, and I want you to see that I keep on hammering even when I fail, looking constantly for new and creative solutions, knowing that I will eventually win, even if only through perseverance and grit and outlasting the competition.  I want you to see that, as proven by my example, the only real failure is passing through life on cruise control while spending a lot of your time doing something you don’t really care about.  I want you to know that the crazyness and weirdness in our lives and my racing and my work all has a purpose, and that striving to be the best and achieve a dream is more than worth the sacrifice.”

In their excellent text, Raising Resilient Children, Robert Brooks, Ph.D., and Sam Goldstein, Ph.D. identify resilience as the key trait we should be intentionally working to develop in our children.  They describe resilience in children as “the inner strength to deal completely and successfully, day after day, with the challenges and demands they encounter” (1).  And here’s the best part: YOU can play a monumental role by acting as a “charismatic adult,” or someone from whom a child pulls in strength.  “Never underestimate the power of one person to redirect a child toward a more productive, successful, satisfying life,” they write (11).  Any parent or teacher knows that kids are always watching us, and the ultra mindset application of the charismatic adult concept is simple: the best way to teach your kids to follow their own dreams and to give them the strength to make it happen is to show (not just tell) them that you are doing just that, each and every day.

My dad and I got to chase our dreams together early in the month at the US Skyrunning Championships, where I won the Vertical Kilometer event.  Also, if you're interested in some audio on the Ultra Mindset, my interview with Rewire Your Brain to Think Thin is available today and tomorrow only.

Guest Contribution #1

Amy Hatch is a parent and Founder of Garage Grown Gear.  I really like what she has to say:

When Travis asked me to write a few words for this newsletter, I initially thought I might write something about how I’m a better, more present mom when pursuing my own professional and athletic passions. This is definitely true, but really only half of the story.

I’m also a better entrepreneur and outdoor adventurer because of my daughter. To explain why, I present the 3 Ps. (C’mon, who doesn’t love a good a mnemonic?).

Perspective: I picked my daughter up after one particularly stressful day this week. (Launching an online store, as it turns out, is no small feat). On the way home, she asked to stop by the playground. So we did. Before long, I was careening superman-style down the slide. And, later that night, I found myself in a full-fledged contest to see who could sing Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes the fastest. The moral? It’s hard to take life too seriously when you have a kid around to help keep things in perspective.

Purpose: There’s no two ways about it, following your dreams while being a parent is tough. But I’m pretty certain following your dreams while not being a parent is also tough. Inevitably, there will be tremendous obstacles and moments of self-doubt. Being a mom has given me a deep sense of purpose that has seen me through those dark hours. When I boil it all down, the purpose of Garage Grown Gear is to connect people to the outdoors. But when I really boil it all down, I’m building my business so that I have more financial and time freedom to be with my family and play outside.

Passion: One of the things I love most about kids is that they lead with their heart and live in the moment. They don’t run to get exercise; they run because it’s fun. They don’t create an image to get a higher click-through rate; they create an image because it’s fun. Being a parent helps remind me to let passion be my guide. 

About Garage Grown Gear: We connect you to independent outdoor brands making innovative, high-performing and wildly cool gear. We scout for the innovators of today and the icons of tomorrow. We tell stories of individuals with ideas. We do this through an online store and magazine.

Guest Contribution #2

Kathleen Allen is a mother of four, competitive athlete for over 20 years, trainer, Girls on the Run Coach, and all-around "go-getter" here in Evergreen, Colorado.  She shared some compelling ideas about why female endurance athletes often become stronger, more competitive athletes after having children.  For the record, I think some of these apply to guys as well.
  • Forced time off.  We typically push ourselves—and often TOO hard.  A good break from training does wonders!
  • New pain threshold.  Athletes know pain, but pregnancy teaches a woman to differentiate between "bad pain" and "productive pain."
  • Learn to trust the body.  Athletes often feel we are in control of all aspects of our bodies, but pregnancy (and the body becoming a "baby house") reminds us that we need to listen and trust more than simply dictating.
  • Having kids makes you “hungry.”  Before kids, training sometimes felt like “I have to.”  Now, it’s “I GET to!”  I’m too busy to over-analyze things, and having fun makes me faster.

Want to contribute to the newsletter?  Just let me know through an email or note at 
Thanks for reading,

PS- Here's a great TED Talk on this topic.  

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Monday, October 6, 2014

Got Grit?

The grit bus is on a roll, and I’m grabbing a seat.

Defined by Webster’s as “stubborn courage, pluck, determination,” grit has become a hot topic in academia and education. Angela Lee Duckworth, Ph.D., of the Positive Psychology Center and The Duckworth Lab at the University of Pennsylvania studies grit and self-control, and her research suggests that these are two critical personality traits in terms of success. Dr. Duckworth (who has an excellent Ted Talk) has found that grit predicts a dizzying array of achievements, including surviving the first summer of training at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, reaching the final rounds of the National Spelling Bee, retention in both the U.S. Special Forces and among novice teachers, graduation from Chicago public high schools, performance in standardized test scores, and physical fitness. In other studies, she notes, “grit correlates with lifetime educational attainment and, inversely, lifetime career changes and divorce.”

Well, that’s great. But how do you build something as intangible as “grit” (other than by not washing your three-year-old for a couple of days)? I hope to give you some good answers in The Ultra Mindset: An Endurance Champion’s 8 Core Principles for Success in Business, Sports, and Life, which comes out March 24 and can be pre-ordered here.

Until then, here’s a great story that explains how America’s best XTERRA off-road triathlete, Josiah Middaugh, built some of his grit as a kid.

In 1988, Josiah Middaugh was sleeping in a tent on a remote Canadian island in Lake Huron. The ten-year-old’s grandparents rested in their cabin at the other end of the island, and little Josiah was out in the woods by himself. He was a little bit scared, but he slept well because he was so tired.

Josiah had spent the day, you see, deeply engrossed in a lengthy exercise of mental training. A week ago, he had ridden the bus, alone, from the small, rural, Bohemian community near East Jordan, Michigan where he lived with his parents and siblings in a home he now proudly refers to as “simple,” recalling that the floor was dirt for awhile until his hard-working parents built one out of wood. Josiah met his grandfather at the bus station, and they canoed two miles to the island, where the only mark of man was one small cabin.

As they paddled together, the old man explained the boy’s schedule for the trip. Sleep in the tent and wake up early. Paddle to the mainland. Run two miles. Paddle back to the island. Work for four hours, managing the land and mending the cabin. Play in the afternoon. Eat dinner. Sleep in the tent.

Josiah stuck to the schedule, and he worked hard. He was happy when, at the end of the trip, his grandfather paid him $1 for every hour of work he had done. And he didn't whine when his grandfather explained that he needed to give half of that back to pay for the temporary health insurance that had been purchased for his time in Canada. Josiah Middaugh didn't complain or give in to fear or worry about being alone or seek out daily comforts then, and he doesn’t now.

Training hard is part of the reason Josiah is the best, but when push comes to shove, it’s his mental toughness, day in and day out, that sets him apart.

Food for thought:

What does grit mean to you?

In what areas of life are you gritty?

In what areas of life aren’t you gritty?

What will you do to build grit this week?

What stories can you tell yourself to become grittier?

Grit played a big role for me at Ultra Race of Champions: The Ultrarunning World Championship in September. The 100k course climbed about 10,000 feet and occurred between 9,800 and 12,400 feet in elevation. It was a pretty good day at the office and I finished 3rd.

I also enjoyed doing an expert interview with Marna Thall as part of her Rewire Your Brain to Think Thin summit. We discussed Ultra Mindset principles, and the interview will be played here on October 25.

Thanks for reading,


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Thursday, September 4, 2014

“The way we spend our days is the way we spend our lives.”

I just got back from my morning run on Grays Peak, a 14er close to home here in Evergreen, Colorado. I’m stinky and salty sweat is stinging my eyes, but the ideas are flowing, so it’s time to write.

I spent the last 10 minutes of my cruise down to the truck considering a simple question: What matters to me in life right now?

Here’s what I came up with:

1. Be the best father and husband I can be.

2. Help other people learn, reach their potential, and make the most of life.

3. Reach my own professional potential in racing, teaching, writing, coaching, and speaking.

There it is--nice and simple. Three goals, three ways I should be spending my time. But is it really that simple?

If you’re like me, it sometimes feels like a million things are pulling you every which way, almost to the point of hardly even knowing what you are actually doing at any given moment (which is probably because you are trying to do at least three things at once).

Brigid Schulte’s Overwhelmed: Work, Love, and Play When No One Has the Time, which I listened to this summer via Audible while running in Europe, addresses the situation above. She uses the term, "time confetti," to describe a scattering of small bits of time allocated to various pursuits throughout the day. Schulte presents a variety of points relevant to my life--and maybe to yours as well. Two of her points come to mind as I think about what’s important to me.

The first: “The way we spend our days is the way we spend our lives.” And the second: We should only spend 5% of our time on things that do not fall within our foundational goals in life.

I really like what Schulte has to say here, and I’m going to spend some more time over the next few days thinking about whether the way I currently spend my days is really how I want to spend my life. I’ll also think about how I can plan ahead to spend less time on things that don’t fall within my focus areas--and maybe even loosen my expectations of myself in those areas to make time for boosting performance in the Big 3 I identified above.

If you’re interested, give it some thought yourself:

What matters to you in life right now?

How do you spend your days? Does the answer align with how you want to spend your life?

If not, what needs to change and how will you make that happen? Remember, you (not negative stories or external forces) are in charge of your life. My experience is that fear of risk and so-called "instability" is usually what holds people back from spending their lives in what they believe to be meaningful ways.

How much time do you spend on tasks unrelated to the things that really matter? How can you shrink this to less than 5% of your time?

As always, I’d love to know what you think.

August was a good month. I particularly enjoyed pacing Emma Roca in her epic win at the Leadville 100 run and conducting a corporate motivational training session for Oracle. I also had fun doing this podcast with Randy Ericksen of Adventure Race World. I just about have a complete manuscript of The Ultra Mindset to send to Da Capo Press, and that's exciting as well!

Thanks for reading,

PS- #1 in palliative care nurse Bronnie Ware's The Top Five Regrets of the Dying: "I wish I'd had the courage to live a life true to myself, not the life others expected of me."

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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Is going big worth the effort? No doubt about it!

[Readers: If you like the following newsletter, please feel free to sign up for subsequent newsletters by email at  I'd be honored to share with you :-) ]

In business, sports, and life, what you get out is what you put in.

In most cases, making the most of and going big in work, play, family, athletics, and life in general requires putting a lot into it.  This summer's six-week Macy Family journey to Europe has been a very challenging--and even more rewarding--reminder of just that.  Amy and I left our home in Evergreen, Colorado on June 10th with our kids, Wyatt, 3, and Lila, 1. Going big requires putting in the effort. For us, that means a crazy scramble that allows us to see the world with our kids this summer.  The photos to the left tell some of the story about why working hard--in this case, fighting the common story, "traveling with little kids is too much work"--really is worth it.

The final weeks before our trip were incredibly stressful for Amy and I as we planned details for the trip, wrapped up loose ends, worked hard on Amy's transition to full-time private college counseling, trained for my races, and tried to make sure our kids had something to eat.

When we got to Spain, the first five nights leading up to my initial race involved "family fun" from midnight until 3:00 a.m. as the kids grappled with jet lag.  Our "fun day in London" ended up being a true adventure race involving transporting all of our stuff and both kids through the Metro system and a series of buses, including multiple stairway relay races in which Amy stood at the top with the kids and I completed intervals of sprinting up and down stairs to ferry each bags, hoping nothing was stolen at the bottom.  We've also struggled at times on the journey with making time for remote work and personal time a midst caring for young children in a structure-less and new environment.  I've spent long afternoons driving aimlessly with the kids asleep in their car seats because they won't nap in yet another new room and Amy needs some work time, and (more than once) I have ended up going the wrong way on a busy, one-way city street or nearly trapped in a narrow passageway that--as it turns out--wasn't actually made for vehicles.

Has it all been worth the time, stress, and general investment of energy?

Without a doubt.

Amy has been able to use a change of setting to reflect on her transition from part-time private college counselor and full-time Director of College and Transition Counseling at Denver Academy to full-time private college counselor. She has successfully worked through the summer using wifi and her laptop, but the shift in place and perspective here in Europe has allowed her to think intentionally about how to do her new work best and to mentally shift away from Denver Academy, a great community that was tough to leave. Like me, she has also enjoyed sharing new adventures around every corner--some profound like a random, 2000-year-old Roman amphitheater in a small Italian town we explored and some simple like yet another waterfall in the Alps in a rainstorm--with her kids and partner.

Wyatt has gotten to see and do many things unavailable in the US, and he's still incredibly stoked about every new castle we come upon (even though there seems to be one around every corner). Most importantly, in a world where too many young kids are constantly distracted by the latest electronic gadget or new toy, a full summer entirely bereft of those options has meant nearly endless time outside with sticks and rocks for Wyatt Jacoby. That's the way it should be, and sometimes making things the way they should be requires putting in the work and planning needed to completely remove yourself from your own little bubble (I'm glad I got out of mine this summer). 

Everyone learns to walk, but I don't know many people who can say they took their first steps high in the Alps in Val d'Isere, France. Lila can, and she's also the only one in the family who speaks as much French as English. 

I competed in three races in Europe, and though I suffered in each challenging mountain run (this newsletter could also be called, "Most good things in life are also really hard") I also enjoyed them immensely.  The Milla Vertical d'Areu in Spain was a steep climb that gained 5280 feet, or one vertical mile, over just 2.6 miles en route to a mountain top finish. I was happy to finish second. Two weeks later, I did another uphill race, the Skyrunning Vertical Kilometre World Championship(same concept, but gaining 1000 meters) in France, finishing seventh.  My ultra run for the trip came at theIce Trail Tarentaise, a 65k ramble over about 15,000 feet of vertical gain and plenty of snow, glaciers, and scree.  I finished sixth, sometimes feeling like (and even pretending to be) Wyatt at play as he runs around the mountains.

The racing has been fun, meaningful, and a chance to experience flow. More significantly, however, by overcoming one negative story--"traveling with little kids is too much work"--this summer, I have been given the chance to reckon with another that constantly stalks me at home: "a father's primary purpose is to make money."  Seeing the various ways people live and find happiness around the world is always grounding for me, and I have also been reminded that the best things I can give my family are my time and my example of how to live a meaningful life.  Don't get me wrong: I'll be happy to be back in nice, capitalistic Evergreen, Colorado (I always am), and making money is one of my goals.  But I will be cognizant of the subconscious pressure to keep up with the Joneses and thankful that my home (rather small by neighborhood standards) is large and plush by world standards.
Checking out of my frenzied homelife bubble has been illuminating, and I know I'll be a better person and professional when I get back.  I also can't wait to get on the road again soon.

I caught up with one of the best in the world at the "life juggle" while we were in Spain to get her thoughts on just that.  Emma Roca is an international endurance racing superstar, firefighter (one of just a few female mountain rescue firefighters in Catalonia), and mother of three.  This video share's Emma's take on how to balance making the most of family, work, and racing. I think she provides some excellent advice here; if anything resonates win you, let us know by leaving a comment.
Along with my co-writer, John Hanc, I'm writing a book called The Ultra Mindset: An Endurance Champion's 8 Core Principles for Success in Business, Sports, and Life.  Da Capo Press is publishing it, and it will come out in the spring.  To research the book--and, more importantly, to improve my own life--I've been doing a lot of reading.

I really liked Seth Godin's The Icarus Deceptionbecause it promotes shooting for the moon, emphasizing the idea that creative, innovative work is actually the new "safety zone."  I like that.  I also liked Carol Dweck's Mindset, which talks about using thegrowth mindset rather than the fixed mindset; this idea has been huge for me and my students at Jeffco Virtual this year.

Whether you do it in your head out on your next run, over coffee with someone you care about, in your journal at a nice spot in the mountains, or right now on your computer (I'd be honored to read your answers), take a few minutes to consider these questions:
What does going big mean to you?
In which three areas could you go big?  Are you doing so already?
Which negative stories, thought patterns, systems, and/or actions are holding you back?  How will you rewrite these stories and alter your actions?
Who will you call on for help?
What step will you take today?

Thanks for reading, and I'd love to hear about the ways you are putting in the work to go big with work, family, racing, and life--and to support you if I can.


Travis Macy
Speaker and consultant
Endurance athlete and coach
Author, The Ultra Mindset (Spring 2015, Da Capo Press, co-written with John Hanc)

PS--Here are 
three quick tips on mountain running in Europe.

Saturday, May 3, 2014

Cheyenne Mtn Trail Race, Camping, Fuel/Gear Video

Wyatt, Dad, and I headed south last weekend for the Cheyenne Mtn Trail Race 25k in Colorado Springs.  Cheyenne Mtn State Park is a real gem just outside the city, and I knew from a mountain biking race a few years ago that the trails are technical, hilly, and great for running!

Here are the gear and fuel:

Here's the course (it was awesome):
This was the outcome:

Monday, April 7, 2014

Waterfalls, Hills, Slippery Rocks, and Family Fun at the Gorge Waterfalls 50k in Oregon

I've been lucky to race all over the world, but I really have not done much racing around the USA, so traveling to Portland for the Gorge Waterfalls 50k and a family spring break trip was a real delight. The adventure began in earnest with a solo flight with Wyatt, 3, and Lila, 1; Amy had already flown in for work. We arrived at the rental car counter to discover that my driver's license was expired. The rental agent and I looked at each other in horror while both kids continued the full-on breakdown they had now been on for a couple of hours. Moments like these can really make a guy look forward to the simplicity of running an ultra, when all you have to do is run and the only person you have to take care of is yourself--awesome! 

Thankfully, my buddy and former high school coach, Rob Wright, was already in Portland, and he picked us up at the airport. We enjoyed a couple of days at a rental house with Rob, his family, and the Erholtzes, who are also from Evergreen, before getting down to the race.

 I was not able to run down Mario Mendoza, who had a bit more speed on the flats, but I enjoyed the race anyway:

(also at!Travis-Macy-Post-Race-Interview-at-Gorge-Waterfalls-50k/c1hra/15DA94E4-CFFF-4766-87F9-B5AA83656092)

 Brandy Erholtz, who lives down the street, got the win in the women's race, so it was a good showing for E-town.  As I mentioned in the interview, I really enjoyed the course and would highly recommend this race.

Vitargo was awesome fuel, as always, and my HOKA ONE ONE Stinson Trails made for quick moves through the wet, technical stuff. The Ultimate Direction Jurek Essential carried all of my essential items, which consisted primarily of Vitargo in baggies and an iPod Mini with plenty of cheesy pop songs by Katy Perry and her contemporaries. Looking forward to a few more races in Colorado before heading to Europe for some others this summer!

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Steep Lines and Fun Times at America's Uphill

America's Uphill is a classic here in Colorado.  The race involves ascending Aspen Mountain in the winter with shoes, snowshoes, or skis.  You go right up the ski slopes from 8,000 to over 11,200', and the steep section at the start means it's a lung-burner from start to finish.

I've been meaning to do America's Uphill forever, and I finally got around to it this year.

Here's the story from the Aspen Times.

This race, like any other, was a team effort; many thanks to:

  • Brandy for waking me up when I slept through the alarm.
  • Amy, Mom, and Sandy for hanging with our kids so I can train.
  • Josiah's awesome workouts and guidance.
  • Vitargo for providing a crucial and effective shot of energy halfway through the race.
  • VitargoHOKA, Ultimate Direction, and my other sponsors for your ongoing support.
We're headed to the Portland area next week for the Gorge Waterfalls 50k, which looks like a blast and should be flatter and more rainforesty than Aspen Mountain.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Snowshoeing State Champs, Moab Red Hot, "Keep the Quality"

The Colorado high country has been hit with some excellent "pow-pow" over the past few weeks, and it made for some good old fun at the Colorado Snowshoeing State Championship on February 8th.

Nice work, Adam and Smokey!

The pace and distance look less than impressive here, but a foot of powder at 10,500' always makes for a good challenge.

A week after the snowshoe race, Wyatt, Dad, and I headed west for the Moab Red Hot 55k trail run.  Ultras are growing like crazy, and I was impressed by a solid field.

For those who are interested in endurance training:

1. Keep the quality.
Doing plenty of long runs and/or rides is definitely important if you want to finish the longer Leadville races, but I believe shorter, quality workouts involving high heart rate and faster pace are just as essential. In 2013, I estimated from the start of the year that averaging 12 minutes/mile in the LT100 Run would allow me to compete for the series win. I just about hit that pace on race day, but it was NOT because I did a lot of training at 12 minutes/mile. In order to become more efficient at that relatively slow pace, I focused on becoming more efficient at faster paces. The majority of my running miles–which, at 40-50 per week were not a ton because I focused on speed and hills–were at 7-9 minutes/mile. I also completed regular workouts of 1-mile and shorter intervals at 5:30/mile and faster. I did not plan to do any of the 100-mile run at significantly elevated heart rate, but I did that often in training. Simply put, working alone or with a training group, partner(s) and/or coach to develop intentional high-end interval workouts on regular basis can really pay off.

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Wednesday, December 11, 2013

It's all good mental training (Part II of II)

(This post continues a story started in the November 25 post).

Sweden, 2005.

I’m eternally grateful that, when looking in the mirror at my bloodshot eyes, blistered lips, and cracked, swollen face that miserable morning in Sweden, I remembered dad and the mental training.  I remembered the fact that my teammates and I had stood together, united on the starting line days ago, and pledged not to quit.  These two elements of my mindset--intentional mental training and an uncompromising commitment--made all the difference in the world at my moment of truth.

I walked out of that bathroom with a smile on my face and a fire in my heart, and we hopped--well, slowly climbed--onto our bikes with skis duct taped to them, and pedaled down the road.

Forty miles of mountain biking brought us to a transition area where we dismantled our bikes for the fourth or fifth time in the race, packed them in bike boxes, and loaded them on a semi truck that would transport them to the finish.  We continued forward on the race’s queen stage, a long and challenging segment involving a mix of trekking, skiing, snowshoeing, winter mountaineering, and via ferrata (big in Europe, it essentially involves rock climbing where metal holds and cables have been drilled into the rock for protection).  We carried gear for all of these disciplines and chose between trekking, snowshoeing, and skiing based on the conditions at any given time.  Darren Clarke, the hard-nosed Aussie who woke me earlier, had never skied, but he actually turned out to be pretty good!

In the middle of that night, during a blizzard, things were getting dire as we skied along.  Everyone was falling asleep--literally, falling asleep while cross country skiing.  It sounds crazy, but falling asleep while biking, trekking, kayaking, or doing something else is not uncommon in adventure racing.  Karen’s feet needed some attention, but we knew that stopping in the blizzard could be life-threatening.  When we stumbled upon a remote cabin, which I think must have been an outpost for the Swedish equivalent of the Forest Service, it was clear that taking shelter was a must.

We used our snowshoes to dig out a snow drift in front of the door and found the Adventure Racing Holy Grail: a dry dwelling with a woodstove, wood, and newspaper.   The fire was blazing within minutes, and I didn’t even wake up when I fell off the little bench I was sleeping on.  

Possibly because it occurred in a warm room instead of a frozen parking lot, this hour of rest proved more rejuvenating than the last, and we headed out into a sunny day ready to take on the world, as it were.  Another day of skiing, trekking, and via ferrata brought us to the finish line late in the afternoon.  We crossed the line in 6th place, proud to have accomplished something that served as a legitimate test of mental fortitude.

Ten minutes later, I fell asleep at the hotel dinner table with unchewed food in my mouth--and, this time, my teammates let me sleep.

Over half of the teams that started—the top teams in the world—did not finish, and we only made it through because of a pre-race commitment not to quit.  Explore Sweden still stands as the toughest single competition I have done.  It’s a good thing I had done some mental training.  Completing the race deepened my resolve and broadened my perspective, making something like completing the Leadman series almost ten years later seem relatively short and simple.

Dad was right.  It really is all good mental training.

It’s all good mental training.

It’s all good mental training, read fluidly, denotes the worldview that challenges are part of life, and that viewing them as positive—and even essential—instruments of “mental training” that build, pebble by pebble, a mountain of inner resilience can and will allow you to complete literally anything to which you deeply commit.  These challenges and mental training, moreover, when experienced through pursuits of choice (mine are things like running 100 miles and adventure racing for a week without really sleeping—yours can be whatever you “like” to do) generate an incredible well of resolve that allows us all to persevere through the truly challenging, mandatory suffering dished out so ruthlessly by life.  And I don’t need to tell you what that is because you’ve already faced it and will do so again.  Be prepared.

It’s all good: mental training, with those two small, but significant dots indicating a pause and so much more, describes the purpose of this text.   The positive outlook, it’s all good, provides a foundation for the intent of the principles I will describe, tried and true from the world of ultra endurance racing at the elite level.  I like to think that, taken as a whole, such principles and the stories that prove their worth exist here as a course in mental training that leads to an ultra mindset for work, family, athletics, and life.  Take what works for you, apply it to your own life, commit to something big, achieve peak performance, and come out on the other side with a winning outlook that allows you to do even more next time.

My advice is to think about training your mental toughness like you would train a muscle.  Or better yet, like you would train a group of systems--arms, legs, heart, lungs, skills--to work together.  To get them ready for a task or event, you would practice in intentional ways and undergo simulations to bring them closer to readiness for the final test.  Mental training happens the same way.  In Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals, research psychologist Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D., identifies self control as a foundational element of reaching success, and I think her research is correct.  Reaching a goal, the most fundamental level, essentially requires doing, in a given moment, what you need to do to reach the goal, which is often not what you feel like doing--and that’s where training in self control kicks in.  When I have already run 60 miles and have 40 more to go, do I feel like running 40 more?  I like--no, love--running, but of course I don’t feel like running 40 more miles after running 60!  No one does.  Luckily, though, the latest research on the subject supports the idea that self control really can be grown and trained, just like biceps, pecs, and quads.

What thoughts usually run through your mind when you are suffering?  Would your outlook and performance improve if, when taking on a challenging task, you told yourself, “This is all good mental training”?  What challenges are you required to face in your life?  What challenges do you take on by choice?  Could taking on additional challenges by choice or viewing those you already engage in as mental training make you better prepared for the challenges you are required to face?  Do you want to improve your mental toughness?  How will you begin your mental training before the end of the day today?


If all goes as planned, this story and others will become a book intended to help readers develop a winning mindset for work, family, athletics, and other areas of life.  If you happen to be an interested publisher, please drop me a line at

Monday, November 25, 2013

It's all good mental training (Part I).

"Trav.  Trav, get up.  TRAV!"

The distant, Aussie accent sound vaguely familiar, but when I opened my eyes, read 4:21 a.m. on my watch, saw a cloudy but sun-brightened sky, touched a helmet on my head that had probably been used as a pillow, brushed a coat of snow off my sleeping bag, and felt the cold pavement on which I had been slumbering so deeply, I was in a thick fog of confusion.

I’ve never been in a war, but my guess is that the fog of adventure racing is about as close to the fog of war that you can get without actually being shot at.

Momentary panic due to my unknown time and place shifted to a calm but overwhelming confusion.  Why was it light out at 4:21 a.m.?  How come my head hurt so bad?  Why were my feet throbbing?  How did my mouth get so raw, and why were my lips covered with sores?  Did I really have blisters on my ass?  It sure felt like I did.  Why was I starting to shiver uncontrollably?  Was I really this hungry?  Unbelievable!

“Trav!  Get the hell up!”

Darren’s harsh but matter-of-fact tone snapped me back to reality.

The hustled gear scramble of my teammates, Darren, Paul, and Karen, reminded me that we had been sleeping in a parking lot that served as a remote checkpoint in northern Sweden for the Explore Sweden Adventure Race.  Adventure races involve the core disciplines of running/trekking, mountain biking, fixed ropes (rappel, tyrolean traverse, and more), paddling (kayaks, rafts, canoes, etc.), and navigation with map and compass.  Whereas a triathlon involves set distances for each sport that are consistent from race to race, adventure races throw together disciplines in a helter-skelter format that matches with the land and local culture.  In addition to the core sports above, adventure races also include, from time to time, region-specific events like horseback riding, camel trekking, rock climbing, zip-lining, mountaineering, skiing, and the “princess chair” (a Chinese event in which three teammates carry the fourth in a bamboo chair with long handles that looks like something from a Disney movie).  It’s a team sport, and most races involve coed teams of four racing non-stop for a week or so for an “expedition race” or in stages that involve 8 to 12 hours of racing each day with a bit of rest in a tent overnight for a “stage race.”

Explore Sweden 2005 was my first real expedition race, and I was a green 22-year-old on a team of gritty, experienced athletes who were racing for the podium against the best teams from Sweden, France, New Zealand, Australia, America, Norway, Russia, Poland, and elsewhere.  If I hadn’t been ready to shit my pants at the the starting line, I sure was now as the enormity of what we had done--and still had to do to get to the finish--set in while I began gathering up gear for trekking, winter mountaineering, snowshoeing, skiing, and rock climbing.  All of this would be somehow transported on an my bike for  a 40-mile ride to the start of the mixed winter sports segment.

Stumbling through gear in a hazy stupor, I recalled our journey over the past three days and nearly-sleepless nights.

During the first paddling section, our two-person sea kayak flipped over in a large, fast, ice-lined river.  After a dreadful swim in cold, fast whitewater, we somehow righted it and continued forward.  The long, narrow lake at the end of the river was covered with ice.  Thin ice.  As we forged on, kayaks in tow, to the transition area at the end of the lake, we repeatedly broke through the ice and had to use the ice picks that were part of the mandatory gear to pull ourselves out of the water.  Thankfully, we wore personal flotation devices and wetsuits, but it was still cold.  Very cold, especially under the ice.  After a mile or so of that break through / climb out / pull the boats further dance, we reached a transition area.  There we stripped naked in the snowy air, put on cycling clothes, built up our bikes from the pieces that were packed into boxes for transportation to the remote location, and rode out into the swamp where, hours later, we would have to urinate on our frozen bikes to make the chains spin again.  

That was the first half of the first day.

We later navigated on foot through an endless orienteering section in a swamp with thin ice (fragile enough to break through, solid enough to cut the shins) just above cold, knee-deep water.  

Nights involved extended daylight at the high latitude, an hour or so of sleep on the side of the trail before we woke up shivering, and plenty of hallucinating (I’ll never forget the entire Team Montrail jumping out of the woods to chase us down in one of those visions).

One portage--that’s when you still have kayaks but there’s no water, so they must be carried or rolled on carts--spanned almost 20 miles of pavement.

The race had been brutally cold, with plenty of snow and rain, and some of the top teams like Team Nike, hands-down the best team in the world, had dropped due to illness, injury, and the simple fact that a lot of this was not very fun.  

I was exhausted, sleep-deprived, and completely wrecked from head to toe when I stumbled into a bathroom, looked in a mirror, and received a horrifying shock.

My eyes were bloodshot, my face was puffy and red, and blisters lined my lips.  My matted hair resembled something from a woolly mammoth sample at the museum, and I looked like a druggie after a binge.  Many zombies from the movies from the movies are much more attractive than I was at that moment.  I felt worse than I looked, and I was pretty sure that I wasn’t material for a few more days of racing through the frozen north.

Looking at myself in the mirror, contemplating a peaceful end to the race, then and there, that would have me in a warm hotel room in an hour, I realized this really was the moment of truth.  Would I listen to my body, brain, and feelings, which all sent a resounding message that quitting the race was clearly the path to take, or would I pursue the dream of finishing my first expedition adventure race and, eventually, becoming one of the best in the world at the sport?

Evergreen, 1989.

“It’s LeMond!  It’s Henault!  It’s LeMond!  It’s Henault!  LeMond makes his move, he pulls away, it’s LeMond!  LeMond takes it on the line!”

To my five-year-old ears, rattling on along a washboard road amongst the lodgepole pine in the mountain town of Evergreen, Colorado, Dad sounded just like the infamous Tour de France commentator, Phil Liggett.  If you think Liggett is enthusiastic and inspirational in calling a cycling race—and for those who haven’t heard him, he really is second in passion to only those crazy Spanish soccer callers—you should have heard Dad cheering me on.  

I was LeMond. Greg, that is, winner of the 1986, 1989, and 1990 Tours de France, and, thankfully, a clean and legitimate professional rider.  I had just edged out Bernard Hinault, in reality LeMond’s teammate and primary competitor.  He was the guy we rooted against when watching Le Tour on one of our four TV channels, and he was played out on the dirt road by Dad.

Earlier in the ride, during the part that was supposedly fun but mostly just filled with the physical pain that was already grooming my body and mind, Dad rode just behind me as I struggled up a steep hill.  We biked through our neighborhood, which consisted of houses speckled in the woods along a network of dirt roads built according to topography.  Not a block grid or paved road in sight.  TV came in for all of the houses through a lone, four-foot antenna atop the mountain behind the neighborhood.  Limited phone lines meant multiple houses shared a “party line.”  I figured everyone lived in a place like this, that kids all around the world were also out “hammering the hills.”

We passed the point where Jefferson County stops maintaining a road.  Evergreen actually isn’t even an official town, just “unincorporated Jeffco,” as they say in the fire warnings.  E-town has changed over the last 25 years, but, thankfully, we still don’t have a mayor.  

The road kicked up and got even rockier.  I grunted.  Well, probably squeaked—I was five.  A burro inside the barb wire corral on the hillside brayed.  My rear tire spun in the loose stuff, but I gained traction and continued.  Just as I was about to put a foot down, Dad tucked in next to me and just behind, his calm voice presenting what would become the central curriculum of my upbringing.  “You can do it, Bud.  Keep hammering, Bud. Don’t stop on the climb, Bud.  Hammer the hills, Bud.  Commit to it, Bud.  It’s all good mental training, Bud.”  I made it to the top of a hill that had looked impossible.  Dad believed in me, and that made me believe in myself.

My mental training had begun.

A few weeks later, my next big lesson took place in America’s highest incorporated town (yes, they have a mayor, and in 1988 he was probably the kind of guy who wore a cowboy hat and carried a gun), Leadville, Colorado.  Dad, who had never run more than a marathon, signed up for, committed to, and finished the Leadville Trail 100 Run.  I was there, and I watched it unfold.  

I’ll never forget crossing the finish line with Dad for the first time in Leadville.  His broken body, like those of other Leadville finishers then and now, somehow continued to surge forward, even though it clearly should not be moving anymore.  In the background, the Rockie Mountains, including the race’s high point on Hope Pass at 12,600 feet loomed.  His gaze, coming up 6th Street dangerously close to the 10:00 a.m. cutoff after 30 hours of racing, was fixed on the finish banner.  His eyes were bloodshot and sleep-deprived, yet somehow full of life and energy.  Exhausted beyond comprehension, he could hardly speak but managed a sincere smile for his children when we ran out to hold his hand while he shuffled the final 20 meters of red carpet to the finish.  The course crushed him, and he finished, literally, dead last.  His hamstrings were shredded and his feet were broken.

This was all good mental training, and Dad went on to finish Leadville four more times, earning the big, prestigious, shiny, sub-24 hour belt buckle.  You can put it on your belt, but you can’t actually wear it around because it’s so big that it pokes into your stomach if you sit down.  He won the Iditashoe, a 100-mile snowshoeing race in Alaska on the Iditarod trail, three times.  He’s one of a few people to have finsihed eight Eco-Challenges, which were epic, expedition length adventure races in the most challenging terrain the globe has to offer.  (If you’re thinking, “I think I saw that on the Discovery Channel,” you’re right).

That focus on mental training and exposure to seeing people complete lengthy and challenging athletic undertakings as a matter of fact were key elements of my upbringing.  I remember, for example, when I was 11, seeing Marshall Ulrich’s toenail-less toes when he was sitting by the pool in Death Valley at the Badwater Ultramarathon.  Surgically removing his toenails, Dad explained, allowed Marshall to be more effective in running races of 100 miles or more because he didn’t have to deal with the hassle of toenails constantly getting smashed and falling off.  That seemed normal enough to me.  Dad went on to explain that Marshall didn’t possess any special genetics or talent, but that he was the best in the world at running far in the heat because he was so mentally tough.  I was just a kid, but I was, thankfully, wise enough to realize that I should probably pay attention to the grit and habits of people like Marshall.

A decade later, a mediocre college running career at CU-Boulder showed that I, like Dad and Marshall, didn’t have anything special when it comes to innate talent.  I still don’t, and, genetically, I’m pretty much a regular, skinny 30-year-old.  I spend most of my time working and changing diapers, and when the rubber hits the road, the only things that really keep me going as an elite athlete are mental toughness and reliance on the simple principles I’d like to share in this book.

When I graduated from CU, my mental training had been such that I was ready to do something hard.  The captains of Team Sole, a professional adventure racing team, must have seen that, and they decided to take me to Explore Sweden, even though I was young and had almost no experience.

Paul Romero and Karen Lundgren, those team captains, are two of the toughest, no-holds-barred people I know.  They have battled through the harshest, most wide-ranging conditions imaginable, completing the Seven Summits and dozens of expedition adventure races.  Their team motto was “Go fast, take chances,” and they must have seen something in my mindset when they took a chance on me because I certainly didn’t have the racing resume at 22 years old to show I could race for five days against the best teams in the world.


(This story continued in post for 12/11/13).

If all goes as planned, this story and others will become a book intended to help readers develop a winning mindset for work, family, athletics, and other areas of life.  If you happen to be an interested publisher, please drop me a line at