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Monday, April 18, 2016

Coach Macy, Coach Macy, and The Lightnings

Coach Macy (me) and the other Coach Macy (my dad) held our first practice last week for The Lightnings (five-year-old Wyatt’s soccer team, named because “lightning is super-fast, and so are we!”). It was a windy, thirty-something, half winter / half spring day here in Colorado, but we got those little guys going anyway. You’ve got to be tough if you want to live in the mountains, and cold fingers and noses make for “good mental training,” as the elder Coach Macy would say.

Our team focuses on three principles:

Play hard
Play with class
Play as a team

The teacher in me hopes each of our players can remember two of the three principles by the end of the season and that--maybe--one or two of the boys will actually understand the abstract concept, “Play with class.”

Growth mindset here: Even if “class” doesn’t make sense in now preschool, I bet if we talk about it at every practice for a few years it’ll be truly ingrained by second grade.

Or maybe third.

The Lightnings have me thinking about coaching and why I like it so much. I knew by 9th grade that I wanted to do work that focuses on helping people. In college, my pre-med quest sizzled out when I realized helping people in the clinic would probably involve sacrificing too much of my other, self-centered quest for endurance racing and travel. Teaching entered the picture, and it worked for awhile.

Now, finally, coaching is even better.

I feel fortunate on a daily basis to coach adult athletes to become faster, healthier, and happier; working professionals to be more accountable and effective; teenagers in preparation for post-secondary education; and The Lightnings, primarily towards scoring in the right goal.

It sounds kind of contrite, but I really think it’s true: If you want to get inspired yourself, start by helping someone else.

Thanks for reading,


PS- Here’s a coaching spotlight on one of my endurance athletes, Dave, who will be racing this weekend at the Gorge Waterfalls 100k in Oregon. Go, Dave!

"I have been running ultras for a couple years now and have been lucky enough to earn a few belt buckles along the way. During training efforts, my relationship with running had been a bit of a love-hate process. I wanted to go out and do the big runs, but had a hard time staying consistent in my training. I knew I was not reaching my true potential and wanted to get back on track. Having a set schedule and planning for my hard run days has made everything easier. I'm having so much fun on my easy days just going out and enjoying the trails!"
- Dave, Vermont

________________________Travis Macy
High performance consultant
Endurance athlete and coach
Author, The Ultra Mindset:
An Endurance Champion's 8 Core
Principles for Success in Business,
Sports, and Life
(with John Hanc, Da Capo Press, spring 2015)

Friday, January 29, 2016

Think about your thinking--and eating

At midnight in a hot, stuffy Hawaiian jungle last week, I found myself bonked (in case you’ve never “bonked” in a race, it’s not good) and slightly delirious after 80 miles of running over steep, rocky, rooty terrain.  Things had gone well for the first 75 miles of the HURT 100, known widely as one of the toughest mountain ultra runs around.  It wasn’t a walk on the beach by any means, and in a semi-coherent state I found myself grasping for a seam-sealed packet of SPAM at the mile 80 aid station.  Thankfully, my loving wife, who’d been out there crewing all day still had her wits about her, steered me away from that particular snack.

As I talk about in The Ultra Mindset, I have spent a lot of time over the years “thinking about my thinking” (Mindset 5).  I was mentally primed and ready for battle going into the HURT 100.  Think about your thinking: check.  Unfortunately, however, I made the mistake of not thinking enough about my eating.  And when you don’t think about your eating in a hundred-miler, you soon find yourself moving like a slug, thinking foggily, and considering options like SPAM.

My poor fueling at HURT was probably a combination of lack of heat/humidity preparation, rookie mistake made by a seasoned veteran, and my lifelong trend of eating out of convenience rather than purpose, even more so in daily life than in racing.  I've planned well for most races, but day to day have simply focused on "eating healthy," which until now meant the standard athlete's diet of high carbs, low fat, and probably too much processed food for convenience.

Every failure is a chance to learn, and my big take-away from a 5th place tie at HURT (not terrible, but also not what I was shooting for) is to start eating with intent, day in and day out.  
Some people call it a DIET.  I call it an EAT IT.  

Rather than stressing about all of the things I “can’t eat but want to” (diet mindset), my plan--and the first few days of it have been excellent--is to simply decide and explore what I should eat and then, well, EAT IT.  No stress, all learning, just do it.

The basic guiding principle for my exploratory EAT IT is called Optimized Fat Burning (OFM).  In a nutshell, the hypothesis is that by eating less carbs and more fat, an athlete can encourage his or her body and brain to burn fat (rather than carbs) throughout the day and also at high working capacities.  In addition to encouraging a nutrition plan that focuses in on veggies and healthy fats, OFM pulls us away from processed junk and the traditional high carb eating program for athletes.  Hopefully, for the next 100-miler, it will generate an efficient engine than can run on less of the race foods that created problems at HURT.

That’s the idea, and I’m excited to see where it goes.  I’ve already enlisted my friend and ultrarunning pro Jason Schlarb, who’s been crushing it out there on his own low-carb EAT IT, for help.

Fail, learn, ask for help, get better--that’s the ultra mindset.

Thanks for reading,

PS- I was thankful, as always, for sponsorship at HURT that provided the best running stuff out there.

The HOKA Stinson 3 ATR and injinji Trail 2.0 toesock kept my feet happy all day.  No blisters, no shoe changes, nice and simple.

The Ultimate Direction SJ Ultra Vest 2.0 was solid as usual.

AYUP makes the best lights out there.  One volunteer told me he thought I was an ATV coming up the trail!

Travis Macy
High performance consultant
Endurance athlete and coach
Author, The Ultra Mindset:
An Endurance Champion's 8 Core
Principles for Success in Business,
Sports, and Life
(with John Hanc, Da Capo Press, spring 2015)


Saturday, September 26, 2015

This one goes out to the dads.

“Keep your eye on the ball, Trav. Watch it until it hits your bat.”

That’s what my dad used to tell me while he pitched to me for hours in the backyard after work. It was the 1980s, and I think dads all over the country were also out back pitching and catching with their sons and daughters, sharing similar sayings and wisdom. They taught us about baseball and softball, but more than anything they made us feel loved and important simply by hanging out. Back in those days, before the Internet, work stayed at work because, well, how the heck could a guy work at home anyway? And as far as it went for us kids, the first Nintendo was just barely out and cartoons were only on TV on Saturdaymornings, so we didn’t have much to do beyond riding bikes after school until Dad got home for catch.

Maybe it wasn’t quite that simple (after all, us Millennials didn’t grow up in the 50s and 60s, like our own dads), but, I tell you what, those days when we were kids were definitely a whole lot different from what’s going on now. And, if you ask me, here’s the key component: super-powerful, handheld computers known as smartphones and tablets.

Case in point: Wyatt’s first trip to the big league ballpark. The Rockies were doing so bad in July of 2015 that they just about gave away tickets to a Coors Field showdown against the Rangers. Amy’s mom, Sandy, is a coupon aficionado (no joke--she literally has a rolodex of coupons), and she worked the system to gain three tickets to the game. Even better, the first 10,000 entrants got a ballpark hot dog for just $1. I don’t know about you, but my four-year-old son likes few things more than a hot dog, particularly when both of his grandfathers spend a week talking up how good they are at the park. The stage was set for guys night at the baseball field, and Steve (Amy’s dad) and I were just as psyched as Wyatt was to get out there and cheer for the Rockies. A child’s spirit is special and unbridled; Steve and I felt the energy, and Wyatt brought us back to our own childhoods with our dads.

Enthusiasm grew as we parked the truck and walked a few blocks to 2001 Blake Street. My mind wandered briefly to Eric Young’s first pitch home run on the Rockies' original opening day and to the Blake Street Bombers, four exceptional teammates who all hit forty homers in the same season. Wyatt’s sprinting ahead brought me back to reality--the kid was stoked!

We entered the gates, and walked through the crowd. The diamond’s splendid, green grass against a freshly-watered infield under the night lights tugged my son so hard that he didn’t even notice that he was passing a cotton candy stand. He stood overlooking the field, speechless. An epic moment.

Back at our seats with $1 dogs in hand--“These are the best in the world, Dad!”--all three of us got into the game. Steve and I fell seamlessly into explaining the nuances of the game to Wyatt. His energy grew steadily, and by the time legendary slugger Troy Tulowitzki stepped to the plate, Wyatt was out of his seat dancing and chanting. “Tulo! Tulo!”

And then they arrived. The Rangers fans.

Truth be told, I’m a warm weather fan at best, and the full row of Rangers shirts in front of us didn’t bother me at all. Plus, they even had two kids, a boy and a girl, probably three and five, who happened to sit right in front of Wyatt--even better that he could get into the game with two other first-timers!

But then the phones came out. Yes, even before the Rockies could complete another three up, three down at-bat, both of the little Texans sitting in front of Wyatt were on their phones. They turned on the games, and tuned out the game. Even little kids pay attention, and Wyatt took notice.

“Dad, can I play a game on your phone?”

It was an innocent question, and a completely natural one given the peer activities in his vicinity. Nonetheless, my son’s inquiry lit a fire in my mind.

“Are you kidding?!?! You really think I’m going to let you play a game on the phone NOW? You’ve played less than an hour of phone games in your life, and there’s no way in the world we’re going to follow those idiots and start doing it here at the baseball game!”

That’s what I thought.

What I whispered in my four-year-old’s ear, thankfully, was something like: “Bud, we don’t do that here at the ballpark. Let’s pay attention to the world in front of us; look how Tulo gets down low with every pitch so he’s ready if they hit it to him.”

Wyatt was back in the game--the real one.


Those parents in front of us at Coors Field were not idiots. In fact, I’m sure they were and are nice, thoughtful individuals, parents, and professionals. So how does it get to the point that little kids in nice families are playing phone games for an entire baseball game instead of enjoying an incredible experience with their families? To the point that some young children are positioned passively in front of screens for hours every day, spending little time outside in the dirt? To the point that we have convinced ourselves that this app or that can replace the stories, adventures, and projects we could do with our sons and daughters?

My experience as a parent and education professional leads me to believe that we get to such a point not because we are bad people but because we are not thinking and acting with intent to our full potential. Technology is a powerful and ever-present force in our lives, and, as with many topics relevant to fatherhood, if we don’t tackle it head on, it will slowly take us down, seeping in, on, and around the bonds of our families and dreams. Tech is insidious because it’s so seductive and so easy. It’s fun and seems natural. The problem is that doing what seems natural (and what it seems like everyone else is doing) leads to kids playing false games instead of the game of life and dads sitting there next to them checking email, Facebook, LinkedIn, and ESPN.

So, how do we as dads (and moms, of course) avoid the pitfall of trading real-life engagement for high-tech plug-in? To start, think and act with intent on the subject. Think about how you want your kids to turn out. And think about how you want yourself and your spouse to turn out. Consider reading a book on the topic. Think about your values and what’s really important to you as a man and father: real-world living, or the false idols in that little, hand-held screen?

I know that’s a little wishy-washy, but I’m confident that simply considering the topic and acting with intent can change things for the better--or help you greatly in planning a life for that little baby sleeping on your lap right now.

And, for those who want something a bit more tangible, these ideas have been helpful to me and my dad-buddies where the rubber hits the road:

· Develop a shared language with your children around technology. Personally, I like to emphasize the difference between the “real world” and the “tech world.” Kids are smart; they’ll understand.

· Don’t give your young children a phone or tablet of their own. No, not even your old one that doesn’t have cell service. Believe me, they’ll have plenty of time to learn such gadgets without you forcing it on them.

· Think about your own habits, and change them if needed. Talk about this with your spouse.

· Stop telling yourself and everyone else just how freaking busy you are. You’ve got a full and active life. That’s great. But by focusing constantly on how busy you are (it’s pretty much a badge of honor in any conversation these days, right?), you’re ingraining the idea that you must constantly be doing something productive. And so you check the phone constantly, squeeze in this email or that text while the kids watch you or play their tablet game. The snowball grows as it rolls down the hill--soon enough it’s tough to stop. I know you’re busy, but that’s just one story you can can tell yourself. Try replacing it with something like, “I have the time and energy to lead my life however I want. I’m not busy and overwhelmed; I’m in charge.” A dad who thinks he’s too busy has young children who play phone games instead of baseball and teenagers who look at screens instead of the people around them. Refuse to be too busy.

A grandfather, a father, and a little boy at the ballpark, all present in the game of life. Man, that was awesome.

Things have gone well with book marketing, racing, and family for us. The Ultra Mindset appeared recently in SpartanUp! The Podcast and Ru El's Running Podcast, and I look forward to speaking about it this fall in South Dakota, New Jersey, and Texas. At the Wasatch 100, one of the country's classic ultra runs, I had a fun time with my parents and pacer Jon Brown. JB and I hammered it to the line and finished in second place, about one minute back...a real nail-biter!

Thanks for reading,


PS- If you're interested, I'd love to hear what you think about raising kids in the midst of tech.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Almost Dead in the Georgia Backwoods

Over the last ten years, I’ve been “fortunate” enough to do a number of races touted as “the hardest race in the world,” so when I received the following e-mail last December from “Run Bum,” the RD for the Georgia Death Race, I didn’t take it too seriously.

Well Mr. Macy.... YOURE GONNA DIE...
We shall see if you finish the race.
Welcome to hell. Hope you don't like switchbacks... because there arent any.
See ya in March
Run Bum
I’m a big fan of books like Seth Godin’s The Freaks Shall Inherit the Earth, so I gave whoever was behind the Run Bum persona the benefit of the doubt, figuring this was just a personalized version of ultra southern hospitality.  Plus, I liked that he used my moniker from years as a high school English teacher, even if if apostrophe use was absent.
You know you've signed up for a good race when doubt and anxiety begin to creep in, however, and they stalked me late at night as spring approached.  
What if the human bones shown on the race site were not just a cheesy Internet image from an ancient Egyptian burial pit?  
What if I got chased down by a giant killer kudzoo?  (If you’re like me and you usually worry more about snow avalanches in December than kudzoo, just google it to see what I mean.)
What if I was busted in ATL for carrying baggies of white powder.  “What’ch y’all doing with this powder?”  Looking around, I’d realize “ya’ll” was me, and the armed agent probably didn’t know what Vitargo was.
What if I actually kicked the bucket right in front of my two little kids, in Georgia of all places?
What really gave me pause, in truth, were the advertised 20,000 vertical feet of climbing (and 20,000 more descending) on the 68-mile course.  Even if the highest point in the race was a few thousand feet below my house, that was still a lot to tackle.
Come March, Mr. Macy and family found themselves in Georgia.  We made it through the airport just fine, and the pre-race BBQ we ate at a mom n’ pop shop in bustling Dahlonega, population 6,049, was some of the best I’ve ever had.  The Run Bum, as it turned out, was a pretty nice guy--even if he dropped more than a few F-bombs in the pre-race meeting.
My new book recommends increasing drive by using extrinsic motivation (“Find your carrot,” says Chapter 3), and 18-year-old Andrew Miller of Oregon ran pretty darn hard for the $1000 prize en route to smoking some experienced runners on a real mountain course.  Nice work, Andrew, and you’ve got “The Ultra Mindset” (and watch out for this young gun, everyone else).
As it turns out, in running and in life, the hardest race in the world is usually the next one coming up.  And by showing up day after day with a resilient mindset and positive spirit, I'm pretty sure you'll not only survive but also come out better on the other side.


Things haven been going well with book marketing, racing, and family life.  Our book launch at the Tattered Cover and charity ultra run went well; they had to bring in more chairs and more books, which I think are good signs.  The New York Times also covered the event, which was nice.

I was able to get the win at the Peak Ultra 50-miler in Vermont, which provided a great event and a real adventure course.

Our family quest to need less and do more has begun with selling our house, moving into our camping trailer, and (hopefully) beginning construction on our new, smaller home here in Evergreen, Colorado soon.

I'm looking forward to a variety of upcoming events, including the National Endurance Sports Summit at Princeton University, the South Dakota Festival of Books, and the Outdoor Retailer Show.

As many of you know, my good friend, Dave Mackey, who shared some excellent stories and advice in The Ultra Mindset, experienced a serious mountain running injury last week.  Dave is stable and positive as he recovers in the hospital; let's all keep rooting for him!
Thanks for reading,

Sunday, March 1, 2015

A Story about Struggle

We had to cut this from The Ultra Mindset, but I still think it was pretty good.

Receiving my first actual book copy of The Ultra Mindset (available on Amazon now and in stores 4/13/15) the other day was a fulfilling moment, and it made me think back on some of the stuff that didn’t make it into the book.  I always tell my high school students that writing is a process, that we must draft and draft and cut and cut until the best is left.  Sometimes, that means cutting material that might actually be pretty good.
Below is an excerpt from an early book draft that people who only read the final draft will never get to see.  If you like a good adventure story, read it all; if you’re limited on time, scroll to the bold part.  (Also, Here’s a video preview of Mindset #3 from the book.)
Embrace struggle--it’s one of the only sure signs of progress.  
Don’t quit just because you are not having a good race!
A year after the our what/why thinking mishaps in Sweden, I was ready for redemption at the 2007 Adventure Racing World Championship in Scotland. Spyder shifted its marketing focus, and that sponsorship was finished.  I teamed up with some former competitors from Gunnison, Colorado, an old west cow town on the Western Slope that’s teeming with world class athletes.
In Gunnison, just about everyone has a nickname (including the town, Gunny), and my teammates were local legends.  If it’s before 5:00 p.m., almost anyone in Gunny will have a cup of coffee waiting for you, and after that there’s always beer.  No one is too busy to hang out, the buildings are nice and short, and you can run past cows (they’re free-roaming and range-fed, like the people) in the summer and nordic ski past them in the winter.  I love Gunny and the outstanding athletes there because they both epitomize “unpretentious.”  Look out for Dave “Weinsy” Weins, who will look like just another dad driving the kids around--unless you see his chiseled legs before realizing he’s the guy who dominated the Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race for years.  Or you might see Brian “Smithy” Smith, who you’ll probably think is a punk rocker driving a FedEx truck before you find out that he’s one of the fastest and hardest-training multisport athletes in the country.  When he’s not taking care of his baby girl, that is.  Smithy’s wife, Jenny, is just as competitive and successful as he is--and that’s saying something.
Jon “JB,” Brown (the same guy who was so instrumental in following the 4:30 a.m. Rule in Abu Dhabi) came to Gunny for college at Western State and never left.  He had recently done some mental training by spending an entire winter there, the coldest town in Colorado (no exaggeration--look it up), in his powerless, heatless house, which he was remodeling.  Years later, JB and I would spend our overnight layover in Beijing walking the streets in a quest to stay awake until the famous changing of the guard ceremony at Tiananmen Square.  He’s the quintessential teammate and a true friend.
Bryan “Wick” Wickenhauser is the kind guy who knows everyone and can do anything.  Because it involves flexibility and flying by the seat of your pants, the ultra mindset is inherently a creative and multi-faceted one, and Wick has this nailed.  Athletically, he’s solid in running, mountain biking, paddling, ropes, and ski mountaineering, which has lately become an obsession that drives him to skin up big hills every single day, October through May.  He applies the same tenacity and versatility to entrepreneurial endeavors, and Wick has recently turned an old barn in a field into a community hub where local businesses shovel in the dough through a music festival.  He simultaneously runs the Elk Mountains Grand Traverse ski mountaineering race and a company that leases construction equipment.  Wick’s wife, Jennifer, is the accomplished track and cross country coach at Western State Colorado University, which means he also spends a good deal of time taking care of their two little kids.
Jari Kirkland is such a Gunny icon that she’s one of the few people there who’s allowed to go by her real first name, and a simple utterance of “Jari” has been striking fear into the hearts of female mountain bikers, triathletes, and adventure racers for years.  Actually, the name scares the men as well, and she has smoked me at the 24 Hours of Moab Mountain Bike race, twice.  Jari is one of the strongest adventure racers in the world, and we were lucky to have her.  She’s downright tough, and Jari’s ultra mindset means that, like many female racers, she only gets stronger as the race gets longer.  Jari constantly receives racing invitations from the best teams around the world. The secret about Jari’s ultra mindset is out, and everyone wants a piece.
Together, JB, Wick, Jari, and I comprised Team Salomon/Crested Butte, and we were ready and willing to do anything it took to earn a podium finish at the World Championship.  And that’s good because cold, rainy, and downright miserable conditions for almost the entire week of racing would mean that any team that made the podium truly earned it.  We arrived in Scotland with the primary goal of proving ourselves as one of the top teams in the world.
With 365 days of intense physical and mental training logged, 196 of us from 18 countries and 49 teams lined up in the starting chute in front of an imposing medieval castle on the mystical Rum Isle, 20 miles off Scotland’s West Coast.  Our task was daunting and the setting legendary.  Over the next eight days, those who completed the journey would see the best of the Scottish Highlands as they trekked, mountain biked, kayaked, canyoneered, and climbed more than 310 miles, gaining an astonishing 82,000 vertical feet in the process.  We would each rely on three teammates (at least one of the opposite gender), five kit boxes, and map and compass in our quest to complete the course at the 2007 Adventure Racing World Championships.  At the pre-race briefing in Fort William, the self-proclaimed “Outdoor Capital of the UK” at the base of mighty Ben Nevis (4,406 feet, the UK’s highest peak), Race Director Phil Humphreys gave warning: “The course is a real monster.  Conditions may be harsh, and this is a true World Championship event.”

Thirty-six hours later, the gun blasted and we took off running in our wetsuits.  A mile and a half of running on a jeep track would take us to the ocean’s edge, where we would swim half a mile across a bay and transition to trekking.  A quick glance around on the initial run provided a who’s who snapshot of the international adventure racing scene.  Present as always were the US/NZ Team Nike, last year’s World Champions and winners of nearly ever other major race to date.  Expected to make the most of any error by Nike were the Kiwis of Team Balance Vector, the 2005 World Champions, and Aberdeen Asset Management, the UK Champions who would potentially capitalize on a home court advantage and familiarity with the environment.  Numerous others were chomping at the bit like chained stallions; Humphreys noted that 20 teams expected to finish in the top five.

Splashing into the sea to begin the swim sent a shiver through our bodies.  As we struggled to regain breath while stroking away, competitors faced the cold, hard truth: this would be an often-chilling and ever-challenging expedition.

A quick shedding of wetsuits allowed us to dawn trekking paraphernalia, grab a previously unseen map, and head out on the five-hour running section that would complete the Prologue, a short “pre-race” competition held the day before the actual expedition started.  Only in an adventure race do you compete for eight hours just to get warmed up for the real race beginning the next day.
Balance Vector showed they meant business by pushing the pace and breaking away early, and a herd of up to ten other teams pursued quickly as we climbed from the coast to the first five checkpoints arranged in a micro-navigation course on a steep hillside overlooking the sea.  With no native bush or trees to inhibit vision and surprisingly excellent weather, teams’ navigators had little trouble overcoming the orienteering.  The running race resumed as we descended to a coastal trail that circumnavigated Rum’s east coast, terminating at a field of picturesque ancient ruins backed by views of neighboring mountainous isles and the auspiciously calm sea.  “Or is this the calm before the storm?” we wondered.  The ascent to a prominent ridgeline began, and we quickly familiarized ourselves with the steep climbing, technical descending, and knife-edge ridge trekking that would occupy most of our time that week.

Places shuffled constantly as teams raced up and over a half dozen jagged peaks on the way back to the castle at the Prologue’s finish, many racers pushing themselves very hard throughout the trek.  “Too hard for the first day of a full-length expedition race?” voices quipped in the back of our heads.  A final summit—we must be close, for here are the photographers and journalists—a rocky downhill, one more route choice, a defined trail down a watercourse, and home to the castle.

Legs were sore but spirits high, for we had completed a full day of racing in Scotland and it still had not rained.  We pitched our tents, ate dinner, and prepared to paddle back to the mainland in the morning.

Zip.  We opened our tents the next morning to a view of the castle with blue skies behind.  At 6:00 a.m., the sun had been up for three hours and it still had not rained.  Today, the expedition proper would begin with 40 miles of sea kayaking, including 7 miles on the open sea at we traveled from the island to the mainland.  Seven miles is of open water is far enough that you can’t see the land on the other side, and if you, like me, happen to live in a place where paddling training happens in a quarter-mile lake, the open sea is a bit unsettling.

Two hours of rainbow-hued organized chaos on the boat ramp at Rum—paddles clanking, flags raising, boats scraping—and all teams were in the water and ready to head back to the mainland.  Those with sleek team-supplied boats quickly pulled away on the initial ten kilometer push southeast to Eigg Isle.  I, however, a Coloradoan land-lubber designated our team’s ocean expert based simply on one holiday in New Zealand, felt lucky to be in a stable plastic barge as the seas gradually picked up.  Kayaks capsized here and there (hypothermic experience number one of many) as the now extended caravan pushed eastward from Eigg to the mainland, and some teams strayed off course on the open sea crossing.

Heading north at last along the mainland coast, the terra firma rewarded us with views of pristine white sand beaches backed by minute, craggy islands.  A short portage, the first and easiest of many, took us to Loch Morar.  The Loch provided a preview to the other bodies of water we’d encounter throughout the week: straight and narrow, surrounded by heavenly green hills.

A steep portage took us to a micro-navigation section where the leaders completed two eerily similar courses in daylight and those trailing dealt with darkness.  Most of us served penalties from rule infractions and finish placement in the Prologue in a field near a curious, ancient cottage before paddling across Loch Nevis to the first true transition.  Sometimes the ultra mindset involves patience, and sitting sheep poop for a couple of hours early in the race, when we felt like hammering, was case in point.

Later that day, on a 27 mile trek, darkness fell as we trekked up a steep and defined trail to the high peak of Mam Meadail, the Scottish cold (or was that Team Merrell/Wigwam?) nipping at our heals.  A steep descent followed by an even trickier climb took us to a ridgeline checkpoint, from whence the navigators looked ahead to the precipice of Ben Aiden, another high point.  At 2,910 feet and edged by insurmountable cliffs on two sides, the peak appeared to be, and was in fact, challenging.  From the summit, we looked to our next pointy apex at 3,080 feet, Luinne Bheinn, which would be obtained after descending again to 300 feet elevation.  We were quickly learning that Scotland is mountainous, to say the least.  While the elevations seem low to someone from Colorado (the highest point in the UK is still 3,000 feet below my house), the base elevation is sea level, meaning that the climbs are steep and significant.

A lone photographer at this second high point let us know we were on course, and we soon experienced the most technical route choices yet while descending to a pass and then climbing a nearly disconnected, serpentine ridgeline to a glorious lookout at Ladhar Bheinn, 3,313 feet.  Another descent to sea level and a 5 mile lakeside trail run took us to the second transition.

Up next, an 86 mile mountain bike ride, the furthest single section of the race, would see the dawning of less desirable weather that persisted for the next few days.  We navigated a series of tarmac and dirt roads before the first serious climb through the Inchnacardoch Forest, an expansive pine tree plantation.  A quick drop down the other side to an obscure checkpoint on a public trail behind a field preceded a substantial climb on a rocky track, where cold, rain, and darkness became our companions.  A raging downhill through the frigid night took us to a mentally-daunting point at which we dropped our bikes and ran down to a river.  There, most racers already on the verge of hypothermia, we stripped nude (no point on getting the clothes even wetter), put on a wet lifejacket and helmet, and jumped five meters off a waterfall into a deep pool of water that looked like a swirling, black abyss.  Sometimes, adventure races in include activities whose only purpose is to increase suffering and test mental toughness.  Naked cliff jumping in the middle of the night in the freezing rain is a good example.

Splash!  That’s cold!  OK, breathe.

After swimming to shore, we dressed again in bike attire, sprinted uphill to kick-start circulation, and resumed cycling, downhill once again.  
A tyrolean traverse across a canyon gorge provided one more detour—this one markedly more palatable than the previous—along the ride, but the highlight came for many of us when we reached the corner store at Invermoriston, gateway to the infamous Loch Ness.  Here we gorged ourselves on meat pies, sausages, and other fatty delights.  The Great Glenn Cycle Route brought us impressive vistas of the Loch (I didn’t see the Monster, but my vision was blurry by that time) on the way to another rainy transition.

Chilled to the bone from cycling, we attempted to warm ourselves with a half mile swim with Nessy before paddling sit-on-tops across her domain.  From the lakeshore, we jogged six miles on pavement, many of us still wearing wetsuits to stay warm.  The top five teams completed a thrilling canyoneering section, which subsequent teams bypassed due to monsoon-like rising water levels brought on by the steady rain.

Still trekking, we traversed the trickiest navigation of the course.  “This area is very strange, and you’ll feel like you’re on the moon,” remarked Gary Tompsett, the course setter, prior to the race.  Right he was, and we followed compass bearings for hours through another stormy night while crossing lumpy tussock, muddy bogs, and rising creeks that would soon be rivers.  That was an eerie, long night in the fog, and we made it through because I teamed up with Petri Forsman, a Finnish adventure racing legend, who was the navigator for another team, to work together in following a bearing that would lead both teams through the trek.  For that night, our two teams became an eight-person unit, working as one to manage treacherous terrain and evidencing the benefits of collaborating with “competitors” at times, which is highly recommended by the ultra mindset.  A steepening of terrain told us that we had nearly reached the final canyon.  “Don’t walk too far in the fog because you’ll go right off a cliff.”  The pre-race warning slithered into my groggy consciousness at 2:00 a.m.  Narrowly avoiding a steep, dangerous canyon in the middle of the night, we finally found a defined track leading to the transition.
We slept on the ground near the transition area for an hour or so, wrapping a tarp around ourselves to make a wet, muddy, four-person burrito.  The rain persisted, and anyone who’s been on an extended camping trip can imagine the smell and absence of fresh air in our little capsule that had to be sealed against the rain.  It’s always a good idea in the transition to change clothes and pack up for the next section before sleeping because you’re so disoriented when you wake up, and I slept well in my bike shoes, helmet, and chamois, which was covered with diaper rash cream.

Yahoo!  The race’s most exciting section took off as we cycled through a thrilling mountain bike park.  Thick mud and steep hills had ground down the brake pads long ago, but the course of sharp switchbacks, endless rollers, rocky tabletops, and an elevated boardwalk dazzled us nonetheless.  Robbed of the delight that would have come with a full day in this park, we raced on through the rain to an impressive lakeside castle, where we dropped our bikes in the courtyard and trekked towards fixed ropes on Binnein Shaus, rising 2,447 feet into an icy fog.

Dante crept into my mind as I the rock wall via a fixed rope that I climbed with mechanical ascenders.  His Tenth Circle surely would have described this scene: endlessly climbing a rock face—sheer, gray, dripping—surrounded by fog, arctic shower pelting the sinner’s face.  This followed by a wait for teammates while huddled against the wall on a forlorn outcrop where the wind howled like a constipated sleepmoster.  Paradoxically (psychotically?), something resembling happiness often stirs in an adventure racer’s heart at moments like this.

Our foursome reunited on top of the peak, and we crossed the summit on foot to reach a series of three rappels.  Rappelling involves descending a fixed rope using a metal device to regulate speed--think of Batman cruising off the side of a building in Gotham City.  Much less Hellish, the downward trip took us past lurking photographers, and, lo and behold, the skies cleared momentarily just as we filled their viewfinders.

Running again, the cold began to harp on us.  Jari became a giant construction cone as she improvised a full body suit out of the bright orange trash bag carried by each racer as part of the mandatory gear.  I chuckled, and then joined her later on; the flashy dress complimented my ever-present shower cap (also used for insulation against the rain) very well.  Back on bikes, we made our way to the transition at Dalwhinnie, where a warm roadside inn provided saving grace.

The transition area was located in parking lot next to the inn, and we found an empty, warm room upstairs.  An hour’s nap on a leather couch and two plates of pasta had us ready, we thought, for 16 miles of paddling on Loch Ericht.  “We’ll warm up out there quickly when we get paddling,” I told my teammates, “dress light.”  Heeding my nautical expertise (remember the holiday in New Zealand), they prepared for a leisurely night-time cruise.  As darkness fell and the headwind picked up, we soon realized warming up was a pipe dream.  The situation became desperate as wave after wave pelted us in the face and cockpits slowly filled with frigid water.  So much for stirring happiness and the strait and narrow; this lake was torturing us with a true test for survival.  We discovered the next day that Balance Vector, the true paddling experts from New Zealand, had the sense to pull over and warm up during that night on the lake, but we slogged on until finally reaching the Loch’s terminus at daybreak.

Wick had been in the front of our boat, and a defective sprayskirt allowed his cockpit to fill with ice water.  When we finally reached the end of the paddle, he was, literally, stuck in the boat because he was so cold.  JB and I lifted him out while Jari started a fire, and then we hugged each other until circulation came back.  Up next was a portage (towing and carrying sea kayaks) for over 20 miles, described in the official race handbook as the “Outrageous Portage Section (O.P.S.), which has never actually been attempted before.”

Off we went, still wearing trash bags for warmth.  
Home in Colorado a week before the race, one of my teammates recalled Team Nike’s thoughtful use of inline skates for a boat portage in a previous race.  They had loaded the boats on wheeled carts and then pulled them while they roller bladed.  Might that work for us too?  Having lugged our skates around in the kayak hatches for the entire race, we figured this was the time to give the strategy a go.  Skating uphill while pulling a kayak is surely a challenge, but we flew on the descents.  Whether or not it actually saved us time we’ll never know.

Putting in on another lake, we checked the watch and realized the time to lower the hammer had arrived.  Although we were in sixth place and seemed to be racing well, a cutoff quickly approached.  “Must depart transition by 13:00 hours or face short course and 24-hour penalty,” declared a barely legible handwritten note on my map.  Races often enforce cutoffs at various points along the course to ensure that teams do not get too spread out, but top teams are generally well ahead of these marks.  This was not the case here, and we realized that the next few hours of dragging boats over boggy terrain would determine whether or not a podium finish days later would even be possible.

With two people using ropes to pull each kayak, we stumbled all day across what looked from afar like a flat floodplain but was actually a treacherous swamp with plenty of steep, muddy embankments that were challenging to overcome with kayaks.  The portage was a true race against the clock, and we gave it all we had, racing to make the time.

We learned why legendary racers become legends as Balance Vector’s Nathan Fa’avae strode past us, high-stepping the slick tussock and muddy ravines with ease as he towed a heavy kayak, unassisted.  His teammates struggled to keep up, and Nathan was, simply, leading by example.  
Team Balance Vector reached transition and missed the cutoff by ten minutes, and we followed shortly thereafter.  Five teams had beaten the 13:00 mark and would complete the full course.  We were not one of them.

Missing the cutoff was a huge blow for Teams Salmon/Crested Butte and Balance Vector, and our team was soon slumped in the back of an old bus out in a field, out of the rain (which was nice), and seemingly out of the race (which was not).  Knowing that 6th was now the highest possible finish because the five teams ahead would be doing the full course while we took on an abbreviated route for the next trek, motivation to prove ourselves as a top team was now categorically eliminated.  Getting to this point had taken months of training followed by days of intense racing, and reaching to the finish line would require another sleepless night and more time in the cold.

We were bummed, and ending the cold and misery then and there seemed like a good idea.  When someone uttered the question that was on everyone’s mind—Should we quit the race?—an ominous silence followed.
Struggling gets a bad rap.  Most of us inhabit a culture that’s increasingly focused on quick results, and it’s easy to find simple explanations for success that credit talent, intelligence, and plain old “being smart.”
As a public school teacher, I get to see, firsthand, how the way we bring up our kids leads to an unfortunate and counter-productive aversion to struggle.  An educational climate that increasingly emphasizes standardized test scores as the Holy Grail for students, teachers, schools, and districts encourages teachers, whether consciously or not, to send messages like, “This is the quick way to find the right answer,” and “Here’s how the smart kids do it,” and “You’ve been working on that for about two minutes and seem stuck, so let me help you,” and “You deserve an A because you quickly showed mastery of material that you probably already knew anyway, and that’s the key to success--sticking to the things that come quickly and easily, and avoiding everything else.”  
It only gets worse when we become adults.  Save a few revolutionary companies, primarily in the tech industry, that require employees to try new things and reward them for figuring out what doesn’t work through the process of failure, most companies pay employees to use a pre-determined model to accomplish as much as possible as fast as possible.  If an employee struggles or fails, his productivity goes down and he is paid less.  If you happen to be a teacher, your quest for creativity may be stifled by the standardized curriculum that tries to build teacher-proof courses for test-proof students.  Get from A to B as fast as you can, with no struggling for anybody.  And, especially when we get a few years into a given career, we thoughtlessly slide into spending all of our time doing what we already know how to do; the wheels start spinning and we nest up in the comfort zone.
We constantly send our kids--and ourselves--the message that if you are struggling something is wrong.  If you’re doing something right, it will feel nice and easy; it will be fun.  Struggle should be halted as soon as possible at all times because it will probably lead to suffering and, even worse, failure.
The problem with the message above is that it flies in the face of what we know to be the truth about learning and general progress, namely, that, if you never struggle, growth is almost impossible because lack of struggle only shows complacency within a comfort zone.  Learning and progress require a healthy dose of struggle, and regular failure is a good sign that struggle is occurring.  
Struggle is absolutely necessary.  In school, it shows that you are learning.  In work, it shows that you are getting better and pushing your boundaries.  In relationships, it signifies the deepening of a partnership, evidencing a willingness to move beyond surface-level affection to true commitment.  In life, it shows that you are progressing toward greatness, refusing to accept mediocrity and the status quo.
In ultra endurance racing, struggle is the only sure way to tell that you are gaining fitness in training and improving, both mentally and physically, in races.  Struggling in a long, hard race can generate serious suffering (it’s some of the best mental training around) and serious growth.
Unfortunately, some of the most talented athletes around move away from the value of struggle once they hit a certain level of success.  Working to the point where you have become a sponsored athlete who wins races takes hard work and struggle.  Some athletes, once they reach this level, experience a shift in mindset.  When these elites find themselves going through a hard time at a race, and we all do, they begin thinking along these lines:  “I’m a good runner, and good runners don’t finish in 15th place.  Something is wrong.  My sponsors aren’t going to like the fact that I did not finish on the podium...results like this one don’t show that I’m great, and I want to prove that I’m great.  If I quit the race now, I won’t have to defend my poor finish.”
And then they drop out of the race and move on to the next chance to be great.
Here’s the problem, the best goals are not based on being good; they are based on getting better.
In Succeed: How We Can Reach Our Goals, Heidi Grant Halvorson, Ph.D. provides context around the science of being good vs. getting better:
        "Wanting to be good is very motivating and can lead to excellent performance, provided that
things don’t get too difficult.  Unfortunately, when the road gets rocky, people who are focused on proving themselves tend to conclude that they don’t have what it takes--and give up way too soon.  Get better to improve performance.  When we focus on getting better, we take difficulty in stride--using our experiences to fuel our improvement.  People who pursue growth often turn in the best performances because they are far more resilient in the face of challenges" (75).
Focusing constantly on being good comes naturally to many people, and I know that I’ve spent a lot of time doing it.  When I focus on getting better, though, I often find that I actually function much more effectively as an athlete, parent, spouse, and professional; being good is the eventual outcome, and by focusing on getting better I have the patience to allow it to happen in due time.  Like life in general, ultra endurance races are challenging, and the get better mindset rules.
My personal rule of thumb in long races is that the shit will hit the fan.  I plan meticulously, and it usually pays off in one way or another, but I also acknowledge ahead of time and during the race that something (usually many things) will not go according to plan.  I might get lost.  I might get sick.  It might rain, or snow, or get windy, or be really hot.  I might get very sleepy.  I might have to deal with a mechanical issue on my bike or my boat or my pack or my body.  My crew might not make it to a checkpoint, meaning that I have to find some food and water on my own.  I might have a great day, and I might have a bad day.  I might miss a cutoff or fall far from my desired result.  Embracing these possibilities instead of ignoring them and being surprised when they occur makes a significant difference, and I have seen dozens of talented, fit athletes who absolutely crumble in the longer races simply because they can’t or don’t approach the race with a flexible mindset.
Think about everything that could and does happen in the ultra race of life.  You might get a great break for a new job, and you might lose your job.  You might have to stay home because your child is sick.  You might make a poor financial choice.  You might spend time around the wrong people.  You might make a big mistake, professionally or personally.  No, you will make a big mistake, professionally and personally.  Someone you know might get very sick.  Just like my list from racing, this one goes on and on.  If you try to control every single little variable and then crumble when your plan goes down the drain, you’re bound to drive yourself crazy, and my prediction is that you will also miss out on some of your potential to achieve challenging goals that require flexibility and a focus on getting better along the way.  We all screw up and face unexpected challenges; flexibility and a focus on getting better are two of the best ways to continue forward and ensure lasting success and well-being.
In that bus in Scotland, we had to decide whether our team was going to quit the race and maintain face as a “top team that got screwed by a stupid cutoff time” or cross the finish line far from the podium, and in doing so try learn something about ourselves on the way to getting better.  Being good was not an option at this point; were we motivated enough by getting better to continue racing when 6th place was the highest possible finish?
Crossing a challenging course to get to that bus in a field in Scotland had been a monumental struggle.  Getting out of the bus and back on the course would be even harder.  
Thankfully, we made the right choice.  
And so did the Kiwis, who were faced with the same decision, evidencing the ultra mindset that makes them the best in the world.  They took the long view, wagering that getting better by finishing this particular race would pay off later, and they have since won a number of Adventure Racing World Championships.
From that checkpoint, the top five teams completed a taxing yet scenic ridgeline trek through the best of Scotland.  “The mountains there were awesome,” said Team Nike’s Monique Merril, whose posse had by then pried victory from the grips of the persistent French/Swiss Team Wilsa Hellyhansen.  “The first climb was incredibly steep, and we used fixed handlines.  When we hit the ridge, it was totally exposed and incredibly windy, which was quite a challenge so late in a race.  The ridgelines and peaks just went on and on.”  Subsequent teams, ours included, also completed a trek, albeit shorter and less technical, with greatly diminished vertical gain.

From trekking, we hopped back on bikes and began to smell the finish.  Twenty-four kilometers with 2,800 feet of climbing along the West Highland Way offered some provoking descents that probably would have been fun if riding fresh and awake.  JB’s brakes went out, and he and I traded off between riding the one good bike between us and running in bike shoes with the useless one.

Ben Nevis’ lure pulled us through the cycling section, and we sound found ourselves tramping up the precipitous slopes of Scotland’s highest peak on the final trek home.  We scaled the rocky slopes surrounded by clouds, and as we reached the snowy summit, the sun broke through, revealing a breathtaking panorama of high peaks, deep valleys, green lowlands, and the vast sea.  Needless to say, the view was worth it, and we were proud of ourselves for making the right decision in the bus.

Hours later, we finished the race, crossing the line as a proud team.  And, more importantly, we had gotten better, both as adventure racers and as people.

Are you struggling?  If not, is it because your wheels are spinning in a comfort zone?  How do you view your struggles?  How do you talk about them?  Could viewing and discussing your struggles as positive and healthy lead to empowerment and resilience?  When was the last time you failed?  If you haven’t taken on something significant in the last six months that could lead to failure, what have you been doing?  What will you do in the next week to bring struggle and mental training into your life and work?  How will you grow?  How do you currently balance “be good” and “get better goals”?  Might increased focus on getting better generate more resilience and, ultimately, more success?
Thanks for reading,

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.