April 24, 2014
Get some unique perspectives on #triathlon through the eyes of both the athlete and the coach here. [Click To Tweet]
Sam Cook and Suzanne Atkinson, hosts of the Triathlon Research Podcast share their insights, experiences and stories. They talk about the goals and vision for the show and let you know what to expect.
0:29 – Intro to Triathlon Research Radio and Sam Cook
3:03 – How the Triathlon Research Podcast will help athletes
5:56 – How Suzanne Atkinson got started as a coach
8:22 – What set her up to become a successful coach
17:46 – Triathlon training is a metaphor for life
21:45 – The evolution of learning
25:55 – How our story and psychology impacts the sport Frank Pastone’s story “I think that my daughter looks up to me more now”
31:54 – How to find what running advice to follow
35:08 – Why Triathlon Research brings in different perspectives and trainers
44:44 – Fitness is the foundation to all growth in life
101:30 – Send in feedback of who should be a guest
Suzanne: Hello, this is Suzanne Atkinson and you are listening to Triathlon Research Radio. Today I’m interviewing Sam Cook. He is the founder of Triathlon Research. Go ahead and say hello Sam.
Sam: Hello Suzanne, how are you?
Suzanne: I’m good.
Sam: I kind of twisted your arm here to get me on the show here because I just wanted to, actually I run the show so I can get on whenever I want. But I want to introduce the podcast to the listeners of Triathlon Research Radio.
And really establish the framework that we are going to use for this podcast because podcasting has really been a huge impact on my life in terms of my learning and some of the things that I’ve been able to discover on it.
It’s something that I always wished I would have had when I was a triathlete just to be able to listen to people while I’m out on those long runs or rides or something that just it’s really useful for people who have a lot of commute time or like to listen to stuff while they exercise.
Suzanne: Or a lot of trainer time.
Sam: Yeah the indoor trainer has to be probably one of the worst tortures known to man.
Suzanne: I used to listen to a lot of podcasts several years ago when I first started training for triathlons especially when I was doing runs and I really enjoyed it. I thought it was a great way to get some education and learn about different athletes.
I would listen to a lot of former professional athletes who were doing motivational speaking and things like that. I remember in particular one by Bruce Jenner that I thought was pretty interesting and that was 7, 8, 9 years ago now.
Sam: Wow, you were one of the early adopters of podcast. I just discovered it recently.
Suzanne: Well, I didn’t continue it. And back then there was maybe only one or two triathlon or endurance related podcasts and now I think there’s a whole bunch of them.
But I’m really excited to participate because I feel like with your connections in team building and my interest in chatting with other coaches and athletes that we can really create some very interesting podcasts that people will learn from and also be entertained by.
Sam: Yeah so that’s really interesting to me is the podcasting scene has really taken off in the last couple of years and the technology and all the different things you can do to produce a high quality show are really amazing. Let me just dig in real quick Suzanne.
And I think what I’d like to do today is introduce the listener to the way this show is going to run because this is the second episode. The first one you did with our good friend Bobby McGee the six-time Olympic running coach. I want to introduce to people how this show is going to run and the format we are going to use.
Suzanne today we are really just going to tell our story about how we, our two journeys through triathlon and how we know all the people that we do in this sport. And really why we are starting this podcast so that in the future when one of us is hosting the show or I’m hosting the show, depending on who the guest is and the topic, people really understand where we are coming from and our backgrounds.
So the first thing I’d like to say is I’m the owner of the company and I’ve been sending out the emails on behalf of Triathlon Research and I’ll continue to do that but I am not a coach.
In fact Suzanne you know from coaching me that I’m just an athlete, very curious and I like to learn and was always very interested in a participatory athlete where you really want to understand your training. But at the end of the day I really enjoyed a coach just telling me what to do because I just never had the time to go and even think about planning my own training.
That’s something that I really appreciated about having coaching. But then there’s also going to be athletes who really take pride in developing their own training.
So you are a coach and I hope that maybe your aspect of this show will be to help the coaches and also the self-coached athletes or the athlete like myself who like to understand what was going on but was just too lazy to do it themselves.
Suzanne: Sure. I have spent a lot of time over the past eight, nine years studying everything I can get a hold of as far as coaching. And I’ve gone through several different certifications with national governing bodies because I feel it’s a good foundation and good guidelines as to what the governing body which is USA Triathlon expect their coaches to know about.
But it’s by far the end of what a coach needs to learn. And so I think what’s really important for people to know is that whether you are an athlete or a coach the idea of constantly learning and constantly being curious and constantly filling in gaps in your knowledge.
So that you can create better training plans, so that you can feel better about what you are doing and continue making progress I think that’s really important. So from day one a lot of people ask me how I got started in coaching. I’ve always done coaching on some level sort of by instinct.
When I was in high school I was captain of our soccer team, I was captain of our church league volleyball team. My senior year I acted as coach for the church league volleyball team. And in college I just kind of continued, I organized inter-real sports, I did officiating for volleyball and soccer in college.
When I finally graduated college and got interested in triathlon I had also been doing educating for Voyager Outward Bound School. So I don’t know if the listener or if Sam you and I ever talked about Outward Bound School before, are you familiar with it?
Sam: Yeah well I remember when we used to have lunch in Pittsburg whenever I came through town for swim lessons you would talk about it so yeah.
Suzanne: I just like to mention it because I feel like it set me up to have a really good foundation for being constantly curious and constantly learning, if you think people would be interested in that.
Sam: Yeah. Well you know your background as a coach is really fascinating to me because I think within a year of you starting to be a total immersion coach, Terry Laughlin the founder of Total Immersion had made you head of coaching education.
Which is really amazing when you think about all the coaches that have gone through the Total Immersion system and you and I know many of them are just amazing swimming coaches, and for you to be selected for that position and gain the trust of Terry so quickly who’s been coaching for, swimming longer than both of us have been alive then it’s really impressive.
I also know Bobby who’s trained you in running. And for some reason your prior life skill set has really set you up to take to coaching very, very quickly. I guess you have some kind of meta-learning related to physiology and medicine and science that allow you to do it.
It’s interesting from my background I just left the army and got into business is I’m not a very experienced businessman but I have 18 years of experience in leadership in the army which is serving me well on my steep learning curve in business. But yeah, let’s talk a little bit, what do you think set you up to be so successful as a coach so quickly? And I know you’re going to be modest so I’ll just talk you up here.
Suzanne: First I’m going to pull out a modesty card that I take a cue from Bob McGee. I definitely am very flattered and was initially quite surprised that Terry asked me to start doing coach trainings. And I know there may be other TI coaches listening to this and other people who do camps or train other coaches.
I just want to acknowledge how much I still continue to learn this day from other coaches from all disciplines especially the Total Immersion swim coaching group. We’ve got a very active group on our private coaching Facebook page and I’m constantly posting questions there because I always want to learn.
I think that sort of mindset was instilled in me initially by my grandfather. But it’s through opportunities like Voyager Outward Bound School for the listener that’s not familiar with this the Voyager Outward Bound is an outward bound school in northern Minnesota.
Outward Bound as a school in general was founded I believed shortly after World War 2 by a fellow named Kurt Hahn. He had noticed that when there were ship accidents at sea, naval sea accidents where a ship would go down that it was the old experienced sea salts that would survive.
And the young strong healthier men, physically stronger men would frequently be the ones that would drown. So they recognized that there was something going on that these older sailors had learned through experience that was helping them survive.
And so the initial outward bound schools were based on those sorts of things. You know the wall climbing thing where you’ve just got a flat wall that’s eight feet high and you have to get your whole team over it?
Sam: Oh yeah, a lot of fun. That was before in the armies.
Suzanne: Well that was designed to represent the hole of a ship and you are in a life boat and you have to get back into the ship. That was where that thing initially came from. So that’s the background of outward bound. Around the world there are 30 plus schools.
There may be more but in the US we use the wilderness areas to take people out of their comfort environment and put them into a new environment where they are in unfamiliar territory, there are unfamiliar skills, there are significant physical as well as personal demands.
You are with a group of strangers doing physically intense activity that you may have never done before. Canoeing expeditions back packing expeditions and so forth. So the way this relates to coaching is that there is skills instruction through all of that.
As an outward bound instructor I had to teach people everything about expeditioning along with my co-instructor, teach people how to set up a tent, how do you build a camp fire, how do you cook a camp meal, how do you pack camp meals for a three-week expedition.
How do you portage correctly, how do you keep the bugs off your feet, how do you keep good hygiene on a three-week wilderness trip? All these little tiny teaching elements. And just like now I learn all sorts of things from other coaches.
Back then as an intern at Outward Bound School we had the opportunity to work with many different experienced educators in little half-day segments around base camp. And then go on these many two to three day expeditions with various instructors some of whom had been doing wilderness education for two decades.
So that was the first job that I had out of college and it was really eye-opening. It was the first job that I ever got paid for and I was getting paid to learn and to teach. While it wasn’t coaching per se it definitely influenced the way that I continued to learn.
It influenced the way that I model activities and behaviors for people and it influenced the way that I acknowledge that people have different learning styles and let them learn the way that they learn best. And part of my job as a coach is to try and sort some of that out.
And I don’t think any of that is revolutionary, it’s all fundamental teaching stuff. But because I had the opportunity to learn it immediately out of college instead of going and sitting in an office for four years with my earth science degree it just really changed everything about how I approached all the other activities that I’ve done in my life including learning about medicine and then eventually learning about coaching.
Sam: Suzanne, you really bring up a couple of fascinating points that I’d like to hit on. First of all is teaching. Teaching to me played I think one said a teacher never knows where his impact stops and that’s from the man whose book we are still reading 2000 years later and pretty much founded western civilizations intellectual framework.
I learned when I was a teacher I taught history at West Point, we’ll talk about that a little bit more later. Was I just every day I got in front of class and I used to think after class I thought did they just teach me more than I taught them or am I just seeing things?
And I think as a teacher you have this aura about you when you are in the classroom that wow this person knows so much. And we know that when we are teaching that wow I’m just making this stuff as I go and I hope they don’t catch me.
And you don’t really learn something until you are forced to teach it because ideas in your head are all just theory until you have to make someone else understand it. And I think that when you are teaching sometimes you have to pinch yourself and say am I getting paid to learn like this.
Sam: That’s one really interesting point you made. The other one I want to touch on before you move on is you hit on something with outward bound which it really I’d imagine just like the military when I was in there, really adds some connection to our primal self, stealing from Bobby McGee and running his primal.
But really thinking about why do we like those kind of things, why is triathlon the fastest growing sport in the United States. It’s because we as a society have never been more comfortable. We have never been more sedentary. We’ve never been more overweight.
And I think that people when they reach their 30’s and 40’s after doing the rat-race for a while and I think most triathletes are probably listening to this are very successful people but they are missing something. They are not happy with that great paying job where they don’t have to worry about money and can take great vacations with their family.
But really are looking for something more and you and I have both had the privilege of scratching that itch early in our lives when we got out of college and I think always been a little connected to that.
And that’s probably why we are both drawn to the sport of triathlon. I’ll talk about that a little bit when we get into my story but just two excellent points that came out of there, what are your thoughts on that? So related to those two points teaching and the search for adventure what so you think about that in terms of triathlon?
Suzanne: I think that’s really spot on. As far as teaching, going back to even the pre-college teaching that I did when I was captain of our senior volleyball team I found, I think one of the reasons that they asked me to be our coach, I mean I was a peer coach, kind of half manager, half coach.
I certainly didn’t know everything about volleyball. I had just started like the summer before but I really enjoyed breaking down the skills and showing people and I learned the skills from the other people on the team. But I think what I was able to do is take what everybody was suggesting to me and present it in a way that was a little bit more comprehensive.
So being able to go and collect ideas from all of your students, this student is teaching me one set of skills and this student is teaching me something totally different.
And having the ability to combine those together into a set of themes or something that’s repeatable or something that you can sort of, I don’t really like the word systematize but really sort of package things up and re-present it to a new group of people or re-present it to the same group of people to find what the common themes are.
So I definitely agree with you that as a teacher, a coach, an instructor I’m always learning from the people that I’m teaching. For no other reason even if they don’t have as many facts stored in their brain because every person is an individual they all have different way of learning and giving me feedback.
There was a time in my life not too long ago where I really shied away from confrontation, at least on a personal interaction and challenge. And I don’t mean confrontation in terms of arguing. Nowadays I really am excited to look for differences in the way I think or perch something versus someone else.
And sort of giving up any personal attachment to those differences and finding out from them if I’ve got an athlete who has had a completely different background up until the time I meet them I like to find out as much as I can and their motivations.
So I definitely agree with learning as much as you can with your students. And as far as the adventure sense in triathlon, I got into it a little bit before I had had a chance to really get into the workforce. I’d been out of college for a while but really working in a retail store, not earning a ton of money and you don’t earn any money when you are in medical school either.
But I got into it because it was a way to escape from the daily activities I was doing as a resident so that’s when I started as a medical resident. I knew I wasn’t going to have a lot of time. I had been doing a lot of running sports up until that point and I just had a sense that my body was tired of running.
So triathlon offered so many different variations of a theme. It’s both a blessing and a curse; you get a chance to do many different activities so there’s lots of learning involved. But at the same time you never get a chance to really become a master of any one of them.
Sam: Yeah it’s frustrating sometimes when you go swimming with someone who is a swimmer as a triathlete, humbling. I guess that’s what’s life is all about is finding the greatest thing about triathlon I think why it draws so many people is you’re never going to master.
It’s not the destination, it’s the journey. And that’s a theme in life is everyone wants to be perfect and we never are going to be perfect in any discipline whether it’s our fitness or our body composition or your relationships or whatever.
Everyone is short of perfection but it’s fun to get better and the journey is really interesting and I think that’s what triathlon gives people. It’s kind of a metaphor for life and it really gives people that connection there.
One of the things Suzanne the points you hit on with always learning is I think when you start learning something you are looking for the answer, the certainty of understanding this is how I should swim, this is how I should run.
I went through this when I was learning running was I found the pose method and that’s how this Russian guy says I should run and it looks good. The science makes sense, I remember reading it in Tim Ferris 4 Hour Body. I thought okay that’s the way to go and I learned it.
And I remember meeting Bobby McGee and I was suspect of Bobby because Bobby wasn’t a pose coach. And I had this certainty in my mind that this Russian coach, this running coach had figured it out. And I took a lesson with Bobby and by the end of the lesson I was blown away with all the things I learned.
But it took me a little while still to figure out that wait a minute the pose method and Bobby and coach Romanoff have had some debates in art and science USAT triathlon and Bobby has said wonderful things about what Romanoff has done for the sport. But he’ll also say I think that he only had certain parts of it right and then Bobby has his perspective.
Sam: And as a consumer I need to go chose okay do I agree with Bobby or Romanoff and I happened to agree more with Bobby. I think he’s just more up to date. But Bobby will be the first one to tell you that he doesn’t know everything about running and he’s been coaching for 33 years.
And listeners if we have a listener who don’t know who Bobby McGee is he’s the best triathlon coach probably in the world running in triathlon and you should just go listen to episode one. But I think there’s a certain evolution in learning where you want to—and I went through the same thing when I started learning history is okay well I need to learn all the facts.
And then once you really dig into history and understand that I used to do this exercise with my cadets to show them how much they did not know about history was sit here and tell me your life story. And most of them would run out of things to say in 30 minutes.
But your life is 18 years long so you should be able to go along for 18 years, right? But we’ve compartmentalized everything in our lives down to manageable stories because the infinite, and this can really deep philosophically, but why you are doing what you are doing and why you are on the place in life you are, you can’t even really untangle why you’re doing what you do.
Why did you come to West Point? Well sir I wanted to serve my country. Actually it’s because your father was a domineering person and this is your chance to prove to him that you are a real man. And your mom sometimes didn’t have time for you and your brothers used to beat you up. There are all kinds of different reasons.
Suzanne: Other motivations.
Sam: Yeah that you don’t understand and if you really wanted to understand it you’d have to lay down on a couch and we’d have to talk. And then I’d talk to your brother, your mother and your sister and they’d give me all of the perspectives that are really true.
Sam: Maybe more true at least from their perspective. And then you might start to have an inkling of who you are and why you are doing what you are doing. And that’s just for someone to understand.
Suzanne: For one individual.
Sam: Yes someone who’s lived their reality their whole life. So multiply that by 6 billion people right now on the planet and then go back to all of their ancestors and then try and explain to me history and there’s absolutely no way to ever come close to the infinity of what truth is, right?
Sam: So move that into triathlon there’s so much to learn, right?
Suzanne: Yeah. That’s really interesting to hear you say that because I’ve had similar thoughts about a triathlon event. This goes back to when I used to go on weekend rock climbing and weekend white water kayaking trips with my friends.
We’d drive down to West Virginia spend the day rock climbing in maybe a group of 6 to 8 people. Go down and you set up 6 great climbs and you spend the whole day, just nice socializing. And afterwards we’d all go out to pizza together and sit around and we’d all tell our stories about the day.
And it always amazed me it took me a while to get into the sport before I started looking at it from the sort of higher level. But we’d sit around and each person had their own version of a climb. So say two people were on a climb, one person climbing and 1 person belaying and maybe the whole climb lasted 45 minutes.
But both people have a story about it and both people were going through certain emotions when it happened. The leader had maybe a certain level of fear and a certain level of problem solving and the belayer was by no means just sitting there watching.
The belayer was going through their own set of emotions. And then the roles flip and the climber becomes the belayer and then you multiply that by all the pairs of people that are there and that’s just your little group. And that’s what you discuss over pizza and beer afterwards.
Rock climbing was one of my first sports out of college and I noticed that in white water kayaking that the same thing would happen. We had the same pizza joint in West Virginia and I had been with my rock climbing friends and right next to us was a table of people that had just finished a loop of the York River.
And they were telling the same stories that we were telling except it was just a different subject matter. It was so fun to listen to all the chatter, all the stories and all the excitement. And then when I got into triathlon it’s the same thing, everybody can go and do a two-hour race or a four-hour race.
But every person has their own story of that two hours let alone the months and months and months of preparation that went into it. And then on top of that all of the internal motivating factors like you described. Why did someone decide to go to West Point? Why does somebody decide to do an Iron Med? It’s really fascinating.
Sam: Yeah and this is really coming into the area that I really love about the sport of triathlon is the stories and the psychology behind it. One of the things that you and I have discussed with this show is I don’t have a medical background. I don’t have a coaching background and I don’t ever want to be in that field.
And that’s what I’ve asked you to cover in this show, the science of triathlon. But what I’m really interested in, what I’m going to focus on is the story and the psychology of it because at the end of the day the sport is done by human beings who have motivations. You are right, we do triathlon and the listener does triathlon because they want a story.
And it enriches their life to the point where they are willing to spend 12 or 15 hours away from their family, away from maybe going out or whatever their situation might be. They are giving something up for those 12 to 15 hours a week that they might go train some people even more. And what are they getting out of it?
Are they showing up back in their lives as a better husband or father? Let’s hope that’s the case because otherwise you might have your life a little bit out of balance. But if you don’t show up as much due to your training but when you do show up you are really there because you’ve got a story that you are living that inspires you and makes you just a better person.
This really struck me when I was interviewing a guy named Fran Pistone down in Houston for the film that I did with some triathletes that are working with the tried out system. Frank was sitting there. I’ll never forget it. He was sitting there in the gym doing a little interview and he said I think that my daughter looks up to me more now.
And he said not that she doesn’t look up to me but we just have this special relationship now because he’s kind of a hero in her mind for doing these triathlons. And here was this little nine-year old girl who was sitting there and I’m telling you we are going to be reading about her in the Olympics.
She already applied me to coach her so she could make it to the Olympics. But that’s my dream for you Suzanne. I want you to be coaching the Olympic team here one of these days, but anyway. This little girl is running half marathons and it’s an amazing—
If anyone wants to go watch this video of this guy talking about his daughter I think I’ll try to remember to put it in the show notes. But it’s just an amazing story about what triathlon can do in your life.
And this is the guy who’s taking time out of his busy schedule but his wife and his family are obviously getting more quality out of him it seems because of what he’s doing. Whereas some people might get addicted to the sport of triathlon where it makes them overly stressed.
Suzanne: Yeah, exactly.
Sam: So that’s a really interesting part of I think the sport that I’m looking to explore in this podcast going forward. What you mentioned is why we do this and the stories we get out of this. Because I’m a historian by trade and I love to write and that’s really what life is all about is storytelling.
Suzanne: I think since you shared your part of what you really feel like you can bring in the podcast to what motivates you. From my perspective, certainly I enjoy the stories but I kind of allude to this not too long ago. It’s not necessarily my first instinct or at least a few years ago it wasn’t to start looking and trying to understand other people’s motivation.
Having said that, one of the reasons I decided to go to medical school in the first place is because I had been doing some volunteer work with a local physician here in Pittsburg named Jim Withers who started a group called Operation Safety Net.
Operation Safety Net is a non-profit organization that brings medical care directly to where homeless people are living. Even to this day it’s been over 20 years since it was founded, it’s not like the Operation Safety Net volunteers just walk around with a badge on and can walk in any homeless camp.
There’s a constant ongoing trust building effort going on and it’s constant every night, every week every day. Many people who are homeless don’t have many options but they in a sense made a choice to not have an option of asking another person for help or not trusting another person.
Certainly that doesn’t describe everyone but there’s this huge issue of trust. My point is that I saw Jim Withers using medicine as a tool to reach other people to get sort of a little key to unlock a tiny part of their life. And using this gentleman’s history of hypertension to open up a conversation and learn more about him.
And I saw just how medicine is a tool to get to know people better and get into people’s lives with permission. And so with triathlon it’s starting to come full circle for me. Just within the past year or two it’s been really interesting for me to learn more about what motivates people.
You are different than me and I would like to understand more about that and I feel like I’ve fairly successfully gotten past the point of only being able to look inside myself and say everybody must be doing it for the same reason I am. So from the story part that’s something that is newer to me in terms of exploring and feel like it’s added a whole dimension to my coaching ability.
But the other dimension that I feel like I can bring and want to share with people is taking all of the science-y stuff; the physiology, the anatomy, the biochemistry, the nutrition, the periodization of training and helping people understand it better.
I think that there’s so much information out there and when people read conflicting information they feel like they have to choose a side. You’ve already mentioned pose and Bobby McGee, they are both teaching running and both of them have the fans.
So how does a person know which five facts that Bobby presents that Nicholas doesn’t agree with or vice versa? It doesn’t really matter. From Bobby’s perspective it matters and from Nicholas’s perspective it matters but you as a runner you need a method to filter through things.
How do you decide what’s important and what’s not important and what works for you? So for me part of that, is understanding more of the science, what’s the fundamental science and is what this person telling me fundamentally sound.
If it’s fundamentally sound and then they’ve added their own interpretation on top of that to teach a technique or to teach a philosophical approach then I can put that in the context. One of the things that I do an awful lot of is take notes and try to categorize what people are telling me.
When I first started doing Total Immersion, when I did my first Total Immersion workshop I came home with two pages of notes on graph paper with little dots and little stick figures and diagrams and I still have those two sheets of paper. So I tried to take—
Sam: I can imagine you getting out of the pool and on your break just sitting there writing detailed notes. In my first Total Immersion camp I didn’t have a single note but I got great stories from it.
Suzanne: That’s funny.
Sam: But I learned how to swim real quick so it was great.
Suzanne: I actually have a waterproof notebook that I keep at the poolside. And I don’t do that for every session and I don’t want people to think that all I do is scribble notes and I’m never in the moment.
But for example when I’ve done in the past, over these past few months webinars with Bobby McGee and with Terry Laughlin and then with Jeff and with I as I’m doing the interviewing I’m also taking notes on an outline that I’ve already created so I’ve got notes on notes.
And it’s how I organize the thoughts in my mind so they can get some kind of a structure. And it goes back to what I mentioned before, the high school volleyball coach situation. I was learning little tips from every person on the team who were also just high school recreational players.
Some of them had some formal training. And then I was able to get into the system that made sense to me and then I was able to re-present that system to the team as a whole and that’s what made our team cohesive. Somebody needed to take that role. And so I just summarize this long explanation, that’s what I feel I can bring to this triathlon research podcast.
Taking some of the mystery out of the science, summarizing things that I’ve learned from lots of different coaches and re-presenting it to folks so they can make their own decisions about what’s important to them and what to integrate.
Sam: One of the things I would just like to emphasize to the listener when you are thinking about coaching and who’s right, at the end of the day nobody’s right. There are some people who have more things right than others but you can learn something from everyone.
One of the things I want to do on the show is bring in a bunch of different perspectives. I have my, and I’m not going to be bashful about saying if you want to get better running, I personally recommend Bobby McGee for anyone.
But that doesn’t mean I’m right and that doesn’t mean Bobby’s right about everything that he says because there might be a running coach who has one sliver of insight on something, Alberto Salazar or one of these other coaches that Bobby might have not just articulated yet or maybe discovered.
Suzanne: I think Bob would be the first to tell you that he’s built his body of knowledge from learning from other coaches. And that’s one of the reasons that I really enjoy talking with him is I think I heard him describe once at a coach training that when a new coach is building knowledge you’ve got this very loose net, this loose mesh with these really big gaps in between.
And that net starts to get things that stick to it and you start to fill in these gaps. It’s like adding a finer line to your fishing net so you start to catch more information and you fill in all these knowledge gaps. In the podcast I did with Bob we talked a little bit about that about how we first started to learn about run coaching.
So even though you and I both agree that Bobby is a prime example of a coach with an extreme body of knowledge that can teach it well, I think he’d be the first one to acknowledge that he built that body of knowledge by learning from other coaches.
Sam: Yes. Another example is that when I was sitting down to speak to Terry Laughlin the Total Immersion founder it wasn’t until he was 20 years into his coaching that he pretty much changed everything. He started over and ripped apart.
And if Terry at 42 was talking to Terry at 22 who by the way was coach of the year his first year at the Coast Guard Academy he was conference coach of the year as a 22 year old coach, Terry at 42 would say, hey look young kid you don’t know what the heck you are talking about.
And he’s constantly learning. He’s been doing this for 42 years and he’d be the first one to tell you that he’s never going to stop learning and it’s what keeps him alive and animated and things like that. And I think I’m trying to remember I don’t remember the swim coach’s name, I have to ask Terry when we have him on the show, the coach that just revolutionalized this thinking towards swimming.
Suzanne: Bill Boomer.
Sam: Yeah Bill Boomer and it’s amazing to think to have the open-mindedness after been doing it and been that successful for that long to say wow everything I’ve been doing up to this point is basically not been wrong but not been nearly as good as it could have been and let’s start over. And that’s a huge move for a swim coach to make at that point.
Suzanne: It’s interesting because I have a copy of that talk, The American Swim Coach Association transcribes most of their world clinic talks. And had I read that without much swim background I probably would have thought it was interesting but I wouldn’t have had the revelation that Terry had. So it was because of Terry’s background up to that point that sort of prepared him to receive that and reformulate it.
I don’t want to say re-package but sort of re-present it in a systematic way and that was the origins of Total Immersion. I hope I’m not speaking for him. But it was kind of the origin of Total Immersion and then it just keeps developing. Even to this day Terry’s learning new ways to present things and I guess that we’ve got a very active coaches forum on Facebook where we share new ideas and it’s just a wonderful environment to be in and I love being surrounded with that vibe.
Sam: It’s really interesting to think about just the learning that every coach has gone through and then at the end of the day Terry himself has got I think probably the best body of knowledge of any swim coach organization out there. But then there are other insights out there yet to be learned by him and his coaches.
And I think the process you and I need to go through on this podcast in the Triathlon Research as we build this really body of knowledge for the sport is, the sport of triathlon specifically when I was talking to Mark Allen I had an interview with him, I don’t’ have that for the podcast yet but I’m going to try to get him on the show here.
But I had an interview with Mark Allen I said Mark who was your coach and he said I didn’t have a coach because no one knew more about the sport than what we did at that point. So he and Dave Scott were just going out there and they were just breaking stuff. They were like let’s try this. Okay I almost died so let’s try something else.
And you look at the progression of their training. I think Dave Scott when he did Kona at 42 which everyone thought was really old at that point he was faster than his first triathlon by I think a couple of hours. Here’s the guy who is 42 running circles around his 20 year old self because he evolved in his training and in his fitness.
I think that you look at that compared to the sport of running which has been around since ancient Greece and you look at Arthur Lydiard and all the different since the modern Olympic movement in 1896 that’s a very well developed sport. And even then those running coaches are still learning.
And then you look at triathlon how much does running change according to Bobby based on when you’ve gotten off the bike. When you are in draft legal versus sitting there on the arrow bars, how does that change your run?
It’s every discipline of triathlon; every distance and every rule of the bike and the swim create different anatomical problems for the runner when they get off. And that’s a whole new thing.
Suzanne: You are right it is a whole new thing. Your comment about if the 42 year old Terry could talk to the 22 year old Terry, I just kind of chuckled when you said that because I don’t know how that conversation would have gone.
But what I do know is that it was important for the 22 year old to have experienced everything that he did experience and to bring that knowledge to the 42 year old version.
And so as a coach working with other coaches I’ve gone through those phases of my coach education where I was newer and still learning things and I would learn something new and I would be absolutely convinced that I knew it code, I had it down pat, I knew everything there was to know about a little niche topic.
And then I would talk to a coach that hadn’t read the same paper I had or hadn’t listened to the same speaker I had. And I would necessarily confront them but internally in my head I would say that coach doesn’t know what they are talking about they are so uneducated.
And that was a phase of immaturity but it’s kind of a necessary phase to go through where as a coach or an athlete you are picking up new knowledge and I think you need to have a period where you feel confident in what you are learning.
And until that becomes embedded within your body of knowledge personally I don’t think it’s entirely comfortable to move on and then acknowledge that there are other view points. I think it takes a very mature person or someone who’s been through that experience a lot of times to see a new piece of knowledge and acknowledge immediately oh that’s just one perspective.
Naturally some people are much better at that than I am but something I’m always working on. I just want to share this quote that I first heard from the Buddhist book camp. There’s a book out there and he has a Facebook page and if he got it from somewhere else then I’ll offer credit there but it’s where I first heard it.
The quote is something like this, if I meet a man on the street who tells me that the sky is green rather than arguing with him I can simply walk away with the enhanced knowledge that to some people the sky is green.
When I first read that I was like it’s so insightful. We need to allow everyone to have their own opinion and not be judgmental of their opinion. And the more open-minded I try to be the more I can learn and the more I can learn the more I can turnaround and teach that to other people.
Sam: What you just said really reminds me and drawing on my history background I think I can’t remember if it was Plato or Socrates who went to the oracle Delphi and said I’ve realized now that I know nothing. Then the oracle responded, now you are truly wise. I think what you just described as a coach is really like men up to the age of 30.
Suzanne: I was going to say the age of 40 but yeah it’s the same idea.
Sam: Well let’s hope. I’m 36 so I’m hoping I’ve passed this point.
Suzanne: Think of how much better you’ll be in four years then.
Sam: Exactly, right. Hopefully I’ll be ready to settle down. I think there’s a point in your life cycle as a person where you need certainty and you need a little bit of arrogance to get through the point where you are most vulnerable to actually just push through and make it.
That’s why teenagers are so annoying to their parents but it’s kind of a necessary thing because they are never going to get out and be adults unless they actually just get out there and do that and really pass through that phase. But then at a certain point you realize that wow I really don’t know that much and my parents might have been right about a lot of things.
And then that’s when you all of a sudden really start to take off in your professional life and I’ve seen this with men specifically. I wasn’t a slouch in my 20s. I did a lot of stuff. I was an army officer and I deployed to Iraq twice during that time. So it’s not like I was sitting around eating Cheetos and getting high or anything.
I wasn’t but I hit this point and this is really interesting, when I started triathlon in my early 30s I hit this point where I realized in life, I’d gotten back from Iraq and I was at grad school in New York City and really wasn’t that happy although I was very busy doing a lot of things.
A couple of things happened in my life where I just realized this is not the way I want to be in life. Starting triathlon was really a part of a radical reinvention of my entire life. And when I sat down and kind of hit what I thought was a rock bottom point at that point in my life I said where so I start in terms of changing my life?
And one part was the foundations of fitness which I’d learned from my uncle and I just read an email from my uncle, is all about your foundations. If you get your health and your fitness right then solid mind, solid body or solid body solid mind and clear thinking. And then everything else flows from that.
So I really looked at fitness as a way of unlocking all the other things that I wasn’t happy about in my life. I think that that’s why triathlon for some reason the most competitive age group is like the 35 to 39 and the 40 to 44.
Suzanne: Yeah I see where you are going with this.
Sam: Because at that point you have the discipline and the focus to just train and get it right. How many young athletes have you coached compared to older ones who just don’t get it?
Suzanne: There’s just a lot of not that aren’t always distractions in life but I think that as people get older, as I’ve gotten older I’m able to handle the distractions better. I’m able to sort out what is and isn’t important to me and make decisions about where I want to spend my time.
And as a result I’m much more passionate about how I spend my time and passionate about the things I’m doing. This is a little bit personal but when I just graduated from college I was dating someone. I was in my mid 20s and he was in his early 30s.
He made a comment about there’s a big difference between 25 and 33. And the time I thought I was this really mature 25-year old. I had graduated from college, I was teaching teenagers from outward bound school, I knew all these skills and I was really offended at the time he said that.
But then fast forward eight years later I was like he was right. What you gain in those eight years and especially that meaty part of where you are becoming more of an adult, you are becoming more independent, you have your independence.
But what does it mean to be truly self-sufficient not just financially but all these other things that are part of taking care of yourself. For you you mentioned getting the sound fitness. For me I’m not really sure what it was but there’s definitely a lot of growth that occurred in that time period.
And I was definitely a very different person, a much better version of my 25 year old self when I was 35. Now I’m 45 and I think I’m a much better version of my 35 year old self. So that tie-in to the really competitive age groups in triathlon I think is very interesting and I’m sure you are going to get a lot of good stories out of that comparison.
Sam: So you are saying there’s hope for me yet.
Suzanne: There’s hope for you Sam yeah. There’s hope and I also just want to acknowledge that for the 25 year old listener we are not dismissing you by any means or the 15 year old listener. I think that this whole process of continuous improvement which is the whole theme of Total Immersion swimming continuous improvement is just really ripe and I think if you want it to, your life just keeps getting better.
Sam: There’s something to look forward to and I think you look at the happiness studies and people really don’t really get to their happiest point until they are 60’s that’s what they say these days. And they have triathletes all the way into their 70’s now.
Suzanne I just wanted to highlight and I’m going to brag on you a little bit here, when I started triathlon coaching just a little bit about my story because it’s intertwined with yours, when I started doing triathlon the first coach that I hired was an awesome guy named Gordo Byrn.
And I think you remember Gordo was running a coaching service and at that point I’d gotten and I tend to this, when I jump into something I jump in feet first. I said I just want to go to the Olympics and I was late to the sport, it was an impossible dream and then I thought. And when I say impossible it probably would have been possible, anything is possible.
Suzanne: I still think I can get you to the Olympics. You just need to quit this world travel stuff.
Sam: Yeah I need to quit everything else and what I realized when I looked at my dream because I did get very good very quickly under people like you and Bobby and Terry and other things. But what I realized was do I want to give up everything else in life for that one dream.
And one of the things bobby made me realize was if you want to be an Olympian that is all you do, the sacrifice is huge. And I realized and this is why I put in my email the other day I’m a recovering triathlete.
I realized that okay I’m not going to do this whole-hog so I’m going to take a little bit of a break from the sport because I need to get some other things sorted in my life. But before I quit doing triathlon to run the Triathlon Research which is ironic, I don’t have time for triathlon because I’m running this company.
Before I quit it I got in the sport with a coach named Gordo Burn and when I flew out to go see Gordo, Gordo was the one who made me go see Bobby McGee for $330 for like one session. I think Bobby’s rates have doubled by now because he’s gotten online and he’s pretty famous now in the community.
But I paid $330 for a session with Bobby and it absolutely was mind altering in terms of. I think for the next six months all I did was think about those three things Bobby told me to do and it just transformed my running form. But the next thing that was I said if I’m going to master the run now I really need to get into the swim.
And I’d know about Terry Laughlin before. I’d taken a Total Immersion workshop which literally. You’ve read the Tim Ferris story how he was swimming a couple of laps and then he’d have to stop. And that was me. Tim Farris and I are brothers from another mother on that one.
We were just completely the same. I didn’t learn how to swim until I was nine, I used to stand up and scream in the bath tub as a baby. I mean I just hated the water. And I’d learned a Total Immersion workshop and then I’d taken a couple lessons from Shane Eversfield who’s just an amazing zendurance and cycling founder and just an amazing coach.
And his lessons were up in New Paltz at this basement in this really nice house up in the woods there. And I though Shane used to say Terry is the founder and we are at his house. I would just sat hey Shane I’d love to meet Terry one of these days. No offense to Shane and I think I’ve taken a couple of lessons with Shane since then.
But Shane introduced me to Terry and we got to talking and Terry and I hit it off because he had taught swimming at West Point. And I remember saying to Terry look I want to get faster, when can I get to 18 minutes? I think my fastest time in the water had been like 25 or 26 which was really good because my first triathlon was 38 so I’d made a lot of progress.
And Terry looked t me and he smiled and said why don’t we just get to like 23 and why don’t we work on stroke and let’s not worry about speed, let’s learn how to really swim. I was well I want to get to the goal. And what Terry does like patience, grasshopper.
And then I got to working with Terry and just some amazing sessions where I just thought out loud this is what it’s like to have someone who truly knows what they’re doing working on your stroke and just made some huge strides. But I kept bugging Terry and I sad Terry I want some workouts from you. And he’s say first of all they are not workouts, they are practices.
But he would always resist. And finally he said here’s the person who can give you some practice sets. And he put me in touch with you and I remember having these long freeway email conversations. And mind you, I wasn’t paying Terry for his coaching.
I was paying you for yours but Terry would jump in and have page long missives on different elements on swim stroke based on my little feedback from my sessions and be a three-way email with me, you and Gordo and then Gordo would write back, interesting, like great perspective.
Gordo is an amazing pro triathlete on his own and he was really just blown away with the thoughtfulness of Terry and some of the insights that you and he had. And after a while Gordo was transitioning out of triathlon coaching.
And he said look Suzanne’s already working on your swim stroke, you seem to have really good rapport with her, why don’t you just go with her? And then you became my coach for every discipline. And I just remember going to see you in Pittsburg, we finally met which is a lot of athletes never meet their coaches, right?
Sam: We finally met and we had an in-person session and it was , I still remember to this day like right after our session I drove out to Boulder and I was like 10 seconds faster in my hundred times. And I just remember how unstuck I had become based on that lesson.
And I went back to Terry I said Terry I think Suzanne actually I had my best swim lesson with her not you. And I was expecting Terry to get all offended. He said Suzanne is probably a better coach than I am. I was just blown away by that comment.
And I though wait a minute Terry, she’s been doing this a year and you made her your head of coach in education. He just said well look she really has a knack for this teaching thing and she might be better, she’s almost like your interpreter like the Terry-whisperer.
Suzanne: That’s a little scary.
Sam: Think of Terry as this amazing thoroughbred of knowledge that sometimes you just interpret for him very well to some people and that just happened to be me. Then I went to age group nationals and I think in my first or second year I went to nationals.
And I realized after that race it didn’t go the way I wanted and I just realized I’ve got a very busy year coming up ahead of me. I just decided to leave the army after I finished teaching at West Point. And really teaching at West Point was the last. I remember when I was a kid at WestPoint I always wanted to come back and teach and it was the last thing I wanted to do in the army.
I was 13 years into my army career and I came to the conclusion a couple of years before I finished my tour that when I return from Iraq in 2008 and then went to live in New York City and got a little bit involved in the entrepreneurial world there that my heart just was no longer in the army.
And when I went back to West Point I realized that while I loved teaching and was going to really enjoy that part of the tour I just didn’t want to be an army officer anymore. Something about the triathlon experience and the adventure of it, and originally I was going to quit the army to chase my Olympic dream.
But really what I was doing was looking for a way out of the army to just pursue my passions in life which I realized are much higher and I don’t want to denigrate the Olympics at all. But it’s a way station in your life that is done by the time in your late 30s and there’s more life than just party your life.
And I realized don’t want to give up everything in life beyond that point which I viewed now as the critical time to chase my passions. So just decided I love triathlon and what it’s done for me and I was starting my digital publishing company, prison communications and decided to start Triathlon Research.
And give people like you and bobby ad really just go out there and review and help people like myself get what I wish I would have had which was just a little bit more consolidated centralized a trusted information source.
And an information source that is run worth someone like you to help me with a science part so that I have credible information from someone who is much smarter than me. But more importantly someone with you like an open mind who can interview a lot of different people and won’t be threatened by someone who challenges even some of your closest held beliefs on coaching whatever it is.
Because you are just the most open-minded, wonderful triathlon mind but also a just great person who’s not going to be threatened by things like that. So that’s why I founded Triathlon Research and why I picked someone a lot smarter than me to run it.
Suzanne: Let me just rephrase that. I don’t know that I’m a lot smarter than you but you and I definitely have different strengths.
Sam: Yeah exactly. I’m not applying my skills in the realms that you are.
Suzanne: You need to apply yourself better Sam. I really appreciate you asking me to be part of this. I’m really looking forward to having a lot of really good podcasts. I’ve got a list in my head that’s about 20 to 30 folks long and I just can’t wait to sit down and actually get the interview done.
Sam: For the listener out there if you are ever wishing that Suzanne would do more episodes I’m not holding her back in any way.
Suzanne: Yes, send in feedback. Let me know if you want to be on the podcast if you’ve got an idea for someone, if you’ve got a contact we are open to all sorts of ideas.
Sam: If you’re listening to this and you’ve got an idea for the show, someone we can interview that a lot of people know about, people like Mark Allen, Dave Scott, people from outside the sport, maybe Alberto Salazar, some just really high functioning swim coach that hasn’t been in the triathlon world, anything that touches the sport.
And we are going to look at people that have nothing to do with triathlon but will be interesting to the triathlon audience because the world I bigger than triathlon and triathletes can learn from other people who are outside the sport who might have a perspective whether it’s our mental skills or the meaning of life or whatever.
We were just talking about somebody before the show who’s been paralyzed and is an extreme athlete, the Paralympics Movement and some of these other things. Whenever you have a bad day in triathlon it’s never that bad. When you are hurting at least you have your health.
If you are out there listening and don’t have your health but you are pushing through, my hat’s off to you. And I like to think that I’ve been through some things in life but there’s always someone who’s been through more when I think back about my time in Iraq just incredible gratitude that I made it back when some of my friends didn’t.
And some of them who did make it back without all of their body intact but their spirit probably even stronger than ours will ever be, specifically my friend Dave Roseel who was a commander in the third regiment. He now does marathons with one leg and triathlons, things like that.
I got an email the other day from someone in the Wounded Warrior Project who is and I think it was team red white and blue are the wounded warrior project. Those guys out there are the real heroes of the endurance sports movement and people who use endurance sports to help them get through things that the rest of us couldn’t even imagine.
Suzanne: You mentioned this friend of mine Jonathan. I’m really excited to just do an interview with him. He was paralyzed from the neck down in a car accident when he was on his way to school. He just has a really interesting story. And a couple of days ago he put a video on his Facebook page of him doing a black flip in his wheelchair at a local BMX park that we have here in Pittsburg.
I saw that and I thought Suzanne just get on your bike and go do what you are supposed to do, how hard can it be? I feel a little bit bad when I have friends like that that I make comment, you are so motivating, you make me think how fortunate I am. I wonder how do they feel when they get those kinds of comments through this constant message that they should be feeling bad and I’m glad you are not?
So I’m really excited to talk to Jonathan and just learn more about his internal motivations and what drives him and hoping that we can all learn something from the endurance side of things based on his story.
Sam: And just to close this hour, we are all triathletes and that’s where we are meeting, that’s the purpose of this gathering here is that’s the one common thread that we all have.
But at the end of the day that the real common thread that we have aside from the interests from the triathlon is the human spirit. That’s something I’m always going to insist on talking about is the story side and the psychology and the emotional spiritual side of the sport is really the dark underbelly that we never like to acknowledge.
Bobby has this famous saying about what are you running from. Because every endurance sport athletes running from something because why else would you run that much. Why are we doing this to our bodies? So it’s probably the best natural drug out there endorphins and mental health and all kinds of other things that draw people to the sport.
I think really exploring that side of it is what I’m most looking forward to. And also to you meeting people where they are. There’s going to be people out there who just don’t naturally like to talk about that kind of stuff or think about it and you meeting them on the scientific level will draw them into this show where they are at.
And maybe unlock in them some of the realizations about the other side of the sport that they are missing and vice versa. I’m going to probably appeal to people with my interviews and conversations about people like me who just couldn’t be bothered with the science part and might learn something anyway while they listen off this because it’s good.
And I’ve always found that the best athletes and I think you would agree are the ones that are vested and give you feedback. No coach just wants to have someone who takes everything they say blindly and doesn’t question it. They want that interaction. I think the secure coaches do.
Suzanne: That’s been my theme all this past one to two weeks with all the athletes I’m currently coaching is feedback, communication including some challenging questions from my athletes that have opened up discussions that bring both of us to a better understanding of each other.
And I think it’s really important that as coach I stay open-minded and it’s also important that my athletes feel comfortable enough with me that they can ask me anything they want and including disagreeing with me.
Sam: It’s a wonderful thing there.
Suzanne: I really appreciate the chance to have this sort of back and forth with you and I’m not sure if you interviewed me or if I interviewed you.
Sam: We are co-hosts whenever we get on together and I’d like to maybe continue our conversation throughout. I think the structure that we’re going to go with is we’ll both go out and interview people that are along out lives in art and science, myself on the art side and history of the sport.
I really want to do some interviews with some of the greats of the sport that some of the younger triathletes might not have heard about or know that much about. And then you doing the scientific part.
But then we’ll come together some time and maybe we’ll just if we don’t have anyone to interview we’ll just come back and talk because I’d love to just sit and talk to you and we’ll record it and hopefully people will get something out of that. I’ve sure learned a lot talking to you and I hope the listener got a good understanding of a little bit more of the essence of triathlon and what it’s all about.
Suzanne: I hope so. I think it will be good Sam it’s going to be a lot of fun.
Sam: Yes. Well until next time Suzanne I know you’ve got an interview coming up with Jeff _ of Tried out Systems and a huge list after that. I’m going to go off and find some people to interview and to have some fun.
Suzanne: It sounds good Sam. Have a great day.
Sam: You too.
Suzanne: Bye bye.