When I retire I want to be remembered for the kind of person I am, and the way that I raced. I have made a living from always being the one pushing the pace, trying to lead wire-to-wire. Certainly that plays to my strengths of swimming and biking, but it also fits my personality. I want to be all-in. It’s why I like non-drafting better than drafting, because it’s every man for himself and if I go really hard someone has to keep up on their own, not just sit on my wheel. It also causes me a bit of trouble when I try to do longer races because you have to be more patient and pace out your effort, and that’s something I just struggle with. When I’m racing, I want to go as hard as I can for as long as I can and see if my best is better than yours.
It’s equally as important to me that I am remembered as a good guy. I have always tried to act in the most professional manner when it comes to racing, and also as a genuinely nice person off the course. I want my kids to be proud of my results, but also the way that I raced and carried myself. As long as my kids are never in a position to wonder if their dad did it the right way, then I have been successful.
Even in an individual sport it takes a team to make things happen. That was one of the first things I learned when I moved back to Boulder after college. I knew was going to need a lot of help and guidance (since I had never even owned a racing bike) so I started out by surrounding myself with people that I trusted. I went back to my youth swim coach, Grant Holicky, who had himself been a professional triathlete, and got him to start coaching me. I was determined not to ever live at home again, so I got a place with a couple of roommates who were also chasing athletic dreams. Still, our place was only 5 minutes from my parents so I went over to get dinner a couple of nights a week. I cherished their unwavering support in my pursuit of a dream.
I’ve also realized that I am an extremely habitual person. I love my routines. For the past 8 years I have basically been in the same place on the same day of the week, more or less all year round. With my fondness for routine, I did better when I was at home, so I never traveled for training camps, or to join squads around the world. I just wanted to do my thing, the way that seemed to work best for me. I also learned that I am at my best when my life is balanced and not solely focused on triathlon. I like whiskey, and football, and someday I want to own a ranch, so my interests often line up better with people that are not endurance athletes. Meeting my wife 8 years ago was one of the best things for my racing because it provided another layer of stability and consistency. Having our two kids was just another way to add some balance to my racing. Whether I have a good workout or a bad one, my kids are still excited to play with me when I get home, and having a family provides so much enjoyment in my life.
As I have gotten older I have definitely gotten more picky about who I want to train and travel with. I don’t put up with bullshit or drama very well, and I wouldn’t even say I’m very good at faking my feelings when I should. This career has such a short shelf-life that I feel like I need to be making the most out of every session. So, I try to surround myself with the people that will help me do that. It’s a big part of why I have been with the same coach for 10 years now. Neal Henderson and I have developed a great rapport and he knows exactly what I need, when I need it. I trust him 100% and for a coach-athlete relationship that’s the most important thing.
“Hard work is important, but it’s the consistency over time that makes you great. Having a few great workouts doesn’t mean anything if you then take a break or zone out. Putting in the work, day-after-day, year-after-year is where the gains are made.”
At this point in my career, my mind automatically goes to my family when things start to get tough. When I was younger I would try and do the self-talk thing and tell myself to be tougher, or that I could get through it. There is no doubt self-talk works, and I still use it sometimes, but when things are really going poorly I think of my kids and my wife - the people that will still be there at the end of the race no matter what. Thinking about them always brings a smile to my face, both literally and figuratively, and it allows me to refocus on the task at-hand.
As a triathlete, there is no way to train the way I do (seven days a week and holidays) without it taking a toll on your loved ones. My wife semi-jokingly refers to Saturday as "Single Mom Saturday" because I am gone from about 7:30am until about 3pm almost every weekend. I know it’s really hard on her, both watching the kids all the time, and not being able to do the family trips that other 9-5 dads do every weekend with their families. That’s why when a race isn't going well, or I need a good kick in the ass, I just think of all the sacrifices my family makes for me to chase this crazy dream. I don't want their sacrifices to be for nothing, so if I am going to race, then I need to race at my absolute best every time I toe the line; no excuses. There is also no better motivation than your kids, because, let’s be honest, dads always want to impress their kids. I don't work in an office or a lab, so my kids know very well what Daddy does. Daddy races, and hopefully Daddy wins, and the stories that end with a victory always play better with the kids!
But, regardless of the wins, the best reward in the world after a great day of training is coming in the door and seeing my kids’ faces light up when they see me. They don't care how my workout went. They wouldn't be impressed with my new 5k PR, or how I just crushed the 7k in the pool. They are just happy I am home to spend time with them, and that reward is the most inspiring when it comes to getting the job done.
Looking back at my life in sports, I have two big regrets. The first is that when I was in high school I never tried out for the basketball team. Now, don’t get me wrong, I have no misconception that I could have been as good of a ‘baller as I am a triathlete. Heck, I doubt I could have even played in college - I wasn’t tall enough, and although I had a decent shot I was no JJ Redick. I just wish I had done it because basketball is fun, and it’s a team sport. I was so focused on my goals in swimming, and going to college to swim, that even at 14 I was making sacrifices towards those ends. Would taking a couple of months out of the water every year have made me less of a swimmer, maybe? Probably. But I would have loved every minute of playing ‘ball and being on a team, and I think I would probably still be sitting here as a pro triathlete today.
The second regret is triathlon specific and has to do with when I first started out racing as a pro. My regret is not finding a way onto a French Grand Prix team when I was 23. I should have moved to Europe for the summer to race every weekend and travel around the world. With my swimming speed coming out of college I would have been able to get on a team as a domestique to swim and ride hard and make sure our runners were in contention. I would have been able to cut my teeth as a triathlete, learning how to train and race at a high level, and how to travel and adapt to new things. In the end my desire for routine and stability led me to stick closer to home. I have no idea whether it would have made me dramatically better, but I have no doubt that it wouldn’t have hurt my career.
“One time I was at the start of the Chicago triathlon putting on my wetsuit to jump in for the swim start. For some reason I was having a really hard time putting on my wetsuit. It just didn't seem to fit. Finally I looked at the tag and it said small. My heart sank, I had apparently grabbed my roommates wetsuit back at home before flying to chicago without looking at it.”
I have actually put a fair bit of thought into the biggest tragedy in my life. The real answer is that I haven't really ever had to deal with tragedy in the normal sense of the word. You could probably say I'm one of the luckiest people ever in that regard. I grew up in Boulder, CO. My parents are married, and have always had more than enough to support my brother and I. They made sure we got to play the sports we wanted, and they are hands-down the most supportive parents you have ever met. I went to great schools, and a great university to finish it off. All four of my grandparents saw me graduate college. Now I race for a living.
Now, don't get me wrong, bad things happen. My son was in a Med-Evac helicopter when he was 3 weeks old because they thought he might have a mal-rotation in his intestines. It was the scariest night and day of my life, but it turns out he was fine, he just needed to fight a virus. I will never forget leaving the NICU at Children’s and thinking how lucky I was. Most families that are there don't leave, or at least not for good.
My wife and I spent six months pouring our souls and life savings into a home renovation, only to stay in it for 7 nights before it was wrecked in a 100-year flood. It sounds really bad, and again, it was really scary and stressful. My wife was 6 months pregnant, but kind of like leaving the hospital, we had flood insurance and were made whole in the end. Lots of people lost everything in that flood.
I guess the worst tragedy I have been impacted by was when one of my former college roommates died 3 years ago. He had struggled with substance abuse for a while, but had just become a father and seemed to have everything on the right track. Then I got a call from one of my other buddies that brought me to tears in the middle of IKEA. Young people pass away all the time, way before they should, I had just never experienced it. So for the first funeral I have ever attended to be for a college swim buddy who wasn't even 30 yet, it shook me a bit. It also taught me that we have to live every day the best we can. It made me better about keeping in touch with the people close to me, and really trying to get the most out of everything life has to offer. He made a huge impact on my life, and maybe an even greater one when he left us way too soon.
Probably the worst advice I’ve heard is “If some is good, more is better.” Now, I can't say that anyone has said those exact words to me in an athletic context, but I see it all the time in endurance sports. People push every possible extreme to try and gain that little bit of an advantage. If running 60 miles is good, 75 is better. If going hard on some of your rides is good, all the time would be better. People just lose sight of how the body actually works and functions as its best. There is no doubt to be an elite athlete you ask more of your body than you probably should, but it’s having the ability to pull back just shy of the cliff that keeps you from getting injured, or sending you mentally off the rails. Your body can do things your mind sometimes thinks impossible, but if you ask too much of it in training, you won't have the goods come race day.
Sport has been a huge part of my life, and has taught me many of life’s most crucial lessons. I think one of the most important lessons that I have learned over the years, especially as a pro, is that it’s important to never get too high on the good things, or too low on the bad ones. Whether I go out and have a great workout or a terrible workout, I still have to show up the next day ready to work. I think that mentality goes a long way in everyday life too, because we don’t have good days every day. Things do go wrong. When they do, you have to be able to learn from it and then move on, because time waits for no-one. Hard work is crucial to success in sports, or life, but it’s the consistent hard work that actually makes things happen, and dreams come true.