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Triathlete Blog

Higher Learning

By October 19, 2009July 13th, 2015No Comments

Two weeks, nearly 15,000 miles, 5 times zones, 8 flights, a low of 32 degrees, a high of 92 degrees, humidity from 10 percent to 90 percent, from sea level to being surrounded by mountains – and volcanoes – rising over 14,000 feet. I am tired. My brain is full. My lips are cracked. And right now my body honestly has no idea what time zone it is in. Or when I should sleep next.

Last night standing in the check-in line at the Denver airport, misreading a departure screen that said my flight was cancelled I bemoaned to CS that I need to return to sea level. I need to return to my natural habitat.

This was after 5 busy days in Colorado Springs, resting at a dry and crisp elevation of 6,200 feet. My body completely confused went from the hot and humid volcano of Hawaii to dry altitude in less than 24 hours last Wednesday. My skin revolted. My sleep schedule was completely off. And I have a feeling my internal clock will not be right for the next few days.

But it was worth it.

I spent those days learning. I love my husband, I love coffee, I love my little dog and I love learning. A life does not have meaning unless you are learning – because if you’re not learning, what are you doing? Going in a circle with the same information and making the same mistakes over and over again. Learning opens our eyes, learning is experience. Without learning, your mind is dead. Take the time to learn something new each day.

I arrived last Wednesday in Colorado Springs for a coaching education program designed by our sport’s governing organization. Over the next few days, I participated in a rigorous schedule filled with guest speakers, practical sessions and interactive tasks. Each day was a series of lectures, activities and power point from 8 am – 5 pm. With a working lunch. And an after school group project. The days were packed. At times I was so energetic from the excitement of it that I couldn’t wait to hear more. At other times I was so tired from the nonstop go go go schedule that as CS pleaded on Saturday night:

I just want time to sit down and take a crap.

There was a lot of information presented. A lot of theories, data, tests and ideas. With some I agreed. With some I disagreed. But that is the beauty of learning – you listen, your learn, you filter. The good ideas filter right into the file of things I will integrate into my own coaching approach. The not so good ideas file right into File 13.

The program took place at the United States Olympic Training Center. Wow. Read that again. The power of the Olympics, of the idea of being an Olympian is something any one who has ever been an athlete can relate to. Having a dream, setting a goal, sacrificing every day with the desired outcome in mind – not even knowing if you will reach it but feeling that the possibility of reaching it is so meaningful to you that you will give up anything to get there.

That’s what it means to be an Olympian, I think. And this is the closest I will ever get to being an Olympian.

The facility is located in Colorado Springs, an absolutely beautiful town nestled at 6,200 feet above sea level. The air is thin, dry and fall was just arriving. In the days we were there, the leaves along Colorado Avenue changed into burnt yellows and browns. All of this set against the backdrop of snow-capped mountains.

You pass through a security booth and then head over to the designated buildings. There’s USA Judo! There’s the Aquatics center! It becomes real, the 5 Olympic rings set on every building. You feel the energy of what is going on here – or what has gone on here. Through these doors have passed greats like Ian Thorpe, Michael Phelps, Andy Potts.


Every day we learned. But at the end of the day after sitting still for 9 hours (eek!), we just wanted to play. I traveled to the program with one of my athletes (also a coach), CS, and one of my local friends, KK. KK was just coming off the Chicago Marathon and wanted nothing to do with any type of athletic play. CS and I were like caged animals at 5 pm waiting to bust out and see what was around town.

Our first evening there, we went over to Garden of the Gods. I’ve heard of this trail system before and wanted to see what it was all about. I wasn’t disappointed. We have some “nice” running trails in Illinois but then again they start and finish at about 720 feet. Within a few feet of entering the Breytag Trail we were already climbing. The trail went over 6500 feet and I was reminded of how it feels to run at altitude – breathless, dry and heavy. But it was beautiful. After 60 minutes of ups, downs, rocks, twists, turns, sometimes it was better to just walk it out, I covered very few miles! And if it wasn’t for CS, I’d still be out on that trail as cougar bait trying to find my way back on the trail. There were so many turns and trail offshoots that I couldn’t tell where I was going.

We did some swimming one evening too at a local gym. I experienced a saline pool. I also experienced the joy of a gym without towels. Nothing like standing under a hairdryer with a clump of toilet paper to dry yourself off. CS showed me how to make my glutes hurt really bad in under 20 minutes during some strength training.

The next day we returned to Garden of the Gods. My goal was to run easy for 35 minutes on a flat trail. I realized there is no such thing as a flat trail there. I ended up doing a mix of run/walk and for the first time ever, I just laughed about it. It’s just a run. I’ll have another one in a few days. Instead I just hiked around and enjoyed the scenery. By the way, that trail above was the 1/2 mile of flat section I found. And I ran it back and forth!

In between play, the days were busy. There was a lot of learning. On the first day we learned the vision of the program: to teach our level of coaches to identify future elite athletes and develop them. To bring them up through junior, U23, ITU, perhaps the next Olympics. The entire program was designed on this. Wait. A few quizzical looks. But….we mostly coach age groupers? The ordinary guy with a full-time career, wife, mortgage, 3 kids, a dog, who just wants to go out and beat his buddies at Ironman, to get a little faster, to make the most use of his time, to ultimately stay injury-free. Doesn’t that describe all but 3 percent (or the roughly 300 elites) of the nearly 125,000 members of the governing organization? And, if so, then what are we doing here? How does this translate?

Over the next few days, I realized what we were doing there. Looking at the sport from a different perspective to see what it takes to truly develop an athlete. I mean, what does it really take to get to the truly upper elite level of the sport….how can you get to that highly specific place, what numbers do they need, how much time will it take? It’s not those details that are so much important but rather learning the process of bringing out someone’s best through development. All of the pieces of the puzzle put together to create the big picture. It was about coaching to the whole athlete; the training plus the peripheral (and the peripheral, honestly, is what matters the most…anyone can train but can you recover from and integrate the training…?).

I’m getting ahead of myself. There’s a lot I want to say. I will. In the next few days. I’ll share bits and pieces of what I learned. Until then, I shall reapply some chapstick and eat some lunch. I think it’s time for lunch.

I really don’t know.