Thursday, March 20, 2014

Dreams and Reality

I remember the first time I saw the footage of Julie Moss crawling across the finish line at the Kona Ironman.  I cried. Or at least I got really choked up and came close to crying, because I'm sensitive yet very manly. (Gotta keep up my image.)  Watching that video helped me realize that there are two types of people in this world: those that see the triumph of the human spirit and get inspired, and those that see the same thing and think, "f*** that. I'll stay here on the couch, thank you very much."

And then there's me.

I saw Julie's dramatic triumph of the human spirit and immediately became inspired to race an Ironman. Once that decision was made, I spent the next three decades not doing it.  I kept my tush seated pretty securely in the cushions of my comfort zone.

Don't go thinking that I was one of those guys that said I wanted to do an Ironman than never mentioned it again.  For goodness sakes, no. I was all in.  I talked about it all the time.  I had Ironman branded socks, hats, visor, credit card, watch, stickers, posters, you name it.  But of course I couldn't use or wear any of them, because I hadn't earned the right.  It'd be like buying a finishers jersey from a marathon and wearing that before you ever have even run a marathon.  It would be a bold face lie. And my face isn't that bold.

The thing is, though I talked about it a lot, I didn't actually make much of an effort to do an Ironman. Sure I signed up for a couple of them. But inevitably I ended up backing out of each after not training at all. I entered the Kona lottery every year too. And every year I didn't get chosen. My friends saw a man very disappointed, as if I were a senior in high school who just found out that no college would accept me.  But behind that facade I was breathing a sigh of relief.  After all, if I were accepted into the Kona lottery, that would mean I'd have to do it.  And actually doing an Ironman was a pretty scary idea.  Talking about it was a heckuva lot easier.

For decades this lasted.  For decades I had Ironman paraphernalia sitting around my house gathering dust. Year after year I said "next year I'm doing an Ironman."  But did I actually get off my butt and train for one? Nope.  I just waited for it to magically fall into my lap.

There was always a reason why I couldn't do it.  There was always something in my way. Too much work, too expensive, no training partners, prior commitments.  Or maybe I just convinced myself that it's Kona or nothing.  And this went on for over twenty years.  Then one year I got a sideways glance in the mirror and suddenly saw what was standing in my way.... me.  

There is a quote I love from Brian Andreas that I think about quite often.  The basic idea is this (and I paraphrase):

Everything changed the day I figured out that there is exactly enough time in life to do the things that are most important to me.

This quote appeared in my life just about the same time that I realized I was the sole obstacle in realizing my dreams.  It was also about then when I came to terms with the fact that the really good dreams aren't the ones that magically appear.  They are the ones that you have to work for.  And the only thing standing in my way of living my Ironman dream was my fear. If I could be so courageous as to face my fears and push on through to the other side, well.... with that attitude any dream can be within my grasp.  I just had to reach out and grab it.

Simple, right?
I wish.

This is one of the more interesting things about dreams - they are often guarded by an army of fear.  To live a dream means to look in the mirror and deal with all the things you've spent a life trying to avoid. I suppose that's partially why they are called dreams.  Because dreams aren't reality and in order to make a dream a reality you have to bridge a very large, very scary gap.  

Ironman, besides being a physically and mentally grueling event, also happens to be the crossroads between everything you've always wanted and everything you've always feared.  Even the training alone requires you to come to terms with yourself and what is important to you.  It's not easy.  But it's not meant to be.  If realizing your dreams were so easy, everybody would do it.

Whether the dream is running a 5k, doing an Ironman, starting a company or vacationing in Bali, we all have our goals and we all have our inner closet of darkness that stops us from getting there.  When you're used to a life on the couch, getting up and training for your first 5k is scary.  When you're used to the comfort of working for a large company, quitting your job and starting something on your own is terrifying. Very very terrifying. Because it takes work and commitment.  And it takes dramatically changing your daily rituals.  It takes blindly jumping off a cliff without knowing what's down below and simply trusting that somewhere in the dark abyss that you're heading towards, there will be a net to catch you if you fall.

We stay in our comfort zones because it's easy, because there is little stress, there is little unknown.  But growth doesn't happen in the comfort zones.  Success doesn't happen in the comfort zones.  Change doesn't happen in the comfort zones.

I ended up facing my fears for the first time in 2006.  After nine months of focused training, my wife and I raced Ironman Lake Placid.  It was an amazing experience.  Two years later I raced Ironman Arizona.  And though I haven't done a long distance event since then (long story which I will tell you another time), I still have more fears to conquer.  And if I work it right, that may take another three or four more Ironmans to overcome.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The Pricing Game #1: Low Prices Are So Passe

If you are a person who signs up for endurance events and not one who actually puts them on, you may not want to hear this.  Earmuffs.  If you are a race director, here is a very important tip for you... there are simple ways you can make more money from your participants. Potentially a lot more money. In some cases, hundreds of thousands of incremental dollars year over year. 

It all comes down to basic buying trends.

I will be writing a few entries scattered here and about with pricing strategy tips.  I'm not going to put them all in one post because, Lord knows, I don't want to piss off participants too much.

But today let's talk about Pricing Strategy #1: LOW PRICES ARE SO PASSE

We see a lot of events out there who pride themselves on being very low priced.  I'm talking about a 10k for $20 or a 5k for $15.  I hear race directors saying that it's critical to their business that they remain inexpensive.  Well, I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but you're wrong (at least in many cases you are).

Event directors used to be concerned with how low their entry price needs to be.  They would compare their event price to their competitors and try to pinch their pennies in order to be the lowest out there.  The results of that is just a mad dash to who can lose the most money first.

But times have caused a dramatic shift.  Now, instead of a focus on how low they should make their prices, event directors are focusing on basic business fundamentals and trying to see how *high* they can make prices without effecting participation levels. 

I ran about ten 5ks/10ks over the past year and do you know what each of them cost? You don't? Well guess what, neither do I.  Even if you forcibly made me stand outside naked in Minneapolis in January eating an ice cream sandwich, I couldn't tell you which one was the least expensive and which was the most.  I have absolutely no clue.

An important thing to note here is that I'm a cheapskate. Its in my nature. I like saving a penny whenever possible and get frustrated when I have to spend more. I will still drive 10 minutes further to save $1.49 on a dozen eggs - I'm that type of penny pincher.  When I pay too much for something I take it personally and I remember it. But the last thing I remember in a running event experience is the price because, frankly, in the end it doesn't matter.

And herein lies one of my key points: The popularity of an event is not at all proportional to the amount it costs.  In fact, the most popular events are often the ones that cost the most money.

I know what you're saying. You're saying "the popular events charge so much because they can. They are so popular that participants will sign up regardless." Well, my disbelieving friend, that's bull hockey.
Or mostly bull hockey.  One reason they charge so much is because they put on quality experiences.  Not only do quality experiences cost money but people will pay more for quality experiences.  

The largest 5k/10k event in Los Angeles charges up to $50 for the 5k. That's $16 per mile.  Absurd? Well, nobody balks at the price. In fact they continue to get more and more participants every year.  Why? Because they give an amazing shirt to all participants every year, and because they put on a fun race.  If they charged $30, it would be a far less exciting experience because they just wouldn't have the money to create the experience.

So if you're an event organizer, don't fall victim to feeling like you need to be the cheapest around.  You don't.  Forget the low end of pricing and focus on what you can do to create a kick butt experience, then determine how much that costs.

And don't be scared... Raising your prices isn't a bad thing as long as you're giving the participant the value for the dollar spent.

Next up: Procrastinators And Their Wallets

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The Memory Of Racing

My Dearest Daughter,

In the few short weeks that you've been in this world you have created more love than I could have ever thought possible. I never realized how something so little could fill such a big place in my heart.  My greatest joy is knowing that I am your father.

Of course, with fatherhood comes responsibility.   Yes, I recognize that I may not have been the most responsible person throughout my life. Perhaps I did a couple of runs in Zone 3 when they were supposed to be Zone 1 recovery days.  And sure, I agree, I probably shouldn't have tried that flying mount without proper instruction.  
But despite all that, my sweet innocent child, I know it is my responsibility to help you grow into a wonderful woman. With that jn mind, there are many important things I've learned that I want to impart on you. Now you may think I am weird - in fact it's almost guaranteed that at some point, probably around your teen years, you'll think me weird - but you will eventually come to realize that there are a lot of life lessons you can learn from triathlon. That is why, from your first day in our hands, I started training your legs for cycling and running. It is why I already bought you your first swimsuit.  These activities, like teaching you life's lessons, are part of my responsibility as a father.  So listen closely, my loving child, maybe try to stop flailing your arms and legs for a couple of seconds, and perhaps you can refrain from soiling your diaper for a minute or two.  Trust me, these are important things to remember.

First, don't ever compare your insides with somebody's outsides.  Just because somebody else may have more expensive equipment, it doesn't mean they are faster, better or happier than you.  Be proud of who you are and what you do.  Your self-worth is not contingent on the perception of others.

Secondly, always feel your feet on the floor - or on the pedals, or in the water.  My point being, be here now.  Life isn't a race that is happening somewhere else.  Life, like triathlon, is a journey.  It's not about the people in front of you or behind.  It's not about what you could've or should've done to be faster or stronger. Life is about being in the moment and enjoying the journey - right here, right now.

Thirdly, don't be afraid to get out of your comfort zone. When it hurts, embrace the pain and know that you will be able to learn from that pain.  I know you're not going to believe me right away, but trust me that the pain will make you stronger.  The pain will fade away but your pride and strength will carry you a lifetime. 

Fourthly, remember that there is no finish line.   You may think there is because you see a banner and a big time clock and people are telling you to stop running, but in the grander picture, there isn't. Just keep moving forward.  Keep working to be better at what you do and improving who you are and no digital clock will ever define you.

Fifth, always remember that you can do it, whatever "it" may be.  I believe in you as much as I hope you believe in yourself.  Never underestimate the power of your body and your mind.  Go longer, faster, harder.  Be the best person you can be.

Sixth, remember that we are fortunate to participate - in this sport and in this life.  It is a gift - and one that can be taken from us at any moment.  Respect and honor that gift by respecting and honoring yourself and other people.

Finally, my dear, it will all get a lot easier when you realize it's not supposed to be easy. Without surviving through the tough times, without a little blood, sweat and tears, you wouldn't have as much appreciation for the rest of the experience.  

And speaking of tough times, it seems you're screaming bloody murder again for reasons that are unbeknownst to me.  So with that in mind, those are all the lessons I want to tell you today, my little munchkin.  Oh wait, I see your eyes are now suddenly closed as if you have narcolepsy. You are a tough one to keep track of, my wee bitty petunia.  I'm not quite sure if you're mulling these thoughts over or if I put you to sleep. But no worries, darling, I will remind you of these life lessons as you get older, even if I have to exemplify them myself.  That is how much I love you. To the moon and back.



Reprinted with permission from USA Triathlon Magazine