SL: Thank you for that. And I get the same sense from you, that you’re very creative. It’s like composing a song for each athlete. It has to fit that person. There are going to be changes and nothing’s ever going to look the same. What worked for me might destroy someone else. I look at my career as a triathlete and I almost think I had that experience to prepare me for what I do today. I’m so grateful for the career I had, but I feel such great satisfaction in working with an athlete. They come to you with their dream, they say, “Ok, I’m putting my dream in your hands.” And I think: Wow. I’m happy to fail on my own, but if I’m failing and someone else is involved there’s nothing worse. So it’s that incentive to handle this person with care and do everything I can to help them achieve their every dream. I know I failed so many times in my career. I’ve done everything in the book that’s embarrassing and I made the stupidest mistakes, and I think that kind of stuff is so important to bring to the table. “Ok, wait a second, I’ve done this in the past and it totally messed me up. Please just listen to what I’m going to say and open your mind to having a different perspective because I don’t want that to happen to you.” With Kona, a lot of it for me was going there a few years before we even started racing that distance and just talking to people. I have the utmost respect for the great athletes in our sport, and the great coaches that have been there and done that. Getting their perspectives, taking all of that info and then deciding what feels good and right. I don’t know if you’d agree with this, but I almost get a gut feeling on what I feel would work for someone.
MS: It’s funny because yesterday my wife asked, “Is it stressful to know that this athlete is listening to everything you say? You’re basically giving them a plan and they’re going to go do it – how do you know its right?” It is kind of just a gut feel. You do use all the information that you’ve received. But I think for me being younger, I don’t have a lot of tradition banged into my head. Some of the stuff that’s just the way it’s always been done – I can’t really relate to that. Why? Why do we do this? You do have a direct impact on this person so you have to handle it with compassion and make sure you are making good decisions. I research everything. But usually athletes are a lot more advanced than what can be proven. Sports science is such a hard thing to study since there are so many variables involved. You have to try to gather as much information as you can, but if you’re not sure, ask someone. You can’t be a know-it-all coach. Use your resources. You’re just as valuable a resource if you can find the information somewhere else.
SL: That’s a great point. There are certain things that I don’t feel 100% confident about, but I’ll find someone who is an expert in that particular area and who somewhat shares the same philosophy with me, and bring them in. I’m not going to pretend to be a top nutritionist. I was a little bit heavy when I started my racing career and I learned how to eat healthy and it worked great for me – but I don’t know about gluten intolerance. And I’m not going to pretend I do, because then I’m just setting us both up for failure. When you’re doing everything you can to help an athlete be as successful as possible, you don’t want to take any chances. I love how you say you’re not attached to any traditions because you weren’t really exposed to them. That’s such an advantage, because everything is always moving forward. We always have to be a step ahead if we want to achieve great things.
MS: Well thanks for that. I work with a lot of cyclists as well on the pro tour – you want to talk about tradition! At least triathletes are more willing to try new stuff. Even with Craig. We just got back from the wind tunnel. It’s always hard to get an athlete to change something until they have proof it might not work again. For Craig it’s always been: I won two world championships doing this, setting my bike up this way, wearing this and that. So it was really hard to try to change any of that last year – even his race tactics. But we know that the sport’s evolving. Everyone’s getting better and you have to change with the other competitors. They’re not happy staying the same, they’re always looking to get better and better. So you have to look at all the little things – tires, helmets. I mean if I had a hat and I said, “This is going to give you 10 seconds per mile on the run,” you’d definitely wear that hat. But it seems like some athletes are a little resistant to try something maybe on the bike or swimming. You have to get them to keep evolving – so long as you’re not doing something that’s going to hinder their performance. Like in the wind tunnel, you can tuck an athlete into a ball, but they can’t pedal that bike. So it’s working on things that can help them move forward and be open to something different.