IAN: [00:00:00] You know, I’m not a statistician, but anecdotally in my day, there weren’t nearly as many amazing pro-athletes as there are today. The fields are rich and thick, and really, really top notch on both the women’s and men’s side. But I’ll tell you this, the best of the best runners from my day, I’d put any of them shoulder to shoulder with the best runners today; women, men, no choice about that.
Intro: [00:00:39] This episode of the Smart Athlete Podcast is brought to you by Solpri, Skincare for Athletes. Whether you’re in the gym, on the mats, on the road, or in the pool, we protect your skin so you’re more comfortable in your own body. To learn more, go to Solpri.com.
JESSE: [00:00:55] Welcome to the Smart Athlete Podcast. I’m your host, Jesse Funk. My guest today is a former pro-triathlete from way back in the day, not to date him too much, but he’s going to tell us a lot about how the sport has changed over time. Currently, he’s the Executive Director and Race Director for Run Ottawa, which he’s going to tell us a little bit about that for us Americans who may not know much about our northern neighbors. He’s also the Director of Canadian Endurance Sports Alliance. In a previous life, he owned a retail specialty bike shop from 2000 to 2019. He’s been an endurance sport coach for about 25 years now. And again, in a previous life, sold into 2019, but he owned a regional triathlon event business. Welcome to the show, Ian Fraser.
IAN: [00:01:39] Hey, Jesse, thanks for having me. That’s a wonderful introduction. I’ve kind of — Yeah, and I don’t know what else I do with the other hour in the day in those times, you now?
JESSE: [00:01:50] Yeah. I get all of it done. And then I’m like, okay, I’ve got an hour to myself, now, what do I do? That’s a question I find myself asking a lot of time. I mean, I have my own hobbies, but like, from before we got going and mentioned him, AK Ikwuakor. I talked to him last week on the podcast and then we met again this morning to talk business because that’s kind of what he does. And we talk about like lifestyle design, and it’s a big thing nowadays, figure out what do you want to do? How big do you want to make your business? You know, it should suit you, and all those kinds of things. He was like, “Well, if you didn’t do any business right now, what would you do with your time?” And I went, “I don’t know.”
IAN: [00:02:37] I feel the same way. I think the endurance sport world; triathlon, running, cycling, making a living within that ecosystem can be challenging, right? It can also be really rewarding. And if you choose one path, it can open up a whole bunch of doors to do something else. Right? And all the things on my bio are kind of all interrelated. And I got to those places because of where I started, arguably, more than two decades ago. So, I think, if you’re a doer, and I’m not suggesting I’m a particularly good doer, but I am a doer, right? You’re always open to ideas and things and somebody says, well here’s an opportunity to try this. I’m like, sure. I’ll give that a go. And to your point, I think it’s a great question if somebody asked me if I didn’t have to do any of the things that I’ve done, or that I’m currently doing, what would I do? And I have no answer to that question. I just, I don’t know. I really love what I’ve done. I love what I currently do. I really love what I currently do. So, that question is just, that’s a — Yeah, it’s a bit elusive, I think.
JESSE: [00:03:47] Yeah. I have plenty of hobbies from like growing up. So, I know that’s kind of where I got to with AK in that conversation was like, well, I guess I’d spend more time writing music and I’d maybe take drawing back up again, or get back into silversmithing. Or like, there are things I could do. But just right off the bat, I’m like, if it was literally today, I’m like, well, I don’t have the infrastructure to do all those — Like, I don’t have a jewelry bench. I don’t — so I’m sure I can find some — [crosstalk]
IAN: [00:04:22] — hobbies. Love that.
JESSE: [00:04:23] Oh, I do all kinds of stuff.
IAN: [00:04:25] That’s amazing. That’s pretty cool.
JESSE: [00:04:26] I do all kinds of stuff. Yeah. So, there are so many — I always said especially growing up I was like, I always felt like, I hope I’m reincarnated because there’s so many things to do in life there’s simply not enough life to do them.
IAN: [00:04:43] It’s so true.
JESSE: [00:04:44] And it’s a shame that you have to niche down. So, obviously, that’s a bit of a tangent, but —
IAN: [00:04:52] No, but I think it’s true. And I think a natural curiosity ends up in forming a road that you’re going to take. So, a passion, a hobby, it starts to inform a bunch of decisions that I don’t think we’re ever fully conscious of. Right? So, I think on some visceral level, we think about some of those choices and the places they take us, but you just day to day, life is full of an addition of micro-choices, micro-decisions that you make, which create the sort of canvas that you paint your life on. And I think in so many ways, if you’re curious, if you like to do things, if you like to, I mean, be creative, and I think high performance athletics, there’s such a huge degree of creativity there that I think a lot of people don’t consider. And again, it takes you down a road.
JESSE: [00:05:52] I think, within that, and as you mentioned, like making a living from doing the things you love. That’s such, I think it’s kind of a difficult conversation, because I remember I’ll take us back. I was 12 years old and I was in Sunday school. And I remember them asking us, would you rather do a job that you love for less money, or a job that you don’t really like, but makes a lot of money? My first question is, why do I have to choose between those? Can’t I do both? But also like, that seems like the dichotomy, right? Like, that’s the general idea is that like, if you’re going to do what you love, then you may be like a starving artist. And having spoken to — I can’t — well, I don’t know why I’m not thinking of her name, but former British pro-triathlete, she’s actually a working artist now. You know, being an actual working artist is a tough gig. Being a working creative is a very tough gig. And it can burn you out from the thing that you love.
So, it’s like, I don’t know, there’s any one prescribed path, right? Or you just say, well, if you love it, then pursue it and make a living out of it because that could make you hate it. But then, at the same time, if you’re just like, well go into accounting, even though you hate numbers and do your art on the side, you could hate that too. And each presents its own pros and cons and challenges. But it’s interesting how people discern what their path is. In your case, actually going down the path racing professionally for a while, having your own race series, having the shop, like making those decisions, I’m guessing there was a leaping off point where you probably had opportunities to do other things that weren’t necessarily race-related. But — [crosstalk]
IAN: [00:08:03] I did a couple of those things, right.
JESSE: [00:08:05] Yeah. But you — Right, yeah, you made the leap.
IAN: [00:08:07] Yep. And I think it’s interesting, like I go back a little bit to the days when I raced. And so I raced, sort of, essentially from 1992, to about 1997. And I was a solid middle of the pack pro. I had certain strengths and lots of weaknesses. I was a terrible swimmer. I came to swimming really as a 21 year old. I couldn’t swim the length of the pool until I was 21. I came to the sport from a running background, so that was always something that served me incredibly well. I became a decent cyclist towards the end of that process. But there wasn’t a lot of money. There was some, so I always had to support myself with work. So, I worked in restaurants, and had done that seasonally for most of my racing career. And so when I actually stopped racing professionally, I had an opportunity to go into the restaurant business, and I did. I owned a restaurant for about two years and it was a horrific experience, but it was the most incredible experience I’ve ever had. Right?
You know, I mean, I got to university, I have a bachelor’s degree in economics. But that was my first real journey into business. And it cost me probably about as much as a really good MBA. And I feel like I learned so much more from that process. And so I knew at kind of that point, I kind of again, consciously, subconsciously, I always want to work for myself. I could apply so many of the lessons that I’ve learned in the restaurant business, which was a business that was not for me. But I could apply so many of those lessons to something else that I felt creative about. I’d already started to do a little coaching going back probably to my final years of racing. You know how that is right? You know, people want to pick your brain and so I had four or five clients at that time, I had a run group and that kind of stuff. And so that all just sort of started to come together.
Okay. Well, I’ll start a coaching business, right? And then you start going down that road. But it’s interesting, like taking the path that you might follow. I just think that a lot of people don’t go for a walk. You got to start walking down some pathways before you can make decisions. And some people are entirely comfortable not going for a walk, and that’s okay. But I think some people would love to go for a walk, but maybe are too afraid to go and take those first steps.
JESSE: [00:10:42] That’s — I mean, what’s the phrase, it’s the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. Like, it’s cliche, I guess, if you — anytime you bring up quotes, like, oh, there’s another poster to hang on my wall. But there’s, I mean, they hang around, because there’s some truisms to them. And I think we’re both entrepreneurs, so I mean, the sentiment is probably not unfamiliar to you. It’s like, have your goal, your idea, but don’t be so stuck on this is the only route to get there. Because things come up, opportunities come up, opportunities close, ideas arise. So, it’s like, you come up with the idea where you say, like, say you’re a little kid, go way back, and you’re like, I want to be a professional athlete. Maybe at the time like, you’re really into football, American football. And you’re like, I want to be a quarterback, but you have no — Like, no matter how hard you work, your hand eye coordination just sucks. Like, you’re probably not going to be a quarterback.
But maybe you’re really, really good at like, foot eye coordination. So, then you go play football or soccer instead and you can become a pro in that. I’m more a fan of having these, I’ll call them general goals. You know, I want to make a million bucks, or I want to be a pro athlete, or I want to go to the Olympics, or whatever it is, and then saying, okay, what’s an avenue that can get me there? Let’s start working on that. And then also having the right people to guide you to say, maybe this other avenue is a better choice for you to accomplish this goal.
IAN: [00:12:51] Yeah, I think that’s really true. Like, you can’t go places without, again, cliched, but mentors, role models. You know, I don’t think of those people in that necessarily named role every day. But there are people that you look up to, and there are people that you admire, and there are people that you think, Wow, I’d like to emulate some of the traits that I see. And I think you’re an incredible person, you’ve been successful, you’ve been resilient, you’ve been kicked around a little bit. But you don’t wear that on the outside. And I think those were the kinds of people that I really looked up to, certainly athletically as well. I found my years racing as a pro-triathlete to be a very polarizing experience, I created some of the longest lasting friendships I’ve had with anybody. And I found a portion of that community, about half of it even at that pro-level to be so welcoming, and so warm, and the other half to be savagely evil.
And I just thought it’s just — there’s no middle ground. You go to race, you hit the road, and you travel for a couple of months. And it’s like, you gravitate to those five, six, seven people that see the world maybe in the same way that you do. I don’t think it really matters where they come from, whether they come from Europe, or the United States, or Canada or Asia. You know, there’s a Zeitgeist, I think, amongst certain athletes that they behave and think and feel a certain way. And it’s pretty obvious when you’re in that culture and in that ecosystem, you can see who those people are that you wouldn’t want to spend a minute with in a room alone or at all, right? And so to your point, those are some of those people who’ve been around a little longer were people that I looked up to, people that I felt kinship with.
And again, that starts looking at their lives, what they’ve done before, what they’ve done afterwards. And I always tended to appreciate people that like other things other than triathlon at that time. As an athlete, you live and you breathe it. And I get that you have to do that. And maybe that’s why I was a middle of the pack or because I mean, certainly lived and breathed it in my moving moments. But I liked other things. I like the arts, I like film, I like music. I was — [crosstalk]
JESSE: [00:15:11] Yeah, I was like the man with a thousand albums — [crosstalk] behind them.
IAN: [00:15:15] Yeah. And I like to read and I like literature, I like, all of those things. And I like to talk to people. When you’re alone on the road, prior to — I don’t even know where my phone is. But prior to having a smart device to bury your face in, you have to talk to some people, you have to do some stuff, you know? And so when you’re on the road, and you’re like, hey, I want to go see this film, and you know that half the people you raced with, would never want to see this film, but you know two or three guys or a couple of women to be like, “Yeah, I’d love to see that film. I’ve been wanting to see it.” And racing again, in — just prior to the start of the real information age was also somewhat challenging as well. We didn’t have some of the tools that athletes have today to boost their income, there was no social media back then or anything like that.
We used to get paid sponsorship dollars on printed photographs of our stuff with sponsors logos on them. You’d get a 50 bucks impression from PowerBar every time you were seen in a regional newspaper. National television, you’d get 150 bucks in impression, right? And we used to sit down in front of our VCRs, and cobble all this stuff together. And we’d have somebody that we knew in town who would put a tape reel together of all of these [inaudible 00:16:36] stitched up, but we’d have to send them off to our sponsors. You’d send it to PowerBar and go, I’ve got 112 of these things here, etc, etc. And then they’d send you a check, I don’t know, eight months later, or something. So, it was different, that sort of access to information.
And I don’t think it’s easier to be an athlete now. I think like a lot of things in life technology was supposed to, wasn’t it supposed to see us working like two hours a day and having four months off back in the age of the Jetsons, and it was supposed to make everything easier? I’m not going to suggest that it makes life any easier. I think it opens more choices to today’s athletes on how they market themselves, just a learning curve on equipment choices. We had to wait for printed magazines or studies. You can think of the availability of information on human physiology, for example, you can [inaudible 00:17:33] yourself up in two days on stuff that it would have taken us four years of the university degree to learn. So, yeah, it’s interesting in that regard,
JESSE: [00:17:42] Well, in that regard, it’s nice that thathet information is available, but then the misinformation is just as available. And discerning between the two is tough as well as just making sure you’ve actually understood the topic. Even if you have the — I’ll date myself here, the Encyclopedia Britannica of like, information, like, this is the God’s honest truth. Making sure that you’ve comprehended the information that you’re reading and how it pertains to your situation, that’s a different skill set than simply going: well, inside the calf, there’s the gastrocnemius and then there’s all — Like, there’s rote memorization versus like understanding functional anatomy and how it applies to your sport is a different level.
So, it’s like, it’s great, we’ve got it, and we’ve got the ability to get to it. And I know I can learn about so many things and have access to certain things and like this podcast is a good example of being able to have interviews with experts in so many different fields and have conversations with them, and make it freely available to anybody that wants to listen. Like, I’ve talked to you pros, former pros, Olympians, like high-level academic researchers, it’s just the ability to get to that knowledge is just at your fingertips now. But along with that comes a responsibility. And I think that’s the difficult part is knowing how to handle the information rather than being able to get to it.
IAN: [00:19:30] And I think that’s a really good point. And maybe like, I’ll just come forward to today. So, I’m the Executive Director of a not-for-profit organization called Run Ottawa. And so for some context, we produce and put on the largest running events in Canada. We’ve had a maximum, I think, in our better years, we were around 46,000 participants. It’s a two-day event and by whatever statistical analysis you look at we would either be the 11th or 16th largest running event in North America based on those numbers. So, Ottawa is the city of a million people, capital of Canada, good size city, absolutely, I’m not biased at all. But it’s an incredibly beautiful place. We also do, as an organization, we do operations and logistics for another large event called the Canada Army Run. It would be our sort of equivalent of the Marine Corps. So, it’s a 25,000-ish person event. And we do about 12 other running events throughout the year as well, smaller events. They’re all 1,000-2,000 participants, that sort of thing.
And the world of event production is very different, right. So, if you put on a triathlon or a running race, in 1985, your sole goal would be to make sure that that course was amazing. So, it was measured accurately, you had some kind of access to timing that people could view those results in some kind of way. And you wanted to make sure that the Gatorade wasn’t warm at the aid stations, and you had enough Dixie cups and away you go, right? And so we know, you and I know this, and your listeners know this, and your watchers know this, that’s not the state, the current state of endurance sport event production. So, my role, in title, is Executive Director and Race Director, those are two hugely different things, right? You know, a race director is barricades, cones, making sure banners are up, making sure all the infrastructure is there, making sure that registration is running smoothly, kit pick up, all that sort of thing.
But the role that I’m passionate about, and the one that I was really brought on to do is this idea of an executive director to take our event, and continue down the path to turn it into the most participant-rich experience event that you could ever do. And the age of technology has brought that participant to us. They want something more than that. They want experiences at Race Expo that are just not me lining up like a cattle to pick up my bag with a bunch of things stuffed into it. And then I’m filed out the back through a loading dock door and I wake up tomorrow morning, and I do my 10K marathon, half marathon, whatever.
So, I think there’s a huge responsibility with that technology. But it also allows us to do some amazing things, right? And allows us in these incremental moves to make that experience something where you, in Missouri, would love to come up and do our event. I would love to come and do something in your neck of the woods that I’ve seen that might be amazing. And so we also have the ability to see those things, hear the feedback, look at that. And that’s a big responsibility as an event organizer, and it’s also a great opportunity as well.
JESSE: [00:23:03] In some ways, I feel like it’s almost a shame that it can’t be just as simple as like, [crostalk] I set up the cones, like the race — the course is accurate and just — I get it. I get it. In part because like people want something to do. And it’s like you do this race and then it’s over. But also, because I’ve never really had to be a spectator generally speaking, for very few times have I been just a spectator, most of the races I go to, I am racing. So, I’m actively participating in the event, I’m not sitting on the sidelines. So it doesn’t make it — I can see even from that standpoint, it makes it a whole event for both the person racing and the people that are coming. It’s like okay, cool, you raced and then now we can watch this — Sheryl Crow is here or like whoever musical guests is here, and they’re going to perform. And then we’ve got whatever events going — the whole thing. And maybe here in town it’d be like Oklahoma Joe’s or I guess it’s Kansas City Joe’s now, is catering barbecue, and like there’s a whole thing going on instead of just this singular race and it’s over.
IAN: [00:24:17] Well, yeah. And also, the participants’ expectations are they — throughout COVID, throughout the challenging time that we’ve had in the endurance sport world, and we’ve had, perhaps, arguably, and I know this from conversations I’ve had with my my peers and colleagues in the United States and Canada, we’ve had a really difficult time in Canada putting on any in-person events. We really haven’t. There hasn’t been anything that you would consider a large scale in person insurance for men in Canada since prior to March 2020. But you really understand the power of what you do here. And if people think that the insurance world is dying or alive or something like that, they only need to think about the comments, the concerns, the passions that lay around an event ticket that they’ve purchased that might be $69 or $79. And how passionate they feel about that event not going off, or the T-shirt being not right, or the medal not being exactly right. I mean, I can’t go to a movie and have some popcorn and go see a film and spend much less than 69 bucks, right?
And if you think about the emotional value, not only the physical value, but the emotional value that we as event organizers bring to people’s lives, it’s a really interesting value proposition. And in no way am I suggesting that participants are ungrateful, or that their concerns are not valid. They’re 100% valid. But it just blows me away going back to this entrepreneur position and place that I have in my mind and my heart, it’s like I can show you 15 different $69 items that some are worthless to people and some have a value that’s 10 times that amount, right? So, I think we operate and we participate in a really unique environment. And something that is, is so special to so many people in their lives that tapping into that, to make that even better for them and to understand why it’s that way and do more of the things that resonate in that manner; that’s a never ending job for us. And certainly for me, that happily keeps me up at night.
JESSE: [00:26:47] And I think part of that, which goes back to even my own comment about can’t it just be a race. I think that it — because it speaks to people’s identity, right? It isn’t just an event like, this is part of who I am. And this, this culture, and the whole thing around the event and like a celebration of the thing that I do, that’s a part of me. And why I say that, that has to go back to me saying can’t it just be the race is one, in part because I’m square in lane. But also, I don’t — I’m mostly happy to just show up, do the race and go home. Like, I don’t personally care about the rest of it, just as long as I had a good day. So, which isn’t to be like, ungrateful for all the work that you do.
IAN: Now, I get that.
JESSE: It’s just like that speaks to my own identity, versus like having the whole big to-do about it. And — [crosstalk]
IAN: [00:27:56] But Jesse, think of little pieces here. So, the amazing stuff that you do and the content that you produce, I throw that in my earbuds when I go for a run. And the run is a preparation for an event that I’m doing in two months. And so now, those three pieces are connected; you, me, and this event. And so all of these little tumbling dice that fall into the process, and process is so important, right? And even if your takeaway experience and if you come to one — and I’m just using you as an example, but like — [crosstalk]
JESSE: No, no, it’s fine.
IAN: [00:28:36] If you come to our event, and you don’t love all of the participant experience around and you just want the course, it’s there for you. You did have a preparation phase, you did have a journey to get there, and it’s filled with all kinds of Jesse’s and Ian’s and all kinds of stuff, right? And I think that’s like, those are the multipliers for us as entrepreneurs in endurance sports spaces is finding those great connections. You know, I’m going to go home after my run and tell my wife what I heard on your podcast that I was listening to. She’s going to tell two friends. And you get momentum, you get connectivity, and I think that around the inflammation piece is something we didn’t have in 1985. Right?
You know, I remember this hilarious story. So, it’s going back to the mid-70s. And there was a famous distance runner, Lasse Virén, finished 5,000, 10,000 meter runner. And so he had a typical sort of Scandinavian dry humor. And so he won, I don’t know, a bunch of gold medals in 72 and 76, I think. And I remember this because the Olympics were in Montreal in 76. He’s interviewed afterwards and he’s asked what’s your secret Lasse? You know, it just — How are you so good and in multiple distance events without recovering? He said, “Well I take reindeer shit and I massage it into my legs and I find that to be an amazing recovery tool.”
And he does this like deadpan and straight-faced, right? And so there’s a half a generation of runners for a year and a half that are trying to source out reindeer shit so that they can do the same thing. But there’s no real truth seekers here in his comments, because those — they didn’t exist back then. So, I think like, wow, that’s so low-tech dissemination of information, and it was a technique that endured about 99% longer than it should have. So, that’s kind of funny.
JESSE: [00:30:44] I just — I feel like now, if he had done that and it blew up, I almost can guarantee you that somebody would like partnered with him to make a gag gift where you could actually buy it. I can almost guarantee it. Like, here it is. It’s $9.95. And that’s because of how fast things work now.
IAN: Right. Exactly.
JESSE: Somebody with a reindeer farm would have been like, I’m in. Like —
IAN: [00:31:17] Yep. He would have tweeted it out seven minutes later. And some other guy is I’ll come pick up four tons and the product’s in your hands in a week. For better or for worse. Yeah, I just — I find that so funny. But it is — on a serious note, it’s really potent. Information is so potent, so important that you can do so much good. I think we also — we have, at our signature event, which is Tamarack, Ottawa race weekend, it’s our big, one things they’re like, our ability to put — we put on a virtual event this year, obviously, because of COVID. And we put 8,000 participants in our virtual event through a targeted program called our Scotiabank Charity Challenge, we raised almost a million dollars in charity donations this year for 52 different charities. Again, how would you have done that in 1985? You just would have never done that, right? Like, the power to be able to do that, the platform, the infrastructure, so even in that piece, like all the good stuff that you could potentially do, it’s just so mind boggling.
JESSE: [00:32:30] Yeah. It does make me wonder, though, I think you’re on the other podcast, the Consummate Athlete podcast, you were talking about, like the changes, you were talking about, like the low-tech wearing your underwear band for the [inaudible 00:32:44] just the low-tech to high-tech changes of the sport. And I wonder because you’ve seen it change and I’ve asked, I don’t know if you’re familiar with Simon Ward, the British triathlete for a number of years. I spoke with him back on episode 73. And we talked about changes over the years and he’s talking about paper — hand timing and paper timing when he got started. I wonder how you feel about like, is the heart of the sport still alive? Is it just different? Because obviously, it’s not the same thing, in some sense, but it is still swimming and biking and running, and there’s still people trying to win. And there’s more people doing it. So, I always wonder like, how the people that have seen the changes feel about where it was versus where it is now, and if it still feels like the heart of triathlon is strong.
IAN: [00:33:48] Oh, that’s such a great question, Jesse and absolutely, the heart is strong. You know, the things that you’re talking about are I consider kind of like the trappings of a sport, right. Okay, bike technology changed significantly. You know, running shoe technology recently has changed significantly. But the way that athletes approach a competitive event, that’s DNA driven, that’s inside all of them. And I watch enough triathlon, I consume a lot of triathlon in person as a spectator. I watch it — I watch all the ITU World, WTS races and I consume it, right? You know, full disclosure, she’s much younger than me, but my wife is an up and coming professional triathlete. She’s 22 years younger than me and so I live vicariously through her.
But what I do know is that all the things that go on in her world are all the same things that I experienced, in every way, shape, and form. And like that desire, that drive, that nervousness at the start line, I love nothing better than to watch a WTS Race and see everybody lined up on the pontoon and ready to dive in. And it’s like, I’ve been there. I know what that feels like. And it feels the same I’m sure for them as it did for me. Same thing when you’re waiting for the gun to go in a 70.3 race, I know that feeling. So, those things haven’t changed. The heart of the sport is exactly the same.
You know, I’ve lived through perhaps the most overwhelmingly important bicycle technology revolution that Cervelo brought to the sport. So, I was fortunate enough to be actually the first professional triathlete ever to win at events on a Cervelo bicycle. I went to university with Phil White, one of the founders, and I knew Phil before he ever designed his first bicycle, or even really knew what a bicycle was. So, I’ve seen that technology, which really supercharged what we’ve done. And there have been, I would say, a lot of the technology in the bike world that we see now has been marginal and incremental and slow and steady. I think from a material standpoint, we’ve been about as good as we can be, probably for nearly a decade now.
Aerodynamic design, we’re probably about as good as we’ve ever been. And I think wheel technology has changed a little bit, drive chain stuff has changed a bit. But I think human physiology has driven some of the incredible advances we’ve seen on the bike. But I’m not a statistician, but anecdotally in my day, there weren’t nearly as many amazing pro-athletes as there are today. The fields are rich and thick, and really, really top notch on both the women’s and men’s side. But I’ll tell you this, the best of the best runners from my day, I’d put any of them shoulder to shoulder with the best runners today; women, men, no choice about that.
I still would say that Mark Allen’s run in Kona, even though he doesn’t currently hold the course record, he ran that run on, I would go down to the death in an arm wrestle on the more difficult run course. And his giving up that record by again, I’m not sure but it’s not by a lot, you know, less than a minute maybe. If you put that run on that day on the course that the current record holder has, Mark Allen would have won. So, I would put some of the best bike riders and Jeff Devlin’s, Peter Rieds of their day, Jürgen Zacks on today’s technology, they’ll ride with Lionel, they’ll ride with everybody else. Right? So, I think that part of the technology piece has changed. But an athlete is still an athlete. I think inside everybody’s brain, they want to find a way to win, they want to find a way to be the best they possibly can. And I think that, yeah, the heart is absolutely still there. Yeah, yeah, 100%.
JESSE: [00:38:14] I think what’s tough is the changes in technology then trying to compare like, I mean, we have the whole, like the Nike Vaporfly, and all the carbon plate technology in shoes going on. And it’s like, all these running records are getting broken. And then you’re like, hey, let’s go back. It’s like, okay, well, if we put [inaudible 00:38:35] in those shoes, and he’s running versus the top names today, like, is he as fast? It’s just — it’s an impossible debate to have because you’re looking at just moments captured in time. But in thinking about the Ironman, in particular, with the bike, well, if you’re off the bike sooner, you’re going to have fresher legs.
IAN: That’s a great point.
JESSE: Like that’s an easy one. I mean, we say, okay, I’m going to give you a 30 pound bike to go do this course on or I’m going to give you a 10 pound bike that’s way more aerodynamic and you’re going to finish a significant time faster. Well, that’s effort you didn’t have to put in, now you’ve got fresher legs to run. So, you’re going to split hairs. Maybe that’s what makes for a great sports debate is like — because you can’t really solve it. I mean, yeah, maybe you can.
Maybe there’s some way to go, well if it was this and that and then — But then there’s ultimately the spirit of the athlete, right, and you’re in Mark Allen’s corner and I don’t know that I have a pretty good on, but we’ll say, let’s just say like, I’m a big Kody Beatles fan, and I think he’s [crosstalk] the number — Right. Like, he’s never number one or whatever. And I’m like, well, he could have beat Mark Allen and these are my reasons why. And it’s like, okay, but can we get to a demonstrable point? And I don’t know that you can in part because even from something as small, as large as it is small, the weather. I mean, you look at race results and it’s like, you have to be careful about just like looking at a race sheet and going, oh, oh, man.
Like, I know, I’ve looked at race sheets and my fastest Olympic distance was only like, 2:05, 2:06. And really, it should have been faster on the day that I did it. But the course was blistering hot so I didn’t finish any faster. But there have been courses where it’s like, I looked at the results, and I’m like, I know where I am. You know, I should be top five. It’s like, yeah, but those results last year, it was 95 out and somehow there was a monsoon at the same time.
And like, there’s all these mitigating circumstances that slowed everybody down, and you have no idea about that. So, I think that gets lost too. It’s like, we’re not factoring in just how humid was it? How hot was it? Were there any cloud cover? Was there — Just even from that standpoint, it makes this like, impossible debate, because the same person on the same course with the same equipment from today to tomorrow could be two completely different performances, just because the weather didn’t cooperate with them or they got a little bit of food poisoning. There’s all these just tiny little minutiae that goes into all of it that adds up.
IAN: [00:41:43] But I think you can make this, and I firmly believe this, you can only say this, because I think going down that comparison hole is — what’s the cliche? A fool’s errand. And I think what you can say about our sport is this, you can say only a few things. You can say, one, the technology is better today than it was 25 years ago.
Two, where the debate I would get in with you would be maybe, or somebody would be that I’m not sure from a training and physiology standpoint, whether today’s athletes are better trained than they were 25 years ago. I think there’s a marginal difference there. And I think that that difference speaks to recovery, injury prevention. I think some of those pieces are in play. But aside from those two things, the obvious answer is a great athlete, those things being equal, whether it’s 1985, or 95, or today, they would go head to head with each other, and it would be a great race.
And I think the more interesting conversations around pro-triathletes, and athletes general is what makes a winner. And the suit that makes a winner and that — and I’ve often said that a true winner in sport is somebody who’s able to manage their inadequacies, and the things that they’re not particularly good at, as opposed to leveraging the things that they’re really good at. Right? And I think that’s true in the sport of triathlon. Some of the great champions of the sport have been really good at limiting their losses and the things that they’re not particularly good at, and leveraging that. And I think that’s fascinating because when you see them try to perform outside of that model, that’s when you go, oh, that person is not going to have a good day, or this person is going to have an amazing day.
And again, I’ll just sort of — some stuff that I’m familiar with, over the years, I’ve I rode and I ran and spent a fair bit of time with Peter Reid. And I thought I was long retired by the time he was winning his back to back Konas. But I knew Peter never set the bike course record at Kona ever, but I knew that if that was a goal of his, he would have done it.
But he felt early on that maybe he wasn’t the best runner in the field. But the way to protect against that was to make sure that when he came off the bike, he’d used a significant portion of energy less than his competitors had so that he could leverage the skill that he did have on the run without being on the limit when he got to the bike. And I think he was always successful and analytical around that and truly understood the things that he was exceptional at. And also using those exceptional skills to manage the things that he had to be somewhat careful with.
And so you can see that in just about any champion in the sport of triathlon in the world running as well. I think it’s — which is what put a bike race on now. And you know — we consume so much bike racing here. It’s been so awesome. And it’s just like you know that that person is not going to win a three up sprint at the end of the stage in the tour. So, you know that they’ve got to try something else to get to the finish line that’s going to deliver them there so that they don’t have to put themselves in that situation.
So, I think those are really — those are the fun conversations to have and those are the fun ones when you’re watching an event where you’re sitting there with your buddies or whatever, and you’re going, he’s going to win, or she’s going to win. No, no, no, it’s not going to happen because this just happened. You know? So, I think — I love doing that stuff. I think it’s super fun.
JESSE: [00:45:26] In your naming like the things that have changed, I think one, this is my opinion, and we’ll see whether you agree or not. One thing you didn’t name that is different and I think plays to, possibly the illusion that people are so much faster now is that the development pipelines are in place to get more people. Because like, think about — [crosstalk] and I was a part of this. But partly because I forced my way in, not because I was recruited and I always try to make that caveat. But I had the fortune of hanging out with some of the really fast guys and girls with the USA Triathlons Collegiate Recruitment Program, who at the time was headed by Barbara Lindquist. And Barb recruited Gwen Jorgensen. Like, she didn’t originally really kind of want to come to triathlon, but she had the swimming and running background at a high level.
She was able to compete in both of those things collegiately and Barb was one of the people that helped convince Gwen to come out and let’s work on getting into Olympic gold. And her first outing did not go well. I think she had a mechanical in that race and didn’t — I don’t even know if she finished in our first Olympics, if I remember right. Because I was watching and I was like, where did Gwen go? And then they didn’t really talk about it. And then going on to win the last one. But that also speaks to like, if you know any of the number of other athletes that Barb recruited; Kaite Zaferes, Taylor Spivey, I can’t remember if Taylor Knibb was recruited by her or not, but a number of — especially on the women’s side, have had success, in part, just this very small piece of the development pipeline identifies those people.
IAN: [00:47:19] You’re so right. You are so right, Jesse. And this is again, there’s historical context here. So, the early days of triathlon, all of us are individual Mavericks, right? We gravitate to pockets, where we would train with other triathletes. So, in my day, it was San Diego and Austin, Texas. And you would train with informal groups there. And somebody would go, oh, yeah, I’m swimming masters at U of T, can I get in there and jump in the pool. So, there’s five or six of us, etc, etc. And the American early dominance of triathlons soon disappeared in the early 90s, with the onset of the Europeans. And so the Europeans had that pipeline recruitment model. It wasn’t a collegiate system, but it was a triathlon club model in most of the major countries and cities in Europe.
And so the Luc Van Lierdes of the world back in those days came from massive triathlon clubs in their area with 5-600, 700 members that had a youth program, that had an elite program that leveraged their size to get great product opportunities for all the members. And that’s where all these triathletes came out of. That’s where the Jürgen Zacks came out of, that’s where all of those people came out of. And so lo and behold, American and Canadian triathlon looks at this and says, holy crap, how are we ever going to compete? And your answer is the pathway that you do so well in the United States with all sports is let’s have a collegiate program. Let’s drive that into the collegiate Zeitgeist.
And lo and behold, you’re starting to come back, become dominant again in both Olympic distance, ITU racing, and also at the 70.3 in Ironman. And so that pipeline is so important. We don’t have that in Canada. We don’t have a robust collegiate system in the same way that you do and so we struggle. We struggle here financially to develop programs. We traded away all of our potential off of Simon Whitfield very badly at the NSO, National Sports organization level and we were able to work on that probably for about eight years and then our advantage just disappeared. But you guys have that. You know, I love watching the women’s races now, the ITU women’s races and seeing Americans do so well. You know, and have been doing so well for so long. And I love that they’ve been able to take some of that dominance back. But you’re absolutely right, that pipeline, so crucial.
JESSE: [00:49:57] I was thinking about that in part because I worked so hard to be as good as I could be. And I didn’t quite make it to be a pro despite my best efforts. I got real damn close, but I just couldn’t quite get over the hump. And I think about it because I don’t know how many people I’ve seen with more talent than me come and go and be like, oh, I don’t really like it. Whether it’s running or triathlon or whatever. And I’m just like, are you kidding me right now? Like, if I had your legs, I can be so fast. I mean, but that’s where the pipeline comes in. Right? It’s like finding those people that have the talent and then that also like me want to do it and giving them the resources to develop them to their full potential. And then it’s like, then magically, it’s like, oh, now we have all these people and the field’s stacks so deep.
And like we have the US women, not unusual to see sometimes a swept podium where you’ve got all three of them. And that is in large part — Well, we’ve taken a two-pronged attack. We’re like working on incorporating triathlon into the collegiate system through women’s sports. With Title Nine, it’s almost impossible to do with men’s sports because of the cost of football. So that, but then also like what Barb was working on, I think it’s Joe Malloy now that is in charge of the program, but I could be wrong.
What Barb was doing and the program does is find people who are single sport athletes, runners, or swimmers, and teaches them how to do the rest of it. And so it’s — and Barb talks about it’s — the swimmers are usually quicker to get their professional license, because it’s easier to teach them how to run than it is to teach runners how to swim. Yeah, but once the runners get it, then everybody’s on an even playing field and like it can be a big thing for the runners to have those legs at the end and know they can put it down. So, that plays into it. But — [crosstalk]
IAN: [00:52:11] That’s a good point. And I would ask you this, Jesse, like the other thing that I think has changed, and maybe you disagree, I think certainly at the age group level, and even at the pro level, triathletes come to triathlon as triathletes now.
IAN: Right. You know, and maybe you don’t agree with that. But I think you see more triathletes, pro triathletes who are triathletes, they came out of the kids program — [crosstalk]
JESSE: Right. Hunter Kemper comes to mind.
IAN: [00:52:42] Right. Exactly. In my day, we came from somewhere else, you know. And the common pathway was national level, collegiate level swimmers who would make that transition. You’re absolutely right. You can teach somebody to ride and run, it’s very difficult to teach somebody how to swim. Or they came from high-level CAT 1 bike racing, and they’re like, I’m going to try triathlon. Or the other sort of more common one after swimming was you had great runners gravitating to the sport.
And for the same reason that triathlon really started was I’m a national level runner, I’m injured, and I can’t put in the volume to run at that level anymore so I’ll take up triathlon, right? And the motor’s there, the engine’s there. So, I ride a bike, it takes me a couple years to get good on the bike. And yeah, I’ll learn how to swim, etc, etc. So, I think I love that idea that we’re building triathletes, right, from the ground up.
JESSE: [00:53:37] Yeah. Yeah, it’ll be interesting to see how it develops just because I don’t know that it’s always — it is multisports, so that — I mean, that’s good. But like, in some sense, it’s also kind of nice when people come from those diverse backgrounds. I have a friend who he was almost — Well, he did. He played one of the minor professional leagues in soccer here in the US. But he couldn’t quite, at least at the time, he didn’t feel like he was going to be able to move up to play in MLS. And so he came to triathlon to try to pursue a professional career there and ended up — just injury issues. But it’s kind of interesting to see people come from different sports and have those different skills and then be successful that didn’t grow up as triathletes.
And I think that’s the case in a lot of different sports having these multisport backgrounds. So, triathlon is its own animal because it is multisport. So, maybe it’s the exception to the rule, because I like to say that — Like, I just did a video on how to get your kids into running. And basically I say, don’t. Just because — [crosstalk]
IAN: Don’t do it.
JESSE: Well, just do whatever your kids want to do. Like if they want to play soccer or whatever they like, don’t make them specialize, like let them do whatever they want to do.
IAN: I agree.
JESSE: [00:55:07] Because when I talked to these Olympians and I talked to former pros, it’s like, the underlying current is, yeah, we did all kinds of things. We learned all these different skills and so I think there’s a lot of value in that. But Ian, we’re starting to run short on time, so I got to ask you the question I’m asking everybody this year — run out of question. And that question is, how do you stay motivated after failing to reach a goal?
IAN: [00:55:35] Oh. Well, so whether you’re a recreational athlete or a pro athlete, I think in any sport, you have to become incredibly good at being a loser. And I think that’s the most important ingredient. And I will always throw this back because I’m an avid golfer as well. I’ll throwback to Tiger Woods’ heydays. The perception is he’s winning every golf tournament he enters.
No, he’s a solid loser. And I think, even in the face of that kind of success, and I think again, whether you’re a recreational age group triathlete or a pro, you need to be, at the end of the day, comfortable with the fact that you are not always going to achieve your goal, you’re not going to win. And the fun of this is in trying to get there. And if you’ve done this long enough, and I still show up at races and race badly, at 56 years of age, if you keep trying, it’s amazing sometimes how one week is vastly different than the next week and the week after that.
So, I think you have to be ultimately hopeful. And you have to be resilient. And you have to understand that if this was easy, and you’re going to achieve your goal every time, it wouldn’t be worth doing. Why would you show up and do it? Oh, I just nailed a PD. That’s great. I just won my age group 14 times and it was no effort at all. What’s the fun there? Right? I think the fun is in losing, being beaten, being beaten by yourself as well and learning from that. So, I think great athletes are incredibly awesome losers.
They may not show that on the outside all the time, but subconsciously inside their DNA they’re built to be able to be resilient, against loss. And to be able to be creative in the face of adversity [inaudible 00:57:35] you change that story. And that applies to all of us. Whether you’re running a one — your first 10K in an hour and a half or an hour and your goal was maybe to do it in 55 minutes. Well, you get out of bed the next day, you do your training, and you show up and you try again. That’s what you do.
JESSE: [00:57:44] Ian, much like me, you’re not huge on social media, but is there any place people can get in touch with you, see what’s going on with Run Ottawa, any of that kind of stuff?
IAN: [00:57:53] Yeah. Best thing they can do is fine Run Ottawa on Instagram, you can go to our website at RunOttawa.ca. And yeah, I’d love for people to know less about me and more about what we do. And I think that would be super awesome.
JESSE: [00:58:09] Sounds good. Thanks for hanging out with me today, Ian.
IAN: [00:58:12 Jesse, thank you so much for having me. It’s been pleasure.