Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 28 - Will McGough - SWIM BIKE BONK - Part 1 of 3

Yeah, I’ve just been like one of those guys, I'm just always kind of out doing something. Okay, someone's like you want to go for a run?
Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 28 - Will McGough - SWIM BIKE BONK - Part 1 of 3

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“Yeah, I’ve just been like one of those guys, I'm just always kind of out doing something. Okay, someone's like you want to go for a run? Sure. Okay. You want to take a swim? Okay. Yeah man, hike, whatever, camp, be outside, healthy eating, healthy living that's kind of part of the deal of being on the road all the time, right, if you're just like eating out three times a day and not doing anything, then you're totally screwed. Yeah, just ?? 00:21> fit, but nothing, you now, I'd never run more than eight miles in my life. Biking, I've done a few of the events like I'm saying the cross country ride. But when I started this whole Ironman pursuit I didn't even own a bike. So, that shows you how much...right.” 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 JESSE: Welcome to the Smart Athlete Podcast. I'm your host, Jesse Funk. My guest today is a little bit different than most of the guests I have on. But it's going to be good to have somebody on who has a little bit different perspective than most of us. He's an international travel writer. As we will learn throughout this episode, he is a reluctant triathlete, and he owns the brand Wake and Wander. Welcome to the show, Will McGough. WILL: Hey, Jesse. Thanks for having me on, man. Appreciate it. I’m excited to talk to you. And I know you're an accomplished triathletes, and I am not so it’ll be interesting to see what we come up with here. JESSE: Yeah, well, I mean, we'll see how it goes. I think I started off okay, I got your last name right. I usually stumbled through the last name just like doing my whole read and I always have to apologize. WILL: You rocked it. I'm a writer so I don't have to pronounce anything which is lucky so I just have to get the spelling right, so that's good. JESSE: Yeah, you got plenty of time to think about it. You don't have to worry about don't, oh do I say this-- WILL: Rewrite, polish, polish, polish. Yeah, exactly. JESSE: So, it seems, at least on the outside looking in, the life of a travel writer should be like, pretty glamorous and enviable. Can you tell me about how do you make a living as a travel writer and how do you find yourself in this kind of, at least from my perspective, fortunate position? WILL: Yeah, sure thing, man. Well, I appreciate that. I feel very fortunate and lucky. I love what I do. People have interesting views, because like you say, from the outside, you just see this life of glamour, traveling around, getting all these new experiences, staying places and presumably getting paid for it, right, which is a great thing, and all those things are true. But of course, like as in welcome to 2019, presentation of self is always different than reality. Okay. So, yeah, I do have a lot of opportunities. I love what I do but being a travel writer it is a grind of a lifestyle, right? You're always on the road. I'm still at the height of my career, I would say hopefully continuing. But as I was coming up, I've been doing this for about 10 years now. So, there were times when I was on the road, three weeks a month, now I'm back down to more between a weekend and two a month, which is a little more reasonable, but still a lot of travel. So, just maintaining relationships with friends, with lovers, with your family, and just sort of getting any sort of routine going is a challenge. Sort of your routine is the anti-routine, which is actually kind of a connection I found I had with triathletes. Because just with the lifestyle, that hecticness, triathletes are very routine oriented, obviously in their training, but that really pulls them away from this sort of, quote-unquote, normal life that you would get into, which travel writing also does. So, I found that interesting. Being a writer is awesome. You have a voice but it's like having homework every day for the rest of your life. You are constantly having assignments that you need to work on. And then you're going to complete that assignment, then you're going to turn that in to an editor who is going to give you feedback on that. And typically it's like, okay, make these changes because it needs to be better or whatever. So, it's just like that constant judgment of being in school. So, you have to have a thick skin in that regard. But I did my studies in journalism, I got a Master's at Temple. I went to Virginia Tech for undergrad. So, I kind of always knew at least once I got halfway through college I knew writing was my thing, and I have stuck with it. And I have done different things, started off in hard news, worked on a sports desk for a little while. But being in hard news, as you can you see today, it's very sensationalized, it's very dramatic. It's almost like must see TV in a way, entertainment, and so that just really wears on you. And for me that wears even more than being on the road because you're dealing with just politics and touchy topics and everything is so polarized these days. So, travel, believe it or not, it's kind of a mellow field for a writer because it really combines reporting and storytelling, which I like because I can go and experience something and use my journalistic instincts to sort of find a story, but then I'm not-- it's light hearted. I'm going to tell a story about what I experienced. And as a creative writer, which I consider myself, that's really cool. And that led really well into the book because I was just putting myself out there in these situations and seeing what happened and then telling my personal tale. So, that's kind of been a nutshell my career, and I still do a lot of travel writing, like I say, I'm on the road every month. But with daily journalism you're so scattered. So, you're always working on-- you're in Croatia, writing a story about Poland, or you're in Hawaii writing a story about South America. And so you're just always kind of jumping around. And I know how that sounds, you're probably like, okay, shut up Will. That doesn't sound so... But as a writer you want to kind of really immerse yourself into a project. Today's journalism is so superficial, 10 things to do in Honolulu, five reasons to go to Brazil. JESSE: ?? 6:22> listicles are really, really clickable, so it's all about the listicles. WILL: Yeah… it’s really the death of writing but I’m trying to keep it alive, you know, it's fine. So, yeah, that's kind of my background and then just like I say, writing books is something I've always wanted to do and I had the opportunity to do that recently as you know. JESSE: Yeah, so for anybody that's confused, I think I'll actually make this the title of the episode, Swim, Bike, Bonk. Here is the book we're talking about, which we'll get to here in a minute. Should have introduce that sooner. So, everybody’s like “Book, what book, what are you talking about a book?” I'm kind of curious, when you're traveling, I mean, since you are essentially on assignment, you're working while you're traveling and doing these things, it kind of makes me think about just the average person now, who's has Instagram and Facebook and all these things, and they're like reporting on their own lives. I have this sense that they aren't really living the moment as much as reporting it. So, it makes me wonder about you, in that your work is to report on these experiences. Do you feel like you can actually experience and live them or is your brain always turning like not fully present because you have to report on it later? WILL: I get what you're saying. Yeah, I totally understand that. Sometimes you feel that way, especially if you're on a media trip or you're at an event where you're surrounded by other journalists. And there's like 20 cameras around you and you're all trying to get a photo of the same thing. It's like, okay, there's this beautiful person or mountain or scenery or moment and yeah, everybody's just so focused on capturing it for their Instagram or for their story, whatever it's going to be, that can be very distracting. But I think in travel writing like anything else, the cream rises. And so you have people who are yeah, just almost unbearable on the road I'm sorry to say. You have this new generation of influencers and bloggers that really rely on social media and their whole shtick is just presenting via social media what they're doing. I've always been a traditional journalist format, where I'm pitching articles to publications. So, I'm less reliant on that immediate satisfaction and that putting something up for my followers to see. If you look at my social media, I just have a very low footprint. I don't know I guess I just missed the boat on that, born a little after it came into but-- or before I should say. Anyway, I am old in that regard, 34 going on 70 with social media. So, I really try hard. Yeah, I think that's a great question because I really make it a point when I'm on an assignment, even if I have specific instructions about something that I'm to cover, I make a point to set some time for myself and just go out and have an experience, right? And that often turns into the story or at least in my opinion, the best story of the trip. I'm a freelancer so even when I'm somewhere on assignment, where I'm working for a publication for a specific story, I'm totally able and open to finding stories for other publications. So, yeah, with the pressure for social media and stuff, I see a lot of that where people are totally distracted and even ?? 9:45> quite honestly, man, I mean, the listicle stuff, we joke about it but it creates checkbox travel. You're standing in front-- JESSE: Right? It's like okay, I went, I did this, I did that, I do all the things that I needed to do to really enjoy this city. It's like did you actually spend time to, let's say I like ice cream. So, I'm gonna go to the top ice cream shop in Seattle or whatever. It's like did you spend the time to enjoy the ice cream you ate or did you eat it just to be like, I ate it, off to the next thing, got that picture like good to go. WILL: Totally man, I avoid that at all costs. And yeah, of course, there's things you want to do because you've heard about them. And there's nothing wrong with that as long as you're going into that experience to have the experience, not to just tell people you did it, right. And so that's a distinction. And I have a lot of things about my travel style that I really focus on to avoid that. Everything from what you were to how you present yourself in terms of trying to fit in with the locals and to draw attention to yourself but not in a bad way. You walk down the street with a big camera on your neck and nobody is going to treat you the same way as a sort of an under the radar person. So, yeah, I always try and dig in and quite honestly if everybody's going to that one ice cream store, because that's the most famous like, I'm just as likely to take a walk around the block and ask three people like, “Hey, what's your favorite ice cream store around here?” and get three different responses and then just go try those. And then maybe that's the story. Because everybody in my field is writing about that number one place, so if I can kind of discover somewhere else, all the better. So, almost it works the opposite where everybody is running towards these most famous attractions. If you kind of look the other way, you find that not only do you get a more authentic experience, but for me as a journalist, I might even get a better story because everybody's right pitching that one, but I'm right here talking about this. But yeah, that's a challenge in 2019 year, man. Everybody wants to do the biggest and best thing and more importantly presented to their followers. So, it is kind of the way it is. JESSE: Yeah, you talk about like walking the walk makes me think about, not in a serious way, so I love Montreal and I've spent several trips going to Montreal, specifically for a month at a time. And there are several instances where the better restaurant is across the street and I always, at the time I thought somebody should pitch a show to travel channel or you know whoever about doing a show like across the street, what's across the street from the number one attraction. So, I think I saw you'd been to Quebec City, I don't know if you've been to Montreal, but Montreal's known for smoke meat. So, there's ?? 12:27> everybody writes about - WILL: Right across the street there's another-- JESSE: Across the street is called the main and they have even bigger and just as delicious smoke meat sandwiches without the line. Same thing, poutine, every tell us about - right across the street. You go to ?? 12:45>, which is a Portuguese restaurant, and they have, I will say in controversial fashion, the best poutine in Montreal. So, I think there's definitely a story there when you stop focusing on the number one on that listicle and start figuring out what interests me and what else is out there? WILL: Totally. I think you'd be a great travel writer Jesse, that's a great-- And I know exactly what you're talking about, and I think that would be a great show, across the street. I love it. Yeah, I mean there's a lot of-- I think a reason for it to it's just the regurgitation now, because there's so much content out there, and quite honestly many travel writers are just arm trail, armchair travel writers, like they're not actually-- JESSE: Just like doing reach and then-- WILL: Yeah, they're just searching online and making lists and dude, you don't have to be a writer to do a list, right? I mean, I say the list is the death of writing as a joke, but it's kind of true because you don't need a background in writing to go to Montreal and write up the top 5 poutine places, right. But you do need to be a writer to do that old school magazine style storytelling. So, with that shift, it sort of brought more people into the business who aren't necessarily writers. And then so with the internet, etc, but I agree that would be a great show. I like your travel style, man. Yeah, like discovering-- Some places are famous for a reason, right? And you want to see, but yeah, where is that alternative spot, and not only for your own personal experience but for travel writing, that's a great strategy. JESSE: Yeah, I just think about, I don't know if it's still their motto. I think it's Avis car rental, that their motto, I think it's Avis, motto for a while is we're number two, we try harder. So, it’s that kind of attitude where it's like we know we're not the best, so we're going to pull out all the stops. It's like that attitude with the restaurants, I think. WILL: Totally. One thing I do, just to put a bow on that, my company is Wake and Wander and that's sort of my mantra; wake up and kind of wander around and see what you find. And so many people, they're like how do you research when you go somewhere, how do you know what you're going to do, etc? And I have a couple rules about that. I rarely look at pictures because now, I'm also a tour guide in Hawaii. And one thing I see over and over again, are pictures of Hawaii, it like my local beach, I'm like, dude, it does not look like that. It's been edited. And so the internet and Instagram creates so many false expectations about what it actually is. So, people come and they're disappointed because it doesn't look like the photos. So, I always try to kind of read about places but not necessarily overwhelm myself with visuals. And then I also, I don't really pay attention to what everybody else is saying to do. I mean, you maybe you want to be aware of it, of course, but you don't want to set your trip up around that. I always get my intel once I get on the ground. You know, I land at the airport I get a cup of coffee. “Hey, where do you go with your friends for dinner? Hey, I'm in the cab. Hey what's your thought?” And you just asked literally everybody and that's part of traveling because you're putting yourself out there. But you get so many recommendations on the fly. And yeah, sometimes that turns into a disaster, someone sends you to an awful place. Everywhere you go like I look at travels, experiences like I don't have to, you know like that's what I'm after, an experience. I'm not out for the best and the worst. I hate this classification of best and worst. No, an experience is and experience. And how are you going to compare Hawaii to Quebec City? They're totally different. Which one's better? I mean, they're not even the same place. JESSE: You're right. WILL: So, this idea of every magazine trying to be like, here are the top 10 beaches in the world. It's like what, you've been to every beach in the world, so you know that? It's like, come on, it's just a joke. So, sea travel is an experience, each individual experience is a different grape. You combine all of them, they make fine wine, that's how you have to look at it, I think. Yeah. JESSE: I think that's a pretty good perspective. It’s like I know my girlfriend would hate you because she wants things planned out before we arrived at some place. But I’m definitely more your style, where I’m like, “We're going someplace, we'll figure it out when we get there. I hate itineraries, which can make for-- We actually just were in Oahu a couple months ago, and kind of took my approach, and it ended up being kind of a pain some days just because the tour buses started following us around because we wouldn't get going until the middle of the day. So, that aspect, it could be bad but we did do plenty of things off the beaten path. So, I'm with you holistically on that philosophy there. WILL: Yeah, it's easy to say too, sitting here in practice, I get it. Most people they travel one trip or two trips a year, you don't want to waste your time. I'm just a happy medium is good, like plants and things, you want to see the top attractions. You don't want to go and not see the Taj Mahal, right. But leave some room for flexibility, leave that spontaneity in your travels, right? - that's good. JESSE: Yeah, allow yourself to make friends, to break plans to make new plans, that kind of thing instead of like we talked about earlier, so just checking everything off the list, coming back from vacation and needing a new vacation because you're so exhausted from checking that list off. WILL: Exactly, exactly. JESSE: Yeah. So, we’re gonna move towards the book. I want to ask you about in the book you talked about growing up, you swam, I think on swim team, and then your mom telling you not to breathe. And then it seemed like, I think you said you played college volleyball as well. So, how did those things come together? I didn't even know that, you’re talking about an actual collegiate volleyball team, or was it an intramural team? WILL: No, no a collegiate team. JESSE: Okay. I didn't even know there was a collegiate men's volleyball. That's why I was like-- WILL: Right. Most people don't. There's only like, a couple dozen, I don't know, I don't know exactly, but two to three dozen Division One men's teams, right. So, it's a small pool. Basically, if you're not the upper echelon of volleyball players, or if you're just not going to pursue a D1 sort of career, everybody and college plays club. And that's not intramural, it's sort of in between very competitive. Like hundreds of teams around the country. A lot of players that exhaust their eligibility or get injured at the D1 level will come down and play club because they have extended eligibility there. So, yeah, we practice four times a week we traveled pretty much once or twice a month to go to tournament. So, yeah, I was an athlete in college. Growing up, I grew up East Coast outside of Philly. So, sports are a big part of the culture out East. I grew up playing soccer and baseball, and I swam, like swimming was probably the biggest love/hate of my life because-- at least in my family too. Because my mom loved me as a swimmer because she thought I was so good quote-unquote, whatever that meant when you're nine years old, you know? And I was okay for me. I didn't mind the meats and stuff, but I hated practicing. It was just so boring. Like just sitting in a pool, staring at the bottom of the pool, lap after lap, it's summertime, you're free from school, but now you're waking up at 7 am every morning to go to practice. So, I don't know like it was just one of those things I did for a long time. Basically, from when I was five or so up until I went to high school, and finally had the courage to stand up and say, Mom, that's it, I'm done. I'm not doing it. And yeah, and then in high school I was a basketball player growing up too, and I transitioned that. I realized I didn't necessarily have all the basketball skills, but I was athletic. And that translated very well over to volleyball, where it's just a different skill set. So, I'm not that tall, I'm six two. So, I was actually one of the shortest guys on the volleyball team. JESSE: Still taller than average, but not for volleyball, yeah. WILL: Yeah, when you can jump and there's many dynamics to the game with the defense and the serving and passing and everything. So, yeah, I've always been athletic but never-- always in the sense of team sports, or in the sense of that camaraderie like being a part of a team. And playing and baseball was huge for me growing up, sitting in the dugout or those summer nights with your team. Swimming was really the only thing I could compare to the triathlete stuff because that was sort of like a loner sport, and that was the one I ended up really not liking that much. But as you know, swimming is considered to sort of the hardest part of a triathlon in terms of someone's comfort and where your background can really make a big difference. JESSE: Right, because it is technical. You can't muscle your way through the swim and do well. It is absolutely technically minded. So, if you don't have that background, it's a completely different mindset and shift to have to work on that technique so much to get that ingrained if you didn't start that way when you're a kid. WILL: Hundred percent, hundred percent. And yeah, so I had that background and then when I got into high school, I ran cross country, but as I explained in the book, it was just sort of a social club like jogging after school, pretty much. The meets, we had 70 people on our team So, at that time it was like your top seven were your go to guys, I was not in that. So, it was just kind of like la dee da, okay let's meet up with the girls team during the cross country meets, we'll run but who cares what happens. And so yeah, like I-- but I've just always been generally active. Hiking is one of my big things, it's not an extreme aerobic but I enjoy that. Swimming, snorkeling, surfing, you know, pick up basketball every now and then. I sit, you know, as a writer you sit a lot but as a travel writer, I'm also getting out a lot, walking a lot, experiencing a lot. So, yeah, just generally active and I'm always up for that kind of like, people are like, hey, like in the book I talk about riding my bike across Nicaragua, that was a 10 day thing. But I've never done like events that I am oh, I'm training for and gearing up for like in the traveling world. But I have had sort of mental and physical tests if that makes sense. I was very interested to see how that would apply to your world. JESSE: Right, right. WILL: Yeah, I’ve just been like one of those guys, I'm just always kind of out doing something. Okay, someone's like you want to go for a run? Sure. Okay. You want to take a swim? Okay. Yeah man, hike, whatever, camp, be outside, healthy eating, healthy living that's kind of part of the deal of being on the road all the time, right, if you're just like eating out three times a day and not doing anything, then you're totally screwed. Yeah, just ?? 23:26> fit, but nothing, you now, I'd never run more than eight miles in my life. Biking, I've done a few of the events like I'm saying the cross country ride. But when I started this whole Ironman pursuit I didn't even own a bike. So, that shows you how much...right. Go to Part 2 Go to Part 3

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