Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 40 - Evan Pardi - EMBRACING COMMUNITY - Part 1 of 3

I personally got into it because I raced cyclocross for many, many years in Oregon. And I really never, in so many things in my life, I can't ever really commit to just being stuck in a box. And so the constant training on the road and running and swimming wasn't really going to cut it.
Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 40 - Evan Pardi - EMBRACING COMMUNITY  - Part 1 of 3
Go to Part 2 Go to Part 3 “I personally got into it because I raced cyclocross for many, many years in Oregon. And I really never, in so many things in my life, I can't ever really commit to just being stuck in a box. And so the constant training on the road and running and swimming wasn't really going to cut it. And so every year in September, really, I'd have my last triathlon of the year first weekend in September, and then immediately just go over cyclocross until about into November when that died off in Oregon.” 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 kind of an upgraded version of me. If we were Pokemon, I think he's the evolved version of me. He's a doctoral student of music. He's a pro triathlete racing mostly Xterra, and he's also the club coach, club triathlon coach at ASU. Welcome to the show, Evan Pardi. EVAN: Hi, thanks for having me. JESSE: I was thinking about this earlier as I was coming back from the pool this morning, the Pokemon thing. I was just like you're like doing what I like to do but at a higher level. So, I'm like, you're like definitely the evolved form, especially the mustache because I can't grow a mustache like that. EVAN: Yeah, this is slightly toned down. There was about two weeks ago, it was like Yosemite Sam levels. And my wife wasn't as big of a fan of that. So, this is the Arrow version. JESSE: Okay. I mean you've got your Prefontaine poster in the background. Are you like trying to channel him? EVAN: Yeah, yeah, yeah. No, this-- the pre-poster sits above my theater. I went to the University of Oregon so you know, pretty is pretty much a demigod for not only the university but the entire State as a whole, really. What other great sportsperson has been so like born and bred out of the Oregon system, right? It's pretty much great. Yeah, I guess that's part of it. I don't know. I just think in the sport of tri, we have a lot of people who look all the same, and tend to just kind of have the same sort of aesthetic. And so I figured like, especially now that I race off-road, like the off-road seems much more wild and crazy. So, the mustache just fits into that, the culture a little bit better. JESSE: Yeah. Well, I mean, since you're off-road, is aerodynamics playing quite as big a part as it would on road version? EVAN: It's a good question and without getting too technical it's definitely sticking its fingers into the sport. I mean definitely, if you look at UCI Mountain Bike Racing, everybody's in skin suits, everybody's using like aero road helmets now. I think it's not nearly as big of a factor. I mean, we're talking it's probably fifth on the list of things that people would ever come thinking about when they come to performance. And so in that sense, not really. But at the same time, some of the races, the bigger races in the Xterra circuit at least in North America and South America like Oak Mountain for instance in Alabama, you do have like a chunky road segment that's fast. I mean, everybody's getting low, trying to-- So, I think in that sense, like I usually wear this aero road helmet a buddy of mine let me borrow for that race just because why not? But yeah, I mean, the biggest thing as a triathlete is just I feel it, I used to feel it, my mustache swimming. That was always weird. But like, now I don't even notice it. And when I shaved for our wedding in September, I was like, whoa, this is super weird. Like the water makes my lip feel cold. I don't like it. I felt like a shaved walrus. JESSE: So, I did not shave my legs for the longest time because I'm like, it's not, like what kind of aerodynamic advantage like I don’t have very hairy legs. So, I'm like, am I really gonna, like this is dumb. There's no point in this. And then specialized did that study and it was like, yeah, you do actually save watts. And I'm like, “Okay, I'll do it.” And then getting into the pool, I was like, this is just really odd not having the hair. My coach was like kind of almost psyching me up like “Yeah, it's gonna feel great. You're gonna feel so slippery in the water.” And I was like, I feel uneasy more than... EVAN: Yeah, yeah. I mean, I always, I think with that, my legs are a scar ridden fest. So, I think also just the crashing element for keeping them shaved. I mean, when you mountain bike around Arizona every mistake is punished by blood. I mean, you don't really get to crash in Arizona and not have blood because it's just so rocky. So, in that sense, like cleaning stuff out is a lot easier and that's a consistent and constant fear. So, an issue. JESSE: I'm kind of going down a rabbit hole, but have you been to the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs? EVAN: No, I haven't been to Colorado Springs since I was a kid. JESSE: If you have a chance to go look at like the Olympic teams, I don't know if it's like the Hall of Fame or just like there's a hall that has like photos of all the past Olympic team members. I think it is the 76 track team has the most epic hair and facial hair of all the groups. They all look like pri or even more hair. It's like every single one of them. And then before and after almost nothing, just that particular year everybody was doing it. EVAN: Well, I like it. I like it. I like to bring a little flavor into our current State of triathlon. JESSE: So, I have to ask because I haven't talked to anybody and I actually don't know anybody because it's not my world. But I mean, how do you get into Xterra? Because I mean, for mainstream society, triathlon is kind of on its own little thing and then Xterra is even, to me, like a subset of that. So, it's like, you’ve really gone down a rabbit hole. EVAN: ?? 07:05> We're a fringe of a fringe, right? I mean, triathlon as a whole is yeah, you ask the average person and they're like, is that the thing in Hawaii? Or they're like, don't you ski and shoot when you do that? Right. You get the two depending on which geography area of the country you live in. So, yeah, I mean, I think Xterra, so how it kind of came into being again like, used to be very reliant on Ironman, right. That's why as the World Championship was always kind of a few weeks after Kona to make it so like, Oh, well, people ?? 07:42> just come to Hawaii. And it used to actually only be two, like come to Hawaii and then stay, recover from Ironman and then do this weird other thing on mountain bikes and stuff. It was originally called Aqua Terra, but it's always been on Maui. It's always been on the west slopes on Maui. But as of course, many things like the sports boomed and specificity has boomed. And so, yeah, I personally got into it because I raced cyclocross for many, many years in Oregon. And I really never, in so many things in my life, I can't ever really commit to just being stuck in a box. And so the constant training on the road and running and swimming wasn't really going to cut it. And so every year in September, really, I'd have my last triathlon of the year first weekend in September, and then immediately just go over cyclocross until about into November when that died off in Oregon. And then I would then slowly get back into tri. And so it was a very natural progression for me after I left Oregon to look into Xterra because there wasn't much in Oregon. I didn't ride mountain bikes. So, yeah, so I already had off-road experience in cyclocross and I had just often taken my cyclocross out. It’s like I always bike out and do basic single track and just like messed around and was like can I ride this? Sure, I can ride it. And so I would do all sorts of stuff on a drop bar. I was doing stuff I drop bar bikes before it was cool to sell the bike industry in the gravel industry now that yes, people did dumb shit on drop bar bikes before gravel bikes were around like, you know. So, I was out riding stupid trails all over town without an $8,000 specific gravel adventure bike. So, I was well-versed in that and then I don't know, I moved here. We have a ton of trails around the area and I got a mountain bike and I was like I should do Xterra and then pretty much quickly fell in love with it even though I was racing a lot, mostly road still. But yeah, I think the uniqueness of every course is its greatest strength, especially where nowadays Ironman is pretty much neutering every course just to be flat and fast and boring places. So, Xterra is kind of the, I don't know, the thinking man's alternative to Ironman. Every single turn of every single off-road course is an infinite number of problems and an infinite number of great successes through that corner. And that only gets multiplied over, you know, what? 100, 200, 300 turns. And so, to really hammer my point home, I think Xterra forces a greater mental challenge than any of the other-- any road race I've ever done because of that. And then not only is it just a mountain bike, but you gotta go suffer through a trial run, which also proves to be a different set of challenges. All the while your heart rate’s sitting at like, you know, at Pan American championships, I hit 190 spikes four times on the run just to get up stuff. You're never going to see that in your Ironman athlete. JESSE: I mean, preferably, you're not going to spike that high just because the race is so long, you know? How long is an Xterra race for you? Like do they vary in distance? Are they relatively dangerous? EVAN: Yes. And again, that's my point. Every course is highly unique. So, Xterra Portland has a pro race and has a nice pro field and that course in Portland took me an hour and 59 minutes and the winner was like about 30 seconds ahead of me, 40 seconds ahead of me. So, we were right under two, with the bulk of the age group field taking about two hours and 40 minutes. Maui, I had a horrible day. I finished in three hours and five minutes. And I was back into the men's pro field. The winner was like 2:45-ish, 2:42. Most age groupers were 3:40 to 3:50 to four hours with a lot of people coming in over four hours. So, that's kind of the spectrum. I mean, anywhere from like, under two hours to three hours or so. And that's all for the pros and the age groupers ?? 12:31>. And again, mileage of these things differ. Alabama is like a crazy long 20, I think it's 23-mile mountain bike, which just is, it seems like it never ends out there. And then Beaver Creek is like 12 miles. But oh yeah, it's 12 miles and 3,600 feet straight up. And the course is very-- And in Victoria, Canada is like 11 or 11 and a half miles straight up, and then literally like, enduro chunky, awful rock droppy stuff right back on the backside. So, it's, yeah, very, very, very different courses that sort of sometimes the bike is short compared to the run, sometimes the run is like, takes forever. So, again, very independent courses, very independent racing. And so strengths and weaknesses kind of get played out across the very long drama, as opposed to being much more in line with what you see on a consistent circuit like with Ironman, for instance. JESSE: You kind of made me really think about two different people I've talked to. One is this author, he's a travel writer, Will McGough, I spoke to him on Episode 28 about his book Swim, Bike, Bonk. So, basically he came from never having done a triathlon at all, a little bit of swimming background, but that's about it. And then prepared and did an Ironman in like, three months. And then the book is like all about his trials and tribulations of trying to make it to the race and does he finish and all this kind of stuff. But one of the things, the attitudes he encountered and you said something that made me think about this is, is that like Ironman isn't what it used to be. You mentioned Ironman basically neutering the courses so that they're flat, they're fast. They essentially cater to age group athletes that want to finish by bringing the difficulty down, not having challenging ups and downs and technical courses and all that kind of stuff. It makes me wonder, maybe not in totality, but do you share any kind of attitude in terms of like, new sport, or like different sport in terms of Xterra or there's a lot of this movement in like this Spartan races right now, where they’re non-standard courses. Is that more fun than standardized racing? EVAN: Absolutely. Yeah, I mean, I think unequivocally it's more fun. I think the overall experience generated creates a uniqueness to the event that you did, you, whoever you are; age group, pro, whatever. Everybody just wants a sense of community in this world. And nothing will generate that more organically in our sport than in a unique way. So, let me give you a road example. Escape from Alcatraz, I think that's the best triathlon I ever did as an age grouper, as a pro. I didn't even have that good of a race. And as a hyper-competitive person, it's usually like your best race is your favorite race in the world, right? Like, we all know that's true, but most people don't want to admit it. But that race, it just stands out to me as a total pinnacle of a great experience that’s so linked intrinsically to a location. Yes, it just happened to be a horrible federal penitentiary for a while but you know, we'll look past that sort of thing. But that ties into the location where you feel that the city cares about you just for a couple hours, which it does. I mean, you race Sunday morning, there's a veritable armada of boats out on the bay. You swim in this insane location where you look up and you're sighting between Coit Tower and the Golden Gate, right. So, it's every step of the way, it's ?? 16:36> San Francisco, right. You get out of the swim, you run along through the old Presidio where my father used to work, which was always, it was a cool experience for him, it was a cool experience for me. That's very tied to that spot. Then you do this bike ride up into the hills and like blah, blah, blah, and people are out in their apartments, having coffee, having mimosas, hucking, yelling at you, all sorts of stuff, right? So, it's fun. It's so linked to that spot. So, that's a race that just is doing it right. Everybody who does it I've never heard a single word that's like bashing. People will say it's hard because it's hilly as hell and that run is a veritable death march. But that all being said, it creates just an insane buzz. They're there on like a lottery system, an auction blah, blah, blah. So, yes, anything that sort of garner's a specific interest in a specific location only helps our sense of community. And I think Xterra also, as I was talking to the president of Xterra, a couple of times, who’s just totally an awesome person. And she was saying, like they have a joke. It's like Xterra’s the dark side of triathlon. And it really is because the individual elements, of all the things courses is sort of another reflection of kind of what happens in that little community. Everything gets built up very, very tightly. So, I guess in a lot of ways, yes, it is like the old grassroot days of tri. It's very fun, the individuality lends itself to just people enjoying each spot. And so you have less of the wild push to demand certain consistencies, I suppose. And also, it also forces more on the individual in the race, right? Like you're not necessarily guaranteed an easy race. On the contrary, you're guaranteed a very hard race. And for instance, aid stations on the run, you're going to do a trail run, there might only be three on your 10K. And they might not even be that-- you're not going to get them at mile two and four, you're going to get it at 1.1 and 2.7 and then, oh, here's one at 3.2, and then you don't get me for the rest of the race, right, because it’s just the nature of the course. So, yeah, I think this pushback and the Xterra community at large, that's cultivated by these unique locations, and then they're kind of ?? 19:13> tours, and that idea that like, as opposed to Ironman, which does not have any national/international tour, there's no prizes for consistency. There's simply prizes for one day performance, whereas be condoned at a whole array of races that then work together to form a tour. All of that just lends itself to consistency in terms of the community engagement and people being happy with the product. JESSE: You consistently talked about a sense of community and sometimes I wonder if the community itself evolves, where it's like, kind of think about like this, where you are like you mentioned, like kind of grassroots days of triathlon or maybe Xterra now, or Spartan races, or just like more niche sports. It's like, these people do at least like, what did you say? I'm probably paraphrasing, but not according to you. I think you said you did dumb shit on drops before like there were special ?? 20:21>. So, it's like, there's that ideal where it's like, hey, let's just go do some dumb shit and have a good time. And then let's make it into a race. And then that's a community. And then somebody's like, then you start getting, those early adopters basically. And then you start getting people that are like, well, that sounds cool or they bring their own objective to it. And then slowly as more and more people start coming out, then either the sport adapts to them, or they fall away. You know what I mean? EVAN: Right. Yeah, and there's always that balance, right, just like any business model, there's a sort of balance from that original core to the user group into what it ultimately becomes into. That being said, I think where Xterra is now, and that's what, you know, I suppose the Spartan races, which I know very, very little about. But for Xterra, I think what they have struck is a really good balance in terms of maintaining core users’ support in this in the form of not like passionate age groupers, continual pro support. But while catering it to a broader audience at large, but also being very fiscally responsible and attempting to create a balance as opposed to realizing, excuse me, realizing like a lot of, you know, let's be honest, Ironman is not alone here. A lot of the running scene or the running companies, for instance, Tough Mudder just filed for bankruptcy, what? Two weeks ago or three weeks ago. So, you look at these things where people just go for acquisition, grab, grab, grab and it becomes, you know, all money, right? Like I understand there's a business element, but when it becomes money, money, money, money, money, then you lose that core group very quickly. Whereas Xterra has looked at a much more consistent, steady, smaller growth model. I relate to it because that's my own history in all of the things I've ever done, right? I never exploded. I never went from like, oh, in two years of training, I became a pro or like, musically, I've been playing music for damn near to almost 20 years now. So, I guess in that sense, to bring it to that personal example into this, the business realm, I think you look at a company like Xterra that's been around for a little, a decent amount of time now, what? Over 25 years and they're building something slowly and consistently and attempting to match it with the different market trends that happen. But nothing like Wanda Sports and Ironman where it's just like, “Oh, well, we need to make $150 million this year in profit.” Right? Whereas Xterra is owned and run by people who I go and speak to and I'm like, “I trust you, you're a great individual, I understand your problems, I certainly don't want to take them on. But I really can tell that you have the best interest of me as a pro, me as a consumer. The average person, the average consumer of the sport, all these people, like I feel very comfortable with that leadership base, so to speak. Whereas in many other aspects of our triathlon community, I don't have that faith. And I think that's simply because the idea of growth, this idea of like catering has all of a sudden, rapidly when everything has to go up, as opposed to let's just a steady marginal hand and keep a good firm grasp of the rudder might have dissipated. So, if that sort of answers your question, I think. JESSE: Yeah, I think I can identify with both of those tendencies. Like as a business person I struggle with that a lot of times where it's like, you know what, I see a lot of business stores because that's-- I own two companies and that's what I do. But you see stories about the narrative that's popular to push is like the overnight success, which I know is bullshit. But even at that, they'll say this person went from nothing to seven, eight figure business in three years, which is extraordinarily fast. Versus looking at a company that says, hey we're growing 30-40% year over year, which is good. Like, there's nothing wrong with that. And if you do that over a long period of time, you're going to be killing it eventually. But it's this like, almost human tendency to be like, I want it now especially like in the culture with phones and everything. It's like I want it right now. And so yeah, I deal with that, as well. So, I mean, it's good to know that, at least in your opinion because I obviously, I've never met these people, the people in charge of Xterra had that longevity, long point of view to say marginal gains over time build up to be something larger versus risking everything by trying to explode in two years or whatever. EVAN: Well, I also just simply think the personal element and again, as somebody who's racing the elite field, like that, the way that that system is running for elites, in comparison to WTC is just so much more conducive to like keeping people in it. Like as soon as I got in there, I just felt a wonderful sense of kindness, not only from the staff, but from the people racing. And I've always been a fan of this, perhaps idealogue idea of like sort of gentlemanly racing, right. I started my athletic career in rowing, which is like the most aristocratic based good old boys sport you could think of. JESSE: What about polo? Go to Part 2 Go to Part 3
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