Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Time Management is Key

When I first competed in the Ironman in 1984, people used to say to me, “Wow that’s amazing,” or “I couldn’t do that.” I used to say, “everyone can do the Ironman - all it takes is dedication.” As I’ve started training again in the past 2 years, along with traveling and working, I’ve become very empathetic towards the general population and what they have to go through to achieve a goal physically. I’ve learned that my statement that “anyone can do an Ironman” is absolutely untrue. It’s become evident to me that I’m working very hard to get back in Ironman shape and it’s not going how I expected.

My wife said, “I think you thought you were going to say you were going to do an Ironman and then go out and do one.” What’s happened to me is that I’ve realized that it really takes a tremendous amount of consistency. I’ll be doing great for two weeks in a row and then I have to travel and I won’t have a bike available, or a swimming pool available. I’m becoming more aware of what our patients go through.

This realization has helped me to reevaluate how Cenegenics needs to design programs. This training has forced me to understand how hard it is to set a goal, want to achieve it, be physically capable, but not have the ability to control your time. Time management is much more critical than I’ve believed it was.

I’ve always been able to get up early and train, but now I have things to do in the morning – getting on a plane at 5 am, etc. All of those things interfere with training and your goals. I’ve learned that the key to setting a goal and achieving it, is to be patient and kind to yourself and to also realize that unless you can find a way to give something up, it’s going to be difficult at times to achieve a goal like doing the Ironman.

When you think about it, 26.2 years later, is turning into 28 years later. As I say to my wife, “as strong as my mind is, sometimes my body just can’t do it anymore.” I can think that I can swim faster, or ride faster, but my legs aren’t telling me the same message. That’s never happened to me before. I’m experiencing something unique, in that, when I first did the Ironman, the reason I was able to do it was because I had the time and I was 30 years younger. My recovery and my ability to handle those things is different now than it was then. What I’m finding out is I need much more discipline now than I did when I did the Ironman years ago, even for my training. If I miss a workout, I can’t get upset. I just have to realize that I missed it and find out how to fit my training in somewhere else if I can. With my work schedule and life being as full as it is, I just can’t always meet my schedules.

My message is that doing the Ironman is achievable for anyone, but it’s going to take, even for me, a lot more discipline than I thought it would. I feel more humbled by this experience than I have in the past. I’ve learned that if you want to grow as an athlete and as a human being, you have to learn to be resilient, but you also need to be kind to yourself. Forgive yourself, more than physically and emotionally, and when you don’t have the time, you just don’t have the time.

Now that I have a coach, my coach is saying, “Well it doesn’t look like you’re able to meet your workouts.”  And I say, “there’s just no way.” That’s a very unique thing for me to say. I used to think, “of course you can do it, just work harder.” The truth is, for the general population, it’s not about working harder or smarter, it’s about realizing that you can achieve your goals, but the goals are sometimes a lot harder than you anticipated. Just realize that you may have to start gently and it may take you longer. I thought by January of 2013, I’d be back in Ironman shape, but the truth is, that’s not probable. It’s going to take me the full 8 months to get in shape, and then the event is going to be like a new experience. Having done it before, I have the advantage of knowing I can do it, for the people that have never done it, I’m sure they would say they couldn’t do it. I know I can do it, I just may not be as fast as I want to be and it may not be easy as I want it to be, but it’s still the goal that I’m more and more committed to achieving.

Monday, August 20, 2012

The Legacy Continues – Ultraman

This August, my eldest son, Bob, competed in Ultraman Canada. The traditional Ironman triathlon consists of a 2.4 mile swim, 26.2 mile run and 112 mile bike ride, all completed in one day. The Ultraman competition, however, is a three-day 320-mile test of long-term endurance, featuring a 6.2 mile swim, almost three times the distance of the Ironman, a 52.4 mile double-marathon and a 261.4 mile bike ride spread over two days. Not only did my son complete Ultraman Canada, finishing the competition in 30:38:28, but throughout the 15 years the competition has been held, only 117 men have completed it – far fewer than the number of men that have climbed Mount Everest.

He’s previously completed 5 Ironman competitions and numerous triathlons, but his training for the Ultraman was very different.

“In Ironman, you concentrate a lot on the transition between bike and run. That’s called a brick. For Ultraman, I was doing a lot of back-to-back workouts – I might run 20 miles in the afternoon and then wake up the next morning and ride 60 or 70 miles. You have to get used to running and cycling on tired legs. During the competition, you have to be prepared for waking up the next morning, being exhausted, and having to knock out everything on tired legs. Training was much different just because of the distance. The swim was almost 3 times the distance, the bike is 2.5 times the distance and the run is a double marathon. It was pretty intense.”

Not only is the distance a hurdle in the Ultraman competition, but throughout the three days, you are left unsupported and must bring your own team to help get you through it. My son didn’t just compete in Ultraman, my grandsons Bobby and Chas, my daughter-in-law Michelle and my daughter Michelle were all there to help him along the way. On the swim, Bobby was his kayak escort – kayaking with him for the entirety of the 6.5 mile swim and stopping with him to provide him with water and nutrition. During the bike ride, all four supported him in the car, stopping every 8-10 miles to feed him and let him fill up on water. Bobby and Chas both helped to pace him during the run – Bobby ended up running close to 16-17 miles side-by-side with his dad and Chas ran a solid 8-9 miles alongside him.

As my son Bob says, “We were all at the finish line, we were all crying. It was a victory for everyone. Without them, I couldn’t have done the event. I ended up being in the record book for completing it, but there should be an asterisk next to it, because without them I couldn’t finish it.”

From left to right: Chas, Michelle, Bob, Michelle, Bobby
I’m so proud to see the legacy I’m leaving behind for my son and grandsons. When I started running, Bob began exercising – he was only 14. We would run together, we did triathlons together in the early 80s. This is a legacy I’m passing along from my own father, who was still running marathons into his 80s.

This next year, our family is venturing to accomplish something that no other family has done before. My son Bob, my grandson Bobby and I are attempting to do an Ironman together in May of next year. 3 generations of Bob Willix-es all competing in the same Ironman competition – we’ll see what happens.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Back in Training

Unlike my previous life where I used to say “don’t let work interfere with your training,” I’ve let work interfere with my training. That doesn’t mean I haven’t been working out – I just haven’t had an objective. As some of you will remember, my goal has stayed the same, but the road to that goal has changed. Last year, I was going to do an Ironman competition, but work and life got in the way. In the last several months, I’ve simply taken a look at it and I’ve said, “My road to the Ironman is still there, but I’m taking different steps to get there.”

I’ve been unable, though I’ve tried for the past 5 months, to gain entry into a full Ironman event. Because of the demand for entering these competitions, these events are closing out within 5 minutes of going online. My son, however, is doing an Ultraman this year – twice the Ironman distance over a three day span in August. He’s also competing in an Ironman competition in Florida in November. At this stage in the game, even if I was able to get in, I’m not trained well enough to do it.

So I made a decision, two weeks ago, that I was going to enter a half Ironman. I’m back in training. There are two events – Ironman Augusta, GA in September and Ironman Miami, FL in October. I will probably enter for the Augusta Ironman as it fits my schedule better. Ironman Miami occurs around 4 days before the AAMG, a major medical conference, and my schedule will become more hectic, so it’s more reasonable that I would attend Ironman Augusta.

That being said, I have now revised my training to compete in a half Ironman - a 1.2 mi swim, 56 mi bike ride and 13.1 mi run. I’m very confident that over the next 14 or 15 weeks, I can get ready for a half Ironman and be somewhat competitive.

As my dad used to say, “If you keep getting older, all of your competitors will die out.” So I’m doing that. He used to win events when he was 75; that’s when he won his first gold medal in the Senior Olympics. I haven’t gotten to that age yet, but I understand what he meant now – eventually all of your competitors will die out, so you have to win something. If you live long enough. That’s what I’m banking on. If I live long enough, I may not get to Hawaii until I’m 100, but I’ll get there.

In all seriousness, though, I get questions all the time. “Why do you want to do stuff like this when you’re 71? What’s the purpose? What are you trying to prove? Why don’t you just eat bonbons and sit on the beach?”

For me, the answer is pretty simple. The major thing that I’ve learned since starting preventive medicine 31 years ago, and teaching people about exercise and nutrition for over 40 years now, is that more and more, the key to success for everyone who’s interested in staying healthy is to either rekindle within themselves the athlete that they were when they were younger, or, if they weren’t athletic when they were younger, to become an athlete during the aging process.

One of my recent patients never rode a bicycle on the road. He’s now one of the top cyclists in Florida at the age of 55, and he just started 2 years ago. I think that we all were, at one time, athletes. I think that every one of us, at one time, dreamed of winning the gold medal at the Olympics, or becoming the best at something athletic. Maybe it wasn’t competitive athletics, but becoming the best ballerina. It almost always has to do with something physical.

The more we get into looking at competitors, the more we see how important athleticism has become. Everyone knows that 20 years ago, tennis players didn’t run, cycle and lift weights. 15 years ago, golfers never paid attention to strength training until Tiger Woods showed them that fitness was a key component to his ability to hit the ball out of a thick rough farther than anyone else, simply because he’s stronger and more fit. Now everyone is training like athletes, even golfers, though golf is not a particularly athletic sport. It now requires you to be athletic in order to be competitive. Racecar drivers run and lift weights. Every athlete has learned that there is an advantage to cross training. The Ironman, or triathlons, are, in my opinion, the ultimate in cross training. It requires that you swim, upper body aerobic conditioning; you bike, lower body aerobic conditioning; and you run, using all the muscles in your body. You have to lift weights and be flexible, so yoga and weight training become an important part of your regimen. 

At my age, at 71, if I’m going to be able to complete a 2.4 mi swim, a 112 mi bike ride, and 26.2 mi run, I’ve got to be more disciplined about how I train. One of the things this has taught me is that the gift of doing the Ironman in 1984 really was a gift. I was taken out of athletic competition because of an injury – I was hit by a car and had to stop competing. It’s a lot harder training to do an Ironman now than when I was 30 or 42, but while it’s harder, it’s also much more meaningful for me. I cherish the ability to still to get on a bike and compete. 

Now I have a very competitive tri-bike that I ride. I’m faster, and stronger, than I was a year ago, or even two years ago. It’s a lot of fun to know that you can bring it back.

For everyone, I think that you should pick a goal. Pick a goal and become an athlete. It could be a one mile walk for cancer, or a charity bike ride where you’re doing 10 miles, or even 5 miles. No matter what it is, make it playful. I don’t want this to sound serious. The reason I do it is because I feel like a kid. I get my cycling hat on, my helmet, and I go outside and I play. It sounds silly, but it’s true. When I was 8 years old, I played baseball every single day and I sat outside waiting for somebody to play baseball with me. Now I’m 71 and I’m waiting for someone to invite me on a bike ride.

Keep it playful, but remember that there’s a real benefit to being athletic during the aging process. If we can get everyone in the country to get back to sport, it would be the best gift we could give ourselves. I really want all of you to send me questions and give me an opportunity to answer them. Anytime you want to come and join me in an event or a training event, let me know and I may let you in. That’s my message for today.