running

You Belong in a Tribe

Humans are pack animals. We have evolved over hundreds of thousands of years to work together in tribes as a matter of survival. In the modern era, it’s common to live a mostly isolated life. We no longer rely on the people around us to help hunt and gather food, provide group safety, and enforce societal norms. But that doesn’t mean we never feel anxious or alone. If you’re missing a sense of community -- or you’re missing something that you can’t even identify -- consider joining a tribe.

If you’re an endurance athlete, you’re lucky. There are tribes everywhere. In our younger years, school sports teams and clubs form our first athletic tribes. Those groups take many shapes and sizes in life after college. A local Masters swim group or a weekly group ride are a type of tribe. Tribes can be informal, too -- the “crew” you meet up with for an early morning run on Tuesdays, or the group you can call when you’re hankering for an outdoor adventure. The point is, you need one. Considerations for why you belong in an athletic tribe:

  • Tribes provide a sense of belonging and purpose. They serve a common goal, foster accountability, and offer learning opportunities. Would you do those hill repeats in the cold rain if you hadn’t planned to meet your friends there? Probably not. Collective action gives us the courage to tackle and embrace hard physical activity.

  • Tribes help us connect to our primal roots. We need and thrive on physical proximity to others to escape our evolutionarily unnatural modern lifestyle. Exercising alongside our peers makes us dig deeper and work harder than we ever would alone. We need this communal activity to maximize our performance and optimize our health.

  • Tribes afford an environment that invites action. Ease of action facilitates habits that help us move forward toward our goals. The less we need to think about logistics and schedules, the less friction we will encounter on this road. If we know the tribe is training, all we need to do is show up.

  • Tribes are a top three performance enhancer (after sleep and nutrition). When endurance sports light up our brain, the tribe throws gasoline on that fire. There is nothing quite like a hard group run or ride to send our brains and bodies into a brilliant, fully alive state.

  • Tribes favor a close, communal connection where we are judged not by our externals such as the family we were born into, our education, or our societal status but rather the hard work and respect we bring to our sport and into the group. The best tribes are egalitarian in a modern, media-driven world of stratification and division. We are genetically encoded to protect and be fair within our tribe.

Be judicious about which tribe you join. Listen to their narratives and learn what type of tribe they are. Choose people who will positively challenge and elevate you. And if a tribe doesn’t exist in your community, build one. It takes time and effort, but the reward for uniting people with common goals outweighs all those emails, logistics, and meetings. Besides, a good leader always gives more than they take. Your leadership will be contagious and you will soon attract people who will happily help build the community.

You are needed. You are valued. You belong in a tribe.  -Jim

Endurance Drive Triathlon Tribe Run

Cold spring weather could be killing your summer “A” race

Cold spring weather got you down? Except for the skiers out there, most of us in New England and Canada have reached our cold limit. It’s not really “spring,” it’s “less winter.” And this awkward “less winter” season could be killing your summer “A” race. Despite the clickbait-like headline, cold spring weather is a legitimate concern.

From base to build

Most long distance triathletes (and ultrarunners) are now getting out for supporting rides during the week and long rides on the weekends. Big “A” races like IRONMAN Lake Placid are 10 weeks away, with IRONMAN Mont-Tremblant not that far behind. Athletes are now moving from their base period to their build period. A build period training strategy involves dialing in to what we call “race specificity.” In other words, you start to train as you will race.

The build period includes long training rides with race intervals where you work on race-specific intensities to train your aerobic and muscular endurance. But what you are also trying to train is your environmental durability. Environment durability can be thought of like this: go out on your lawn with a handful of Gatorade bottles and gels, hang out there for the day, and see how well you feel after 8+ hours in the sun. Then try to run your best marathon. If you work inside, especially in an air-conditioned office, your environmental durability most likely needs improvement. The most common comment after an Ironman or Ironman 70.3 is, “It was so hot out there!” Guess what? It’s hot out there nearly every day. You’re just not used to spending the entire day outside.

Humans are well-oiled machines. We adapt well and quickly to our environments. But when spring temperatures are cold, we lack that warm, challenging environment that we need to train our bodies to withstand the heat, stay properly hydrated, and manage thermoregulation (i.e., staying cool at race pace). Cold weather means less opportunities to gain the adaptations that are required for summer “A” races.

How do cold springs affect race day?

We had another cold spring a few years ago in New England. A few of The Endurance Drive crew were racing IRONMAN Syracuse 70.3 in mid-June. The weather stayed cool through the spring except for one very hot and humid day in May. I had 4 x 20’ race watt intervals scheduled. I did one interval and quit the workout. It was simply too hot and humid, and I had a total of zero days to acclimate to the conditions. The temperatures dropped again after that day and didn’t rise until the race.

As luck would have it, race day brought temperatures in the upper 80s and low 90s, and the humidity and pollen were through the roof. What happened? Most of us cratered on the run.  During the first mile, one of my friends quit the race. He was an overall win contender but the heat was just too much. I tried to run my goal 7:45 race pace but looked down at my watch after the first mile to see a 9:45 pace and a very high heart rate --  and I was going downhill! I only stayed in the race because I was fascinated with what type of carnage the extreme hot and humid environment would bring upon the racers. The entire run played out in slow motion.

Lessons learned

We were all in the same boat that day. Without an impromptu trip to Florida during race week, it would have been tough for athletes from the New England, New York, or Canada areas to prepare for that early summer heat and humidity. The point is, environmental durability matters a lot, and it can’t be properly trained on 40-50F temperature rides. No matter how fit you get (and big fitness is the best hedge against everything that can happen during a race), training for the heat is a major success factor in your “A” race.  

So what practical steps can you take to train for the heat when Mother Nature treats us to another mid-May snow storm?

  • You can head back to your pain cave, crank up the heat and enjoy more Zwift.

  • If you have an early southern “A” race and are coming from a cold environment, it’s ideal to have 2-3 race plans based on the environmental conditions (and other race day factors). Your Plan A could hinge on moderate weather. Having a Plan B and Plan C that are ready for less-than-ideal racing conditions can help you adjust your goals based on the environment.

  • Or you can wait it out; it will get hot and humid soon - I promise! (And then try to resist the urge of a true New Englander to complain about that, too!)  Don’t quit during those first few hot workouts, stay hydrated, and aim to get heat-adapted to do well at your summer “A” race. -Jim

Cool Spring riding claudia katie bruno blog pic

Injured. Now What?

We try to prevent injuries, but getting hurt is often an unavoidable part of the fitness game. If you’ve pulled, sprained, broken, or overused a body part, now what? How will you react?

Your initial reaction might be to experience some or all of the stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression and acceptance. There will be plenty of denial and anger to kick start your time on the injured roster. You might bargain with yourself, thinking about what you could have done differently. Some degree of depression can follow, especially if you’ll be out for a long time. While injured it does feel like all your friends are out on a long ride, laughing it up and building a huge fitness gap between you and them. Watching your friends disappear for an adventure turns the stomach like a bad breakup. If you are like most Type A athletes, accepting that you are injured won’t be easy.

The important thing to remember is that most athletes will go through one (or several) major injuries throughout their athletic journey. I recently did too, and once I finally was able to accept being injured, I learned a lot of important lessons.

  1. Fitness does not define you as a person. It may seem that way as athletics and identity are often tightly wound. But no amount of mileage in TrainingPeaks determines who you are.

  2. Race results do not define your self worth. Sure, it’s super fun to do well at a race and gain recognition in front of your peer group. But that moment of glory passes quickly and then you are back to being you. Hopefully, that “you” has a purpose-filled personal and professional life. You’re better off, injured or not, when you remind your ego to stand down.

  3. An injury provides an opportunity to step back and evaluate your larger athletic and life goals. When athletes are deep in training, they rarely take the time, or have the head space, to zoom out and look at their sport and life arcs. When you’re injured, you do. Ask yourself: Are my race goals still in alignment with my life, or do I need to re-adjust my training when I’m healthy? Is the effort I’m putting into training commensurate with the enjoyment I’m getting out of the sport? Am I still keeping the “recreation” in “recreational athlete”? As Chris Hauth always says, we’ve all gone pro in something else besides athletics.

  4. Conversely, if you are not injured currently but have a training partner who is, regularly check in. Let them know they are, regardless of their athletic status, a valued member of your tribe. The bonds and love we build with our athletic tribe go well beyond the next training session or race.  

Here’s to an injury free season. If not, you’ll be OK. You might even come out the other side changed for the better.    -Jim

Endurance Drive friend, Steve Fried, reminds us to keep it chill.

Endurance Drive friend, Steve Fried, reminds us to keep it chill.

Race local (and often) to improve your race skills


Your first loaf of bread is never your best loaf of bread. As you try different combinations of ingredients, knead the dough in different ways, and perfect your baking technique, your loaves improve. Racing is the same; your first race is never your best race. You get better with every race until you are working on the smallest of improvements. You move from completing the race to tasting the most subtle flavors.

Most triathletes don’t race quite enough to improve their “race skill” level. They set a big goal, such as a half (70.3) or full distance IRONMAN, and then aim toward that goal for months or years with lots and lots of training but not much racing. They hit performance plateaus, and since they spend so much time swimming, biking, and running, they aren’t sure what’s missing. Sound like you? Then consider revising your long term “A” race plan to include a number of “C” local races along the way to perfect your racing skills.

A “C” race may be a local 5K, a weekly community trail running series, or even a very fast and challenging weekly group ride. Part of the goal is to automate your race day routines and stressors so when your big race day arrives, you can prepare and race with ease, knowledge, and practiced competence. Lining up at the start line for a local race and your out-of-town big “A” race should actually look pretty similar. They both require prepping the night before, managing race morning jitters, a pre-race breakfast, the nerves at race check in (and all the urgent trips to the port-a-potty). They demand a proper warm up, a race plan, and an execution of that plan along with head-to-head competition. Your local race provides a microcosm of your larger race.

The lessons you learn racing these events will build the foundation for your “A” race racing skills -- both consciously and unconsciously. For example, late in a local 10K run race, you might be tailing an equal or slightly faster runner and you see their shoulders drop just a bit. There’s your moment to make your move! Or you work on pacing and impulse control early in a group ride and finish strong instead of blowing up. Even if your race goes poorly, you will learn something that you can improve upon the next time you line up at the starting line. When you finally toe the line at your “A” race, you know what to do.

Should you race every weekend? No. But work in enough smaller, local races to build up your racing skills and resume. Plan out your local races to support your “A” race goals, to leave plenty of time to recover, and to not interrupt your main “A” race training. In the last 12 weeks before your “A” race, focus on training over racing, but there are still lots of weeks left over to race locally and build race skills -- especially during the off season (which is to say, run the Turkey Trot and the Jingle Bell Jog).

So get baking and racing! Those perfect loaves and races are developed on a deep foundation of practice, knowledge, and skill. -Jim


Brandt Slayton at Season Opener, Hopkinton, MA.

Brandt Slayton at Season Opener, Hopkinton, MA.