Glenn CunninghamEight-year-old Glenn Cunningham raced into a burning schoolhouse to rescue his big brother. When he regained consciousness five hours later, his brother was dead and Glenn’s horribly burned legs lay limp and without feeling. Specialists urged his parents to have Glenn’s legs amputated immediately – he would never walk again – but Glenn pleaded against them. Even though the toes of his left foot were gone and the bone supporting the ball of his left foot practically destroyed, Glenn was determined to walk again.
That was the summer of 1919. One week later Glenn announced he was ready to stand up. His father lifted him out of bed, stood him upright and let go. Glenn crumpled to the floor. Every day Glenn’s parents carefully rubbed his dead limbs. Every day for weeks, they repeated the lifting-falling exercise. Then one day, for a few seconds, Glenn Cunningham stood on his own.

A few days later Glenn took a few small, shaky steps. His parents kept on rubbing his legs. He ate carefully and began to push himself hard, running everywhere he went – to the fields, to the store, to school.

In 1930, with no toes on his left foot and almost missing a major bone, Glenn Cunningham set a high school record for the mile run, 4:24.7. He enrolled in Kansas University and two years later qualified for the Olympics with a United States record-setting mile of 4:11.1. Despite tonsillitis at the Los Angeles Olympics in 1932, he still finished fourth. He defeated milers around the world, repeatedly breaking his own records. In his early thirties he retired, holding the world mile record of 4:04.4..

Late Race Focus

LifeSport Coach, Alister Russell

Triathlon; a word that conjures up a long period of physical effort. Not only is there extended physical effort in triathlon, there is also the, very often overlooked, mental effort involved. Many athletes find that after a triathlon, they are very tired physically, but are also very tired mentally as well. To race fast over an extended period of time requires concentration. When we have to concentrate intensely for a long period of time, as in a triathlon, we drain ourselves emotionally as well as physically. Sometimes late in race it’s the lack of emotional energy that causes us to slow down, not a lack of physical energy. In other words, we lose focus on the task at hand and our pace slows.

The good news is there are techniques that can aid in our concentration and in turn, allow us to conserve energy, both mentally and physically, for latter stages of a long race, just it’s needed most. To better understand the strategies to help concentration we need to first understand just what concentration is. The word focus is often used to mean concentration. There are a number of different types of focus. Most people associate focus with an external focus such as focusing on what you’re doing in a game or what an opponent is doing. This is only one type of focus however. There can also be an internal focus where we focus on ourselves and how we feel. Both internal and external styles of concentration can also have another component. The focus can be broad, where you are actually attending to many things at one time, such as reading while watching TV, and at the same time keeping an eye on your children. The focus can also be narrow as when you focus on only one thing, like being totally engrossed in reading a novel and you are unaware of anything else.

All of these types of focus are useful and all have their time and place to be used. However, learning to use the appropriate style of attentional focus at the correct time is critical for optimal performance. Triathlon and particularly the run can present unique demands on concentration skills.

Many people feel that running for a period of 20 minutes to five hours(!) wouldn’t require a very high level of concentration. However, triathlon is unique in that you start the run in a state of relative fatigue. And so triathletes need to have very specific skills in terms of focus.

Research that has looked into the thinking strategies of elite marathoners has found that the most successful marathoners use a combination of what is known as association and dissociation concentration strategies. Association means the athlete is very much in tune with their body, monitoring things like breathing, heart rate, and muscle tension. On the other hand dissociation means thinking about other things such as the scenery around you, or what you may do after the race, etc. Association would be considered a narrow-internal focus while dissociation could be considered a broad-external focus.

The big mental skill needed for triathlon running, concentration, would appear to be the ability to know when to use association and when to use dissociation. Research on marathoners in the mid-80s found that increased running pace was accompanied by an increase in associative concentration. Good racers need to be able to shift their focus during a race between internal and external in order to run their best. Usually the shorter the race the less dissociation strategies can be used. Just think if you daydream for very long in a two mile or 5K race, the race will be over! A lapse in focus during a short race can mean a break in contact with other runners and a definite slowing of pace, both of which will negatively impact place and time.

A long race, like an Olympic distance race or longer, will require more of a shifting between association and dissociation. Less successful athletes have been found to use almost total dissociation when racing. What they do is simply think about things other than running during a marathon in order to try to forget about feeling tired or being bored. While this sounds like a good idea to run faster, it’s actually an ineffective strategy to race your best. On the other hand trying to maintain a total narrow-internal focus for more than three hours may not be effective either.

For long races like a triathlon, try and use what I call the “funnel approach.” Early in a long race you usually feel pretty relaxed, energetic, and comfortable. During the beginning stages of a triathlon it’s very critical to stay relaxed and conserve energy. Triathlon can be described as an “energy management event” or, in other words, you need to generally need to race conservatively early (in the swim and bike) to ensure that you are effective in the later stages of the run.

A good way to conserve energy early on is to simply swim and bike as relaxed as possible (remember, that’s relaxed NOT slow!). One way to do this is to dissociate. Talk to someone as you run, look at the scenery, notice the spectators. Simply relax and move forward at your race pace with as much ease as possible and conserve energy. As the race progresses, for example at the start of the run(!), you will probably feel somewhat fatigued and the goal pace will seem harder than if you were fresh. In order to maintain your pace you will be forced to concentrate and associate more than you did earlier. Dissociation here could mean an extreme slowing from your goal pace. On the other hand, later in the race you must also associate more, so as not to push too hard. You will need to monitor your body in order to stay below your lactate threshold, so as bonk late in the race.

Late in a triathlon, your focus will be very narrow. In order to maintain pace all of your energies must be focused on turning your legs over, trying to maintain your pace, and getting to the finish line. No time to daydream now, it’s total concentration on finishing the best you can.

By now you may have noticed that your concentration pattern in a long race will resemble that of a funnel, very broad and wide at the top and very narrow and focused at the bottom. Keep this idea in mind during your next long race. Stay relaxed and let your thoughts wander early, but when crunch time comes, narrow your focus to the task at hand: racing your best!

For the last 20 years, LifeSport coach Alister Russell has been coaching endurance athletes and formerly was as a National Team Coach for Scotland. He has coached athletes from beginner to world champion at all distances.

Visit or write for coaching enquiries..

Good Crowds Turn Out For Inaugural Musselman ITU Continental Cup.

Excerpt from Inside Triathlon
(GENEVA, NEW YORK) The expected winner took the men’s race and a hometown favorite the women’s and, only a few short hours after it began, the first-ever International Triathlon Union race became history in Geneva, New York on Saturday.

The event drew hundreds of onlookers, as the streets of Geneva were closed to traffic for several hours, creating more than a mile of backed-up traffic on Rte. 5 & 20, a main thoroughfare. Spectators lined the street, hoping to catch a glimpse of racers roaring down the Hamilton Street bridge, a fairly steep decline more known for rushing traffic than a peloton of speeding cyclists. In the International Triathlon Union races participants are allowed to draft, or ride in the slipstream of other cyclists. This creates pelotons, or “packs” of racers, and created for some excitement among local residents who turned out to watch the race from restaurant patios and balconies throughout the city. 

Victor Plata, 34, of Sacramento, CA, a member of the 2000 and 2004 Olympic triathlon teams, won the event with a time of 1:50:22. Ranked number four in the world in 2005, Plata has served on the USA Triathlon Board of Directors and the U.S. Olympic Committee Athlete Advisory Council and, on Saturday, followed his win by serving as the Musselman Triathlon honorary dinner speaker, giving a speech about – ironically – winning. “I supposed I’ve lost some of my credibility on this topic, since I just finished first,” Plata began, going on to discuss how those who believe that winning is the only thing will do anything to win – an obvious reference to doping scandals which have plagued the world or sport in the past year. 

Second-place finisher was Plata’s long-time training partner Doug Friman, 32, of Tucson, AZ, coming in with a 1:50:30. Third went to Mark Fretta, 30, of Colorado Springs, CO, with a 1:51:11. “You can see by the fact that the times were so close together that this was a tight race,” says Henderson. “That’s part of what makes the ITU series so exciting, for athletes and fans alike.”

In the women’s race, a hometown favorite, Sarah Groff, 24, originally from Cooperstown but now training out of Boulder, CO, took victory with a 2:00:00. Close behind were Jasmine Oeinck, 22, of Colorado Springs, CO, second with a 2:02:19, and Mary Beth Ellis, 30, of Thornton, CO, third with a 2:30:13. 

“Sarah was excited about coming home to race,” says race director Jeff Henderson, noting that this is the only ITU series race on the east coast; the other four are in Honolulu, Hawaii; Longmont, Colo.; Des Moines, Iowa; and San Francisco, Calif. “The ITU Pan American Cup series is the pipeline to the Olympics for top triathletes,” says Henderson. “We expected top-caliber athletes to come to New York for this, and we weren’t disappointed.” .

Mussleman Triathlon ITU Pam American Cup and Haul to the Great Wall series

Mussleman Triathlon ITU Pan American Cup and Olympic Qualifier

Olympic Distance Triathlon: 1.5k swim, 40k bike, 10k run (2 loop swim, 8 loop bike with 2 hills, 6 loop run)

“When you make a mistake, don’t look back at it long. Take the reason of the thing into your mind, and then look forward. Mistakes are lessons of wisdom. The past cannot be changed. The future is yet in your power.”
Phyllis Bottome
1884-1963, Novelist and Lecturer

Lake Seneca view from Sandy and Noel’s house

Geneva, NY.  My 3rd draft legal race, the ITU Pan American Cup which is part of the Olympic qualifying Haul to the Great Wall series was an outstanding time and an excellent learning experience.  Geneva turned out to be an awesome place to visit and I lucked out with a wonderful homestay, thank you Sandy and Noel!  We enjoyed some great home cooked food and some of the tremendous local wine.  It was also good getting to know the other athletes and in this case I was able to hang out with several of the Canadians.  A big reason I love this sport…traveling, meeting interesting people, and learning.

our lovely homestay house 

The race was outstanding and I really enjoyed myself.  My performance could have been better as I had some costly mistakes.  The biggest and most costly mistake was not making the first draft pack of 20+ riders.  That should not happen with a good swim from me, so I’ve been going over and over and over it.  It really comes down to a very simple solution.  Learn from it and move forward.  I’m hungry for my next chance, which comes on Aug 12 at Longmont, Colorado’s Haul to the Great Wall race.

A view of Lake Seneca and the swim and run coarse 

For the swim we started in the water and 52 athletes lined up behind a rope.  When the rope was lifted, I was off in a flash.  I was leading for the first 200 meters and still right in the front when we approached the first buoy where we had to make a sharp left turn.  Here, everyone converged into an urgent effort to get around the buoy.  With the field still tightly bunched you can imagine the chaos.  Suddenly, I had someone ¾’s on top of me, as though he was thrown from the sky.  This slowed me down and then I had another and another collision.  No big deal, my water polo days had prepared me for much worse than this.  Continuing on, still near the front I realized that my left goggle was totally filled with water and my right one was partially full.  I contemplated what to do.  I couldn’t see.  What to do?  My dad swims without goggles, Macca swims without goggles, I’ve done it a few times… On my next stroke I grab them in one motion and toss them.  Ok, I can see great above water, but not so great underneath it.  I felt like I was doing fine, lifting my head often to see where I was and taking an inside line to try and get around some swimmers and catch back up to the leaders.  In hindsight, that is what cost me; lifting my head to often and not drafting.  My last 600 meters where my best as I started passing several swimmers and finally got in a groove.  Alas, there was a 10 – 15 second gap to the next group of swimmers.  Most of these guys would make it into the lead group on the bike.  I was doomed to chase.

The swim and run coarse along Lake Seneca

I felt good on the bike and the small group of 4 and then 6 or 7 riders enjoyed some long and hefty pulls from me.  I rarely sat in for more than 20 to 30 seconds before realizing the pace was slowing and it was time to pick it up.  There was one other guy from Brazil that put in some good pulls but for the most part the two of us took part in chasing the leading group while the rest held on.  A good paceline, would have allowed us to catch the lead group but we could not organize. 

I lead the group into T2 and was the first out on the run, where, although I was tired from the bike effort, I felt pretty quick.  I think, apart from laps 4 and 5 that I held a good pace.  I lost my sense of urgency and got comfortable before picking it up on the last lap.  The fan support was outstanding and helped make the race exciting and enjoyable.  It always gives you a little burst to hear people cheering you on.

early morning post-race ride with the Canadians   


Serentity of Sawtooth

painting of Salmon River

Serenity –
Calmness of mind is one of the beautiful jewels of wisdom. It is the result of long and patient effort in self-control. Its presence is an indication of ripened experience, and of a more than ordinary knowledge of the laws and operations of thought.
A person becomes calm in the measure that one understands themselves as a thought evolved being, for such knowledge necessitates the understanding of others as the result of thought, and as one develops a right understanding, and sees more and more clearly the internal relations of things by the action of cause and effect, one ceases to fuss and fume and worry and grieve, and remains poised, steadfast, serene.
The calm person, having learned how to govern themselves, knows how to adapt themselves to others; and they, in turn, reverence their spiritual strength, and feel that they can learn of them and rely upon them. The more tranquil a person becomes, the greater is their success, their influence, their power for good. Even the ordinary trader will find their business prosperity increase as one develops a greater self control and equanimity, for people will always prefer to deal with a person whose demeanor is strongly equable.
The strong, calm person is always loved and revered. They are like a shade-giving tree in a thirsty land, or a sheltering rock in a storm. Who does not love a tranquil heart, a sweet-tempered, balanced life? It does not matter whether it rains or shines, or what changes come to those possessing these blessings, for they are always sweet, serene, and calm. That exquisite poise of character which we call serenity is the last lesson of culture; it is the flowering of life, the fruitage of the soul. It is precious as wisdom, more to be desired than gold, than even fine gold. How insignificant mere money seeking looks in comparison with a serene life – a life that dwells in the ocean of truth, beneath the waves, beyond the reach of tempests, in the eternal calm!

Fly fishing in the Salmon river with the Sawtooths in the background
How many people we know who sour their lives, who ruin all that is sweet and beautiful by explosive tempers, who destroy their poise of character, and make bad blood! It is a question whether the great majority of people do not ruin their lives and mar their happiness by lack of self-control flow few people we meet in life who are well-balanced, who have that exquisite poise which is characteristic of the finished character!
James Allen
1864-1912, Author

View from Stanely

Spending some time with friends up in the serene Sawtooth Mountains charges the soul and calms the mind.  The company I work for was generous enough to give us July 4th, 5th, and 6th off to enjoy the whole week in celebration of our country’s Independence.  So on Friday morning, Hortense and I headed back to Stanley, Idaho for the first time since we were married there….almost 3 years ago.  Part of the reason we chose this spectacular spot to be married was to have a great excuse to visit frequently.  We have since decided to come back in September, the month we were wed.

LittleRedfish in Sawtooth MountainsLower Stanley & Salmon River 

With a heat-wave hovering over the West, the Sawtooth Mountains promised a reprieve as they are often one of the coldest regions in the lower 48.  Hortense and I planned a weekend of tri-training bringing our wetsuits, bikes, and running shoes.  At a low of 6000 feet elevation, the training was tough but will make racing at sea level feel awesome.  We camped at Sunny Gulch and were fortunate to have a site right next to the Salmon River.  Having the sound of the water rushing through the rock bed was calming and sitting in the water to soak the legs was refreshing and meditative.  I love rivers and find them to be a wonderful source of pleasure. 

Mt HeyburnRedfish Lake from the sky 

Having to race at an ITU Continental Cup the following weekend I had a lot of shorter more intense workouts while enjoying the change in scenery.  Hortense soaked up all that nature had to offer and went on some long rides.  Saturday morning she and Jody set out on a century ride from Stanley to Challis along the beautiful Salmon River.  However, on the way back near Sun Beam (86 miles), the heat, wind, and elevation took a toll and Hortense wisely decided to call it a day and chill in some shade.  Luckily, Tom and I noticed that our wives had been gone long enough that they may be in need of some support.  While Jody made it all the way back to camp, we saved Hortie a couple of hours of waiting by using our sixth sense to assist.  Who said men don’t have that ability?

Salmon River near Sun Beam hot springsRedfish Lake

The days and nights in the mountains were peaceful and relaxing and spent with good company.  I carry this vivid memory of the night sky on fire with starlight as I slept outside cloaked in a blanket of fresh mountain air.  These are the kind of days that leave you yearning for more and appreciating life even more than you already do.

Redfish lake deerSalmon River near Stanley            

Calm your mind. live in the moment.