All of us depend on equipment and coaching to improve performance. In 40+ years of competition, I’ve tried to invest in areas where the returns are greatest. Some of these items were part of a team opportunity or program. Others were choices I made on my own.
If you were to make a similar list, I think you’ll find that your “investments” indicate your commitment and planning along the way. Here is my list of the 10 best fitness investments:
10. First pairs of real running shoes. Granted, my first pair was a set of low-slung gum rubber flats handed out in the Kaneland High School. There was only a centimeter of heel lift and basically no tread after two weeks. But the interesting aspect of these shoes is that they were a throwback “precursor” to all the minimalist designs we have today. I learned to run in those shoes and put probably 600 miles on them in a cross country season. We wore them to train on the asphalt parking lot surrounding the school during January and February as well. Without much support or padding, you learned to run light on your feet.
9. Running shorts with briefs inside. These were invented around the year 1978. I purchased a pair of Sub-4 shorts, which were represented by miler Steve Scott. Training and racing without having to wear a jock or briefs under the shorts was revolutionary. It also gave me a hard-on from the silk briefs the first time I ran in them. But hey, I was twenty years old. A stiff breeze gave you a stiffie.
8. My Specialized mountain bike. So many triathletes and cyclists start out riding a hybrid or mountain bike. Some even do their first races in them. My Specialized Rockhopper was part of a transition to riding more. I still have the bike and it’s still fun to ride. Next came a Trek 400 steel frame road bike that I used until I could not use it anymore. That opened up the roads.
7. Condoms. Getting laid on a regular basis in college was one of the best training and mind health tools imaginable. The confidence a young man gets from being with a woman is perhaps the single most effective training tool…known to man.
6. Counseling. During my late wife’s long and difficult struggles with cancer, I was given the opportunity through the Living Well Cancer Resource Center to get support in counseling. It turned out to be revelatory in many respects. The key thing the counselor said to me was simple: “You seem to be good at forgiving others. How are you at forgiving yourself?” That question opened my mind to things that had long vexed me. Because while I’d achieved a certain number of things in life, there were areas where I failed as well. Of course that’s true. We all fail. But being “given permission” to forgive myself for those failings has made it possible to enjoy my training and racing in this stage of life. And also look back and realized, “You did the best you could. And that wasn’t bad.”
5. Nike Air Edge racing flats. I’ve raved about these shoes before. But these racing flats with the blue swoosh on one side and the red swoosh on the other were incredibly light and the tread was perfect for racing in all conditions. I set all my road PRs in those shoes from 14:47 in the 5K to 31:10 in the 10K and 1:25 in the 25K. Case closed.
4. Running and cycling tights. It’s hard for some people to imagine that tights have not always existed for those who run and ride. In 1977 when our college team wound up racing in the snow at nationals, tights did not exist. We tried nylons and longjohns. Neither worked. So we ran bare-legged. And it was damn cold. Finally, tights came along in the early 1980s. My craziest pair was a set of New Balance tights that were deep blue with vertical pinstripes on them. My fave pair was a set of Tinley tights purchased in 1990. Those were just the right weight to train or race in. The Specialized cycling tights I purchased in 2008 and still use are going strong. However, I no longer run in true tights. They press on my kneecaps and cause irritation in the cartilage underneath. So I wear running pants.
3. Swim coaching. Without the help of a swim coach, there’s no way I would have progressed at all in the pool. If you are serious about learning to swim or improving in the water, there is no substitute for swim coaching. You can get away without run coaching or even cycling help, but not in the water. All swimmers need coaching.
2. The Felt 4C road bike. Purchased in 2007, the Felt 4C opened up the roads. My average MPH instantly got faster and I raced in criteriums, an eye-opening and fun experience. Sadly, the Felt 4C got crunched last fall when I pulled into the garage with the bike still on the roof rack. I put it away and then had a mechanic take a look a month later. “You have an expensive wall ornament now,” he told me. “There are cracks in the frame.” Rest in Peace, Felt 4c.
- The Specialized Venge Expert. In all my years of training and racing, there have been very few moments of technology where I have been instantly aware of the value of an investment. This new bike is a joy to ride and makes me want to do that more. That’s all a guy can ask from a bike. A good investment.
That’s the short list. I might add the Nike Oregon Waffle racers that revolutionized our cross country racing in 1976. Or the Nike Waffle Trainers the year before.
Got any great investments at which you were amazed? Share!