Monday, April 27, 2015

13 weeks to IMCA

For 2015, I've signed up for Victoria 70.3 in June and Ironman Canada at the end of July.  I will likely do a couple of the local 5k open water swims (Fat Salmon and Swim Defiance for sure, possibly Tubby Trout).  For the fall, Beat the Blerch half, and if I'm in the mood probably some other fall half marathons.

Training for Canada had a bit of a slow start.   I took off most of November (after NYC marathon) and most of December for a couple of reasons.  One, I had some plastar fasciitis (PF) to deal with, and we were moving.  Coach and I agreed my first run would be on Christmas.  From there, I slowly got back into the swing of things.  My swim came back just fine after a couple weeks in the pool.  My run came back stronger than ever, which was a pleasant surprise.  My bike...well, that's another story.  Cycling and I have a tumultuous relationship.  I have a hard time getting back into bike shape, but once I'm outside on my roadie consistently, it gets fun again.  And the bike is where PF does not exist, I always appreciate the break if I'm having a flare up. 

The last couple weeks have been excellent for cycling.  Better weather, for one.  And I made a deal with myself.  This training pressure.  Just go out an have fun with the sport you love.  Cycling used to be all about beating myself up.  Negative thoughts ran rampant.  You're not good enough, you don't produce enough power on the bike and you never will.  I was constantly stressed about being a weak cyclist.  All that negativity sucked the joy out of riding, and bike training for Coeur d'Alene 2014 was miserable.  I swam a ton.  As an escape to stress in my life.  Thankfully my coach was understanding that I needed that mentally.  And my swim is pretty strong, I was never worried about overdoing it (in fact I PR'd Fat Salmon by 6 minutes in 2014 so hooray).  My runs were fine, I was a runner long before I was a triathlete so running and I get along well.  I never wrote a race report for Coeur d'Alene.  Not because the race was all that bad (it was a PR over Tahoe), but I was in such a sucky place mentally that I never had the energy for it. 

Fast forward to April 2015.  I just had a 20 hour and 46 minute training week and I had fun the entire time.  I am proud of myself on the bike.  Not because I am particularly fast or good at it, but because I have ZERO negative thoughts.  I have a new job.  I have a new team.  And everyone is 100% supportive of each other, all of the time.  Not that my old team wasn't.  Most everyone there was very cool.  The difference is that I am not stressed out all the time and I can just relax and TRAIN.  My business partner is an angel, and a crazy good coach.  We are in a better place, one that for 2 years I never dreamt could have existed.  And I am incredibly grateful for the environment. 

The PF flares up, but I am convinced that with continued rehab I can stay on top of it.  I have no goals for Canada, other than to have fun.  This will be my third Ironman, and my plan is for it to be like Tahoe.  Just go out and have fun, no pressure.  I have always performed best that way anyway.  And Coach knows that for me, having fun pretty much means "beast mode." I have made friends with pain, so bring it on. 

I can't talk about training, without sending some respect to my better half.  A runner himself, he completely "gets" me, and my desire to train and race.  And he is the most excellent "Iron spouse" an athlete could ask for.  He is willing to take on some of the late night driving (late nights are my kryptonite), doesn't mind the Straussburg sock, helmet head, occasional grumpiness, or an 8pm bedtime. 

I am lucky to have a great team full of the most selfless and amazing people.  I am fortunately to have a coach who understands me (going on 4 years now), and knows when to push and when to back off.  I am looking forward to Canada as a bit of a redemption from Coeur d'Alene.  Not about a time goal, but an enjoyment goal. 

Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Part Six of Until I am Done. The last post.

Today is December 31st and I decided this will be my last post.  I feel I have reached the catharsis I was seeking, and today is symbolic of closing out the year.  Writing has been therapeutic, not only for me, but as it turns out many others.  This story has touched a nerve with many people, and I am glad they know they are not alone in having a less than stellar experience.

Ironman Coeur d'Alene 2014.  That was really the beginning of the eventual end.  During training, I found myself leaving the house often feeling frustrated, looking to training to brighten my mood.  Sometimes I would find escape there, doing what I love.  The runs were usually good, the swims were always good.  I had the hardest time on the bike, as I usually train alone, and sometimes being alone with your thoughts is not a good thing.  Thank goodness for the swim.  By then it was warm enough that I could do everything in lake.  My oasis.  Where no one could touch or hurt me. 

As things got worse over the summer, training became less and less of an escape.  I actually recovered well from IMCdA and was able to do some late season road races and triathlons.  So physically I was all right. Or so I thought.  And this is where the power of the mind comes into it.  Mentally I was a mess.  I knew something had to change.  I was in constant contact with one of the other coaches, someone who I had always trusted and we became quite close.  We went through this entire thing together, and often she took a little more of the brunt of the name calling and harsh words from my boss.  We had each other's backs, and would stand up for each other when we could. 

One day I had left the house frustrated once again.  But instead of my run being fun or a break, it brought me to my knees.  I was on a local paved trail, it goes partially through the woods and is one of my favorite places to run.  I saw another runner I know.  We passed each other and she smiled and waved.  I smiled and waved back.  She looked so happy and free.  I thought to myself immediately, when have I last looked like that?  Far too long ago.  I could feel all this tension just taking over my body.  I stopped at the park bathroom, got some water.  Cranked up my favorite tunes and tried to breathe.  I turned around and headed home.  Made is about 1/4 of a mile before I could feel myself breaking down.  Slowed the pace.  Breathed.  It wasn't helping.  I made it another 1/4 of a mile before I completely fell apart.  Right on the side of a pretty busy road (thankfully it had a sidewalk).  I stopped running.  Held onto someone's fence and cried hard.  I couldn't breathe.  This went on for a few minutes.  When I regained some kind of control I took out my MP3 player and put on one of my favorite running songs.  Its called Indestructible.  I stood there and listened to the entire song play once through.  I was still crying, but it wasn't as much of a complete break as before.  After the song ended I hit repeat and made my way slowly back home.  It was then I realized how much stress I was holding in my body.  That is not healthy and I was going to get hurt.  I knew I had to make a change.

I talked with my trusted friend and fellow coach.  I told her I was leaving.  She wanted to as well so we decided to leave together.  Given what we had been through, there was no "two weeks notice."  We both sent resignation emails at the same time, and removed ourselves from the FB group we were a part of.  We had no idea what we were going to do next.  No plan.  All we knew is that we had to get out of that situation.  For the sake of ourselves, our families, and our athletes.  Of course I felt terrible making a change in the middle of peak season.  I did not want to cause any stress for any of my athletes.  But as one pointed out to me, there will always be someone training.  There is never a "good" time for it. 

That was a hard day.  I was terrified.  And I felt awful.  But as responses came in, that athletes were staying with me, staying with my partner, we felt a little better. Every single person had a choice.  Over the next week we discussed what to do next.  Go out on our own as individuals?  Join forces with other coaches?  Or join together?  After much serious consideration we decided to join together and form our own company.  The positive response we got was amazing.  I do want to thank the other coaches I talked with.  You know who you are and you will always have a friend in me.  Everything fell into place with the new company.  I am proud of the positive atmosphere we have created.  I am grateful to my business partner who is an angel.  A wonderful mother, determined, strong athlete and a good person to her core.  I want to thank everyone who has send me private messages.  Your support means the world to me.  I look forward to 2015 and the opportunities it brings.  I do not regret writing this.  It was the right thing for me, and the right thing for many other people as well.  I love the endurance community.  This is my tribe.  That is my story. 

Friday, December 26, 2014

Part 5 of Until I am Done. "Entries."

Sometime during the summer of 2013, I was offered an entry into Ironman Lake Tahoe.  My boss had put some money into sponsoring the race and had access to some entries.  I was back to into training, after 10 months off running due to a wicked case of plantar fasciitis.  My swim was strong, I had just done the Seattle-to-Portland ride (152 miles one day, 52 the next).  My runs were up to 10 miles in zone 2.  I decided there was enough time to bump up the run build and get in some bricks. 

Ironman Lake Tahoe was my race dream come true.  See a few blog entries back for the race report.  I paid for the entry (PayPal directly to my boss) when I claimed it, and it came through about a month before the race.  Doing it this way was a little nerve wracking and when I finally got my bib number it was a huge relief.  To his credit, my boss was incredibly supportive during this time and helped me out with schedules race week.  He also got VIP passes for my family, which was really awesome.  Like I said before, my boss has the capacity to be an excellent coach and has done some nice things for people.  Which makes some of his actions really baffling.  There are two sides to him and you never really knew which side you were getting on any given day.

One of my athletes wanted an entry to Ironman Arizona for 2014.  It sold out quick and he did not get an entry.  Having had a good experience with Tahoe, I called my boss and asked if he could get an entry for my guy, for IMAZ.  He said of course and I was thrilled.  It was great to text him and tell him he was in.  He was sent an invoice, which he paid right away.  This was November 2013.

I left the company in August 2014 and at that time, my athlete and I were getting the brush off when we asked when his entry would come through.  I assured him it would be okay, after all I got my Tahoe entry, it was just really late.  And I knew people who did Boulder 2014 also got their bibs very late in the game.  After I left I just happened to be talking to another athlete/acquaintance.  I told this person I had left the company.  It was then I heard that there were at least six athletes who had paid for Ironman Boulder entries, and had gotten nothing in return.  No entry. I believe they are/were involved in some kind of legal action to get their money returned, the details, I do not know.  I was floored when I heard this.  Apparently he had some Boulder entries, but not enough to cover everyone who paid him.  This was the first time I had heard of entries being promised, athletes paying (directly to his PayPal account) and no entry being received.  My heart sank to the floor. I had not one but two athletes with outstanding entries.  Entries they paid for in November 1013 and here it was late summer of 2014 and we had nothing to show, so far, for that money.  I had to tell my athletes what I had heard about Boulder, and that was not a conversation I wanted to have.  I suggested that they contact Ironman directly and find out the status of their entry.  Both were told, by Ironman, that my boss had "no entries to give."  I was furious.  Why would he take money and promise entries when he had none?  The feeling of incredible confusion was followed by one of hurt and betrayal.  Ultimately, one of my athletes decided not to do the race.  The other pursued the matter, contacting my boss directly.  He was told the entry was coming, but that it would now be a charity entry, through a larger, very legitimate charity that he had ties with.  At that time, the entry was going to be retroactive (i.e., his own, smaller charity was working with the larger one to sponsor some races).  He was told not to talk about it to anyone, as it was a sensitive subject.  Over the weeks, the "charity" entry morphed into him purchasing an entry, for twice the initial rate, from another coach.  There were many vague emails back and forth between him and a third party.  What exactly happened, I am not sure.  Bottom line, my athlete did get his bib a few weeks before the race.   We both breathed a huge sigh of relief when that entry came through.  What did really make me mad was how my old boss held himself up to be this big "hero" for fighting with Ironman and this other coach, and finally "won the battle" and was able to get an entry.  My boss was not a hero in that situation.  He took money for entries, an entire year before the race, money for entries he knew he did not have.  That is the opposite of heroic. 

Around this time, I learned of countless other athletes who had issues with race entries.  It was always the same story.  Something got "messed" up, or somebody was dragging their feet about getting the entries to come through.  It was never his fault.  He always acted like he was doing people a huge favor by fighting for their entries.  How about NOT offering entries to races that you don't have entries for?  Did he ever think of that?  The entire thing was such a huge mess for so many people.  Let me tell you, training for a race you aren't 100% sure you are really into is not the place to be mentally. 

The bottom is a bad idea to pay directly into someone else's PayPal account for gear, entries, donations, or anything else that comes through a third party.  No matter how much you trust them. How much money was lost this way, I do not know, but I suspect it is a very great deal of money.  Hard earned money, that people paid in good faith.  Money from real people, with families.  Money saved, maybe in a jar on the counter.  Money paid with the dream of reaching a running goal, or becoming an Ironman.  Money that means something to somebody.  All the broken promises, all confusion and hurt.  This is my story to tell. 

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Part Four of Until I am Done "A little more catharsis."

The deal right from the get go was that my boss would help us develop athletes and answer any questions we had when it came to training, injury, nutrition, race planning, etc.  He was there most of the time I needed help.  My boss is a brilliant guy.  And he is an excellent coach, when he wants to be.  The problem was always those times when he seemed to be pulled away, pulled into some other project, pulled into what would be the "next big thing."  And there was always another project, another avenue that had to be explored in terms of expanding the company.  The first was that we were going to have our own "premium" version of our website.  For a certain amount per month, athletes could have access to all the workout libraries and forums to talk to each other.  The entire Facebook group was just going to be "moved" over there.  I had my doubts whether people would log into a new forum, when Facebook is so easy. Everything in one place.  You have your news feed, then you just click on a group and its all in one place.  My boss seemed to think everyone would just do it because he told them to.  Someone worked hard on that project, developed it.  It never caught on though. 

Training Peaks has always been my preferred platform for on-line scheduling. There are other platforms out there, and each has its own merits.  We were using Training Peaks when I joined.  Most of us shared one account.  Looking back, I should have just started my own.  Although looking at other athlete's training was an important part in the learning process and for that I am grateful.  Each athlete was made premium, at a $9 cost per month.  It added up fast.  Why it was done this way, I do not know.  You can have unlimited basic accounts, and have the athlete upgrade it they choose to (buy their own premium or pay you the extra $9 per month).  Training Peaks was a huge monthly expense.  I understand the desire to look into other platforms, but they all cost money for coaching accounts.  After the "premium" thing fizzled out, there was talk about selling to another company, which I was against.  Again, we had a good thing going.  When everyone was in a good mood, people were getting solid training and the Facebook group had terrific camaraderie.  Why mess with a good thing?  There was talk of moving to Addero, then finally everyone was abruptly switched out of Training Peaks into Workout log.  This was supposed to be a temporary switch.  A month or two at most, while the newest platform was developed.  This platform would integrate training schedules and the social component.   Someone else, outside of the coaching team was enlisted to develop the product.  We were to have input on design.  I remember feeling exhausted mentally at this point.  We made attempts to have some say in design.  One of my biggest desires was to have a calendar view.  At that time, the beta version had a week only view.   The way my brain works, the way I fit the puzzle pieces together, I need to see a few weeks at a time.  I need to easily click on an older workout, read the comments and look at the data.  I mentioned this during a group Skype and was scolded for wanting such a feature.  It was insinuated that I wasn't a good coach and didn't understand my athletes, if I needed a calendar view.  Fortunately the other coach on the call supported me in wanting that feature and he backed off.  A little more damage done.  Another little reminder of who was in charge. 

After 3 or 4 (maybe longer) months of using Workout log, I couldn't stand it any longer.  I got my own coaching account and moved everyone back to Training Peaks.  Why did it take so long?  One, the "new" platform was promised and because I had respect for the teammate involved in development, I wanted to be supportive.  We had been accused of not "showing any respect" to him.  At one point we were trying to arrange a group meeting.  I did not know the developer was to be on the call.  I put our my available times but apparently I was being too stringent.  At the time I was training for an Ironman, running a household, raising two active children.  I volunteered at the school.  Was working with athletes.  And its important to me that I cook a healthy dinner for my family.  That we sit down together every night and spend some time together.  The second reason why I waited a little long to switch back to Training Peaks is because I was afraid my boss would get mad.  Finally, upon discussing it with another coach, it was decided that how I "house" my athletes is my business.  Most people were glad to be back to a familiar platform and I am glad to be in the position of making my own decisions now. 

Despite all that had happened so far, we were still a growing company.  We needed to hire some new coaches.  I remember thinking at the time, if we just had some help.  If we had just a few more people on board, maybe we could right this ship.  There were four (if memory serves) new coaches hired.  Three of them I knew from social media only, one was a friend of mine.  A fellow triathlete and mother.  She is smart, persistent, driven, devoted and above all a wonderful mother and a good person.  She was promised a job.  She finished her certification and was excited about coaching.  What happened is her story to tell.  From my end I can tell you this.  She was promised payment for working with one of the Facebook training groups.  She answered questions and worked hard.  Inexplicably, she was taken off the job and not paid.  She was not supported, would ask questions and was often ignored.  There was little I could do about it.  The way she was treated by my boss was inexcusable.  Eventually she left.  I felt terrible and at that time, it became very clear to me that this was not a ship we, or anyone number of people could right.  It became clear that things were never going to change and were only going to get worse.  This woman and I have talked.  A lot.  She knows I am sorry and part of my desire to tell my story is to make things right with her and every other person who could not understand why I stayed so long and why this man could continue to hurt so many people.

One tactic that over time I realized my boss was using over and over, is diversion.  If a hard question was asked, the answer would come back with denial, then a diversion.  A diversion onto another topic or a diversion into how the person asking the question was to blame, overreacting, or was crazy.  Case in point.  One of the female coaches had left abruptly.  I did not know her well.  I asked why and was told that "she was posting on Facebook about doing drugs with her husband."  Apparently she was let go because this behavior is not tolerated.  I was floored.  I knew there was NO WAY this woman every did drugs.  She is a serious, respected athlete.  Even though I knew my boss was lying, I scanned her timeline.  Of course I found nothing.  Many months later I brought this up with her and she confronted my boss.  The first thing he did was deny, then called "whoever said that" (in this case, me) a "F#$KING LIAR" then divert to how great a person he is and how crazy other people are.  He said to "stop throwing shit around," and that he would "deal" with the person that said that (me) and that there was an "interesting background in that story."  The anger and hysteria in that response was frightening. 

I have had occasion (which I will touch on later) to have conversations with my old boss.  One pertained to race entries, one pertained to his treatment of an athlete that he had no business interfering with and one pertained to me following up on his claims to be getting a specific certification.  He often would say "I would appreciate the badmouthing to stop."  That phrase always made me so furious.  Badmouthing?  For two years I tried to help make his company into something great.  For two years I defended him.  For two years I stood by as everyone slowly peeled away and did what was best for them.  Asking for follow through on race entries, standing up for poor treatment of an athlete and requesting that he provide proof of certifications he claims publicly to have...this is not badmouthing.  This is finally standing up and speaking the truth about what happened.  This is finally finding some catharsis.  This is my story. 

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Part Three of Until I am Done.

I went to a Christmas party last year.  An annual party with my best group of friends.  Kids, parents, everyone was there.  We do a White Elephant gift exchange and it is always hilarious and fun.  I am going to the same party tonight and I will see one of my best friends for the first time since this Spring.  My friendship with her suffered, fallout from the stress I was under.  I messaged her an apology and thank goodness she forgave me for being a terrible friend.   She isn't the only one I am determined to make amends with.  I will make it right with every single person affected by this mess.  I don't know how, or how long it will take, but I will make it right.

I was talking to one of the other people at the party, about my job and how it works.  I was explaining how we were able to bring in our own athletes, and that we were also "given" older athletes to work with.  Her, if I was an athlete I don't think I would like just being handed over to a new coach.  She was right.  I am incredibly attached to my own coach (again, a reminder that my coach is NOT my old boss).  Coach trains your body but is also your sports psychologist.  You tell coach everything.  You talk about peeing on the bike, peeing in your wetsuit, blowing snot rockets and spitting loogies in zone 4.  You talk about your goals, your fears, your demons.  Its a close, trusting relationship.  I am grateful the athletes who were asked/told to work with me gave me a chance.  I don't know what my boss said to them but I vowed to do my absolute best with each person.  There was a lot of careful obsessing in the early days.  I studied old training, thought a lot about each individual and how best to train them.  Building schedules took hours. As coaches, we get very attached to our athletes.  We take deeply to heart their training. 

Outside of the first few athletes I worked with, I had a few of my own and one that I advocated hard for.  Her training was being affected by the incredible performance pressure she was under.  She got yelled at, at a local race for wearing the wrong shirt.  The wrong shirt.  In front of her husband and friends.  This was not the only demeaning incident.  Her stress level was high and she was losing the enjoyment she got from training.  I told my boss I wanted her.  He said all right, but said "you have one chance.  Don't screw it up."  That athlete was grateful for the switch, and later admitted to me that she did not believe any of her logs we being read.  A word on logs - we read everything.  We may not comment on every workout, but we read it all and we file it all away.  We often look back at old logs, sometimes from months or years before.  Those comments mean something and are important clues to putting together the puzzle that is each athlete. 

One thing I could never understand is why we were always "given" older athletes, and never referred the new ones that came in.  I always tried my best to make the transition as smooth as possible.  My only speculation as to why we were never referred to the new athletes, is that they would be given the opportunity to get a discount if they pre-paid a big chunk for 6 months to a year of training.  How much attention they got after that, I can't speak to directly. 

There were a few incidences where an old athlete approached me about switching. The first was a teammate who had been around for years.  An experience runner and a good person.  I explained to him that my boss occasionally would give us his athletes.  I explained who each new coach was, a little about their specialties, their niche in the company.  He felt like we would be a good match.  I am not sure what he told my boss, but my boss flat out lied to him.  He said he did not give us his old athletes and seemed offended by anyone asking.  He promised to address all the needs this person was missing in his training.  I was furious.  He made me look like a fool and a liar, when I was trying to handle the situation with tact.  This was around the time when we were doing a lot of schedules for him.  Sunday would roll around and there were dozens of blank schedules.  2 other coaches and I would jump in a write up the week for someone.  These athletes weren't "ours," so this was a long process.  We wanted to them have quality training, so it meant going through previous weeks, studying, and reading logs.  This particular athlete had a bad race (a marathon, if memory serves) and was told "the girls" were doing schedules at the time.  As if whatever happened during training was somehow our fault.  This was not true.  Yes, we did a lot of schedules, but it was not for that athlete's race.  My husband often said to me on those long Sunday afternoons..."you know, its illegal to ask someone to work for free."  We did it to save the company.  We did it to help my boss, who seemed too busy.  We did it so athletes would have a schedule. 

Shortly after that, another athlete contacted me.  A woman.  I told her we could talk about switching, but having been burned by the last experience, I asked to talk to my boss without giving too much detail.  I am not sure what happened after that, but she did end up leaving the team entirely.  I remember the sadness in her voice when we talked on the phone.  Looking back, I am not sure how I could have handled that situation differently.  I do know this athlete is in a better place, with a coach she likes and is excelling in her sport. 

There was an entire other group of athletes, drawn from a Facebook group.  They had their own Training Peaks account.  This group were pre-builts.  They paid a smaller amount each month and got a pre-built schedule with limited feedback.  My boss started the group but I can tell you someone else did the majority of the work and did not get paid for it.  I did a handful of schedules, but the bulk fell to another coach.  Why did we do it?  Social media.  We still worked for the company, and we could not let there be any bad press.  Not to mention, we knew these people.  Cared about them.  They deserved to get the training plan they had paid for.  The group, to my knowledge, was for a limited time.  If it has been renewed, I do not know.

When we left, our athletes were all given a choice.  They could stay, or they could go back.  I was accused to "taking" clients, but of course they were given a choice.  At the time, I was terrified.  I had not idea what people would do, no idea how leaving so abruptly would come across.  I was thankful that every athlete wanted to stay.  Except one.  The one who said that if it were only about the coaching, he would come with me.  But he had history with my boss, and felt loyalty to him.  I understood.  I was sad to see him go, but I understood.  Athletes come and go in this business, and you can't take it personally.  What upset me was the progress we had made.  When I first started working with him, he was just getting back into running.  We built slowly.  I wrote specific strength workouts for his needs.  We worked around a changing work/life schedule.  He was progressing at a fantastic rate.  We had planned on the year being a build year, but there was an opportunity to train for a marathon to support my boss.  We agreed that he could train for the marathon, but it would be easy, for fun and support.  That he was not ready for the weeks of intense speedwork that comes with going for a BQ or a PR.  I knew a BQ was something he wanted.  It was my feeling that the following year would be the wisest course of action.  Build up a good base, get strong, stay healthy and then go for the BQ the following year. 

When this athlete went back to my boss, one of his first workouts was ten Yasso 800s.  I saw this as a Daily Mile post on Facebook.  I was livid.  We had been doing some short speedwork like progression runs but this person was not ready for the track.  Not Ready.  And he sure as hell wasn't ready for ten Yasso 800s.  My suspicion is that he was told by my old boss that he could go for the BQ, and gave him the Yassos to boost his confidence.  Before this athlete left, I suggested a more conservative goal pace.  In my professional opinion, he was not ready to go for the BQ.  There is more to this story, but I will end it by saying that he got hurt doing those Yassos.  I was angry that he was being given a cookie-cutter approach.  After all our hard work together, after the amazing progress that was was all wasted.  

Podiums, BQs, PRs.  My boss cared mostly about these things.  Often he would put goals on someone when it was not in their best interest.  Some people felt left out.  The big guns always got the attention, all the bragging.  And sometimes their times were inflated.  What he posted didn't match official race times.  He often would say "Rebecca is a 3:15 marathoner."  I am NOT.  My PR is 3:26, which is nowhere near 3:15.  The inflation and the bragging was hurtful and honest athletes do not lie about their times.  And you know what?  Each accomplishment is valuable.  Each race teaches us something.  Each individual is important and every athlete is worth recognizing.  

Friday, December 19, 2014

Part Two of "Until I am Done." Strangeness.

Outside of the hurt, both emotional and financial, what strikes me about this entire scenario is how totally strange it is.  This isn't 1980s banking or insider trading.  This is running and triathlon coaching.  Runners and triathletes are by and large good people.  We inherently trust one another, its a great community of people.  I hardly ever come across a runner or triathlete who isn't selfless and all around wonderful.  So that is a big reason why as this slowly unfolded over the years, I hard a hard time wrapping my head around what was happening.  Small, growing business in the field that I love.  A smart, charismatic leader.  A team of amazing runners and triathletes from all walks of life.  It felt like family. 

I often get stuck on the "what could have beens."  The whole thing could have been so great!  And that part is frustrating to me.  If things were just done above the board, if promises were kept, decisions and orders (gear, entries, prizes, etc) followed through on, if it was run the way it was "supposed to" be run, it could have been so great.  We had a brilliant leader, we were surrounded by dedicated, wonderful people.  If it could have just been left to that, go grow at a reasonable rate.  To take care of each athlete.  Not out for world domination.  Not out to be the biggest, to make the most money.  Just a really awesome groups of folks, reaching their potential in athletics.

So why, then?  What drove our boss to the path of relentless growth and chasing the almighty dollar?  We were asked to market non-stop.  To get into every Facebook group and every Twitter "chat."  To answer questions and market ourselves.  The goal was to be the biggest name in multisport training.  It was overwhelming.  I never signed up to be 24/7 on social media.  And realistically, outside of just devoting yourself entirely to it, how could anyone?  I have a family.  I train.  I enjoy my life outside of the computer.  How on earth could anyone be involved in dozens of groups, both established and ones my boss created? 

We were asked to reach out to businesses, to offer to do clinics and write up pre-built training plans.  I was pushed early on to "get into" Microsoft.  To go down to every local running store and offer to lead runs, to give form clinics.  Bear in mind, I was brand spanking new at this.  What I needed at was a mentor, a leader.  I wasn't ready to be out on my own.  I wasn't ready, or honestly interested in what felt to me like barging my way into groups and businesses and plugging the company.  It felt intrusive to me. A lot of those groups don't want coaches or anyone soliciting in them.  Its a safe place for athletes to talk about training, and I felt very uncomfortable soliciting without an invitation.  Granted, if our boss had invitation to do so, he never told us that.  It was just expected that it would be done.

I would focus on our team page, answer questions and to his credit my boss was generally supportive of the answers I would give.  I was one of the lucky ones, however.  Others would get openly chastised, both on-line and at races.  Again, something I could not wrap my head around.  Why would you demean an employee in front of a group of people, virtual or in person?  My only answer to that is jealously.  My boss had to be on top, had to be the best, the most loved.  He seemed not to be able to stand when someone else was well-liked, or had a nickname in a group. 

One time I got yelled at for admitting that I drank chocolate milk, for post workout recovery.  It was humiliating.  Apparently milk is the devil's drink.  For baby cows, not people.  Regardless of your take on dairy, I for one eat cheese and yogurt.  I used to do an occasional chocolate milk after a run, although now I use another product I like better.  I gave up dairy after that incident.  And you know how I felt?  Pretty much the same as I had before.  After about 8 months of that I went back to yogurt and cheese.  My boss used to scream about how there is no way the elite athletes who endorse chocolate milk as a recovery drink (Ironman training, specifically) actually drink the stuff themselves.  I felt vindicated when a couple years later, during a podcast interview, one of those very elite athletes talked about eating cheese and ice cream during heavy training.  When you're doing huge volume, your calorie needs must be met for fuel and recovery.  Sometimes you need to eat what your body wants - and if cheese is the thing, well, it was refreshing to hear an elite athlete talk about it.

The first really big red flag I got was when one of the other coaches left.  He just could not in good conscience work for my boss anymore.  This was the first time I heard that my boss had a "past."  A "past" can mean a lot of things.  I did not Google it.  I guess I didn't want to know.  And people that I trusted, trusted my boss.  He claimed to have made mistakes and atoned for it.  At the time, that was good enough for me.  I was also getting in deep at that point.  I had a handful of clients, and I loved the work.  Had I Googled his name, had I read what happened a decade ago...would I have left?  I don't know.  What I do know is that what I was seeing happening around me, with orders left unfilled, prizes left unsent, Training Peaks popping up "past due," the fact that everything went directly to his personal PayPal account with no tracking....I think I would have seen all that in a very different light. 

The first few months of the job, things were pretty good.  It wasn't really until the Holiday season, that I started to notice that things just weren't adding up.  There was a 5k holiday challenge.  People worked hard, charted their progress, etc.  At the end of it, I don't think anyone got any of the prizes they were promised.  There was also a "teammate of the month" program that went for a couple months then fizzled out.  There were orders taken for gear and nutrition products, never delivered.  And shoes.  Lots and lots of shoe orders.  How many of those were filled, I will never know.  What was hard about those situations is that sometimes people would ask us what was going on and I had zero answers to give.  We weren't in charge of any of that, nor did we even know who to contact.  My boss apparently had all these contacts at various retailers, none of which I ever met or had contact with.  It was frustrating and embarrassing to be asked "where is my XXX, I ordered that a couple months ago."  I would ask my boss and would get "its on the way," or no response at all. 

It was about that time that I started slowly talking to some of the other coaches about the problem of lack of follow through.  It looked unprofessional and reflected badly on us.  We did what we could to remedy that, sometimes it came out of our own pockets.  I know we weren't the only ones who "gave" or "invested" in the business.  I consider myself lucky that largely it was just my time and not a large chunk of money.  For me, it was in the hundreds of dollars range.  There was a "get Coach to Kona" campaign that I donated to.  It raised a lot of money for the Challenged Athletes foundation, but apparently it was just shy of the amount needed for the Kona slot.  Or so we were told.  I am unclear about the details and I am not saying there was inpropriety, all I am saying is that I do not know the details.  I also donated some money to another charity that was formed later.  This is a contentious topic that I feel uncomfortable touching on, although when the time comes in the story I will say what I can, diplomatically, about it.  This is my story. 

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Part One of "Until I am Done."

I am going to tell my story and I don't know how long it will take.  It doesn't matter.  It will take as long as it needs to.  What happened isn't something that I can just walk away from.  This is my catharsis.  It needs to happen.  And I hope it is helpful to anyone else who had a similar experience.  Because I know you are out there.  My message to you-  you are not alone.  My story is a just a small part of a much bigger scenario.  One that has gone on for well over a decade and involves dozens if not hundreds of people, a lot of time and money utterly spent. A lot of hurt feelings and broken hearts.

It all started with a post.  A post advertising the need for some new coaches.  One male and one female.  My old boss wasn't my coach.  Let me be crystal clear about that.  My coach is someone else - someone who is near and dear to me, someone who knows me well, has been with me through two Ironmans and I have lost count of how many marathons, halfs, and triathlons.  Someone who not only knows how to train my body but my mind.  I would not be the athlete I am today without his guidance. 

I saw the post, and thought, I can do that!  Running and multi-sport is my life.  Outside of family, running and triathlons are my absolute passion.  I feel a kinship with running, almost as if it was an entity or a person.  Its a deep, visceral relationship.  I love to swim, the freedom I feel in the water.  Cycling and I have a more difficult relationship, although I am grateful for it because it is my weakness.  A place where I can focus and grow.  I hadn't "worked" outside the home since the kids were born.  And now that they were in elementary school (at the time I took the job), I felt like I had the time to work, and I was excited about the prospect. 

The initial interview was on the phone.  I talked to the head of the company, who at the time was working with his wife.  I had seen her on-line, heard her voice.  I knew I liked her but unfortunately I never had a chance to get to know her.  I dealt almost 100% with my boss, including the first phone interview.  The deal was this.  The company was growing, and they needed help.  We were to take on some of the older clients, as well as bring on own new clients.  At some point, early on, I specifically remember my boss saying "I'm done.  I'm done."  He often joked about retiring to some island.  He is a smart guy, and it seemed to me that his business was growing and he needed help.  There seemed to be a couple other coaches working with him, but I didn't know them going in, and didn't know to what extent they were involved.  It turns out that there were, if memory serves, 7 of us hired.  We were asked to take the ITCA certification course.  It was a busy time.  70.3 training, raising the girls, running the house.  I would get up very early each morning and spend 1-2 hours reading the materials, studying, and answering some on-line questions.  I felt like the ITCA was very comprehensive, and worth my time.  I learned a lot.  I will say that I found myself utilizing my old anatomy book often to further my education. 

The next step was to travel to a coaches camp. 8 days.  I had never left my family for so long.  I was grateful to my husband for taking some time off work/working from home so I could go.  He has always been supportive of me.  I am thankful for him. 

I didn't know what to expect at coach training.  I figured it would be intense, that we would learn everything we needed to know.  And we learned a lot.  We were up every day, very early.  We ran some, spent a day at the pool, did LT tests, were taught about the importance of getting to know each athlete and their lifestyle.  I met most of the other coaches.  Four of us stayed with our boss.  The other two were local, but by that time they apparently weren't going to do the job anymore.  I was not told by my boss specifically why, although I heard a reason or two from someone else.  We did meet them, when we spent the entire day working at a booth at a 70. 3 expo that just happened to be taking place when we were there.  They both seemed like nice people, although their exchanges with my boss felt awkward. 

There were 2 campers there that week.  They had signed up for a trail camp.  Very nice women and such good sports.  They didn't seem upset that there was a coaching camp also going on that week.  Thank goodness a local runner who they knew met up with them and took them running a few times.  I felt bad that they were brought to the Expo.  That's not what they signed up for.  Working at the booth was a good learning experience, although a bit stressful for me..  I didn't know ANYTHING about the shoe and had to pick it up really quick, in order to answer any questions people had.  Thank goodness one of the other new coaches did know about it and filled us in.  Little did I know that this would be the first of many, many situations where were just "thrown in" and left to fend for ourselves, to sink, or to swim.

I have days where I wish I could go back in time, and not see that post.  The past two years of my life would have been way less stressful.  Stress that caused me friendships, took up my valuable time, and had a secondary affect on my family.  But if I didn't see that post, didn't experience all that crazy stuff, I wouldn't be at the place I am now.  A new company, a new opportunity.  Where my business partner and I are in charge.  And we learned everything about what NOT to do.  Our mission is to be completely above the board and ethical in every way.   Our mission is to provide the best possible coaching for each of our athletes.  To see them as the amazing individuals that they are.  To help them dig deep, to reach their potential. 

Is telling my story ethical?  I have asked myself this many times.  I will not name any names, or say any places.  I will not lie.  People that I care about have been hurt.  And some of them hurt way worse than me.  I only took a small financial hit, but I know other people took a big one.  I am going to tell my story.