Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Everything I know about endurance sports I learned from Les Paul

I love this picture of Les Paul. In his 90's and still kicking it.
If you don't know Les, you should. He has been called the father of the solid body guitar. He invented new and exciting ways of recording. He played the guitar well into his 90's and was playing well just a few days before his death. If you've never heard him, download some of his tunes and listen to clear, sharp virtuoso playing by someone of your parents (or grandparents) generation.
I'm not a guitar player, although I gave it a shot once. I used to play the bass and can still roll off a few licks if I find one in my hands.
Endurance sports like running an cycling and triathlon, at their core, involve the kinds of things Les used to talk about all the time. As I get older even more of his wisdom applies because it deals with longevity.
"Don't touch it if it gets complicated."
Running, and cycling and doing tri's shouldn't be weighted down by the tyranny of technology.
The more you let yourself be sucked into things like a GPS watch and computer programs to track your fitness, power meters and all sorts of other technology, the farther you get from the core of the sports: Being fit, having fun and becoming a better person. They may have their place for you, but they aren't necessary. Often they get in the way.
"Be patient. Learn one thing at a time. Don't worry about being fast. That comes with practice."
We live in a culture of "Gotta have it now!" I meet so many athletes who are new and have a bucket list and have no real sense of their sports history or what it means to do something for years upon years. They simply have to have that marathon NOW. That Ironman NOW! They simply have run Boston NOW! Be patient. Truly learn your sport. Know it's history. Become a part of it, if you love it, let it become part of you. Learn to swim well. Learn to bike well. Learn to run well. Learn how to handle races and how do deal with things when it all goes bad (and it will). Stay healthy and don't get injured. In time your speed will come and you'll find all your patience will pay off. Bear in mind "fast" is a relative term and different for everyone. Be your fast, not someone else's.
"It's what you do with what you have that counts."
I beat my head against the "Boston" wall for years and just never managed to get there. I'm just not that fast. I have managed to pull down some Age Group awards over the years, but to be honest, most of those were before the current triathlon and running boom so my age group was kind of light. Being able to go long was my strength. I can run all day. Literally. I can bike all day and all night. Literally. I can stay upright and keep moving for hours upon hours. Literally. It's what I do, with what I got that counts. Do your best with what you have.
When Les was 33 he was in a car accident and had his right elbow broken. Once set, it would be immovable for life. He had it set at just less than 90 degrees so he could still play the guitar...something he did for the next 61 years. With a fused elbow! It was what he did with what he had that counted.
"It's not technique, it's what you have to say."
Many folks who are involved in endurance sports look like they have no business being there. Their arms are all akimbo when they run. Their swim technique is more dog paddle than anything and don't even ask them to hold a line on a bike!
They are all heart though. Despite how they may look, they love what they do and are successful at it. So many who strive for perfection suffer on the altar of that perfection. They don't stay around long. Sports for them is full of pain and angst, most of it mental and self inflicted. Those other folks? The ones who just get out and go? You see them year after year. There is more to endurance sports than medals and finishing. What are you saying? What example are you setting? What are you saying about the quality of your life? Are you mentoring other athletes? Are you making a difference in your sport?
"There are times when you want to go where you used to go and you can't go there."
We all get slower. Can't ride as far. Running times slow and distances shorten. There is a time when the PR's just stop coming. That's life. It's doesn't mean you're less of a person. It doesn't mean you have failed. It's not an indication it's time to quit, it's just that time is leading you down a different path.
Les never quit. He never stopped playing. He loved doing what he did. He inspired others to do the same.
Be like Les. Never quit. Never stop playing. Love what you do, even when it all goes bad. Inspire others to get off the couch and move.


  1. Never has a man written a more timely piece of blog about Les Paul that I have read. I love what you write...thanks for the wisdom.

  2. That's one great post Anton, I love reading your stuff. How's the ankle feeling? (It's the ankle and not the knee, right?)

  3. Hi Anton!

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