In this episode we are delighted to hear from Travis Macy: a speaker, author, coach, and professional endurance athlete. He is the author of The Ultra Mindset: An Endurance Champion's 8 Core Principles for Success in Business, Sports, and Life, and he holds the record for Leadman, an epic endurance event consisting of a trail running marathon, 50-mile mountain bike race, Leadville 100 Mountain Bike Race, 10k road run, and Leadville 100 Run. Travis describes how his mental toughness was forged at a young age and at the end of the article he also shares some of his inspiring videos.
I've been stoked about the Rundamentalists tag-line since I saw it for the first time a few months ago. The concept of mental training is, I think, familiar to almost all endurance runners. Like military personnel, followers of the positive psychology field, and many others in athletics and business, we realize--at least subconsciously-- that thinking about our thinking really does make a difference.
I was lucky to gain early exposure to intentional mental training as a young child through my dad, Mark Macy, then an ultrarunner and Ironman Triathlete. I reflect on his influence as follows in my new book, The Ultra Mindset:
Rattling along a washboard road among the lodgepole pine trees of Evergreen, Colorado—a mountain town 40 miles west of Denver—my father turned on the saddle of his mountain bike and looked over at me. His eyes covered by his Oakleys, his wispy brown hair streaking out from under his short-billed white racing cap, he smiled and nodded his head in the direction we were headed. He was saying, “I believe in you. You can do it.”
I remember how I picked up the pace, navigating my little kid’s mountain bike right behind him, where all I could see from my perspective underneath my tyke-sized helmet were the knobs on his tires and the veins of his powerful calf muscles.
It was July 1988, and I was five years old. It’s one of my earliest memories—and in retrospect, I can see it’s where the Ultra Mindset was forged. He and I biked like this regularly. It was our version of playing catch in the backyard. My dad liked all sports. He had played lacrosse in college, but by this point, distance running and triathlon were his favorites. In 1986, he’d even finished the Ironman triathlon in Hawaii—a 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride, and 26.2-mile run that many athletes still consider the most impressive multisport endurance achievement in the world.
A lawyer, dad was typical of a lot of men who came of age in the 1970s. Inspired by the victory of Frank Shorter—himself a Yale graduate and a lawyer—in the 1972 Olympic Marathon, a whole generation of professional, white males like Dad had laced up their sneakers and primitive running shoes and taken to the roads, sparking what is often called the first “running boom.”
Endurance sports became their choice for fun, fitness and pushing limits, and it just so happened that my dad had a talent for it. Mark Macy—known to everyone else as “Mace”—biked and swam, too, and ten years before anyone had heard of Lance Armstrong, he was already a fan of the Tour de France.
Earlier in the ride, during the part that was supposedly fun, Dad rode just behind me as I struggled up a steep hill, encouraging me. “You can do it, Bud,” he said, using his nickname for me.
And I did it.
While it might have looked like we were in the middle of nowhere, we were actually still biking through our neighborhood, which consisted of houses speckled in the woods along a network of dirt roads that wound up and around the foothills. There was not a block grid or paved road in sight. TV came in for all of the houses through a lone, 4-foot antenna atop the hill we were climbing. Mt. Evans, one of Colorado’s massive 14,000-foot peaks, loomed over our roof. Limited phone lines meant that multiple houses shared a “party line.” After all, Evergreen wasn’t even an official town; it was an unincorporated community in Jefferson County. We didn’t have a town hall, a movie theater, or any fast-food restaurants—we didn’t even have a mayor!
“Keep hammering, Travis! We don’t stop
until we get to the top of the hill!”
I figured everyone lived in a place like this; that kids all over the world were also out “hammering the hills” with a tall, rangy, athletic dad; and that everyone had a choice of four channels on one TV and one phone line to share with four families.
We pushed up those hills, riding side by side, to help me go hard and push my limits. But Dad wasn’t some kind of two-wheeled tyrant. He knew not to push a five-year-old too hard, and he also realized that we had to have fun. Dad’s real goal here was not to make me a tough biker, but to help me develop the resilience that would carry me through other areas of life.
Having climbed the first pitch of our neighborhood hill, Dad and I came to the flat segment that marked the mid-stage sprint. On our limited menu of television, we had been able to watch the Tour de France, and I had become entranced with it. Dad was knowledgeable and had explained the intricacies of the fabled race. I knew the names of the top riders, including one of my early heroes, American Greg LeMond, who had won the 1986 Tour (and would return to win in 1989 and 1990 as well). So as my little legs pedaled vigorously, Dad imitated the BBC English voice of the incomparable Tour announcer Phil Liggett calling one of the stages.
“It’s Fignon, LeMond and Hinault, side by side!” Dad would call, referring to LeMond’s rivals Laurent Fignon and Bernard Hinault, other great Tour riders of that era. “Hinault takes the lead, but here comes LeMond. He’s pulling away. It’s<el>LeMond! He wins the stage at the line. What a finish!”
I thrust my hands skyward, blowing kisses to imaginary crowds. Dad would chuckle, and on we would pedal through the brilliant Colorado morning.
The road kicked up and got even rockier as we left our neighborhood and headed into the woods that surrounded Evergreen. I grunted. Well, probably squeaked—I was five. A burro inside the barbed-wire corral on the hillside brayed. We were now climbing what appeared, from my height-challenged vantage point, to be a very large hill, if not a mountain. My rear tire spun in the loose stuff, but I gained traction and continued. These were mountain bikes with rigid forks (front suspension was not yet widely available), so every rock I rolled over made my young bones shake. I was pushing, pushing. It hurt and I wanted to stop and go back and pretend to be Greg LeMond waving to the crowds some more. Just as I was about to put a foot down and stop in mid-climb, Dad tucked in next to me, his calm voice articulating what would become a recurring theme in my endurance education.
“You can do it, Bud,” he said. “Don’t stop on the climb. Commit to it. Hammer the hills. It’s all good mental training, Bud.”
Looking back on those days now, I’m not sure if I knew what the word “commit” meant at that age; and I’m sure I had no concept of “mental training.” But I knew this much, and it’s why the memory stays with me: I made it to the top of a hill that had looked impossible.
Dad believed in me, and that made me believe in myself.
I have another, related memory from 1988. Oddly enough, it was only a few weeks after my training ride with Dad. I think the reason I remember it, though, is because in a sense it vindicated the lesson I had learned on the hills of Evergreen on my little mountain bike; it sealed the deal, so to speak, and made me realize that not only could my dad cajole me up a hill and do a good imitation of Phil Liggett, but that he could back it up.
Dad, who had never run more than a marathon, signed up for, committed to, and embarked upon the Leadville Trail 100 Run.
I was there, and I watched it unfold.
Examples like this one remind us of the ways running can prepare us for life's challenges--and vice versa. Dad went on to finish Leadville, launching his running and then adventure racing careers—and providing a foundation for me later on as a professional endurance athlete. If you like the Rundamentalists, I think you'll also like the other stories and principles in The Ultra Mindset. The book exists to help people make the most of life, and I'd be honored to talk about it with you via travismacy.com.
Keep it rolling,
There are some video previews of material from The Ultra Mindset at www.theultramindset.com
Think about your thinking:
It's all good mental training:
Have an ego and use it:
"My dad believed in me, and that made me believe in myself"