Friday night I had the opportunity to have dinner with a legend. Simple as that. Joe Friel needs no introduction to anyone reading this blog, I'm sure - as the father of modern endurance coaching, he's written books on every possible triathlon, cycling, diet and endurance topic.
The opportunity came about because Joe was in Manchester to deliver TrainingPeaks University, along with Dave Schell, TP's Head of Education. I'd delivered a webinar for TrainingPeaks earlier in the year, which seemed to go down pretty well, and since then I've written a couple of education articles for them. So, hearing they were both in town, my business partner Andy and I jumped at the chance to invite them out to dinner - and we were really stoked when they agreed :)
The pair were just plain good company. Sometimes you just hit it off with people, and we were so lucky that this was one of those nights. We got to tell them a little about how we've set up Team Oxygenaddict, and in my mind I guess I figured that I'd be trying to pick their brains on coaching techniques and TrainingPeaks tips, but we spent most of the night talking about Joe's back story and how he got into triathlon coaching. I don't want to spoil too much of it because we're going to have him on the podcast in January, but I really wanted to get down on paper the things I remembered from the night while they were still fresh in my mind.
The parallels between his life path and mine were just staggering.
He can still remember the night that his life changed
Joe was originally a teacher but his passion was for endurance sport, and as time passed he wanted more and more to open a specialist running store in Colorado. At the time, there were only a handful of running stores in the US, and there was already one in the town he lived in. One night, he couldn't sleep and stayed up all night running the numbers, and in the morning took a deep breath and told his wife - I want to quit teaching and open a running shoe store. She just said - Okay. And they were off!
I can still remember that feeling of wanting to leave teaching, but being afraid to leave a stable job. Eventually, I just felt like - I have no choice, I have to do this. It was a big gamble, but fingers crossed it's paying off so far - certainly in terms of the satisfaction I get from doing something I'm passionate about every day.
He invented professional triathlon coaching as a way to get people off his back
All his time in the shoe shop was taken up by people asking him for training advice, rather than buying shoes. As a way to get them off his back, he told a guy 'sure, I'll help you, but it'll cost you X bucks for the plan,' thinking the guy would say - No way! But he happily paid it. And recommended his friends did the same. Soon he was making more money from plans than from shoes, and his plan to make a full time living from training and coaching athletes was born.
We shared a laugh about having basically exactly the same experience but 30 years apart - we had the same chart on the wall of our office in front of us, detailing how many athletes we needed to coach in order to make any kind of living. I still have that chart in a file somewhere, covered in stickers for each time I managed to sign up a new athlete. I wonder if Joe has his too?!
He's always taken every opportunity
He took every speaking and writing opportunity he could get, right from the go. Women's Circle meetings, whatever. Because he knew that each engagement, someone would know someone who wanted a trainer and a coach, and they would refer him. And they did.
I just love the attitude of the bootstrapping hustler. Say yes to everything and work out the details later, and if things don't scare you, you probably need to take a look at the rut you're in.
TrainingPeaks used to exist as 70 sheets of fax paper a week
In the early days, Joe would fax out weekly plans to his 70 athletes, and they'd fill them out and fax them back over the weekend. On Monday mornings, his office floor would be covered in sheets of paper that had arrived and spilled out of the machine. Eventually his son suggested that one of his pals build a rough website that would at least keep all those documents electronic for him - and that idea became TrainingPeaks.
Imagine! I've got the benefits of all of that - uploadable athlete data, automatic athlete notifications - imagine having the foresight to build a website to do all this before coaching was even a profession?! It's like the Costner movie 'Field of Dreams' - 'Build it, and they will come.'
Although he's 'retired', he still travels the world doing what he loves
'It isn't work if you enjoy it. Why would I want to stop doing something I enjoy?'
The six or so TPU's they run every year give him the opportunity to travel the world, meeting passionate people who share his interests. He could certainly afford to never work a day in his life again, I'm sure, but he's driven by passion. He described the hours he spends reading documents and journals, each one leading him to the next one - because he's so interested in it - and that becomes a book, as a way to keep track of all the things he's learned.
Yes, he eats Paleo in real life
While I stuffed my face with Sticky Toffee pudding, Joe simply had fish and salad. Nothing else. No bread, no desert. The more he reads, the more convinced he is that sugar is the root cause of more diseases than we can currently imagine. He mentioned dementia and Alzheimer's as the most recent link he's found.
Yikes. Time for me to look at that and take some action, I think.
World Endurance Summit
We ended the night with Joe saying - Well, you know, we have this great Endurance Summit out in Colorado in August. Maybe you guys should come out and join us and present to the conference on the business lessons you've learned building Team Oxygenaddict?
What's that now?! Too bloody right we would ! So - we're looking at flights, half terrified and half super-excited - and wondering whether he was really serious! Later that night on twitter, he posted this: Well, that's my week pretty much complete, right there...
Can't wait to get him on the podcast so you can all hear his story. Watch this space!