Born to Suffer: Average Joe

Born to Suffer: Average Joe

By Coach Erik Cagnina

Well, well, well. I’m sitting here, watching “Average Joe” (and where were these shows when I was a swinging single?), trying to dream up something to write about. Fact is, winter is a pretty darn mellow time for me. I don’t really have any recent, super silly training or racing stories. Sure, I’m hopefully (pending injury) doing Las Vegas Marathon in a week, so it hasn’t been like I’ve been hibernating, but just enough running to survive the race and very little swimming or biking. To me winter is time to make up for some of those occasionally strained family relations when the training gets tough in the summer, catch up on those “honey-do” projects that “honey-didn’t” and generally let the body and mind heal in preparation for the upcoming season.

So Coach Mike thought I might write about my feelings on having my training log (more like a training twig these days) posted for the world to see. But you know, it doesn’t bother me too much. Maybe sometimes the volume isn’t where I’d like it, or the workouts aren’t the traditional way to do things, but I do the best I can and in the long run, I’m the only one I have to answer to. So what I thought I’d rather do is open the book a little more. I’m going to take an honest look at my strengths and, more importantly, my weaknesses, and present my thoughts as how to maintain the strengths and improve on the weaknesses for the upcoming season.


Natural Ability – Fortunately, something in the Cagnina gene pool works in favor of the endurance athlete. From the 3rd grade Presidential Physical Fitness test to the spur of the moment “hell yes, let’s race to the Marina and back” in the high school years to the VO2 max test I did a few years ago, I’ve always managed to do pretty well at stuff like that. Furthermore, I have the benefit of being a “fast adapter” – which can be good and bad as it works in both directions. Fitness fades quickly, but returns quickly also with consistent, high quality training. So what to do with this info? The last sentence said it all – CONSISTENT, HIGH QUALITY TRAINING. Sporadic training only leaves me bouncing back and forth between kind of trained and kind of not trained. With consistency, I can continue to build on the recent gains I’ve made and work my way towards new levels of fitness.

Constant Analytical Reflection – In my 8 to 5 job, I manage bond portfolios. It is an interesting job (I think at least) and to do it well, I am constantly assessing and reassessing the continuous flow of economic, political and social information. I consider different strategies, if they may have worked in the past and what’s different this time around that might change the outcome. I’ve always felt that examining my own (and my athletes’) training is much the same exercise. I look at training strategies that have worked in the past while also considering new and untested strategies. I look at the risks and rewards of the options and carefully decide on the course of action that I think gives the best chance of yielding the desired results. To get into a mindless, repetitive type of training may leave me in a comfortable and predictable state of training, but it will also inevitably yield predictable race results as well. And I don’t race to finish comfortably and predictably – I go into every race with the hope of doing something, somewhere that I’ve never been able to do before.

Determination – Out of every race – triathlon, duathlon, marathon, etc… – I’ve ever started, I’ve only got one DNF to my name and that was due to a flat tire in short race where I had no spare (and I still did the run for fun). Within reason, I try to extend this mindset into training as well, doing everything in my power (within reason) to complete the self-assigned workout. I believe the benefit to this mindset is as much mental as physical. Certainly, pushing myself hard (again, within reason) will more often than not yield physical benefits, but even more powerful is the confidence and knowledge that no matter what trials and tribulations I may encounter over the course of a race, I can and will handle it. Sometimes gracefully, sometimes not, but business always gets taken care of.

Creative Time Management – Like most of you out there, I’ve gotten to be a pretty good juggler as I’ve gotten older (actually, I can’t juggle for shit, but you know what I mean). Between the 8 to 5 job, coaching, being a husband and a father and then trying to a personal indulgence or two of my own in there, things can get pretty hectic. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing as it’s forced me to get creative in my workouts. Some of the standard ones have been OK for me – I don’t mind running with the baby jogger nearly as much as I thought I would and the trainer (soon to be CompuTrainer) does the job getting a ride in after taking care of family business during the daylight hours. But I’ve found a few other ways to get some good workouts in without taking significant incremental time. The run into work in the morning has become a mainstay. Drop clothes at the YMCA the day before, run straight there, shower and walk over to work. Voila, 12 invisible miles to the family. Lunchtime swims are good – I’ve only got about 30-35 minutes to work with, but keep things moving and I get a decent 2,000 yd workout in. Do I wish it were longer? Sure, but something is better than nothing and I know from experience that I improve if I get those swims in consistently. This year, I’d like to mess around with the fitball while watching TV. Little things like that, done consistently, add up in the long run.


Early Rising Discipline – I’ll start with my excuses. First off, I have narcolepsy and a side effect known as active REM disorder. In English, I have no problem falling asleep, but sleep very lightly and wake up frequently throughout the night. So when it’s time to get up, a lot of the time I feel like I’m no better rested than when I went to bed. I’ve been to sleep doctors and they tried putting me on Prozac for this (a side effect of Prozac is to deepen your sleep), to which I told them hell no. So I’ve tried the natural route and have started taking E-Caps’ REM-Caps. They definitely seem to help so hopefully I’ll feel a little better when the alarm goes off at 5:30 AM (maybe not early for some of you, but pretty darn early in my book).

Here’s my other problem and I’ll admit this is borderline stupid, but I love baseball. Football and hockey are cool, basketball mildly interesting at times, but in my book, baseball is king. So of course, of all the major sports, which is the one that takes place entirely during the peak training and racing time of year? Baseball. So I’m all excited, staying up to watch games and check out my fantasy teams, which only compounds the energy problems I have early in the morning. So yesterday, I decided to skirt the issue and had cable installed in my bedroom. So now at least I can get to bed early and still catch the games. I don’t know if it’s a solution or not, but it’s better than falling asleep on the couch every night.

Nutrition – I am an extremist and I have an obscene sweet tooth. That’s a bad combination for someone who has to work pretty hard to keep weight off unless it’s peak training time. Generally speaking, I think eat pretty healthy – fast food is a rare treat (yes, treat), plenty of fruit, vegetables, chicken, fish, etc… But get me around some ice cream or birthday cake and if one little taste is nice, then what could beat three servings? Maybe four and that’s about it. Due to a bet (which I won but decided I should probably pretend I lost), I recently gave up neat-to-eat-sweet-treats for two weeks and really didn’t miss them all that much. So my goal is to eliminate them from my diet during this season and see if that helps lean me up a bit more. Of course, the night-before-the-race ice cream stays. This is not open for negotiation or debate.

Detail to Equipment – I can’t figure out if I’m stupid, lazy or just have an undying faith that everything is going to be OK, but I really need to take care of my equipment better. Learn a few more bike maintenance skills, get it into the shop a little more for a real tune-up and some extra TLC now and again. Hell, when I actually start riding again, all I own is a cracked helmet. Nothing major, but this isn’t something to mess with – I wouldn’t stand for any of my athletes doing that, it’s ridiculous that I let myself. Even more minor things like finding new goggles that I like instead of racing in my scratched five-year old pair that I can barely see out of or changing running shoes before they go totally flat. While a lot of this stuff seems minor, it’s potentially free time that’s just being given away while racing and also increasing the odds of injury. Time to get my act together, even if it means missing the occasional workout to take care of that stuff.

Attention to Recovery – I could start this sentence the same way I started the last section. It’s time for me to accept the fact that even though I’m only 33 years old, already I don’t recover from a hard workout like I could five years ago. Maybe part of it is the cumulative miles over the years, I’m sure part of it is just nature doing its thing. But instead of saying oh well, things are different, it’s time for me to start doing the little things – getting some calories in within that 30 minute window at the end of a workout, doing a better job of staying generally hydrated, maintaining consistent protein intake every day, making better use of supplements like E-Caps’ Xobaline which I’ve had good luck with over the years. If I want to race and train like a serious athlete, then it’s time I started acting like one!!

Alrighty, there it is folks. The loose plan to greatness for 2004. Feedback, commentary and criticism is always welcomed – fire away!!! Thanks, EC

“Born to Suffer” is a monthly affair in which to share my tales of suffering. Feel free to contact me at and share your tales of suffering. I might even use your story if I’ve been unlucky enough to have not suffered recently. The purpose is nothing more than to generate a smile. It’s good to train hard, but it’s better to smile while training hard.


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