Written by Christopher Kelly
July 13, 2017
Christopher: If you’ve ever had MCT Oil cause GI distress, or find travelling and racing with an oil inconvenient, then I think you’re going to like PHAT FIBRE. PHAT FIBRE is a C8 MCT Oil like Brain Octane, but unlike Brain Octane, it has been transformed into a powder with a fibre that has been shown to selectively feed the beneficial bacteria, lactobacillus and bifidobacteria.
PHAT FIBRE is a great source of stable energy, and I mix it in water for longer rides and races, and I also use it as a creamer in my Hormetea. If you’d like to learn more about how to fuel an ironman triathlon using PHAT FIBRE, I will link Tommy and Megan’s recent article in the show notes for this episode. You can find PHAT FIBRE at phatfibre.com. Now, over to the podcast.
Hello and welcome to the Nourish Balance Thrive podcast. My name is Christopher Kelly, and today, I’m joined by Lesley Paterson. Hi Lesley!
Lesley: Hi! How are you Christopher?
Christopher: I’m very well, thank you very much for being on today. I’m super excited to have you. For people who don’t know Lesley, she is a 3-time off-road triathlon world champion. And I first heard about your name when Lauren Peterson, who is a gut microbiome researcher posted a video on Facebook. And it was this incredible story and a really nicely done video which I’ll link in the show notes of your story with the Taymount Clinic. You do FMT and I just couldn’t believe it. I’m like “I couldn’t believe it with Lauren!”.
So, Lauren’s not only a researcher that had FMT herself, she’s also a pro-mountain biker. And here, we have someone else who’s also an amazing athlete who’s done FMT. I’m like “There’s something going on here. I really need to get this woman on the podcast”. And recently I’ve been reading your book and maybe we will get into that later on but I want you to talk about the type of racing that you do first. Can you tell me a little bit about that?
Lesley: Yeah, for sure. So you know, I started off more than the road triathlon scene, doing ITU racing and all that kind of stuff back in the UK, because as you can tell, I’m a Scottish lass.
Christopher: You can swear on this podcast as well. I’ll set the explicit flags. I got the expression that my dad is Scottish and my mom lives in Scotland and I feel like the swearing is woven into the language. You can’t really separate it. You cannot really ask a Scottish person not to swear because that’s what they do. So, feel free. It’s okay on this podcast.
Lesley: There’s no bleeps so that’s just fine. So, I’m very fucking pleased. Yeah so basically, I started off in the old road track on scene and really got quite dissolution with the whole ITU racing and how it felt and my lack of progress. I kinda gave up the sport actually, for about 5 or 6 years when I first move to the US, and went back to study acting and drama and kinda get more into my creative side. And through that, I sort of discovered myself again and then got into XTERRA Triathlon which is off-road triathlon.
It really just kind of appealed to me in every sense of the word, that’s a gritty sport. The community is a lot more embracing and you know, wonderful, friendly, warm people. And it’s just different, you know you’re pushing against yourself in this challenging again rather than being competitive with one another. And that sensibility really, I just loved it.
So, I got into that and became a professional for 8 or 9 years now and it’s been a very, very interesting heart-wrenching, amazing, awful, journey in which we could definitely dig into.
Christopher: Yeah, let’s do that. So, it’s funny you should say that about the difference between the strictly on-road and then the off-road for triathlon because I wondered if it’s like the difference between roadies and mountain-bikers. So, I did road-race once as a shiny new cat-by. And it was a road race that’s a really, really bumpy service and that’s because the bike-handling was difficult.
But man, the atmosphere was so different from a mountain-bike race. Everyone’s like super serious, warming up with their trainer in the carpark and nobody makes eye-contact. As soon as the race is over, everyone gets into their cars and drives home like there’s not a beer to be seen. It’s so different from the mountain bike races, where there’s a real camaraderie and it’s almost like going to a festival. Is that like the difference between traditional triathlon and XTERRA?
Lesley: Yes, 100%. There’s a lot of neurotic athletes in road triathlon. And there’s just a lot of comparison, right? It’s very data-driven and it’s all numbers. And there’s not this freeing sense to be on your own environment. And I mean look, so much of the researchers has shown the impact of being out. You know, the hills and mountains, your nature in terms of your mental prowess, strength and positive attitudes. So, it’s not surprising that people that are out there in nature are happier than people that are out there pounding the streets.
So, it’s just an amazing thing. XTERRA is wonderful. The people are great. The support is wonderful and the racing, you know, it’s funny, there’s a chap called Bob Babbitt that’s a very well-known commentator in the triathlon scene and he said “If it was easy, they would call it ‘IRONMAN’”. And that’s what he says about XTERRA. That’s what he said after his first XTERRA race. So yeah, it’s very, very tough, but in all the right ways.
Christopher: Okay. I can’t imagine it. I mean, mountain biking is difficult enough by itself. Even the equipment, I just cannot get my head around how you make all of these 3 things come together at once.
Lesley: It’s really hard logistically. It’s kind of a nightmare. Obviously, you’re swimming out there in the lake or the ocean, and then you’re getting on your bike. And of course, nutrition is key in XTERRA because the races are anywhere from 2 and a half to 4 hours, right? The intensity is so extreme that you need to be on top of your fueling so you need to make sure how you get it, when you get it, how are you taking your hands off the handlebars to get it. Are you wearing a camelback, is it a bottle? How are you getting your food in, where are you putting it? And then, you need to be strong enough and reserved enough to get off and then run on the trails.
I mean, literally, the mantra of XTERRA is “Live More” and they basically find the biggest, gnarly hills they could possible find. It’s awesome! It’s wicked fun!
Christopher: And since you mentioned it, I want you to briefly describe your nutrition strategy then because I know exactly what you’re talking about. Back in the day when I first started racing mountain bikes, I used to wear a camelback. And I feel now that that’s kind of the sign of the new… “This guy needs to be fast if he’s wearing a camelback”.
And so, I have one bottle. I have done races now where it’s been 4 hours and I finish the race and the bottle is literally untouched and on my frame still. Surely that cannot be optimal, so maybe I need to go back to the camelback. So, what do you use?
Lesley: I actually use a kids’ camelback. It’s like a really, really small one so it’s very, sort of, nimble. It doesn’t have a lot of bits and pieces hanging down from it but it carries 2 bottles’ worth or 50 ounces. Then, I’ll have a bottle as well. It just depends where the feeding stations are. You know, my bike frames are so small they only actually carry one bottle so it’s not like I could ever just get away with that in anyway. But not only that, when you’re, kind of, over the technical terrain, taking your hands off the bars all the time gets challenging, right?
Christopher: Yeah. That’s one of the main reasons exactly, though I haven’t touched the bottle it’s because I dare not touch the bottle for fear of breaking a collarbone.
Lesley: Surely. But it’s strategy, right? You know, we’ll pre-rate the course and will check out places, “Ok, this is where I’m going to fuel. This is where I’m going to fuel. This is where I’m going to fuel”. And it’s a very, very deliberate thing because if you want to have an effective second half of the bike, and then run really well off the bike, you’ve got to keep your hydration up. You’ve got to keep electrolytes up. You’ve got to make sure that you’re having enough calories. And finding the right calories as well which is challenging especially when you have gut issues like mine or maybe you’re a paleo athlete or you’re sort of more pure with the foods you eat. It can get more and more challenging to find the right fuels.
Christopher: Right. Yeah, of course. So, tell me about the gut issues then. Tell me about the story that led up to the video that I saw on YouTube about the Taymount Clinic.
Lesley: You know, I would say I’ve had gut issues from a very, very young age actually. And even when I was in Scotland, I was know as “The Farter”. So, I played on the rugby team. There were 250 boys and myself. And whenever I got nervous, I farted so everyone knew this about me. I was quite funny. So, I think I’ve always had gut issues and again, growing up in Scotland, having a lot of sugars and starches. I mean, this is in 80’s and 90’s you know, there was a lot of white bread and white pasta and a lot of inflammation-developing types of foods.
And then, I was on a lot of antibiotics. That was a big thing when I was younger. I had a lot of sore throats and whatnot and then I also had very, very bad acne. And so, I went to a couple of rounds of a medicine called “Accutane” which now is apparently known to cause IBS. So, there’s a lot of things in the works for my young age. My stomach, I would say, was always my weak point.
And then, I moved to the US, and we’ve just had this conversation, Chris, we’ve been here for 15 years, and the foods over here are just very different, you know? I think it’s extremes. You can get the best of all foods and you can get the worst of all the foods.
Christopher: Yeah. You know, that’s what I think about America in general. You seem to meet the most brilliant people. I’ve met the most incredible mathematicians and computer scientists working in Silicon Valley. And then, you go to some other places and you’ll meet some of the dumbest people I’ve even met. I’ll be honest. And in the UK, there doesn’t seem to be so many extremes. Everybody’s somewhere in the middle.
Lesley: Totally. Which is both good and bad, right? It’s like, I find, that when you’re from the UK and you moved especially to California, you’ve got a, sort of, humbleness and perspective in life but then you gain the confidence by moving to a country that does build up good people and gives you opportunity. There’s definitely that sense. But yeah, I would say after about 5 years, I put on 10 times gradually, my stomach grew worse and worse. By that point, I was actually getting back heavily into competitive sports so the volume of food that I was having was far greater.
And so, I started to get a lot more stomach issues and I picked up some really bad parasites from waters that we swim in as triathletes. And then, went on a very severe round of antibiotics for about a month and I think that just floored me. As a consequence, I started to get all these weird symptoms, neurological symptoms and just totally weird stuff and I’m like “What is going on?”.
So, I went for the test and I find out that I had Lyme’s disease. I’m like “What is this all about?”. So promptly, I saw a Lyme literate doctor and went gluten free and went more of the natural root that ultimately, as a top professional, I was pushing my immune system to the extreme. And you know, day after day and so, compromising a lot of stuff. And also, as a woman, it’s very, very challenging, losing a lot of body fat. I went to a phase there when my bodyfat went down to about 6%.
Christopher: Oh my god. You’re tiny, aren’t you? I get the sense from watching the video, I think it’s maybe the size of your bike frame that gave it away. You’re quite small, aren’t you?
Lesley: Yeah, I’m absolutely small. My husband calls it AKIRENG. He calls my bike AKIRENGS. So yeah, I’m tiny but I can really get myself really tiny which is great when it comes to weight and performance but that would only sustain for so long and then your body just starts to fall apart.
So yeah, it’s been on this crazy journey for the last however many years. And bit by bit, the stomach has just falling apart; gas, bloating, energy issues, depression, anxiety all mixed in with Lyme’s disease. Lots of other infections and hormone issues, you name it and I’ve got it! That basically led me to the Taymount Clinic and I read all about FMT and its impact and I was like “It’s worth a go” and reached out to the gal over there. And they were amazing, just amazing! They’re so warm and friendly and embracing. And they were like “Come over. Give it a shot. See how you are”. And that was that. It really has been an amazing experience.
Christopher: Awesome. So, you heard Glen Taylor on Chris Kresser’s podcast so had you been listening to that podcast for a while?
Lesley: I had. I love Chris Kresser’s podcast. I mean, I’m kind of addicted if I’m honest.
Christopher: Did you get any benefits from making the types of changes that Chris talks about?
Lesley: Yeah. Definitely. And I think what’s really important is, and you’ll know this as an integrated medicine person, is that there’s so much information out there. And how do you get someone that’s like an aggregate of that information that you believe and then you trust in, that looks to science, but also looks at everything. And there’s very, sort of, a mediated and a strategic approach. And that’s what I love about Chris Kresser. I just go to him whenever I have an issue. I’ll put it in my Google Search.
Christopher: That’s the keyword! I think I’ve done that in the past. I’m very lucky now that I have my human bullshit deflector in Dr. Tommy Wood. He’s always there in my Slack so, I would ask Tommy before I did Chris Kresser keyword search, but I definitely have done that in the past.
Lesley: Yeah. Well, I’m excited to hear about Tommy and maybe he could be mine as well. He can be my health Google-searcher.
Christopher: You know what? The thing to do is… sorry to interrupt you but I genuinely mean this, you should head over to highlights. I send you the link. I’ll put in the show notes as well, but Tommy is writing this highlights email each week that goes out. And there’s 3 things. There’s one thing that you can add to your health routine that we think is going to improve your health and athletic performance. And then, one thing that he’s seen, I know we can use the word bullshit now, in the email he shows a different perspective because that’s the right thing to say, right? Then, we just linked to something that’s really awesome and I swear, this is just a cool email series and I will encourage anyone to sign up for it. So yeah, if you love the Chris Kresser stuff then you’ll love this too. I’ll put the link in the show notes.
Lesley: That sounds amazing because I’m always looking for resources because the more that I learn, the more that I can pass to my athletes that I coach in. And the people that I touch and usually begin to realize it, you have a responsibility as someone that you know, luckily, I have the connections, the intellect and the drive to really learn about this stuff. I’m very passionate about helping people that are going through similar things to me and passing on this information, you know? So man, I’m jazzed that we’re speaking right now and I’ve got you as a resource as well. I’ll be bugging the shit out of you.
Christopher: Yeah, that’s fine. Absolutely, go ahead. Okay, so let me recap. So, you took a history of antibiotics. And you presumably took antibiotics for the Lyme disease too.
Lesley: Right. Well, not exactly. I didn’t go down the root of long term antibiotics. But I did do antibiotics for things like the parasites that I had. And that’s largely before I knew I had Lyme. I tend to go down more alternative route for the Lyme disease like ozone therapy and IV therapy and bits and pieces that in the past. Ultimately, I’ve had many courses of antibiotic throughout my years and have since found out that my gut is very, very compromised. I’ve had DNA testing of the gut, stool sample tests and all sorts. It wasn’t a pretty poor shape before that I got FMT at Taymount.
Christopher: Okay. And then, you made some changes to your diet. You mentioned gluten-free briefly there. Were there any other changes that you made that you found helpful for your gut symptoms.
Lesley: Definitely. I worked with a great doctor in Florida called Dr. Minkoff.
Christopher: Oh yeah! I’ve interviewed Dr. Minkoff.
Lesley: Oh great. He’s a well known. He’s an IRONMAN athlete as well. So yeah, I went across there for a month a few years ago and got some treatment from him. And as a consequence, I went on the paleo diet through him. And so, have largely been paleo across the last 2 years. And definitely, that’s made a big difference but then I’ve had lots of other issues too. Things like adrenal fatigue. And as an athlete, you know, paleo can be quite challenging to understand what carbohydrates sources are effective that make you feel good. And then, if you got gut issues, which I do, certain carbohydrates can create issues.
And then higher fat hasn’t really worked for me and has created adrenal fatigue. You know, it gets really, really complex and it’s an incredibly individual thing when it comes to diet so you know, I’m a huge advocate, obviously, that diet is the number 1 piece in helping you resolve your health issues. But I’m also an advocate that it has to be a very individual thing from both a physiological aspect and an emotional aspect.
Christopher: Yeah, absolutely. I’m with you. So, tell me about the types of carbohydrates that have been working well for you.
Lesley: Yeah. So, I was on the sweet potatoes and plantains and chestnuts and a lot of these great, great things. And I ended up having to add in white rice as a pure starch and that really, really helps me. I was getting a lot of fatigue and adrenal issues before I added in some white rice to that mix. Interestingly enough, recently, I’ve hopped back on with some ancient grains. So, sprouted quinoa and amaranth, and a few bits and bobs like that. To be honest, I’ve got a lot more energy.
So again, I think because I’m actually struggling right now with SIBO. I’m not entirely sure. But that’s a whole other thing. You know, certain carbohydrates create a lot of bloating and gas and issues so I’ve got to be so careful.
Christopher: So, tell me about your experience with Taymount then? So we know that FMT is on its way to becoming the standard of care for the treatment of C. Diff colitis. Is that what you had? I’m just wondering why Glen was willing to entertain you.
Lesley: Well, he had done a comprehensive analysis of my past, how many antibiotics I’ve had. He looked at my stool samples and DNA samples and quickly saw that I was pretty compromised and no amount of probiotics would resolve that. And furthermore, I was struggling with a lot of depression and anxiety and mood issues and fatigue, brain-fog, neurological symptoms. And he was like “This is worth a shot. You know, your body is like a Ferrari and you’re trying to make it perform at the level you are. And as a consequence, you need it to be in top shape, so you have to start from ground zero”. That was his willingness and I said “Great, I love to give it a shot!”.
So basically, the first 3-4 days, I had to have colonics and cleanse out the system, the colon, as much as possible. And then for 10 days, I had an FMT treatment which basically involved going to the clinic and they had a big syringe of a poo.
Christopher: Hmm. Did you get to choose the donor? Did you read through the catalogue in reception and choose the donor first?
Lesley: It was the one that won the world title. No. They have 20 donors at the clinic, I believe. And they cycle through and you get a different donor every day which is really interesting because you have different responses. So, both accumulations of the new bacteria or just the difference of bacteria that you’re getting from the donors will create different symptoms. And not only that, man, would your farts and poop smells different, that’s really weird. My husband would totally be like “Hmm, I think that’s Margaret”. You know, he would do all this commentary on my farts which was very funny.
But yeah, this really would walk you through what you’re going to go through during that 10-day period and go through many ups and downs. And after certain amounts of days you get almost like a relapse where your body is not rejecting like “Woah, I’ve got this new bacteria! What the hell are you doing to me?”. You would experience a few days of brain fog and fatigue and you can have the second round of that in the second week. And on both times, they were pretty extreme like I was like “Who the hell am I? I could barely remember my name”. It was so bizarre. And literally, after I’m cleared from that, I had masses of energy that’s really quite noticeable.
Christopher: Awesome! And did they do some testing on you afterwards? Did they say “Oh yeah, this is taken. This has been a success”?
Lesley: Not yet. You’ve got to wait for 2 months and then do some more testing. They want to really settle in, otherwise, you’re not really getting a true sampling of your body’s reaction to it. You’re going the instance of what the donors were rather than what your body absorbs it or rejected it or whatever.
Christopher: Okay. And have you’ve been able to return to your training?
Lesley: Yeah. I’ve consciously backed off this year anyway because I’ve got a lot of hormone issues and adrenal issues and all sorts like that. And with the book coming out and the book tour, I’m focused on that, I’ve definitely returned to 50%. And I actually had some pretty good sessions where I feltl a lot better.
Christopher: Awesome. And I really wanted to talk to you. This is a good time to Segway into talking about your new book ‘The Brave Athlete’ and what I wanted to talk to you about is do you think that what’s going on in your gut affects sport psychology? I would argue that biology defines behavior and many of the problems that you may be seeing in your athlete, so behavior that’s unhelpful may be driven by what’s going on with their gut. Would you agree with that?
Lesley: 100% agree with that. And it’s crazy that I have the knowledge that I have and I’m working with all these athletes and I’d say especially I’ve had these female athletes in their mid-40’s and mid-50’s. There is this unbelievable self-loathing, low self-worth and anxiety, depression and neurotic behavior, just neurotic. You start to analyze the stress levels around them, their food intake and the types of food that they have and their constant issues with body weight and cycling of body weight. The stress on their gut is extreme.
And so, it’s very, very difficult for me as a coach not to get preachy and get my high horse about it but you know, they just want to get to their doctors and get on Prozac and it’s like “Ah”, you know? It’s incredibly challenging! It’s basically a layout, this is what I’ve gone through and it continues to go through. This is what I’ve experienced and what I’m learning and I really think that there are issues going on you that you’re not aware of and we should look at.
But ultimately, as you know, there’s no real clear path for people to take. It’s not like “Here’s a standard block of test that we really want you to do and would really give us a great interpretative picture of what’s going on in your body”. The way that our medicine works at the moment and our insurance works, we don’t have the luxury of doing that. And I’m very investigative person. I call it my investigative health program. And I’ve done that ever since we had these issues so we’ll know what needs to be the best in the world.
My training is I have that investigative approach. I’m always searching and looking for the next thing. And other people are not like that. They’ve very lazy, they just want to take the easy route out. And they want the pill that will fix everything and they don’t really believe because we’ve been brought up in the society now that a pill will fix it.
Christopher: Or use several ways.
Lesley: Right! You know, there’s an easy fix! The longer and the shorter of this is that I want to the world title because I worked my fucking ass off! I seriously worked harder than anyone else and that was a difference. And really, I’ve got talent but am I the most talented? No. Am I the hardest working? Damn straight I am. And people don’t want to do that.
Christopher: Tell me about the types of clients that you have in your Braveheart coaching practice.
Lesley: Yeah, very extreme which is what I love. We coached professionals or world champions. We coached total beginners that are obese and just trying to complete the first 5k. We coached moms that are podium contenders at the corner. We coached CEOs that just want to get a place at 70.3. Endurance bikers, mountain bikers that is all over the place which is great because coaching one set of people helps us coach the other set of people. And it gives us a really wide neck from which to learn and grow.
The biggest thing about my husband and I is that we’re always focused on learning and growing and we never try and push our athletes into thinking that we are all-seeing and all-knowing. This is our philosophy, this is how we’re learning and growing, this is what we believe and this is what worked for us and I want you to bring this stuff to the table so that we can go in this journey together. And that’s I think, why we created more of a community in our coaching and a family ultimately. And that’s what I love about it.
Christopher: That’s really interesting to me then. So, I would I be right in assuming then that if you’re coaching a wide variety of clients doing different sports, I would assume then that the book also is for a wide variety of athletes and discusses some common problems that they have.
Lesley: Surely. And the thing about it is obviously, I’ve competed at the top level and been around a lot of professional athletes. I know that world and how we operate and how we think. My husband is the sport psychologist for the BMC Bike Team. So, he knows the like you know, he worked the Tour de France last year. He knows how those guys operate. And then I got so many people that as I’ve said, are completing their first 5k and ultimately, we all have the same problems.
So, what we did with the book is we covered the woman with 12 issues if you will, we have find cropping out again and again and again. And we’ve dealved into those 12 issues from a neuro-science background: How does the brain operate, we use a model actually, from Dr. Steve Peters and some of the psychologists out there about how the brain operates. And then, we applied that into all of these issues and then come up with case studies, and then solutions and homework pieces and exercises for people to do so it’s actually applicable.
Because what you find with a lot of these sports sites and books out there is they’re not worth for shit because they might tell you what the problem is but they don’t help you solve it. And a lot of it doesn’t have any basis in science. So, we’ve done all of that but try to keep it relevant, fun, witty and self-effacing.
Christopher: Yup. And you got a lot of swearing in there even though it’s valid now. I didn’t have time to read all of the books but I only got the book just a few days ago. I only got about a third all the way through it and I’ve been really enjoying it. I really want you to talk about Steve Peters and the inner Chimp because I find this idea of neuroscience that’s been reorganized for the lay audience like myself. But the Inner Chimp, I just love that.
And I realized that when I was not feeling good, there was only the Chimp, right? The Chimp did make all the decisions. And now, maybe the human has more time. So, can you talk about The Inner Chimp?
Lesley: Yeah. You know what, it’s interesting. A lot of other psychiatrists, psychologists have used, there are several analogies whether that’s reptilian brain or you know, they’ve used other references to it so…
Christopher: The Chimp is better. It’s not a reptile, it’s a chimp.
Lesley: And it does feel like that, right? It behaves badly if you will. You know, the chimp is a really interesting one and I think that once we tell athletes about their brain functions, just like you’re learning, you all of a sudden, start to realize “Okay, who’s in charge at any given moment?” And if it is the chimp and I don’t want it to be, these are some solutions that we’ve come up with to help work through that.
So, I think it’s just the education of that piece that really helps people move beyond the issues that they are having and really characterize it. So, I think that’s the interesting piece and that chimp, the limbic system really is the basis to everything. I mean, again, we sort of apply it to every issue that we’ve come across to other athletes and it has a place in all of those issues. It really is a fun one to delve into.
Christopher: The sentence that made the most sense to me was “Ask yourself this question; ‘do you want to be having these feelings right now?’ If the answer is no, the chimp is running the show”.
Lesley: That’s some t-shirt right there.
Christopher: And the other thing that made a lot of sense to me that the chimp analogy is so perfect because the chimp is so much stronger than the human inside of your head, right? You can’t wrestle the chimp. Do not attempt to wrestle the chimp.
Lesley: And it’s amazing how many chemicals are actually released to create that power. It’s actually a chemical thing that occurs in the brain. Because we start to feel badly on ourselves that we’re feeling this way, that we’re acting this way. And oh, it’s my fault, it’s my fault. But it’s not! It’s your brain releasing chemicals that are 5 times stronger. You know, so, you have to understand that as a consequence and come up to solutions that we know through neuroscience that works.
Christopher: You know, the whole thing starts to make sense when you look at it through the evolutionary biology lens and start to ask the question ‘what the heck is this for?’ Well, this is for saving your neck maybe hundreds of thousands of years ago when there was danger everywhere and food was hard to come by and now, maybe that’s not the case so it’s inappropriate for the chimp to be so powerful. But that’s what we got so you need to be so powerful to manage the chimp.
Lesley: And when you’re on that start line and it does feel like it’s life or death, you’re understanding that it’s not, it’s harnessing some of that power. But at the same time, throwing a blanket over it and utilizing it in the right way. And that’s where we come up with techniques like your, alter-ego for example. That was the biggest thing for me as I was retaining my world title in 2012 and it’s coming up with a really effective alter-ego where I could kind of almost harness elements of the chimp and that but in the right ways.
So, Lesley, the professor person, the nice “No, no, no. You go first. I’m alright”. That doesn’t fucking work in a race. You know? So, I who’s my alter-ego that can embody some elements of the chimp that we do want. And for me, my alter ego is called Patty McKenzie. Patty is an Irish Boxer that doesn’t take shit from anyone.
And so, I started to embody some of those character traits on the start line. You know, leading up to the race and on the start line and I start to do it in training also. So again, it’s about utilizing some of those wonderful elements of your chimp but then at the same time, knowing which ones will help and which ones will hinder.
Christopher: I think I might go for the Scottish XTERRA racer as my alter-ego.
Lesley: You can use me anytime.
Christopher: It does seem strange to me that someone like you would need this alternate ego.
Lesley: Yes. That’s the thing, right? I think my biggest effectiveness as a coach is empathy with my athletes. Listen, I feel this way. I look in the mirror and feel fat. I get on the start line and shit my pants. I this, I that. And they’re like, no way. I’m like “I swear to god. Just ask my husband how many wipers I have before the race”. And so I think, they say “Well, Lesley’s gone through that and raced and won through titles. Maybe I can.” And that’s the goal.
Christopher: And do you find that all of your clients are able to do this? So, I picked up on the start and I didn’t know this before we started the interview that you have a history in drama or are interested in drama or in acting, entertainment and maybe this is something that those people can do. Do you find that any of your clients can do this?
Lesley: 100%. And I think that it’s fear that stops them from doing it, it’s embarrassment, it’s judgment you know, the judgment of others on themselves. And a whole lot of baggage in their past that’s going to create these narratives that we continually live in and can’t get out off. So, we try and create that family around them that makes them feel warm, that makes them feel like they can fail and we’re still going to catch them. Because ultimately, it’s not really failing. It’s just pushing the boundaries so that they can learn more about themselves and close the consequence.
And I think that you know, I was lucky enough to have a wonderful family that did that for me and then a wonderful husband that’s always there for me that no matter what I’ve done, if it hasn’t worked out, they’ve always been there and unconditionally catch me. Most people go through their lives and never have that. And as a result, they’re scared to push, they’re scared to feel, they’re scared to really go through those boundaries and ultimately, that’s where the growth happens.
So, we try to create that environment where “Yeah, we are going to fucking push you to the edge. We are going to take you over the edge. But that’s a good thing! That’s the good thing, we’re going to earn that inner soul”. And to really know what your chimp is, know who’s in charge at any given time and come up with solutions to help that.
Christopher: Talk about athlete identity issues. I find this incredibly interesting you know? We started this program of functional medicine for athletes and one of the problems that we frequently run into is that people say “Oh, this sounds really interesting but I’m not an athlete. I’m really not an athlete”. It’s funny to read your book where it seems like you’re having the same problems but that’s a totally different program. So, can you talk about athlete identity issues?
Lesley: Yeah, totally. I think it’s all about giving yourself permission to believe in yourself and it’s based around that sense of self-worth and confidence. We’ve created something in there called the “Me-tree” where we really break down at what level you have issues going on. Is it low self-worth? Is it low self-confidence? What are the differences? And that Me-Tree is based around the foundations, the branches, the leaves and what the difference between those levels of confidence are.
And until we really know what the issues are with any given athlete about why they think and feel the way that they do, we can then come up with solutions to help them overcome issues of identity. And all of this is understanding who is the actual athlete, what are the issues? What are they grinded in and therefore, at what level are we trying to fix things? So really, I call it sport therapy, right? It’s getting your foundational aspects of who we are and what’s going on in our world. And that’s why this book is not just applicable to endurance athletes. It’s actually applicable in pretty much every vein of life.
And I think everyone throughout their lives, they’re chasing a former identity. Again, they’ve created a narrative based on their history and what’s happened to them in the past. And they can’t get out of that narrative and we need to understand what that narrative is where we can change the path of the narrative.
And I had those issues too, I’m not kidding. When I first moved to the states, you know, I grew up in the UK and Scotland where you never talk yourself up, where you’re never really commended from doing well, nobody wants to put you in the pedestal because that’s not what you do. And if you talk about yourself, you’re cocky.
So you know, as a consequence, I had low self-confidence. Now low self-worth because internally, I felt good but low self-confidence which is higher up the me-tree and it had been created from these issues in my past. And when I got to the US, everyone else just talks like they were blood professionals. They were like “Double E champs and this and that” and I’m like “Wow, everyone’s fucking amazing!”. I don’t know if I can beat them, what’s going on?
So, the first few years, I had a real issue calling myself a professional. I didn’t feel like I deserved it. And I said “Okay, if I don’t feel like I could deserve it, that’s okay. I’m just going to keep saying it. I’m a professional. I’m a professional” to anyone I speak to who has a job, I’m a professional triathlete. And then I started adapting that sort of American confidence. And it works! It works! So you know, I kind of managed my narrative. I mean, all of those stuffs are super fascinating. To be honest, my husband is more expert in this way than I am. You know, he’s got PhD in psychology. In terms of getting into the nitty grtitty, I think you need to get him into your podcast to get into those elements.
Christopher: Okay yeah. Interesting. It’s funny you should say that about the pro-license thing because I’ve talked about that on many podcasts and sometimes I get someone call me out and say “Hey, you’re not a pro!” I’m like “Do you want me to send you my fucking license?” I don’t make my money riding my bike but I do have my license. Do you know what, this year, I’m almost done with it and the reason I’m almost done with it is because it really took the joy out of racing. I thought I really, really wanted this pro-license and I finally got it. And now, I don’t even bother looking at the results anymore. You know, I’m not good enough to ever make a living out of riding a bike and so the races, it’s just a ride for me now.
I realized that maybe, I need to do some age group races, just to build up my self-confidence again. Do you think that’s a good idea or do you think I’m making a mistake by going back to the age groups?
Lesley: It’s a really good question. I think that ultimately, it’s ‘why are you doing this sport?’ Is it to have other people around you tell you that you’re good? Is it a results’ thing? Is it an outcome thing that you’re looking for or is it a process thing? And I think that if we focus more on process goals when it comes to training and racing, generally, they tend to actually transfer into outcome goals whereas if you focus on outcome goals, then that can be a very challenging arena to be in because you’ll never going to win because it’s always going to be someone better. There’s always going to be another way for us.
Even with your top professional athletes, it’s making sure that those goals are a combination of process and outcome. And that becomes again, how do we enjoy the journey rather than the destination? So, it’s more of a holistic approach to racing and training than it is the definitive approach where I think we use to. And especially in this data-driven culture that I ran how many watts, how many watts per kilo? What’s your FTP? All of these things are such a wonderful, wonderful matrix. But they can also take away from the purity of why we do what we do.
Christopher: Right. It’s funny how I’m shying away from all that stuff now. I mean, I’m a computer scientist, I love numbers. I had the power meter even on my mountain bike before they really existed. I bought the very first power meter when it came out. And now, I could care less about any of that stuff. I’m like “Why would I want a power meter? That’s so stupid”. But maybe I’m just getting old. I’ll tell you how it is. I remember when I bought a motocross bike off a guy once and he said to me “If you don’t race this, you’re going to get bored of it in 6 months”. Nah, no way.
And he was totally right. I’m sure this is not true of every single person but he was exactly dead on. I did get bored of it and I did sell it. And the same is true for me on the mountain bike. I do love riding my mountain bike especially with friends. But I’m not going to go out there and ride every single day, even though I do enjoy it when I do. Unless I’m racing and if I’m not going to be competitive, I’m just going to be a mid-pack pro and not even look at the results, then what’s the point of racing? I’m just going to go and ride my bike. So, it’s like being competitive is required in order for me to do the sport at all, you know?
Lesley: And again, that’s very different from a lot of other people. And I think it’s understanding your ‘why’ and that’s another thing that came up with the book. It’s your ‘why’ for doing what it is. You like to put yourself in tough environments where you can challenge yourself where you are judging yourself against others. That’s what fuels you as an athlete. But again, it’s got to be fueled in the right way. So, I would say that for you, it might be cool to maybe do a few races where the fields are quite so intense, you know?
Christopher: Yeah, I think I have to more somewhere else. Northern California is even more so on the road, I think. I’ve heard that some of the guys do the master’s 1 2 3 and there’s like 7 national champions in that race because they all happen to live in Northern California right near the Laguna Seca Race track where Sea Otter takes place, so it’s kind of tough. Yeah, I just need to move to a softer state with less hills and maybe do some pro races there.
Lesley: But again, maybe dropping down into age group might just get you excited, build up a little bit of confidence before you test yourself again. And say “Okay, I’m ready to put myself out there and be okay with what happens because the journey I’m on is one I want to be on”. At the moment, you kind of have a dead-end so you just need to change things up and understand what stimulus is going to get you to the next level.
Christopher: Right, yeah. And you know, the racing, the comradery of the racing is really important to me as well. So, I still race elite cyclocross mostly because the fields are bigger and it doesn’t just turn into time travel. If I do the master’s group, we’ve got some former national champion in the master’s group so they go off the front. And it’s just me doing a time trial for 45 minutes, that’s not much fun, right?
In the elite races, you’ve got kids who are 16 and crushing it and really coming up through the ranks. You’ve got some older guys that have been doing it for 20 years and still really fast. You just never know what you’re going to get and the racing is very backwards and forwards and really, really cool. And the master’s level race in the age group racing on the mountain biking is just the same. And the elite races are smaller. Like, the field is much, much smaller like the guys who are racing their bike with a view to making money from it. They’re away in doing races all over the country or maybe even all over the world. It may only be 10 guys to tops in the pro ranks and the race is less interesting.
Lesley: You know, having that level of stimulus of competitiveness, of tactics, comradery the social aspect, the bantering; that’s a huge piece of why I do it as well. The hardest thing for me at the moment is almost to other people’s expectations on me because I’ve competed at that level, they assume I’m still at that level if I’m out racing. You know, I just love to race and at the moment, I’m not fit enough. But I just want to go out there and race, I don’t give a shit if I’m slower.
But you’ve got to be comfortable enough in yourself to get out there and give it a go and not care about that judgment and do the racing because you just love that and you love putting yourself in that starting line. But that’s a hell of a journey to get to that place where you’re okay with your performance even though it’s not where you could be.
That’s the hardest piece to try and deal with our athletes is when they perform not at the level they want to perform at, life just gets in the way. They’ve got kids, they’ve got businesses, and they’ve got illness, they’ve got issues and injuries. There’s so much of what we have to do with our athletes, it’s finding gratitude and understanding that when they put themselves on the start line, that’s a huge luxury. That’s an amazing thing to do, to be fit and healthy to be on that start line.
Christopher: That’s true. I noticed you had in the book the gratitude journaling. Is that something you find very helpful for all your athletes?
Lesley: Really helpful. Oh my gosh. And I do it. With several of my athletes. I do texts with them. They have to do 3 things a day that they’re grateful for, where we just text each other every day and I mean, there’s lots of signs to show that the impact of that and the effectiveness of this, I can do it with a ton of my athlete and it’s great because you really start to get back around your world and say “What am I grateful for today?” because you have 5 days of doing it right. You’ve moved beyond “Oh, my husband. Oh, my family” and it’s like “Oh fuck, what am I grateful for today”. It’s like “I’m grateful for this bowl of rice or whatever, you know?”
Christopher: I thought you’re going to say “My shredded wheat”.
Lesley: Oh I love that!
Christopher: Yeah, it’s funny. I was going to ask you if you have any tips and tricks for becoming more mindful during a bike race, right? So, I’ve had some faults there going on and the human is gone, it’s only the chimp. I’m not really having the chance to think about the way that I feel and why I’m thinking it. And quite often, I start to fixate on things which are negative so I’ll just be thinking about how much I want to stop for the entire duration of the bike race which is really not that helpful and I was going to ask you if you have tips and tricks to snap out of yourself and be more mindful and maybe the gratitude and the journaling, that habit of being constantly mindful looking around you, or what are you grateful for, that might be helpful for introducing mindfulness into the bike race but maybe you’ve got some other tips.
Lesley: Yeah, you know what, mindfulness journaling and gratitude, the key to it is you’ve got to do it every day. It’s like when you’re trying to train your body, you’ve got to train your mind. Most people again are lazy like “Ah, that’s a lot of bullshit I don’t really need to do it”, you know? It’s not like all of a sudden, the race can turn it on and it works. You got to practice it.
One thing that I do, I call it my 10 and 10. And I generally have a recurring theme of negative thoughts when I am in the middle of a race and there’s like 10 of them. I know there are 10 negative thoughts that I know I’m going to have and I counter them with 10 positive things. And it’s something that’s really, really positively counters those negative thoughts. And it’s realistic, right? I’m not going to counter it with bullshit because your chimp can snuff out bullshit.
And with those 10 positive thoughts, I have a trigger word for each of those 10 things. I’ll choose what I think are going to be 3 to 4 strongest of the trigger words. And I write them, with a Sharpie black pen. I write them on my hand and my forearm. And those trigger words, just by knowing that they are on my arm is kind of a comfort. And when I feel myself glazing over and when I feel the chimp taking over, I look at that word and I just repeat in number of times. And that almost gets you back into your professor brain which kind of short circuits that chimp brain.
And so, if you see me out in a course like muttering away to myself, I’m probably saying my 10 positive words. That actually really, really works. It just gets you back in the present by saying those words. Because generally, those positive words, I associate them to certain things that happened to my life that are positive.
The other thing that I do is that I love music. I use music a lot. For the major race, I have 1 song that I have chosen for that major race. I learn the song, I learn the lyrics, I learn the chorus, and I associate it with something really positive whether it’s a good workout. For me, it would be out on a group ride that I just fucking smashed it. I dropped all the dudes and they’re like “What the hell!”. And I’d play that song on the way home in the car and it reaffirms that positive things like “How do I feel? What is my body going through? How do I feel?” And so, when I’m in a race, and I feel the chimp taking over or I feel like I’m losing concentration, I’ll start to sing that song.
Christopher: Are you going to tell us what the song is? Is it the Eye of the Tiger by Survivor?
Lesley: It’s a different song. You know what it’s like when you play a song too many times.
Christopher: Yeah, yeah. It’s playing in your head all the time.
Lesley: Right. So, you have to come up with a new one because then you get the butterflies in the stomach. You get really excited. So, the night before the world championship race, you’ll see me with my headphones on and I play it with my husband. And we dance with it and we sing it. And it’s something like a Chris Brown song or Freya Williams song or some kind of a dance music. And you know, Morgan Paige or something like that just really freaking gets to me. So, if you see me out singing on the course, you know who’s in-charge.
Christopher: I think it’s funny that you think that people would actually notice what you’re doing while you’re racing, right? You’re so conscious of it but I’m sure that all the people spectating the race have no idea what you’re doing, right?
Christopher: Well, I feel like it’s a really good place to wrap up. I’d love to connect with you again in the future and go into some of this stuff into more details. Get people the chance to get hold of the book and read it and maybe I’d be able to collect some questions that I could ask you in the future. So, Braveheart Coaching is the name of Lesley’s coaching business. And the book is The Brave Athlete. Lesley, I hope I haven’t been talking about this too long because the book is going to be out. When is the book going to be out?
Lesley: You can actually get it on preorder right now so you could just go to our website www.braveheartcoach.com and order it through there and they’re shipped on I this May 8. And then they’re in stores from June. Ultimately, you can order it as soon as you order after May 8, you’ll get it in a few days.
Christopher: Okay. And is there going to be and audible version? I realized that the audio is so much easier for me to learn from these days.
Lesley: Right. Especially when you’re on the bike. Yeah, there is. You see, my husband’s English so it would be his nice plummy English.
Christopher: Oh really? That’s fantastic. Good for you.
Lesley: Yeah, that would be great. But he would love to come on your podcast because I think he would be a lot more articulate in describing some of these science-y brain things than I am. But yeah, we’ll get him on.
Christopher: Yeah, definitely. I would really enjoy that. Thank you very much. Fantastic. Is there anything else that you want people to know about?
Lesley: Just find your fucking moment and face your fears and all that.
Christopher: Awesome! I’m hoping that all the people that are offended by swearing, they tuned out a long time ago.
Lesley: She said the fuck word, I’m getting off.
Christopher: Awesome. Well Lesley, you’re fantastic. I love you to pieces. Thank you so much for your time today.
Lesley: Awesome. Cheers Chris.