Written by Christopher Kelly
May 19, 2019
Christopher: Well, Graeme, thank you so much for joining me this morning. I very much appreciate that.
Graeme: Oh, no, thank you very much for having me on.
Christopher: I'm very excited to investigate your story. My questions are going to be genuine.
Christopher: Graeme has been a client of Nourish Balance Thrive. He's been on our elite performance program for over a year now, right?
Graeme: That's right.
Christopher: And I've done none of the work. It's all been Megan and Clay and Tommy.
Graeme: That's right.
Christopher: I'm just the guy that shows up and records the podcast at the end.
Graeme: You're the star.
Christopher: I can get used to that, taking all the credit for other people's hard work. I want to take you all the way back and investigate how you became an athlete. Let me ask you this question. Have you always been athletic or is being athletic something that happens along the road?
Graeme: I was very athletic at school. I played a lot of rugby, a lot of cricket. I was always athletic, played a lot of different sports. Basketball as well. And then when I left school I discovered partying, shall we say, having fun. I then kind of lost sight of all the athletic endeavors I'd done before and I started working and I got very involved in work and before I knew it I woke up and find myself in a very bad place, weight and health and so on.
It's kind of a long story which we can go into if you want. But basically, I ended up starting all over again pretty much from scratch. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to start again and started running almost from nothing. I could barely run a mile when I started. And then started to train and started doing 10Ks, 5Ks, marathons, cycling, stages of the Tour de France, and then started my journey on triathlon. So, sprint triathlon and so on and so on and so on. I've been at it for many years now. I've been doing Ironman triathlons for over ten years. It must be 15 years or so of that journey in its total. That's how it all began.
Christopher: Wow. Yeah, let's unpack some of that. You're originally from Edinburgh in Scotland, am I right?
Graeme: That's right. Yeah, that's right. I was born in Hong Kong. My parents, my father was in the shipping industry and so I was born there. My brother was born in Singapore. But he was posted back. He was originally from Glasgow. We ended up in Edinburgh, went to school there, went to college there.
Christopher: Excellent. And you did computer science in Edinburgh, is that right?
Graeme: That's right, I did four years of computer science and then I did two years of research. I was in a research lab doing research into multimedia for a couple of years which was a lot of fun.
Christopher: That's very cool. And then eventually you ended up in London. It seems like a thing. I have a similar journey where I did computer science somewhere in the UK and then everybody ends up in London because that's where all the jobs were, that's where all the money is, I don't know.
Graeme: Well, I guess, it was a little bit like that. I wasn't earning a great deal of money doing research and there just seemed to be a lot of -- I actually applied to hundreds of different jobs. I remember we had a dot matrix printer, a flat mate of mine, and we just sent out hundreds of different jobs. It was ended up that way. I interviewed for jobs all over the country, actually, and it just so happened that the one that, first of all, I got an offer, of a few, but this is the one I selected, which was down in London.
So, we packed a van full of stuff and went down to London. It was right at the end, right after the big crash, property crash. We went drove through Canary Wharf because we lived down in the Isle of Dogs and the place was empty because everybody had left and they built all these buildings that nobody wanted to buy. So, we managed to rent a very nice apartment for very little money because nobody wanted to live there at that time. That's how we ended up, that's when we started in London.
Christopher: What year was that?
Graeme: Oh my goodness, 1989, something like that.
Christopher: Wow, that's amazing. And what was it like going from Edinburgh? We're going back to Edinburgh this summer.
Graeme: Yes. So am I.
Christopher: And one of the things I didn't appreciate when I was a kid -- My dad is Scottish and we spent a lot of time in Scotland and I didn't really appreciate this as a child but I very much appreciate it now, just how warm and friendly and loving and helpful and amazing all the Scottish people are. And then you go to London and it's almost a crime to make eye contact on the underground. It's like the polar opposite.
Graeme: Yeah. I mean, I think it's a cultural thing to a certain extent. I mean, people in -- I'm not sure. I'd be quite so negative about people in London. I lived there for nearly 20 years. I enjoyed it. I guess, I became a Londoner. But I think it's a different place. People are much more -- It's a lot more aggressive environment. I live in New York now. New York and London are kind of similar. Lived in Chicago. Chicago has been more like Edinburgh. It's just the pace of life and so on that really affects how people operate, I think. Yeah, it's very different. No question about it. I love Edinburgh. I love the city.
Christopher: And did you start to reestablish your athlete identity after you moved to London or was that after you left the UK?
Graeme: Yeah. So, I went through a period where I had terrible back trouble. The thing that kind of woke me up was I was very overweight. I was around 300 pounds. I was drinking heavily, smoking heavily and then I kind of woke up I had terrible back troubles, slipped two discs in my back. I couldn't walk straight. Bent walk to the bend. I just started -- I kind of woke up.
I remember, actually, one of the defining moments for me was because I was putting on weight so much, my clothes would get smaller and smaller. I have to keep on buying new clothes. I remember walking into work one morning in London and I sneezed and the top button of my shirt flew off and hit a metal wardrobe with a loud sort of ping. And I said to myself, "You really have -- This is not good. This is bad. This is really bad." That kind of woke me up and a whole bunch of things happened. I met a person that could help me with my back and I started this new journey, yeah. That's how it all began, really.
Christopher: And so I'm really interested, was it really just that defining moment or did you -- You must have had--
Graeme: It was that plus -- It was a couple of things that came together. I mean, that bit really did make me think, I have to be honest. But I also went to the doctors and I had a health check and the numbers all looked pretty bad. It all added up. I was thinking about this already that I needed to do something and it all added up. I mean, at that time, it was difficult for me to walk, difficult for me to stand. I figured I got to start losing weight so I started on a diet and figured out how to do that. I just started this journey. It took a long time to undo bad habits.
Christopher: And I understand that you tried Weight Watchers. How was that like?
Graeme: Well, what I did was, interestingly enough, is I figured the best way to exercise, because I couldn't run because I still had quite a few back troubles -- I've always been a good -- I enjoyed golf. I started to play golf. I combined -- Basically, Weight Watchers got me to restrain the amount I ate. It's just about the amount I ate. I didn't really focus too much on what diet. It was about how much. So, Weight Watchers helped me to just realign the way I thought about food.
And then I combined that with starting to exercise. Of course, you have this vicious downward cycle if you don't pay attention. You start a vicious upward cycle. So, I started to have more energy and so on. After a while I stopped using Weight Watchers and started to teach myself what next and how to go about. I started to focus more on calorie counting for a while as well. That was another thing, a journey that I went on.
Christopher: You just reminded me the word virtuous. It's a vicious downward cycle and virtuous upward cycle, right?
Graeme: There you go. That's better. That's right. That's right.
Christopher: So, what was calorie counting like? I mean, I think a lot of us listening to this podcast would have heard that this whole move more eat less thing doesn't work. But are you telling me that it did work for you?
Graeme: It did. I mean, I think it did. Yes, I lost a lot of weight via that means but it was very simple. It was just eat less and exercise more. After a period of time, I mean, once I started to run and I started to get better at it -- I mean, everything I did I taught myself. I started running a lot and started doing half marathons, marathons and I would bonk a lot because I hadn't read up about nutrition at all.
I would come home and sleep the afternoon after running 15 or 16 miles and thought that was normal until I figured out that maybe you could try a gel and tried the gel and then, wait a minute, that helps. Everything was by trial and error, to be honest. It took a long time but it did work for me. It was hard. It was very hard but it did work.
Over a period of time I started to figure out that, okay, one calorie isn't the same as another. You don't have a lot of energy and feel great if you eat an Éclair, chocolate Éclair and that gives you, I don't know, whatever, 600 calories and then you've got enough calories to then go and run half a marathon. You kind of figure that out after a while. It's pretty logical, obviously, but you have to then start to think about the nutrition that you're eating and then the combination. That's another thing to start reading up about, how you split down your nutrition and start to figure that out as well.
Christopher: You better explain to people what a chocolate éclair is. I think it must be at least ten years since I've thought about a chocolate éclair.
Graeme: I don't know where it came from. It just came out of my head. So, chocolate éclair is like a long piece of pastry with chocolate on the top and then whipped cream in the middle of it, like a sandwich. You bite into it and cream goes everywhere. It's just the definition in my mind of bad food.
Christopher: It is. It is perfect. I've realized now why it is perfectly evil and it's not the refined carbohydrate or the fat. It's the combination of the refined carbohydrate and the fat.
Graeme: Everything together.
Christopher: So, how much weight did you have to lose before you could get into running? So, you're 300 pounds. Surely you weren't running at 300 pounds.
Graeme: I actually started to try and run at 300 pounds. I remember I went to a treadmill in my local gym. I joined a gym and I started running and I fell off. I remember that's a very embarrassing experience. There were two kind of attractive women on either side of me and I fell off. It was kind of embarrassing.
So, I kind of figured out pretty quickly that I wouldn't be able to run for long distances. It was just the golf and the walking. So, it was walking, frankly, that started. It was very basic starting. Over the period of I don't know how long it took but, yeah, I've lost about -- I got down by over 100 pounds. It was a pretty big journey.
Christopher: That's amazing. And then, so, how do you stick at it? There were no relapses? Did you see the weight coming off and you thought, "Oh, this is fantastic. This is the way now for me."
Graeme: But I was on this virtuous, virtuous upward cycle because I was loving exercising, and then another addiction kicked in. I started to get addicted to doing longer and longer runs. And, of course, I needed to fuel that. I figured out better ways to eat. And you're always learning about that but that's how I figured it out. No, I've never relapsed. I mean, I think what happens is you get more and more -- I started to get more and more serious about what I was doing from an athletic point of view and so you just -- You want to focus on changes over time in your life. It never really occurred to me. I'm always very -- Having had that dysfunctional relationship, you never lose it. You always have it in the back of your mind. That's something that's always there. But it's not such a big deal to me.
Christopher: That's great. And then how did the biking started? I mean, obviously, it's a big part of triathlon and then you've done some pretty serious event in France. How did that get going?
Graeme: I've done a marathon and I was a member of a gym near my home. I lived west of London at this time. Two of the guys who were gym instructors pulled me aside because they saw me running a lot and said, "Hey, have you ever tried cycling?" I went, "Well, I can ride a bike. I didn't own a bike." They said, "You should cycle with us. We're going to do the stage of the Tour de France."
Of course, I started to watch the cycling and I said, "That sounds like fun. Let's give it a go." So, I started cycling with them. That's how I started to cycle. We went and did a race. I remember the CycloSportif in Wales and it was an unbelievable experience. I don't know. It was like 150 miles or something and it just about killed me but I just really, really enjoyed it once I'd recovered.
We went up to the north of England, the Lake District, did some of the hills around there because we figured that was the best way to train at that time because that's how you get to long steep hills. I remember riding a hill called the Struggle in the Lake District. I don't know, maybe I think it gets up to 20% at the end but it's basically at least 10% the whole way up for six to seven miles. It was epic climb. And there's a bar at that top. I'll never forget it. There's a bar at the top so you can have a break at the end of it.
We cycled a lot together and that's how I learned how to -- You need to learn how to look after a bike and ride a bike and maneuver a bike with the brakes and all that. That takes quite a bit of time to be good at it. We drove all the way down to the Pyrenees and the first L'etape du Tour I did was up L'Aubusique, various hills up to L'Aubisque and up. In the L'etape du Tour, you have to get to a certain pace. I'm still pretty new to cycling at this stage. What happens is if you don't keep that pace then you get swept up.
I remember I'm nearly at the top of L'Aubisque, I was doing all these switch backs and I looked back down almost at the top of L'Aubisque, I looked back down. I could see the sweep wagon coming to me. It was like a desperate bid to stay away from this sweep wagon. I managed to do that and finished it. It was, again, a great experience and then went back again and did it again the year after and so on.
Christopher: And what's your body weight down to at this point?
Graeme: I sort of fluctuate between just under or just over 200 pounds. So, around Christmas time, after Christmas, I put myself on the scales and look at myself just over 200 and then I go down below. So, my race weight is about 195, something like that. That's where I normally am.
Christopher: Wow. I mean, that's a lot of power then to be motoring up the side of that mountain in the alps.
Graeme: Yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. I'm not your ideally shaped triathlete. Having been a rugby player, that shape never goes. It doesn't matter how much you lose.
Christopher: And have you dealt with your back injury? Did you end up having surgery on your back? How has that been on the bike?
Graeme: No, I didn't. What happened was, as I said, I had these two slipped discs. I ended up with bad sciatica on my back and around the time I started to lose all this weight I was having physiotherapy regularly and I went to see several doctors, some of them wanted to do surgery on me and I just really wanted to avoid that if I possibly could.
I'm so glad one guy told me it was natural that I had sciatica and I just had to put up with it. These are all people, prominent doctors. And my physiotherapist said -- I said to him, "I'm desperate. I need, if you've got any ideas, what else we could do?" And he said, "I know this guy, a South African guy, who looks after the Springbok rugby team and he uses--" He's called a kinesiologist.
"You should go see him." So, I went to see him in London and he basically -- I walked into where he saw me and all he had in the room was a massage table, some yellow pages, and some masking tape. So, I get off to the massage table, stripped down, get onto the massage, and he starts massaging. It was very painful but he told me to put up with it.
And then he started doing various balancing things with me. And then he took the yellow pages and started cutting out shapes and put them under my feet and then he said, "Okay, I've given you three or four things to put under your feet, some under at the top of the front of the foot and the heel. Put them in your shoes and walk on them for a few weeks and then come back again."
That was it. I left. I just followed his instructions. I walked on it. It was very painful. I came back again a few weeks later. He did the same exercise again, slightly different inserts this time in my shoes. And then after about five or six trips, I was straight. He completely fixed me. And he said, "You'll always need one under your left foot." I still have it today. It's 76 pieces of yellow pages that I can make. He taught me how to make my own inserts.
Christopher: You're kidding me? So, you're still using the yellow pages to make this insert?
Graeme: Yes, that he gave me. Yes.
Christopher: That's amazing.
Graeme: And I still have them today. Unfortunately, he died. He was an amazing guy, helped people get ready for the Olympics who had an injury at the last minute. He was an amazing person. I was unbelievably lucky to meet him. And when I'd finished, and this is where the running began, because when I -- I was getting better. He hadn't charged me any money. At this stage, my wife and I weren't loaded with money and I was getting a bit worried that his bill was going to be huge and I couldn't afford it.
I said to him kind of timidly, "Are you going to charge me for what you've done because you've really helped me out?" And he said, "No, no. You've been interesting. Don't worry about it." But he said, "I'll tell you what. I know someone at the London marathon. You can run that." And I said, "There's no way." I mean, at this stage, I was 290. I'd lost like ten pounds. There's no way I could have run. He said, "Yeah, you can. Just try it." And so that's really one of the things that got me going with the idea of a marathon. That's how I started.
Christopher: That's amazing. And do you know if you have a true leg length discrepancy? Does this date back to -- I know that when you were a child you had an infection in your leg and there was that--
Graeme: Yeah. That's right. I had osteomyelitis. He said he thinks it was a result of that. He was quite amazing. I would go in and meet him. I would work in our garden and maybe hurt my arm or something, or my leg, and he would then say, "Three weeks ago, did you lift something which hurt your leg?" He would know that. He was just amazing, his capabilities and knowledge. It was quite remarkable. But you wouldn't have thought that it would go under your left. I had this problem in my ankle, in my right ankle. You would never have thought that you would end up with a thing under your left foot, left heel. That's the way it is. That's just the way it turned out.
Christopher: That's great. Yeah, you can't argue with success, right?
Graeme: That's right. So, I religiously collect any yellow pages that are left because there's not many of them now. I have a pile of them in the back of my cupboard so every time I need a new one -- Because if I go running and it's in rain, sometimes they can get wet and, of course, then increases in size. I have to remake them. I make two or three a year.
Christopher: Yeah. I have been down this route personally. I still don't know what to make of it. I had somebody measure my legs and there's definitely no -- There's no difference in the bones, the length of the bones. Yeah, you may have what you call a functional leg length discrepancy but it's nothing to do with the bones. It's like all in the soft tissue and the way you move.
Graeme: Yeah. Maybe. I think, obviously, I had osteomyelitis and it was in one of the bones in my lower leg. I would have thought that probably that was, as a result of that, it was stunted in some way so you had some slight discrepancy going on there for sure.
Christopher: Where it gets ugly is on the bike. What do you do on the bike? Do you put the same--
Graeme: Yeah, I have the same -- He made me special ones for the bike, actually. He would give me different ones depending on what I was doing. Unfortunately, he is not around anymore so I have to just copy what I had when he gave them to me. I have them on the bike too, definitely.
Christopher: That's amazing. That's amazing I still notice though when I look at the seat rails on my saddle -- The titanium is quite soft and you can see how I've bent one of the rails more than the other.
Graeme: Yeah, yeah, that's right. That's right.
Christopher: It's still there. Talk about how you got into triathlon. You've got into running and you've done these incredible events in France. So, how did triathlon happen?
Graeme: Well, I used to live very near Windsor. I was down there shopping one weekend and it just happened to be the weekend of the Windsor triathlon which is quite a famous triathlon in the UK.
I just had a walk around and I went, "I want to try this." It was just as simple as that. I didn't know how to swim really. A bit like cycling, I could float and I could get around the water but I never really done any decent swimming as a child. I thought, well, I run marathons, what's the problem? This is going to be pretty straightforward.
My local gym from work, I took an hour off. I said I'll go and do maybe 1000 meters, grabbed some lunch, go back to work, it will be easy. I went down and jumped in the pool, started swimming front crawl. I think I did 200 meters and I was exhausted. And I went, "Huh, this looks a little bit more difficult than perhaps it might look like." So, I started that journey.
The thing I always have done is just sign in, sign up for something. So, I set myself the challenge and the goal and then just figure out how to get there. I signed up to do a sprint triathlon and I then actually hired a swim coach. I said I was going to do a sprint and then I'll do an Olympic distance. I signed up for the sprint and then almost immediately after I signed up for the Olympic, got a swim coach, and basically he just go me doing drills because I was sinking all the time.
I had no idea how to actually float properly on the water. I did drills backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards for weeks after week. I then did the sprint triathlon. I think I nearly finished last in the swim because the water was cold. It took my breath away. I didn't know what the hell was going on. I managed to get out and caught a lot of people up but the swim was terrible. That kind of began my journey with swimming that I knew this was going to be difficult but the coach helped me.
I then did an Olympics distance. I did quite a few Olympic distance triathlons, really enjoyed it. We used to visit the south of France, my wife and I and family are down south of France quite a lot on holiday and I saw that there was a 70.3. Well, they called it half Ironman in those days. In Monaco. I thought that would be fun. So, I gave that a try and that's how I started.
Christopher: I'd really like to better understand where your confidence comes from. Do you never have some sort of monkey on your back or some sort of dissenting voice in your head?
Graeme: No. I'm full of lack of confidence, absolutely.
Christopher: How do you deal with it? Like everyone else, there's some voice in your head saying, "Don't be ridiculous, Graeme. There's no way that you're going to be able to make it at the top of this mountain in the Alps. There's no way you're going to be able to do the swim in the triathlon." You're no different from everyone else and that you do have that voice.
Graeme: I'm no different. Absolutely not.
Christopher: And so how do you deal with the voice?
Graeme: Well, the people around you help you. I'm very lucky my wife is very supportive. She helps me a lot and tells me I'm being stupid when I say I can't do it. As with everything, when you've got a problem and you need to deal with it, you break it down into pieces. You just figure it out. Okay, so I got to swim two and a half miles. Actually, a lot of my athletic thing is about confidence. It's about doing something and training that makes you, gives you that confidence.
And so you just build it up over time. I've done this over a very long period of times, did a sprint then did a -- I didn't just go straight to Ironman. I went over a period of time. And so did a sprint, found it difficult in the swim, okay let's figure out that problem, sort that out, did another sprint, feel good in the swim, okay, so now what do I want to do? And you just do it step by step. For me, it's never been a -- There's never been one huge jump.
I mean, obviously, half Ironman to Ironman is a big jump but you just break the problem down into its pieces and get on with it. One of the biggest challenges I had, interestingly enough, was the first time I ever did an open water swim Ironman and I did that at Ironman Texas. I can't remember what year it was. I've always had this issue because I'm pretty new to swimming. I was very, very nervous about that.
I almost had a breakdown before I started. I'd done the training. This is the thing. I had done the training. I'd done like over 3 kilometers in training in one go and I was very happy. But for some reason I had this mental block and so that's when people around you can support you and go, "Wait a minute. You've done this. You've done that. You just have to mentally overcome it." Then just get on and do it. It's amazing what you can do when you just put yourself in that position and get on with it, figure it out.
Christopher: Right. So, in the beginning, you don't have confidence and it comes later with competition.
Graeme: Not at all. Not at all. Not even, sometimes not even at the start line. But that what makes it interesting. That's what makes it -- It kind of adds to the whole spice of life. With a lot of things in life, you don't know whether or not you're going to get it done. You have to be a little bit scared about things in order to make yourself better and try to push yourself up to see what you're actually capable of. If you don't do that, in my mind you're kind of not really giving yourself a chance to be the best you can be at whatever you want.
Christopher: And breaking things down into smaller chunks, is that something that crosses over from the computer science? We might call that divide and conquer, right?
Graeme: Yes, it is. It is very much like that. I mean, my business is computers and I run very large software projects, so the same sort of thing. You have a big project, you have a goal that you're trying to achieve and you create a plan to get there and you build it down into small interim steps that make you, with milestones along the way, and over the time you build the confidence to make it happen. And then once you've done one, you do another one and you do bigger and bigger. Absolutely, the same concept, same idea.
Christopher: Talk about your transition to the US. So, that was ten years ago now?
Graeme: Yes. I worked in a financial company and so as a result of that I worked in London. The company that I worked for went bust, taken over by another company and I went through a period of not really knowing what was going to happen but I was fortunate enough to have the opportunity. They asked me to move to Chicago. So, myself and my family moved to Chicago, started living out there. We lived in Chicago for four years and now we got moved again to New York, six years ago now.
Christopher: How was that like trying to integrate into another new environment? As if the transition from Edinburgh to London wasn't enough. Try London to Chicago. I bet it's even harder.
Graeme: Well, the interesting thing is that we had kids who are seven or eight. Let me see. They'd be nine when we got there. They adapted way better than we did. They adapted very quickly. When you have a life which you've built up over period of time, every time you move house, you kind of start again with local social life and community and so on like that.
You have to be patient. This is my personal opinion. You have to take a little bit of time to integrate into the community, find the people you want to hang out with. For a while, you don't know anybody and you just have to suck it up and try and start integrating yourself into things that you like. It's easy for me because, being a triathlete, I immediately looked up the nearest triathlon club, joined it and started working out with them, met some great people. And same with work and so on. Obviously, people through my kids' school. It takes a bit of time to get that going. Other than that, it was pretty straightforward really. Pack your stuff. Just go. Lots of adman. That's the big thing I would say, adman, annoying adman.
Christopher: I really admire your confidence and the lack of ambivalence. You just do it. You can just do it. It's fine.
Graeme: Well, it's the only way, right? As I said, you can't achieve anything if you don't get out of bed and do something. So, just get on and do it.
Christopher: And so you did exactly the same thing again. When you moved to Chicago from New York, you just did it all again, no problem.
Graeme: Yeah. I mean, actually, that was interesting because I was asked to take on a role and it was -- I think it was June and they said, "We need you there in July." And, of course, it's a big thing because the kids' school start in September. It doesn't give you a lot of time. And actually, that wasn't me. That was all my wife. She did that. I remember I sat on a plane. They asked me to go to London because there was a problem in London. I'm sitting on a plane to London from Chicago and I remember texting my wife saying, "Can you let me know where we're going to live when I get back to New York so that I can tell the taxi where to go?"
And when I was in London, I went out to dinner. I got back and I got to the reception of the hotel and the receptionist said, "I've got a package for you." I opened it up and it was a lease for a house which I'd never seen. My wife had put on a "sign this."
Christopher: That's amazing.
Graeme: So, I called her and we talked about a few things and then I signed it. That was it. When I arrived, I went to the house which I'd never seen.
Christopher: That's amazing. What was it like when you showed up?
Graeme: It was great. Yeah. It was fabulous, yeah.
Christopher: And that's where you still are today?
Graeme: No. We lived there for a couple of years. We were renting. And then we bought a place. That's where I live now. We live literally probably about half a mile down the road.
Graeme: We didn't move far.
Christopher: So, talk about how you got into the full distance Ironman. Why is it that it seems like -- I don't know. I don't really know because I'm not a triahtlete. I'm a mountain biker. But it would appear to me that a lot of triahtletes, they get some sort of external pressure to do the longer and longer distance. If you do well in one distance, people will ask you, probably people who aren't triathletes ask you, "So, when are you going to do the full Ironman?" Is that something that you recognize?
Graeme: No. I never got any pressure at all. I mean, maybe I did but I didn't feel it. I don't really care about that. That doesn't bother me at all. It was just another natural progression. So, I did the half Ironman in Monte Carlo, as I said. There's some very big hills around there so I'd been cycling a lot so I felt comfortable in the big hills. Did it twice. I thought, "You know, I really got to give it a go, this Ironman thing."
There's one down in Nice. I thought let's give Nice a try. That was in 2008. I entered, followed the same formula that I just described to you. But again, I didn't have a coach. I just had to figure it out. I just started to do longer and longer training. And stepping up to Ironman is a big deal. It was for me, anyway, a very big deal to get to be able to execute on that.
But because I knew I could cycle over 100 miles through heavy hills, I knew that I could do that. I was frightened of the swim. That took a lot to get myself to be able to do that. And then I thought while on the run we'll just see what happens, train as much as I can and see how we get on. My main nervousness when I did the Ironman is would I finish within the 17 hours.
Christopher: Oh, wow. I can't imagine it. I think about that a lot actually. When I do -- Even at the bike race I did at the weekend was only 90 minutes. And then I see people finishing just under two hours and I'm thinking, wow, that's hard. I mean, it's not like those people are not hurting or trying and that's hard to beat. It took them more time but that doesn't make any difference. Everything is harder when it takes you that much longer.
Graeme: Well, I mean, I didn't know. Of course, when you don't know what you're doing, you have no idea what's going to happen. I mean, in the end, I did it in 14 and a half hours or something like that. I was just delighted to get over the finish line to have managed to achieve something. And, of course, the normal thing for me is I said, "Oh, that was good but I think I can do better than that." So, I went back again the next year. I did it again in 2009.
By that stage, the bug had bitten me and we moved in 2009 to Chicago. And so I met people there and they went, "Oh, Ironman Wisconsin is terrific. Why don't you try that?" I went, "Okay. Let's give that a go then." So, went up and did Wisconsin a couple of times. I just started to really enjoy it. And, of course, what you want to do is you want to improve. So, you start 14:40 and then I started to get better half an hour, an hour, and get the times down. And so just kept on working at it.
Christopher: And what happened? Do your times just get better and better?
Graeme: I got to the point where I fluctuated. I have done up until last year to around 12 hours, 12 something. I've never managed to beat 12 hours. Unfortunately, I've done 12 hours and seven is my best in Chattanooga in '18. Much to my frustration, [0:32:02] [Indiscernible] to beat 12. Yeah, I enjoy the challenge of trying to get there.
Christopher: And what was it that led you to work with NBT? How did you find out about this?
Graeme: So, when I moved to New York I had reached the plateau. I wasn't getting much better. I knew I wanted to carry on doing triathlon. I decided that I wanted to try and do the legacy for the Ironman Legacy and get to Kona via that route. I looked around for a coach and I found Leslie Paterson. And that's how Lesley and I connected. Lesley is originally from Sterling. My wife is from Falkirk. We kind of connected and just got on very well and she's been my coach ever since. She's been my coach a long time now, five odd years.
Again, I started to improve with her quite a lot because, actually, I never had a coach before. I was doing everything myself. And then we reached the plateau and she said, "I think you need to start to look at your gut and your blood and so on, just see if there's anything else that we can do to make you improve further." That's how I started with NBT.
Christopher: I love Lesley. Lesley's been on the podcast before. I will link to that in the show notes that you can find over at nourishbalancethrive.com/podcast. And, of course, her husband, Simon Marshall, has been on the podcast several times before. He now works as the performance psychologist with all of our clients.
Graeme: Simon is amazing. I mean, the two of them make a great couple.
Christopher: Yeah, they do.
Graeme: Simon has helped me quite a lot. I mean, we don't spend a lot of time together but, I mean, I can tell you about one particular occasion where he really helped me and that goes back to my swimming. He called me, I don't know, a couple of weeks before one of my Ironman Lake Placid races and he said, "How do you feel? You look as though you've had good training." Because he could see my TrainingPeaks. I said, "Yeah, it's been pretty good. Feeling good."
And he said, "So, what are you worried about?" And I went, "Not really very much. I never liked to swim." And he says, "Why don't you like to swim?" I said, "Well, I always like to know how far I've got to go and on the bike you've got your bike thing on the run, you've got your watch and you've got markers. With the swim, it's not that clean." He said, "Well, why don't you figure it out?" And I said, "Well." He said, "Why don't you use the -- how many buoys are there?"
I mean, it seems so -- Everybody is going to be going, "Well, that's obvious." But I never really thought of it. He said, "Why don't you use the buoys?" And I went, "Yeah, okay." Because what I found was my mind would wander. My mind wanders very easily. And so when I'm swimming I would wander and so I would end up going off track or thinking about other things. And so my swimming would not get good.
And he said, "Okay. Well, why don't you count the number of strokes between the buoys and not only do you know how many buoys you've got to go but then how many strokes you've done and try to keep it consistent?" And that advice in itself took ten minutes off my time from the year before. I didn't do any more training.
Christopher: That's incredible. I think everyone listening to this would be able to relate to that though. In fact, I think this is what can really kill the one hour record in cycling was they made it so that you weren't allowed power meters or heart rate monitors or even lap counters.
And so it's just you and a bike as hard as you can go for an hour and everyone thought, "Screw that. I can't do that." People dropped out of the record attempt because of it. It's been really, really hard. If you don't know how long you've got to go, it's really hard.
Graeme: That's right. It seems so obvious but it made a huge difference. And I got out of the water and I went, "Really? Is that right? Did that really just happen?" I felt great. It was amazing.
Christopher: And so what did you think then when Lesley you should have a look at your gut ad maybe do some blood work and all of that?
Graeme: Well, I mean, I trust her. We work together. I mean, she's a bit crazy at the best of times but--
Christopher: I don't think she'd deny that.
Graeme: No, she wouldn't. That's why I said it. I think she's a wonderful person so I trust everything she says pretty much. I did ask her about why and she'd been talking to me in amongst the conversations we had about the journey she's been on personally. She had difficulty with Lyme disease and so on. She talked me through a lot of what she'd done and so she said, "This may help you and so why don't you give it a try?" I said, "Okay, let's give it a try."
So, I signed up and started -- You guys sent me over -- It was kind of funny. From a sort of personal consumer experience, there's all these boxes arrived and having to, at particular times, provide some sort of bodily function to you and then put it in the fridge and then put it in another box and send it at this time and so on. It's kind of logistically quite hard.
Christopher: I know. I wish I could make that better.
Graeme: It's almost impossible, I know, but it was kind of funny. "Wait a minute. I've got to get up. No, I can't eat that now. I got to do this." Yeah, actually, in itself is quite a significant undertaking to get all the data already. But then you guys make it very easy to look at the data and get some feedback and so on. When I spoke to Megan for the first time, she said, "Oh, you've got four parasites that could be bad for you. We should try to take you through a protocol to fix that."
She gave me a few other tips and so on around things and we looked at my nutrition and so on. After a few months, actually, I went and did Ironman St. George and I actually had a really great day. One of my best times. And not only was the training, it's the whole package. I've done good training but also I think these changes had helped me and made a difference. I was very pleased with that.
Christopher: That's great. It's one of the things that I pride us in is the holistic approach to health and performance. Obviously, the training plan is important, the work that you do with Lesley and Simon. What am I going to do today to improve my fitness? I do that too with Lesley and Simon. I'm coaching with them over at Braveheart.
But then there's also these other components like what the heck is going on inside? You wouldn't try and run -- My neighbor, he prepares racing cars for rich people to drive and it just looks like so much fun. We go around there, look inside of his shop and like, "Wow, this looks incredible." And so he's just all about looking inside of the cars. He would never just show up with a vehicle having not looked very carefully inside to see what's going on to know how it's going to perform on the track. I feel like that's how it should be for athletes as well. You're like one of those racing cards. You're really going to have a look inside to see what's going on, see if there's anything else there, any other opportunity to get better.
Graeme: It's very handy to know. Obviously, the other thing is the vitamins I take. Megan helps me which vitamins to take and which ones not to because there's so many things that are sold to you, you don't really know sometimes which one is the right one. It's good to have someone who can explain to you why this is good, why that's bad. And so, yeah, the vitamins and extra things I take are all based off of what Megan and I have agreed I will do and so on.
Christopher: Right. And then, of course, Megan is looking objective data to make decisions about whether this product is -- So, that's what's really hard, is when you just pick up -- I mean, just like anything, right? You just walk into a shop and you pick up their catalogue and then trying to decide what you can -- I don't know.
Graeme: "This looks like a good thing. I'll buy that." And before you know, you're spending. And what they want you to do is subscribe so you're spending $20-$30 on four or five products you just don't really know for sure if it's doing you any good. I mean, the other thing that came out was the metal toxicity. That's one that Megan and I are kind of working on now, that I need to make time to go on this protocol.
And actually finding the time. I need ten days to change my diet and do it. That's coming. We've agreed the date when I'm going to do that. In my life, with what's going on in my life, from what's going on with racing, it's very difficult to find those days where I can only have like, I don't know what it is, 700 calories or something like that.
Christopher: Yeah. I feel your pain on that one. I'm in exactly the same boat. At NBT, we use -- It's actually Bryan's detox protocol. I can link to the episode that I did. Actually, Tommy did an interview with Bryan on his detox protocol.
Graeme: I know. I listened to it, yeah.
Christopher: You listened to it? It's a combination of the fasting mimicking diet plus sauna, plus exercise, plus some supplement and a special diet.
So, it's not the fasting mimicking diet that you'll find in the literature or there are some commercial products available. It's not that. Bryan has redesigned that diet to make it more supportive to detoxification pathways. It's fucking hard. I still haven't done it. I need to do it but the thing that was holding me back was that I knew that I still had a mouthful of mercury amalgams and thought what's the point of doing this detox thing if I still got one of the main offenders sat there in my mouth. But I have now done that. I have been to the dentist and have--
Graeme: All right, that's good. No, I don't have that problem because Megan and I for a while, we're trying to figure out where it was coming from. So, we looked at my water. We did the filtering. Looked at the products that I use, the cream I use, aftershave cream and this and that, whatever. But it didn't appear to be where it came from. It could be from my past or whatever. We're not really sure where it comes from.
Christopher: Yeah. And, of course, when you get exposed to stuff, typically it gets sequestered away in adipose. And then when you lose weight like that stuff comes all back out again.
Graeme: That's what she said, interestingly enough. And she said it could be from way back. Now, it's still sitting there and we need to -- That's going to be the project, one of the projects for this year, is to get that done and see if we can fix that. I just went and had my blood test today. She's put a whole -- I mean, the guy took it back eight bottles of blood from me. Hopefully, they get some use. I mean, the guy was there for 20 minutes to take blood out of me. I almost collapsed.
Christopher: I'm sorry. I apologize. I'm laughing. They're not really bottles, for people listening.
Graeme: I know, I know, I know.
Christopher: They're tiny little bottles.
Graeme: When you're sitting there, it feels like a bottle. Really? It takes that long to fill that little thing? What's wrong with you?
Christopher: That's funny. So, what other thing did you like about working with Megan on the NBT protocol?
Graeme: Well, she's, first of all, she's a very practical person, very helpful. The other big thing that I've really found is you use a system called Trello which is really excellent. Everybody responds super fast. And so if I've got a question or something I want to get an answer to, it's like a couple of hours and I'll have an answer back or a link to a website to think about it.
The interesting thing that I've learned is it often no definite answers to these things. It's actually, well, this is what some people think, this is our view. I think the great thing about your team is they kind of leave it to you to make up your mind about what you want to do next. "This is our advice." And they don't go, "Oh, you should have done that." That's really helpful. I really like that kind of interaction where you've been treated as an intelligent human being that's got an input into everything and thought has been put into it from both sides when you decide on what to do next.
Christopher: That's really interesting. I've just been talking to Simon about this recently about my training plan. I'm not sure I like that all the time. I get what you're saying and you're right, that many topics in health and fitness are extremely nuanced and the people that you hear shouting the loudest are the people who are the most polarized and quite often those people are probably wrong. The right answer lies somewhere between black and white or positive and negative.
But with the training plans, I really like the exact recipe. I want you to warm up for ten minutes and then I want you to do 400 watts for 60 seconds and then rest for 30 seconds and then do another 400 watts. But quite often I find that Lesley and Simon, they go for, like you're saying, they treat you like an intelligent human being and they give you enough rope to hang yourself.
Graeme: That's right. They do.
Christopher: They treat you like [0:43:32] [Indiscernible].
Graeme: I mean, I have to [0:43:32] [Indiscernible].
Christopher: I like that but -- Do they do the same for you and you like that?
Graeme: Yes, they do. Yeah, I do. I mean, look, my job is all about data and so on and so I like certain part of it but I didn't want to overload. I remember when I interviewed some coaches, all they were interested in was just pure data and that didn't feel right to me. And so Lesley, she combines together so I can use that if I want to but a lot of it is based on feel. And also how you feel on the day and what's going on in your life and so on. These all have an impact on how you're going to train. Sometimes you just feel great and sometimes you don't. It's life. That's the way life goes. You're just busy. You're stressed or whatever. You're not a machine. You have to think of it like that.
Christopher: That's amazing. That's incredible insight and fantastic. Thank you for sharing that with us. I really appreciate it. Would you recommend working with NBT? Would you recommend coaching with Braveheart?
Graeme: I would. Absolutely, yeah. I mean, I think proof is in what I've done. I'd been with Lesley for, let me see, since we moved to New York. That's five years ago. I've been to her -- She has a camp every January and I think I've been to all of the ones since I joined. I love that camp.
Christopher: That's amazing.
Graeme: Yeah. It's a great way to start your training year for me. At the end of January, you kind of get through Christmas, you feel a bit unfit and you head off to San Diego for a few days and blow yourself away. It's always done with good humor. It's always great fun, great people there.
She is always bringing enthusiasm and it just helps you with the motivation. And then the training plans are good. I guess, Lesley is very quite a tough coach and that she always puts a lot in. And so my challenge is try and remain green with my life but I did the best I can to do that and we talk about it. It's always interactive. And the thing about NBT is, as I said, it's another piece of the puzzle. It's just another piece that fits into my overall experience and I find that a very useful part of that.
Christopher: That's great.
Graeme: It fits together.
Christopher: Thank you. So, what's in the future for Graeme?
Graeme: I was lucky enough to get to go to Kona last October and that was a big goal for me. I spent ten years getting there, ten years of Ironman.
Christopher: What was it like? I worry about all this pressure, and you spent ten years getting somewhere especially with triathlon and the travel and the logistics. It's so challenging. I can't imagine like trying to pack a bike.
Graeme: It was an amazing experience. I loved every minute of it and I really, really enjoyed it. It was a wonderful. I was there for two weeks and it was wonderful. It was great to be amongst the top athletes in the world. I certainly wouldn't think of myself as one of those but it was nice to be amongst them. I did all the things that I've listened to on podcast like this.
Bob Babbitt does a, what is it, Breakfast with Bob, and I went and sat Breakfast with Bob and listened and I met a few triathletes, got pictures. It was just great amongst all of that. And then the race was amazing as well. It was great. I have to meet, after October, I came home and I kind of, "What do I do now?" I have to be honest. I'm still figuring that out. I've got quite a few races lined up. I think I want to get into -- I bought a mountain bike in usual style. I bought one and I went, "I think that looks like fun."
But I went cycling for the first time in a mountain bike and, of course, I called Lesley and said, "What pedal should I buy?" and she said, "Get Eggbeater. That's the one to get." I said, "Okay, I'll buy it." So, I put them on. So, I get to, I don't know, ten minutes into my first mountain bike and I come across this big rocky patch and I start going through that and stopped and I kind of get my foot out and just fall out, cut my arm up.
And so I went, "Okay, this is a bit like the swimming. This is a little harder than it looks". So, I've got lots to learn about mountain biking. That's the journey I want to go on now, try mountain bike riding. I might [0:47:16] [Indiscernible], do a few more 70.3s, that kind of stuff.
Christopher: Yeah. You should come and hang out with me in Santa Cruz. I live in one of the best places in the world to ride mountain bikes.
Graeme: I might take you up on that. Remember, I just do what I think. I'll go with it. Yeah, that sounds wonderful.
Christopher: And, by the way, anyone listening to this, you got to start on flat pedals. I'm sorry. Lesley is wrong. Eggbeaters are not the right pedals.
Graeme: No. She told me to do that. I knew what she just -- I think she said -- I asked her what the best ones were, not one that was appropriate for me.
Christopher: Oh, right. Not the best ones for me, just the best ones for five times world champion.
Graeme: Not for an incompetent idiot who has no idea what he's doing.
Christopher: I can tell you. I still ride flat pedals now. If you gave me a choice of any pedal, if I'm just going to ride with the dogs then flat pedals every single time. I think they make you a better rider. They're way more comfortable and they're a lot safer.
Graeme: Well, funnily enough, our conversation is proof of that.
Christopher: Excellent. Well, this has been fantastic. Thank you so much, Graeme.
Christopher: At this point of the interview, I want to say, well, what can I -- Is there anything you'd like to talk about? Should I link to your social media presence? Is there resources online where people can find you? I guess, that's not that type of interview. But you do have a personal website online that I can link to.
Graeme: Yeah, I do. It's www.muirhead.org and you'll find me on there. I do tweet a bit and so on. Yeah. What's on there is actually a lot of the stories that I went through here and also my wife's a very keen photographer so there's a fair amount of photography. And she's a great cake maker as well so you can see some of the cakes that she makes.
Christopher: Is that your downfall?
Graeme: Well, that's right. This is why I have to do all of this. She's a fabulous cook. That's why Christmas is such a hard time, coming back from Christmas because she makes unbelievable Christmas dinner and so on.
Christopher: What type of Christmas stuff? It's very particular, the British Christmas assortment is--
Graeme: Well, we have a British Christmas here in America, absolutely. She makes from scratch Christmas pudding which is fruit pudding, basically, and that's amazing, and then from scratch Christmas cake and so on. Plus we pull out cheese and wine and it is amazing.
Christopher: So, presumably, the Christmas pudding starts a year in advance, right?
Graeme: Yeah. I actually helped her make Christmas puddings that will last us for four or five years. They're in the deep freeze now. Hopefully, the electricity doesn't go off.
Christopher: Five years of work ruined.
Graeme: That's right.
Christopher: Well, this has been awesome, Graeme. Thank you so much. I really appreciate your time. And I think you're an inspiring individual. Your approach to trying new things is quite extraordinary and I applaud you for that. Thank you so much.
Graeme: No, thank you. And it's been great to talk to you. I appreciate you taking the time. And thank you to you and your team for the help that you've given me. I appreciate it.
Christopher: Thank you, Megan. You're great.
Christopher: That's great. Thank you.
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