Written by Christopher Kelly
March 17, 2020
Chris: Well, Simon and Lesley, thank you so much for having me here in San Diego. I very much enjoyed the final event of your price Braveheart Highland Games. It seems to me that the clan has grown considerably in the last few years. Lesley, would you say that's—
Chris: …true? How does the Braveheart— I wanna say the word “brand.” There were like people wearing—
Lesley: I know.
Chris: …kits from Chicago and then there was these other people over here that had kits that were slightly different from Colorado. It’s like “Wow.” This is like turning into—
Lesley: A big deal—
Chris: …a big deal.
Lesley: …kinda. Yeah. It’s crazy. You know, I was thinking back on when we started it or rather I started. I was working full time in a bike shop and this must have been 2006 maybe. And thinking “Okay, 10 bucks an hour is just not going to cut it.”
Chris: Not when you like to ride MV wheels. Right?
Lesley: Yeah. You’re not getting— Oh my goodness. So, we started with 1 client and, gosh, it’s just built, built, and built and we decided to put on this camp 6 years ago I think. I've done some camps before at that point, but we’ve really decided that we wanted to offer a sort of start of the year motivational, everyone get together like a free camp for our athletes paid for other athletes coming in from outside the group. But it just was this wonderful— right from the get go a wonderful way to get people excited about the next year and a huge part of our brand has always been about inclusiveness, not exclusiveness. So, there's just an atmosphere that is very supportive. And we really coach people across the span from sort of 60-minute mile runners to professionals. And everyone has a role to play, you know.
Chris: I don't think I've ever been on a group ride like that where you’ve got literally everybody that you could think of, but they're all wonderful people. That's what they have in common. Right? I had some really great conversations with people.
Lesley: That's the most important thing. Right? And we always say the unity is passion, effort, and attitude. That’s it. That’s all you need to be part of our group. So, yeah, it’s huge.
Simon: One thing that you were really adamant on is having this home state experience of visiting athletes ‘cause when Lesley is competing as a pro, it's quite a common thing to be hosted by a family in triathlon in the city—
Chris: I’ve heard that.
Simon: …that you’re racing because pros have zero money. Most of the endurance sports will do that. But you also get local knowledge. Right? And so, we decided to do that. So, our 45 out of towners get hosted by a 45 in towners pretty much.
Chris: That’s incredible.
Simon: And at that time, it was— Well, people were staying in my house. So, I don’t know them. Can you vouch for them? And so, we sort of tried to allay some of our fears by having this little matching program, which is really me sitting thinking about the personalities. Okay, you’re allergic to dog hair and you don’t want evangelical Christians. And if they’re unmarried, they’re not sleeping in the same— you know, that— So, you’re trying to match something that’s not all our—
Lesley: He’s tearing his hair out for weeks.
Simon: Yeah, to do this. And that really means that you’re with athletes or with other people in the group all day for 24 hours. I mean, you can retreat, but really does—
Simon: …gel everyone together. And so, people have become lifelong friends because of this—
Lesley: And they could stay with each other. They then go to races and then room with each other.
Chris: That’s incredible.
Lesley: Yeah. And that for me has always been what sport is about. It’s the social aspect.
Lesley: You know, everyone is suffering together. There's a vulnerability. And so,—
Lesley: …you expose yourself.
Chris: You bond over the challenge.
Lesley: You totally. And people were coming up the camp in tears just like you've no idea what this meant to me and the impact that’s happening.
Simon: I need knee surgery. That’s why I’m crying.
Lesley: And so, they screwed them.
Simon: Yeah, yeah, yeah. Thanks for that. This injury that has repaired for 15 years has now come back. Now, it is. It’s really transformation. It’s so clichéd. You look at these posts and— Not of our camp, but generally from predominantly triathlon because that's the world that we're in, which is, you know, ground zero for white privilege. And them talking about these transformation experiences and suffering and, you know, the actual suffering in people’s lives. Real suffering rather than volitional stuff is virtually nil. You can't really discount when you see people go through their own version of hell and back in the weekend physically and what it does to them. And it's been remarkable. And so, we love that about it and that’s really what drives it rather it's not really about the training.
Chris: So, what I saw on the bike rides, there was equivalent of that for the running and then also the swimming as well.
Simon: Oh yeah. You came to the very last session of the camp and we our numbers down there.
Lesley: A lot of the other sessions are, you know, we have a little structure. So, we start the first day off with a lot of intensive coaching. So, we do running drills and form, and biking drills and form, and then we do an open water swim with a ton of kind of outside comfort zones.
Simon: Race simulations.
Lesley: Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. You know, by the end of the first day, they’re just like “Oh my goodness.” They've gotten the information. They've gotten beaten up. And they've made new friends. And then the second day is Palomar, which is a big mountain climb here in San Diego and it's kind of legendary. So, it’s really about the challenge of it and can you make it to the top.
And everyone gets really nervous. And then we’re going to a really hard run workout on a hill by one of my friend’s house, which is just kind of out in the wilderness. And it's phenomenal, the views, the area. And so, those 2 days back to back are like life changing for people. And then the third day, we have our trail running race.
Chris: Oh wow.
Lesley: Yeah. It’s all like ra, ra, ra. Everyone’s like working hard even though they're tired and supportive of one another. People go back and like run other people in to the finish and then we have the Braveheart Highland Games, which is like Scottish Highland Games.
Simon: Tug of war and—
Chris: Oh, I didn't know. I thought—
Lesley: Oh, yeah.
Simon: Sandbag carries and all of these—
Lesley: We have water balloon—
Simon: Water balloon—
Simon: …throws and catches.
Chris: Oh, I have no idea.
Simon: Yeah. Wheelbarrow races. And they love it. You know, it’s competitive. It sort of goes back to your childhood, your play experiences.
Chris: Yeah. Of course.
Simon: And they’re all, you know, torn biceps ‘cause they’re not used to doing anything out in the [0:05:57][Inaudible] motion. It’s quite funny. Agility, you know.
Chris: I got passed by a pro in a triathlon bike and he was smashing about 15 rpm. And for a moment, I was like “What the hell is that guy doing? Why doesn’t he change gear?” I thought “Of course, he’s doing one of Lesley’s program. That’s why he’s just doing—”
Simon: Torque up.
Lesley: Torque up before. You’re like what are these crazies.
Chris: Oh, it’s wretched. Well, that’s fantastic. Congratulations on everything you do. How many people is this? Is it 80 people?
Simon: We have 90 sign up and then any one session you get between sort of 55 and 70. Yeah.
Chris: Yeah. And so, you’re gonna do this again in the future? People will—
Simon: Yeah. This will be our 7th year in 2021. It’s the last Thursday through Sunday of January each year.
Lesley: We might have to change that so it’s not the same as Super Bowl. We have some good mates that really wanna come, but Super Bowl is up for them. They’re like sorry.
Simon: You can still watch it. I mean, we finished it—
Chris: Yeah. I watched it. It was the first time ever I’ve watched it. And I really enjoyed it with Beyonce and who is it?
Simon: Beyonce. What are you talking about? Shakira and Jennifer Lopez.
Chris: That's exactly what I said.
Simon: Yeah. I was verging on a racist comment.
Chris: Yeah. So, you could still see the Super Bowl and—
Simon: Yeah. You can still see it. And you know, you can really, really indulge and feel smug about putting chips and salsa—
Chris: Oh, that’s right.
Simon: …4 pounds of stuff into your mouth.
Chris: That’s right. Oh, man, the sunshine.
Simon: We had a beautiful day. We had a beautiful weekend.
Chris: It’s incredible. I do enjoy. Everything’s better with sunshine. Right?
Simon: It is. Isn’t it?
Lesley: People are really lucky. We have a lot of people come over from Europe and then from the East Coast. So, they are cold and miserable. You know, they’ve not had their legs out in the sun for a long time. And they’re just like “Oh, this is not believable. Is San Diego like this all the time?” Actually, no, but—
Simon: Driving rain last year.
Chris: Yeah. It looks like you are sporting a pretty good tan already, Lesley.
Lesley: Is it?
Chris: I know it's not coming from Scotland. I know that it's not an innate tan. It’s one that you’ve acquired very carefully.
Simon: Well, you have a slightly darker complexion.
Lesley: I do, but I tell you what it is. It was swimming outside here. In southern California. You only have to do that for an hour at lunch time and boom you’ve got raging tan.
Chris: That’s awesome. And how’s your health been? So, the last time I interviewed you on the podcast, I think it was 2017 and you talked about chronic Lyme disease, and FMT, and all of that business.
Chris: You know, Simon uses this label, the investigative health hustle, that I enjoy. Is the investigative health hustle still hustling?
Lesley: That’s right. My never ending muscle trouble you just get. You know, you jump in all the rabbit holes. But actually, it’s been pretty good. I think when I was talking to you, I was like “You know, I don’t know if I’m gonna race this season.” And then I went on and won 2 world titles. I was like “Oh, okay.”
Chris: Of course, you did.
Lesley: I think there’s a lot of ebbs and flows to it. I would say the health has actually been pretty good the last year. And I’ve discovered a couple of things that I’ve really been working through. I think for me the mold toxicity has been a huge piece. And over slamming, we all know the importance of gut health. Right? So, just trying to figure what’s going on specifically with me. But ultimately, I think as long as you're doing any kind of endurance sports,—
Chris: Yeah. At your level.
Lesley: …you're messing yourself up. So, it’s just a case of, you know, you’re kind of doing the best that you can with the fact that you're still kind of messing yourself up.
Chris: Right. I think there’s like an exponential effect there. Like I only have to back off a little bit and then I’m really, really good. It’s actually the same as riding a mountain bike. Right? If you just race at tempo, like it’s not that much hard. But like just a little be harder and it completely destroys you.
Lesley: Yeah. Oh, absolutely. And I think it’s just a continual stress on the body day in/day out for the volumes that I do and the intensity that I do. But again, yeah, I think a lot of it as well— There's so much joy that comes from training. Not as much joy for racing. I would see more joy in the training piece.
Chris: Oh, interesting.
Lesley: But I really have had to nail down what makes me happy. And I think being outside is what makes me happy. Being in the mountains is what makes me happy.
Simon: Okay. Husband has already slipped down to the 3rd rank.
Lesley: That’s right. That’s right.
Simon: I’m waiting for my name to appear on what makes her happy.
Chris: That was gonna be my question, is can you use Simon in a professional capacity like we have Simon for our NBT clients? I mean, that's gold right there.
Lesley: Oh, it is.
Simon: She uses me to pump her tires out.
Lesley: That’s right. That’s right.
Simon: It’s the most expensive.
Lesley: I have to work with him. You should see when we come to the big races. He gets more nervous than I do like a raised BP. You know, that’s seldom.
Chris: Deep breaths, Simon.
Simon: I know. Well, I’m watching her race. And it's hard especially if an off-road race because they disappear into the woods and then they get spat back out two hours later.
Interviewer: Right. You don’t know.
Simon: So, you don't know where they are. There’s really not much coverage of how they're doing. I think for me it’s wanting Les— I know what races that she— her performances that make her happy. And it isn't about where she places. It's just feeling as though that you're strong, and you’re enjoying it, and you don't have any mechanicals. So, that's really what I’m concerned of because it's heartbreaking to see people's races that they’ve planned and trained for so hard to be disrupted by snapped chains, and flats, and stuff. It’s really heartbreaking.
Lesley: I think what we’ve really tried to do— And as our journey together is changing and we’re getting more into the creative world of film and what have you, I think the urgency and intensity in terms of what a race means to me or an individual race, it’s very different now. You know, i feel like I’ve achieved so much in the sport that I’ve not got that sort of “Oh my God, if this doesn’t pan out, it’s the end of the world, you know.” You get a lot of perspective. So, I think in the last kind of year and a half, 2 years, I’ve gotten on more of a creative journey and it’s been a lot healthier for both of us and a lot more fun. So, the perspective I think that Si brings to the table is huge for me.
Chris: That’s great. Yeah. Good for you. So, the juice is still worth the squeeze then. A client said that to me. You know, I coached with you for a short time.
Chris: And Simon sent me this long and very useful email about whether or not you should be training to be a pro mountain biker and suggesting perhaps that it was okay just to go ride your bike with the dogs. I was like “Yeah. You know what? Maybe I enjoy riding the bike with the dogs a little bit more now because I realize that that’s okay like you don’t need to feel bad about not training for something or not racing.” I had this conversation about it with a client. And he said, “Oh yeah, you’re talking about is the juice worth the squeeze, you know.” I’m like “That’s exactly right. Yeah. I don’t know if it is anymore.” But obviously, it’s still worth it for you because you’re still racing. Right?
Lesley: Yeah. And I think it changes any given season, any given month. You know, I’m definitely going through a phase right now where I’m enjoying just totally backing off. Not having instructor training. Being more creative. Having a different focus. And that’s lovely. And I’m okay with that. And if that changes in a few months, I’m okay with that. If it doesn’t change in a few months, I’m okay with that. But the biggest thing that I hear is putting the line in the sand. “Oh, I’m retired”, or “oh, I’m not gonna race”, or “oh, yes, I’m doing this race and that race.” I find that hard ‘cause I like to ebb and flow with where my mood and where my body especially is.
Simon: You see, Lesley has a bit of an issue with finality and—
Lesley: That’s true.
Simon: It’s not actually just about the racing. So, ask her about— Well, the ultimate finality is death. So, she hates talking about death. We had a nice chat with Brad Stulberg about that in our podcast.
Chris: Oh, really?
Simon: And then the other thing is do you think you’ll ever live here? Can you see yourself for the rest of your life? Would you ever move back? Those conversations were all “Nope, I can’t think like that.”
Lesley: Si as well. Si has a big about time in terms of how long did that take us, when did we leave. And I have talking about time because I hate—
Simon: Because you’re never on time. Is that why?
Lesley: Yeah. That too. You could talk! What the heck!
Simon: I think this is becoming an intervention now, Chris.
Lesley: It is. [0:13:49][Inaudible] Yeah. I struggle with the passage of time basically. As soon as I am monitoring that like, you know, you're driving somewhere, how long did it take us, when do we leave, how many hours, I feel like they're lost hours.
Simon: Fear of missing out. Is it?
Lesley: Yeah. Big time.
Chris: Isn’t that everyone’s goal though to spend more time living in the moment and not ruminating about the past or planning for the future?
Lesley: Well, that's the trouble with sport though. Right? Everything is in sections of time. Everything that you do. You’re planning ahead, goal setting for races, you're reviewing how the last season went, your worth is based upon what you've done in the past, and every minute is accounted for. Okay, I've got to be on [0:14:34][Inaudible] at this time and then we're doing it by 8 x 100s all for a minute 30 and then… So, your head works on just this— It has this weird concept of time about it. So, it’s very difficult— ‘Cause if you think about it when you’re in a session, you’re willing it to be over when you’re in pain and then you want the rest or the recovery to last longer. So, you're switching back and forth all the time and mentally, you know—
Then when you get into the real world of existence, it’s very hard to let all of that structure go.
Simon: But isn’t it though feeling as though you have to be productive with your time versus why can’t you just—
Lesley: Yes. Oh yeah.
Simon: …sit and be? You know, there’s no surprise why that ability to do that is inherent to so many of the therapies or approaches whether it’s meditation or mindfulness training. Just to be present and to not feel as though that you have to have achieved something. And well, that is the achieving. It’s the being. We’re so terrible at doing that now.
Lesley: I would say being creative is— or writing screenplays with you has helped with that.
Chris: Well, let's talk about that. So, how did you get into it? I would never guess that— Well, maybe I would if I thought about it carefully enough, but— I mean, how did you go from being 5 times Kathleen now but I mean how do you go from being 5 times XTERRA world champion, off-road triathlon champion to writing screenplays. Yeah. How did that happen?
Lesley: I've always been sort of artistic. I was a dancer before an athlete or at the same time. And I studied my undergraduate in theater. And my graduate studies and master studies is in drama. So, I've always had that aspect to me and then we lived up in Los Angeles for a couple years in my early 20s and I was acting in films and all that sort of stuff and realize that actually—
Simon: Bad films.
Lesley: Very, very bad films. And yeah, Simon cringes.
Simon: That’s unfair because some of the friends who made the films— It’s not implied that the films are bad, but it was more to do with the fact that some of them were sort of deliberately sort of—
Simon: Yeah, kitschy. They’re kind of funny. It was more of an experience though for you, but you decided I think that acting isn’t for you.
Lesley: Simon is like hate is the only term, but you’re really not that good at it.
Chris: Stick to the triathlon.
Lesley: Stick to the triathlon. But I think what I realized was I love to tell stories. I love to look at the world in a way that makes you question things and analyze things and look at people. And together with Si’s kind of psychology background, it’s assessing how the world works, and how people are in it, and why they act the way they act. And then you think about things that really impact your life or are important messages or important to you whether it's about morality, or ethics, or relationships, or love, or any one of those kind of thematic things. And then you sort of start to build it into, you know, cool thoughts, or stories, or characters. That’s how it starts. And so, I think a huge part of it is just being curious about the world. Having thoughts and feelings about how the world exists ‘cause I know how impacted I am by films. And I wanna have that same impact by the stories that we tell. So, that’s kind of how we got into it. And it’s been pretty crazy.
Simon: I have zero training in any of this.
Chris: Apart from you’ve got—
Simon: In terms of writing, you know, or creative writing. But you know, as an academic, your real job is writing or be it research writing. But as the psychology piece help me because I've always been fascinated, I’ve been a starer of people since I was a young boy. And I’m just fascinated by watching people and getting into their heads. And that might be no surprise why I ended up in the field I’m in. So, in Lesley’s training, sort of the sort of the architecture of story, which has a tremendous literature in its own right outside of just how do you tell a good story, there’s actually more form and function to it than you would think. No. Maybe not that you would think, but there is. And I had no in that at all. And so, we found our skillsets really have been quite complimentary. So, Leslie is instrumental in understanding how— You know, the analogy of an architect is a good one. If you’re gonna build a house, what the architectural plans, will it stand— the foundation is good over the story, how the characters go from A to B and so on. And then when it comes down to how do actually people talk to one another, that's the part that I found that I was good at. I can write conversations quite well and that’s probably, you know, a lot of my— you know, tapping into my professional expertise.
Lesley: Si is an unbelievable researcher as we well know. So, if you get into a topic, one of our scripts is set in the Irish Travellers community, which is like a gypsy community in Ireland.
Lesley: Yeah. We’ll try to not call them that.
Simon: No. No.
Lesley: No. No. But Si just did a ton of research. He watched loads of videos, read lots of material. Really immersed himself in that world. And so, that’s what he loves to do and that’s how he gets into the sort of the writing of the characters and all that sort of stuff. So, that part of it is amazing.
Simon: Yeah. It’s fascinating.
Lesley: It’s so cool. ‘Cause where else would you get the indulgence of stepping into another completely different world? Like the one we’re writing at the moment is about genetic modification in sports. So, obviously, it has a background that we understand, but then you're delving into all of these other things.
Chris: Right. What could be possible?
Simon: Where does the science stand on, you know, gene drives and CRISPR-Cas9, you know?
And you put that into a thriller. So, it’s been great.
Chris: I mean, now you said it. What do you think is possible? You better explain what CRISPR-Cas9 is before you go.
Simon: Well, this notion that people’s DNA can be altered, we’ve known that for a while obviously just ‘cause the whole science of epigenetics means that our genetic sort of expression changes depending on the environments we’re in. But now having the ability to insert gene drives or to be able to have some molecular scissors that can snip out segments and replace them and give— and how they express into having different characteristics and so, it's a pretty scary field. It’s happening as you know in science at the moment. And in fact, there was a recent case in China—
Chris: Yeah. Of course.
Simon: …about the genetic baby. He’s just been put in prison I think as well for doing that. It opens a whole— And actually, the film that we were interested in making or we are interested in making is less about sort of a nerd fest of how— what would gene doping look like in sport and more about the morality of cheating and how cheating is actually fairly complicated. You might think that, you know, cheating or drug taking in sport is a black or white issue. And for some, if you distill it down to something as essentially is it in the spirit of the sport or not or is it letter of the law of the sport or not, but the actual decisions that people make when they get to a point where they've done something that violates principles in the sport is actually quite fascinating because we're all dealing with the same flawed 3-pound piece of kit. Right? And how people justify the things that they do.
Lesley: Well, it’s also the concept of if nobody knew or if no one was watching, would you still act and do, you know—
Simon: If you could never be caught—
Simon: …and you discovered something about yourself that meant that you had an unfair advantage, but you could never be caught, would you still do it? When you ask people that question, most of them if we believe the psychological research will say, “No, I absolutely wouldn’t.” But actually, the facts are quite different. People do do that. It’s just whether we end up knowing about it as well is different. So, I think that issue raises a whole bunch of questions. And we wanted a look at the role of cheating in sport from multiple perspectives whether you’re an institutionalized sport with an institutionalized doping in a certain country. You’re getting on the medical program, but you’re ultimately doing it to support your family and, yes, some— That’s one aspect of it. But another is if things were happening to you that never knew about and then you discover them and you didn't do anything, you weren’t an agent of that cheating, does that change the equation at all? And this ties into modern issues about transgender people competing, men competing as women, women competing as men. So, these issues are really difficult or they’re not as simple as you might think to how you resolve.
Lesley: But also just characters behind that. Right? ‘Cause you get really unusual people doing extreme and wonderful things. Why their personality is like that? Why do they do the things that they do? So, really getting behind the characters ‘cause I think, for us, the films that we love are fact— they’re like a piece of music. You know, they can be fast and slow. They can elicit different emotions at different times. They have clever plots, but they’re driven by intriguing characters that are trying to figure out who they are and they're changing along the way.
Chris: Are there any particular genres you enjoy or is it just all over the map?
Lesley: All over the map.
Simon: I think drama has been—
Lesley: Drama thriller.
Simon: Drama thriller has been the area that we—
Chris: Can you name any films that you’ve enjoyed recently?
Simon: Recent. We saw last night— I don’t know—
Lesley: Jojo Rabbit.
Simon: Jojo Rabbit, which is fantastic. Parasite. A Korean film that came out this year that will be an Oscar contender. It’s absolutely amazing. Yeah.
Lesley: I think it’s when the films are addressing topical subjects in a very unusual and clever way. And both of those films do that, you know. Jojo Rabbit is a young Nazi boy that falls in love with a Jewish girl that is held in his mother’s attic.
Simon: And his imaginary friend is Hitler.
Chris: Are you serious?
Lesley: No. It is serious.
Simon: You know, you think like “What?”
Lesley: It’s a parody on that whole—
Simon: It’s sort of Wes Anderson and Woody Allen type move. It is just remarkable how it’s done.
Lesley: Very clever. And then parasite is about a family—
Simon: No spoiler alerts.
Chris: Oh, careful.
Lesley: I’ll not talk too much. But basically, it’s unusual subject matters.
Chris: Okay. I’ll watch those.
Chris: Thank you.
Simon: Do you watch many films or—
Chris: Not many.
Simon: Do you have a television?
Chris: Sort of.
Lesley: You didn't before.
Chris: No. I will occasionally—
Simon: Watch them in your laptop.
Chris: No. I’ve got a screen, you know, and we’ll hook the computer up to it. We watched Leave No Trace. It’s absolutely phenomenal. Have you seen that?
Chris: It’s a story of a man with PTSD. I won’t say anything that’s not in the trailer.
Lesley: He takes his daughter out to the woods.
Chris: They’re living in the woods.
Simon: Oh yes, we have seen it.
Chris: Isn’t that phenomenal?
Lesley: It’s really cool. There’s another film that you would love with—
Chris: Ben Foster.
Lesley: No. No. That is Ben Foster. The other film that is a similar concept where he takes his family out to the woods. I remember his wife has died, but it’s the same concept about being—
Chris: Right. Well, the thing I found fascinating about it and I can say this without spoiling anything ‘cause it’s in the trailer, is that moment when they force him to come back to civilization and they give him all the stuff that comes with civilization like a mobile phone, and a microwave, and all the stuff. And he just doesn’t want any of it. It’s like “No. I'm going back to the woods.” I just thought that was absolutely fantastic. That really resonated with me.
Lesley: Well, I just love the conflict between him and his daughter because she does want some of that and it’s not—
Chris: She’s torn. Right. Yeah.
Lesley: Yeah. She's torn because there's elements of those things that are good. Right? It’s too much of—
Simon: Oh, cognitive dissonance. Open the box of the psycho— No.
Chris: And ambivalence is something I think about a lot.
Chris: Yeah. Fantastic. So, tell me about the new podcast projects with XTERRA.
Lesley: Yeah. So, obviously, XTERRA is what I race. It’s off-road triathlon. As a member, I can run in. And they have a great, big global brand. And they've been wanting to kind of build some content as part of their brands. And they approached Simon and I about being the host on that and we thought about it for quite a while because it's quite a big commitment. And we thought, well, we'd really love to do a podcast together. However, we don't want it to be about triathlon because we can’t think of nothing more boring. So awful to say that.
Chris: What would you talk about? Power meters, and equipment, and—
Lesley: Oh my goodness, shoot me.
Chris: Should you do this type of training versus that type of training?
Simon: There’s plenty of fantastic podcasts out there already that cover that. Are we gonna add another—
Chris: Evidence-based training is my least favorite topic.
Lesley: Oh my goodness. I just send me to sleep.
Simon: Yeah. Heart training podcast.
Lesley: But we wanted to get into the psychology of adventure and more sort of the mental aspect of, you know, the world of adventure sport, being outside, warrior mindset.
Simon: Yeah. For us, it was about connecting with this relentless adventurous spirit, which we both have in some shape or form. And when we talk about relentless adventuring, we're not just talking about, you know, you have to ski to the South Pole or sail around the world. It’s just that we all have a little essence of adventuring. And one of the themes that we've learnt from some of our guests about what adventuring even is is going, you know, sort of knowingly into the unknown, right, which is interesting when I think about it. So, we think about this. So, this applies to the world that we’re in at the moment in sport and triathlon and like our camp is a good example. Getting out your comfort zone, doing things that you know ultimately you'll probably not gonna die, but they're still scary as hell. And how do I do those anyway? What's the mindset? What are the skills that you need along the way? When you get spat out the other side, how has that changed in the day or how has your outlook changed? And so, I think we've taken that concept and try to— We have guests who have run the gamut from people who write about it. People actually do it themselves. People who encourage kids to do it. And so, you get into my relationship with the outdoors because most adventuring is largely outdoors and I'm a huge— As sort of a tangent to this, the psychology or the psychological benefits of your relationship with nature and being outdoors and exposure to outdoor environments is an unplugging and that— So, it's quite a salient time to be talking about that. But also, when you look at the patterns of the trends in endurance exercise whether it's from triathlon to Spartan races, and Tough Mudders, and adventure racing, and eco challenges, a lot of it is about trying to add more sort of unique novel ways to experience having a goal that's quite challenging, doing things that are quite unusual. Now, obviously, there’s some obvious ancestral component to a lot of this, you know. And that’s intensely fascinating to me. And it’s been a really interesting journey for us so far. We launch in end of February or beginning of March of 2020 this year. So, we have 3 or 4 episodes in the can now.
Lesley: Hang on a minute. We're doing one with you.
Chris: Oh, that’s right.
Simon: That’s right. You’re gonna be a guest on our—
Chris: What an honor.
Lesley: I don’t know what we’re gonna talk about yet, but right.
Chris: Bringing down the house prices.
Lesley: Yeah, yeah. Not happening.
Chris: But can I get you to comment on that? That's an interesting point you brought up. The rise and rise of Tough Mudder and the obstacle course race. What do you think is going on there? I feel like it says something about—
Simon: It is. Our guest that we booked, but we haven’t actually recorded, a sports sociologist called Dr. Mark Falcous at University of Otago in Dunedin. One of his areas of research is on the warriorization of sport and the sense that— And again, we haven’t done the podcast yet. But you know, as my background reading in some of the stuff he's doing, looking into what is this need or drive to be, have a clan identity or tribal, having a collective in the sport, I do, which is—
Obviously, if you look at something like road triathlon, there’s none of that in the moment. It’s all sort of in the I’m a triathlete and the branding of it with my M-Dot tattoo or something. But in some of these other events, which are much more you’re doing in groups or small groups— but I like to belong. I mean, CrossFit is the ultimate tribal, clan group in extreme endurance, right, or extreme sports. And the trend of why that is, is that really an outcrop of our relationship that we feel a little bit more disenfranchised or a little bit separated or marginalized from real face to face contact? And is that one of the reasons why? So, I'm looking really forward to seeing what a sociologist take on this. Give me some cultural context I guess.
Lesley: I think also the sort of primal nature of being— certainly when you get to the Tough Mudders and what not— there’s the safety ‘cause the fact that it’s structured event, so there’s a beginning, a middle, and an end. So, it’s not quite “hey, let’s just go out into the wilderness” ‘cause I don’t think people feel confident enough to do that, but they want to get dirty. They want to feel their heart rate go up. People want to feel. And this is a good way of getting that to happen because I think there's a lot of numbness right now.
Chris: Uh-huh. Right.
Simon: There was a great article in the New York Times or Outside Magazine. You might have seen this, Chris, about 6 months ago. And this might be a socioeconomic thing, but the majority of people who are attracted to these extreme endurance sports usually are knowledge workers. You know, they’re in jobs that they’re using their cognitive skills. And if you do that enough at the expense of some physical exertion, are you gonna crave more sort of physical stimulus? Are you gonna crave more experiences that force you to feel physically your senses? And so, that might be one of the reasons for it. I don't know what the equivalent of the Spartan Race or Tough Mudders would have been 50 or 75 years ago. You know, I’m down in mine already. I don’t need to be—
Lesley: We talked a lot with Paula about freedom when you're right there and an adventure. Sort of a release and ability to kind of access things that maybe you can’t in everyday life.
Chris: Well, that was gonna be my question. Is it the knowledge workers in particular are not having their basic psychological needs met by that day-to-day living and somehow that's exactly what Spartan, and Tough Mudder, and all these other obstacle course races are providing, is autonomy, agency, and relatedness, right?
Simon: Yeah. Possibly. I mean, it could be psychological. It could also just be a physical— I need some physical sensory stimulation.
Chris: Right. I just wonder if there's anything to learn there and then maybe that translates— I saw this really good article recently or I thought is really good. Maybe you would hate it. I should have asked you before bringing it up. But is the same true with online video games, right? Like is this why 14-year-old boys are addicted to Fortnight, is because their basic psychological needs are not being met by school? This is like scratching itch and giving me what I want.
Simon: I do think that, you know, when you look up— We talked about this on your podcast before, Chris, is that if you wanna understand why something is attractive to somebody, I mean an activity, or a pursuit, or a relationship, or a job, doing a little order of those 3 needs, you get pretty damn close to saying you’re loving this now, but you are not probably gonna be doing this for much longer or you won’t be doing in the future because there are key needs being thwarted at the moment. At the moment, you are sort of volitionally giving those up and that’s fine. So, I think there might be an element that, the escapism. There’s a fantasy element to all those things. What was interesting is that when I was doing my PhD, one of my areas of interest was on screen use of kids, how it affects body mass more than psychological health. But I go into the video game and health literature in children. It’s fairly extensive actually now. Remembering 20 years ago now or whatever some of this was, the landscape has changed tremendously now with more VR and all that kind of stuff.
Chris: Yeah. So immersive.
Simon: Yeah. So immersive. So, I think as a psychologist who needs component to it, but I think as well it’s an opportunity for identity work. You can create what we know about how identities are crafted and created, not just in adulthood, but particularly when you’re a teenager. You're giving the opportunities to try on different identities that you don’t just in your physical present self in real life. So, it’s probably in many ways beneficial for children. And in fact, some of the research shows that video games does improve cognitive skills of kids. Now, if it’s coming at a consequence of sort of some basic social skills, you’re doing it 9 hours a day versus an hour a day, then that becomes a different—
Chris: Right. Right. Yeah. I learned that from Josh, our neurologists, that it’s all opportunity costs.
Right? Like you can make the kid do one thing and you intervene, then what are they not doing? Like you have to think about that stuff like it’s important for sure. So, do you think the adventure is something that everybody should be striving for? Is that a basic feeling?
Simon: Yeah, I do. I really do. Again, if we operationalize— Paula Reid too is one of our guests. She’s an adventure psychologist. So, she’s like the psychology of expeditionary adventures so that these are South Polers and the hardcore folks. And one of the core sort of take home lessons that I took was adventuring is about this going knowing into the unknown. So, if you don't have opportunities in your life or your don't have much history or experience in life of doing things where you genuinely don't know what to expect, you're probably falling short of opportunities to really find opportunities for happiness, self-growth, learning about what you— redrawing the skills, line in the sand of what you thought you could do. And our camp is a microcosm of that as well. So, using that. And what Paula said is that she has her 100— She hates to call it bucket list because that implies that you do them before you die and we should be thinking about these things that we wanna be doing, you know, while we’re here like constantly. Not just like “Oh, I have to check on that.”
Chris: I see.
Simon: So, she has this 115 things on her list in the spirit of this relentless adventure spirit. Some of which are remarkably arduous. Again, sailing around the world or skiing to the South Pole. But some of them are bog snorkeling.
Lesley: Some of them are [0:36:29][Inaudible]
Simon: Some of them are streaking. A football match.
Chris: Oh wow.
Lesley: Just like thinking outside the box about the things that might excite you. Right?
Simon: To scare you. Scare and excite. Yeah.
Lesley: And I don't think we give ourselves the time to really think about what is it that we actually like because we're caught in a treadmill of life. I mean, everyone's like that, you know, whether it's getting kids off to school, get into your work, doing the shopping, sorting the cleaning. All of those things. Right? We never stop and think “God, what do we enjoy? What have we always wanted to do and never done and actually go after some of that stuff and say, okay, once a month, I’m gonna do activity?”
Simon: Yeah. And she introduced us to— I don’t know if you have heard of this, the fun scale in adventuring. Have you heard of this? There’s type 1 fun, type 2 fun.
Chris: Oh, you better tell us about this now.
Simon: And it was sort of an aha moment for me. It’s a very simple concept. So, type 1 fun is when you’re doing the activity that’s really enjoyable. And after you finish the activity, you look back and it’s also still enjoyable. Right? Type 2 fun is when during it, it’s not that fun. It hurts. It’s Iron Man. Why fit in to some of that? A lot of competitive sport might fit in to that. But afterwards, you look back and it’s— You know, you look back at it fondly and it might be transformational for you, but you go back and want more. But at that time, it hurts. And type 3 fun, which is probably no fun at all, is miserable during and it’s miserable to look back on it, you know. And she thinks that the sweet spot, the stretch zone is this type 2 fun.
Simon: And most of us get into the habit of thinking about our adventure as only type 1. Right? So, I’ve got to enjoy during this. If I don’t enjoy it, what’s the point of doing it? Yeah, but enjoyment comes if you know that you’ve done something that was difficult. And at that time, it might be really challenging. So, I love that idea. And so, Lesley and I to get more type 2 fun in our lives outside of sport is really important. And she said, “Listen, even if this is that you go and camp in your own backyard, right, just do something that is, you know, a little bit more—” It might connect to some of those play urges that you have or as kids and we don't like to— We’d think about a lot of the recreation activities has become juvenile or silly to do, but the psychology of play is fascinating too.
Chris: Isn't the type 2 elephant in the room childbirth— Isn’t that how you just exactly described—
Lesley: I don’t know. You tell me, Chris.
Chris: I mean, that’s exactly it, you know, like you see a woman go through labor and it seems like the worst you could possibly imagine any human could ever go through. And then 3 years later, they’re like “You know what? I kind of want, you know—” Like somebody gives them a baby and they hold it for a second, they’re like “Yeah. You know what? I think I wanna sign up for that again.” I mean, isn’t it exactly the same thing? They just don't remember very well how bad it was and they’re willing to do it again.
Simon: I think so. I mean, obviously, there are differences there. I will not point out. They’re fucking obvious. But it’s an evolutionary drive to procreate. But in adventuring, there’s an evolutionary drive—
Chris: Yeah. Absolutely.
Simon: …out of curiosity, and novelty, and sensation seeking, and stuff that in itself is the end. Right? Not just creating life and seeing them grow up into happy helpful adults, but the experiences you have as an adventurer when they stop, meaning the event is over, it's kind of been forevermore confined to your hippocampus. Right? And then from then on, it’s just your memories of it and how you think about it. So, you’re not creating anything necessarily that has some physical properties.
Chris: Do you think it's important that the suffering is like— it’s the juxtaposition that you notice, right, like you only feel good when you— I mean, that’s exercise. Right? Like the reason it feels good is when you stop. And if you didn’t stop, you wouldn't—
Simon: Well, it’s interesting.
So, in the sport psychology literature when they study how exercise affects mood, there are all these measures of doing what is called— The famous one is called the POMS (the profile of mood states) that they measure in. And for years, they had all this research showing that exercise really— you know, people feel better after they exercise. And of course, major methodological flaw you wrote on there is nice because it’s like you put your hand over a hot stove. And how does it feel? It hurts. And I take my hand out. How do you feel? That feels much better. It’s not because you’ve had this experience. It’s because the noxious stimulus is now over. So, they don't know whether that was always it. Is there actually something about the exercise itself that actually does elevate mood? And so, they started to— I’m going a bit of a tangent here, but I’m fascinated by it. So, they started to look at models of measuring mood while you're exercising, upping intensity, playing with different elements of exercise, programming, and tracking what they call valence of mood (positive or negative), and then intensity of mood. And they can plot them in this light orthogonal space. And so, for different workout, it’s almost like a signature of mood change during the exercise. It’s called the circumplex. It’s fascinating. And now that some folks are using that to actually help do group exercise programming, so I had to make a group exercise class. What experiences do we need to give people with music with the instruction or tempo, and timing, and the environment so that we can craft— It’s really like a movie.
Lesley: It’s like watching a movie.
Simon: So, it’s just like watching a movie.
Chris: Right. Right.
Lesley: That to me has always being a natural thing when I started off coaching, is how do you setup a session that plays all of these emotional aspects and beats essentially.
Chris: Well, that was gonna be my next question, is this also true elsewhere in life with our emotions? Is it necessary to feel the full range of human emotion in order to have happiness, right? Like can you be happy if you've never been sad?
Simon: I know. So, the deficit model of happiness— I think you’ve had a few guests on your podcast about this— is that if happiness truly— And happiness is sort of a rabbit hole psychologically anyways. We’re not gonna talk about that. Can you only really appreciate and be happy if you felt the deficit part, if you felt unhappiness, or if you’ve had some suffering or some denial of some psychological need or what have you, physical need, or so on? And the delta in that seems to be quite important for having happiness. So, in other words, if you've been born into luxury, or you've never wanted for anything, or you can have anything that you want any time that you want, it’s a lot harder psychologically to be happy. I don’t wanna say content because that's not the word. But now, we have Brad Stulberg, the passion paradox found contentment is a biologically unsustainable impossible state to have as a human. But the notion that trying to force yourself to have some deficit of an emotion in order to feel the high is happiness seems quite important. And that’s probably why suffering— people feel good about the type 2 fun of suffering. Right? It’s not—
Lesley: That’s the hardest thing though, is that you get addicted to the suffering basically or the pattern of response physiologically and mentally. And so, if you haven't had that in any given— like the more you do, the more you need to get the same impact.
Chris: Well, that was gonna be my next question actually. Is there a danger of— You can tell I’ve been hanging out with Simon for a while. Hedonic adaptation. Is there an adventure adaptation? You know, oh, will I manage to camp in the garden? Now, I'm doing this. And then before you know it, you're making an attempt to Everest and that's where your life ends. Like is there a danger of that in adventuring?
Simon: Maybe I think hedonic adaptation is slightly different than what we are talking about because a noxious—
Chris: Oh, you better explain it. Introduce this jargon term.
Simon: So, this notion that are feelings of pleasure, there’s a range restriction to them. So, well, the theory is that the human brain is wired to not let you spiral, you know, just crave, want more and more and more of happiness or a pleasure I should say. That’s not a very sort of evolutionarily important or relevant thing to happen because we’d all be in the corner injecting every kind of drug we could find. Or at the moment we find something pleasurable, we just do it all the time 24/7. And so, this human brain is wired to give you less and less pleasure from the same thing. So, you adapt to the pleasure, hence hedonic pleasure adaptation. So, if you do too much of a pleasurable thing, it ceases to become pleasurable and that serves an evolutionary function. So, we don’t overcome, you know, just quivering, shaking, orgasmic people in the corner.
Chris: Must be a Woody Allen job.
Simon: But with suffering, it’s slightly different because I believe that the actual— the “pain” of when it hurts, I don't believe people are addicted to that per se because that would be— There might be some people, but I don't believe that's it. Like love the pain and I don't believe anybody loves pain. There might be some people.
Chris: Isn’t that like sort of weird? Yeah. It’s actually BDSM and all that.
Simon: Yeah. But in terms of how we were treating exercise, I think this is the type 2-ness to it. Right?
Afterwards, you feel as though that you've been to hell and back in a very small way in sport. And therefore, it helps you enjoy the stuff that comes afterwards, right, the little things that become more enjoyable. Is there an adaptation to that?
Simon: Yes. But then you’re wandering into excite dependency. Right? Excite addiction and then the science of addiction of tolerance, and withdrawal, and so on. So, there are elements to that, but I think hedonic adaptation isn’t what exercise dependents are experiencing.
Chris: Do you have any advice to people that could help them prevent that adaptation? How do I want what I already have?
Simon: Yeah. Yeah.
Chris: You know? ‘Cause we see it so much in sport, right, with why I did a spring distance and then I did a half and people ask me when I’m gonna do the full. And we’re seeing the same thing in bike racing. You know, there’s no one standing up for Cyclocross where I am anymore. Everybody’s doing these 100 and something mile gravel events, you know. It’s like “Wow. You only did 45 minutes. Can you do an hour?” Or “Now, you’ve done an hour, then can you do—”
Simon: Yeah. Sure. Sure. So, what we do know about sort of pleasure is that it’s the anticipation of dopamine in particular. It’s the anticipation of the event, not the actual thing itself. This is why most of us when we set big milestones or goals, they’re kind of anticlimaxes often. You know, you spend 4 years training and doing your PhD, you actually walk across the—
Chris: Pleasing moment and pleasure.
Simon: You could almost feel a bit depressed or—
Chris: Right. That’s it.
Simon: …frustrated that you’re not enjoying it as much as you should. And likewise, in our world, people spend getting ready for Kona and they do Kona. And at that time, it’s like they don’t feel as elated as they expect to because your brain’s biochemistry is not wired to be when you’re doing it to feel “Oh my God, this is great.” There are a few exceptions to that. It’s mainly the anticipation of it. So, to avoid the hedonic adaptation, know the pleasure is thinking about the thing that you’re gonna do and then when you introduce curiosity and novelty to that ‘cause there’s nothing worse than a predicable reward. You know exactly what’s coming to get you and to sort of it no longer becomes a rewarding because you're thinking about something. I already know what's going to happen. So, finding lots of opportunities to do things that you've not done before, but you can get excited about. And most people there, they still don’t like to do completely different things, so variations. I know the essence of cycling. I know what the sensations are like on my legs, but I've done road races and crits or Cyclocross, but gravel I can’t— Its’ the same thing, but it’s different.
Chris: I see.
Simon: So, it’s introducing a little bit— But again, the trajectory is still there is still probably some adaptation, you know, so you get to that. You’ll do that for a few years. Okay. Now, the next thing.
Chris: I was gonna say, so, what’s next? Does this mean this has to be this constant cycle of innovation?
Lesley: Horizon seeking anyway, I mean, by human nature.
Simon: Yeah. Looking to new things. Yeah. Absolutely.
Chris: Wow. Okay. Well, this has been great. Thank you very much. I’m really excited. Has this podcast got a name?
Simon: It’s called the XTERRA Podcast Powered by Braveheart. So, the XTERRA podcast, yeah, you'll be able to search on it and it will come up. It launches, yeah, in the end of February or beginning of March.
Chris: Excellent. I wanted to thank you both so much for the last— When is it? 2017 or something I first came down here to do the Belgian Waffle Ride.
Lesley: Oh my God, that’s right.
Simon: Are you doing it again this year or no?
Chris: I don’t think I’ll ever do that again actually. That’s not great advertising for them. No, I just don’t do well with the length of it. It was like a long bike race with another bike race on the end, you know. It was so long.
Simon: That was type 3 fun for you, is it?
Chris: Oh, it was. Yeah. It was type 3. There was definitely moments in it where I thought this is awesome. I’ll never forget that first sandy section that we got. There’s all people on road bikes and they’ve all got their 20c tires or whatever it is. It’s like the ones on your bike when I rode it. Like really skinny bald ties and then everybody's barreling towards 30 miles an hour this piece of sandy road. And it's pretty loose deep sand. And then as soon as all these road riders hit it, it was just like the opening sequence of Saving Private Ryan. It was just insane like carbon fiber bottles ejecting everywhere and I just sailed right through the middle of it on my cross bike with sensible tires. I was just like “Yes! This is awesome.” And then it was all downhill from there. I know. It was good.
Simon: You take out the pieces afterwards. We saw you in your finish. You were not happy.
Chris: Yeah. Oh, yeah.
Simon: What time did you do in the end? Do you remember?
Chris: I can’t remember. It was by far the longest I’ve ever been on a bike. It was like 7 hours or something like that.
Simon: Yeah. And that’s a quick time.
Chris: It was insane. It was insane. There was definitely bits in the end as well where it got like kind of single tracking with like rocky— with hard packed sand. It was really fun. I have no idea— all those people that I saw at the beginning there, they were on those skinny tires— how they got to the end without having to stop every 5 seconds with flat tires and what not. Yeah. I think it’s just like this could have taken some bits out and it would have been okay just being, you know, 4 or 5-hour. Right? You know, the good bits were really good.
Simon: Yeah. Yeah. Sure. Sure. Oh, my God.
Chris: Yeah. I mean, wow, I feel like it’s been this psychological enlightening of the last 3 or 4 years working with you, with clients and then reading all your book recommendations. I mean, truly wonderful.
So, yeah, thank you so much for giving your time.
Lesley: Try living with him.
Chris: I have not shut up. I mean, in a way, Julie—
Simon: She’s no picnic let me tell ‘ya. If you wanna have a window into crazy, marry a professional athlete.
Chris: I have not shut up about you. Every single client I talked to and even local friends that don't give a toss about what I do for a living, like they still get to hear about Dr. Simon Marshall and all the psych stuff. So, thank you so much. It’s been absolutely fantastic. And I'm very excited to hear the new podcast. I’ll look forward to that. So, I’ll link to it in the show notes. But of course, if you just search inside of your podcast app, you will surely find the new XTERRA podcast. And thank you so much, guys. I really appreciate you.
Simon: Our pleasure.
Lesley: Thanks, Chris.
Simon: Thanks, Chris.
[0:50:41] End of Audio