What is it with all the hacks that have overtaken the world like the Black Plague? Whether in a bookstore, on Twitter or anywhere on the internet, you’ll find more books and articles on hacks and quick fixes than discarded oxygen bottles at Everest’s Base Camp. We’re told these hacks promise short cuts to whatever end goal we dream of achieving – losing inches off our waists, fixing a common household problem, learning to play an instrument in an afternoon, being bigger/faster/stronger than ever before, and so on.
It is all really nauseating. Like, I start to get a rash whenever I see yet another “hack” article.
Here’s the deal. None of this hack bullshit is new. None of it. If it sounds too good to be true, it is a pile of brontosaurus turds. Hacks are in the vein of marginal gains, and we all know what tripe that concept is. And, if you still believe in marginal gains, my condolences. You probably also believe that clapping loudly also brought Tinkerbell back to life. I think the reason I get so bent out of shape around the hacking culture is that hacks are wrapped in pseudo-science at best yet come across as fact and fill people with such grand visions and hope for self-improvement. If you would only LISTEN and DO all these fantastical shortcuts, then your entire life would be transformed for the better. These dirty little secrets are your way to get a leg up on everyone else – because the rest of civilization doesn’t have access to the tried-and-true hacks. Just you. Right.
The flipside of this is that society is looking for quick fixes to everything. It’s like hard work and dedication to a goal are the old way of achieving success and completely out of fashion. If you aren’t willing to hack your way to success, you’re a deluded anachronism. It’s the previous generations who lived in the Stone Age who had silly visions of easier ways to build a fire and technology-driven Utopia. Nirvana is right around the corner … If. You. Would. Just. Listen. To. My. Secret. Hacks.
It’s like layers of an onion, only this onion is small and not very complex at all. The naivety required to believe in life hacks is astounding. It really is. Common sense gets thrown out as the baby with the bathwater. As far as athleticism and performance is concerned, the ignorance – or maybe it’s arrogance – required to buy-in to the hacking culture makes me want to bludgeon myself about the head with a 2x4. The marketing machine behind any new innovation in technology, equipment, training practices, techniques and more is astounding. Use this carbon wheel because it will save you a nanosecond over the competition. And, it will only cost you $2,000! Do this one super awesome brick workout (explained in a vacuum, no less) and you’ll smash the competition in your next triathlon. Start eating this super food and you’ll be supercharged as if you’re on EPO! The list of stupidity is endless. It really is.
And the saddest part? The goal is no longer the path. Months or even years of blood, sweat and tears, if we can instead condense all that into days or weeks, fuck it. I’ve got better things to do with my time. Common sense and all the wisdom of the ages has gone the way of the Dodo. The brontosaurus-sized turds (I like this better than “bullshit,” don’t you?) passed off as life-alterting hacks sound so compelling because of the pseudo-science packaging in which they’re wrapped. OF COURSE today’s hacks are better and more innovative than anything tried in the past, science and provability be damned. The more I read about how athletes and coaches trained in the past, the more I realize that today’s ways of training and eating and competing are, for the most part, no better. I recall one example in comparing the speed of Jesse Owens to that of today’s 100m and 200m track sprinters. If Owens were to have run on similar track surfaces and in today’s shoes, he would be in the mix to win just about any sprint competition. Think about that for a moment. 80 years beyond Owens’ Olympic glory, sprinters are negligibly faster when technological advances are removed from the equation. So, how does this mesh with all the hacks around better training to make you bigger/faster/stronger than ever before?
The biggest mistake people make today in buying in to the hacking culture is that they discount their elders as less intelligent and innovative than those spouting the benefits of unfounded hacks. It’s like when teenagers think they know it all and their parents are the stupidest people on the planet (admit it, we’ve all been there).
Here’s the rub. Humans are hardwired to preserve. From millions of years ago, when survival was hand-to-mouth and we didn’t know from where our next meal would come, we were programmed to save energy. To conserve. To find an easier way to subsist and survive. It’s this primitive drive that spawns the upwelling of hope that someone may truly have discovered a quicker, easier way to solve any problem which ails the world.
If in your training you’ve tried hacks, ask yourself why. Is it an aversion to hard work? Is it that your previous training and racing regimen has left you wanting in results? Is it a refusal to use PEDs even though you know those against whom you compete are juiced and that’s why they’re crushing you? Is Life throwing curve balls at you and fitting in the necessary training just isn’t possible? Are you always on the lookout for the latest-and-greatest training secret? Something else?
It’s the pseudo-science cloaking the hacks that make them all sound so so so appealing. Throw a few titles or abbreviations after a name and that hack-spouter suddenly has street cred. We better listen to what he/she has to say, otherwise we risk being left behind and suffering the consequences of unfulfilled promise in all that we do. Like gold teeth grills, jeans worn below the butt, and the hipster movement, I pray every day the hacking fad will die a very quick, miserable death. The sooner, the better.
As I said earlier, hacks are like the completely debunked notion of marginal gains. Emphatically, you will not get better by focusing on the small things or looking for short cuts. To do so is to contest that you’ve got the other 98.5% of preparation completely nailed. Which is a ludicrous contention, right? Why concern yourself with ZIPP’s new asinine wavy carbon wheels and how fast they’ll make you when you can’t even string together a solid block of training? Why are you following a training program promising a sub-13-hour Ironman in 13 weeks when you haven’t been training for a handful of years? Why are you worried about the best gels and electrolyte drinks when you’re drinking six Diet Coke’s a day? Why are you worried about using the best pillow on the planet to ensure fantastic sleep when you are only getting four hours of sleep a night? And on and on and on.
You are focusing on the wrong things. Full stop.
As a life-long athlete and endurance athlete coach of 25 years, this is the absolute best piece of advice I can give you. Right here. So LISTEN UP. Forget about the fine, nitty gritty details. Instead, focus on the big picture – the process of what gets you from Point A to Point B over many months or years. Instead of focusing on a better set of racing wheels, instead focus on putting together a proper training plan or hiring a coach to do so for you. Instead of drowning yourself in beet juice, throw all the packaged food away and eat more real food. Train less and rest more.
The premise upon which hacks are built are indeed sound – there is arguably a better way to do something than the way you currently approach it today. But, if you believe a silver bullet will provide you the glory and success and personal fulfillment you’re currently lacking, then you need to take a BIG step back, look in the mirror and ask yourself why that is. What biases do you have against proper, intelligent, good ol’ hard work? Because, it is these biases that are what is truly holding you back. You think addressing the final 1.5% will overcome all of the shortfalls in addressing the larger 98.5% of preparation. You want to build a house without first pouring the foundation.
In closing, I’ll offer this. If we’re honest with ourselves, we know there is not shortcut to any type of success. In training, there is no new, top secret way that will suddenly allow you to trounce the competition. You must put in the hard work. You must grind out the appropriate volume and hours. You must gut out the days when you’d rather hit the snooze button and roll back over in bed. You must be consistent. You must surround yourself with others who are on a similar mission. Because we are more heavily influenced by our peers than by anyone else with whom we interact.
Good ol’ hard work and perseverance aren’t sexy. Hacks are sexy. That’s why they’re so compelling. Forget the hacks. Get back to the tried-and-true basics. Focus on the 98.5% rather than the 1.5%. Become a black belt in the basics. Nail them. Stop spending your money on the technological advancement snake oil (like the ZIPP wheel example). Step outside your comfort zone. Rediscover your drive for why you train and compete in your sport of choice. Embrace the journey and find excitement in its day-to-day challenge.
Help ensure the hack culture dies a quick, painful death.