Monday, August 27, 2012

Day 182: Motivation Tuesday-Meet Mark Thalman

Today I’d like to feature an interview with Mark Thalman, a dad, cameraman and a tri-athlete who has a real cool approach to health. Mark is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, but under the hood, there’s some serious drive. The thing that I like about Mark is that he values his family, and actually has included them in his world of biking. Mark has a lot to share, so if you want to read this quickly, I’d suggest you grab a donut, an apple and sit down and enjoy his story.


Tell us about your self

I am a 45-year-old documentary cameraman living in Bethesda, Maryland. I have been happily married to my wife for over 16 years and have two delightful daughters, ages 8 and 6. I am an avid road biker who commutes 25 miles about three days a week from my home to my office in downtown D.C.

Since I began biking seriously in 2000, I have ridden over 35,000 miles (most of them commuting) and was thrilled to learn that this means I have "virtually" circled the Earth (24,860 miles) on my bike. In May of 2012 I did my first sprint triathlon in Annapolis, Maryland. I was inspired by my daughter who had completed a triathlon ( of her own the previous spring to raise money for children with cancer. I remember before the race she said, "Daddy, I'm scared. I think this is going to be too hard for me." "You'll be fine," I reassured her. "It's not that hard. Just keep going." Later, I reflected on my hypocrisy. I didn't know how hard it was because I had never done it myself. It was time for daddy to put up or shut up. It was time for me to become a triathlete.

My "athletic career" began as a kid in Orchard Park, New York where, aged 12,  I received the coveted Gold Brick for the worst dive on the Eagle Ridge swim team. My lunge from the starting blocks resembled that of a clumsy praying mantis. Michael Phelps I was not. Later, I "earned" a JV letter in football (they had a policy of not cutting anybody) as a blocker on the Orchard Park Quakers' extra point team. The Quakers didn't score much and never attempted field goals so my game experience usually amounted to one or two plays, during which I usually missed my block. I had a lot of time perched on a frozen bench under a veil of falling snow to consider my athletic future and decided at season's end that I might be better off photographing sports than participating in them. So in 1983, I gave up on athletics and became a photographer.

When did you start riding a bike?

By 2000, I had realized my dream of becoming a TV cameraman in Washington D.C. I'd  traveled to exotic destinations like Haiti and Egypt for stories and often visited Washington's corridors of power to photograph senators and presidents. I was also woefully out of shape. I had always reasoned that the physical nature of my job was exercise enough to keep me fit, but the erratic hours and fast-food meals were doing quite the contrary.  I had no energy and would drink sodas or eat candy when I needed a boost to get me through the next shoot. When I came down off the sugar high, I felt lethargic and otherwise awful. One day my wife and I were sitting in a coffee shop when I noticed a flier for a charity bike ride which began in Warrenton, North Carolina and concluded four days and 330 miles later in Washington, D.C. "I'm going to do this," I inexplicably announced to my wife who just about spit her coffee across the table at my absurd proclamation. "Do you want to join me?" I continued. Never mind that I didn't own a bike. And never mind that I hadn't performed a single act of athleticism since I pried my frozen behind off that bench at Quaker Stadium 17 years earlier. I was going to ride 330 miles and that was that.

What motivated you to start riding?

I just wanted to feel better and liked the idea of biking because it was something I could do alone. I hadn't had much luck with team sports and wanted an activity I could do at my own pace, without any pressure from others. Plus, I loved the idea of looking at a map and knowing that other people would be traveling the distance of some of my longer rides by car or even by airplane! Once I got more confident, My wife and I began doing group-training rides organized by the charity. These provided a strong incentive to get out of bed early on a rainy Saturday morning to do 60 or 80 miles. More experienced riders generously taught us a host of essential skills including how to: maintain our bikes ($350 Specialized hybrids), change a tire, eat and drink enough, deal with inclement weather, signal to cars, ride in traffic and pace ourselves to do over one-hundred miles in a single day. Then do it again. And again. We trained about three days a week, from February until our event in June, and went from being exhausted after a fifteen-mile ride to completing multiple "centuries." The euphoric feeling we experienced rolling to the finish in Washington D.C., cheered by thousands of friends and family, is one I will never forget. I was hooked forever.

How do you find time to workout?

Training has become more involved since I began doing triathlons. Before triathlons, I would commute on my bike as much as I could during the week and then try to get in a longer ride or two during the weekend. I averaged between 3,000 and 3,500 miles a year this way. The problem was that when the days got shorter and the temperatures began to plunge, I often stopped altogether. Some years I stopped in November and did nothing again until April. In those four "off months" I lost much of my fitness and found myself basically starting over again every year. I would also eat very poorly and get depressed in the off-season. With triathlon, I've found that there is never an excuse not to exercise. Bad weather? Go to the pool. On the road for work? Do a quick run. Really busy day? Commute on the bike. You get the idea. My life is as complicated as all of yours. I work long erratic hours and have two young children whose soccer games and art shows I refuse to miss. My solution is to find the time when I can and not get discouraged when things don't go as planned. This weekend I got up at 5:30 a.m. to swim and then came home and did a six-mile run. I was back in the house by 8:30 a.m. to greet my family as they awoke and enjoy our weekly "pancake morning" together. Often I swim at the local YMCA after bedtime stories are done and I've discovered that during those two hours your kid spends at yet another Chuck E. Cheese birthday party, you can get in a pretty long run.  You can ALWAYS find time and bike commuting is a great place to start. You're going to spend a certain amount of time getting to work each day anyway, why not exercise at the same time? I know, I know. What about the clothes? You can carry them in a backpack. What about showering? Many offices have showers and if they don't, join a gym near work. I pay $19 a month for a gym membership around the corner from my office and use it primarily as a shower. What if I get a flat? Carry the right gear and change it. Most bike shops offer maintenance clinics at little or no cost. It's too scary to ride with cars? Find a local bike group and join them on some weekend rides when there's less traffic. The seasoned roadies will be pleased to offer guidance. Bikers help bikers. It's part of the culture. Where will I put my bike when I get to the office? Increasingly, workplaces are providing room in parking garages for bike storage. Failing that, there's always a utility closet around or an empty cubicle. What about when it gets cold and dark? Dress in layers and buy a good front and rear light so the cars will see you. But I'll look ridiculous in lycra!? Lycra is HOT! Any other excuses? I didn't think so. Give bike commuting a try tomorrow! As an added benefit, you save loads of money! Commuting by public transportation in Washington D.C. costs me almost $10 a day. I can ride my bike for free and reach the office in exactly the same amount of time. Sounds like a no-brainer.

How do you motivate yourself when you don’t want to workout?

I am motivated by fear of failure. I am not one of these incredible souls who can religiously go to the gym and do their hour-long workout routine day after day. I need an event, one that I've paid money for and told my friends about, looming in the distance to get me inspired to layer-up and ride in the dark, in February, when it's 23-degrees. It needs to be something a little scary. Not impossible, just a little more than I think I'm capable of doing. I did my first triathlon in May and within hours of crossing the finish line I'd decided that my new goal would be to do one a month for the next six months. The Nations Triathlon in September will be my fifth of 2012. Ask my wife. Twelve years ago that was inconceivable!

What is your philosophy about eating?

Last night there was half a tub of chocolate chip ice cream in the freezer, left over from a weekend BBQ. I ate it---all of it. This pretty much sums up my dysfunctional relationship with food. I have no self-control and will give in to temptation with minimal prompting. Therefore, I must keep my distance from the bad stuff. My wife, being far wiser and more disciplined than I, makes sure that there are few temptations around the house. There are no sodas, cookies or potato chips to be had anywhere. I try to eat three meals a day including: a piece of toast with some peanut butter and a banana for breakfast, a salad with chicken or other protein for lunch and a reasonable dinner. I need enough calories to sustain the exercise but I sometimes have trouble with portion size and go overboard. My biggest challenge is getting off the sodas, which seem to be lurking around every corner. I will stop! I really will!

What is your philosophy about weight loss?

Do it the right way. Several years ago I lost a bunch of weight on the South Beach diet but it quickly returned when I became less disciplined. I credit the diet for teaching me the right foods to eat and how body chemistry works, but I've had the most success keeping my weight under control when I'm exercising religiously and staying away from the things I know are bad like sodas.

What advice would you offer to someone that wants to make a change in his or her physical activity?

There are a million reasons to do nothing. But, at the end of the day, you are responsible for your own health. Take the first step and you will quickly discover that there are loads of people out there who are ready to help you. Set a goal, sign up for an event and feel better. I started from nothing and have since ridden from New York to D.C., from North Carolina to D.C. (three times) and over three of the toughest mountains in the French Alps (Galibier, Telegraphe and Courcheval). So can you.

What is a typical day of riding for you?

During the week my ride consists of 12.5 downhill miles along suburban Maryland roads, the beautiful Capital Crescent Trail and the streets of D.C. Along the way I ride along the Potomac River, glimpse the Washington Monument then pause for a few moments on a bench at the Georgetown waterfront to read 210Again and admire the college crew teams practicing. Then I rocket past the Kennedy Center and down L Street to my office. In the evening, I go uphill home. On the weekend I do longer rides, usually in the 35 to 50 mile range around rural Montgomery County.

What goals do you have for yourself in the near future?

On September 9th I'll compete in the Nation's Triathlon in Washington D.C., my first at the Olympic distance (1,500 meter swim, 25 mile bike and 6 mile run). I want to do another sprint triathlon in October to make it six for 2012. In 2013 I want to do six more triathlons, possibly culminating in a half-Ironman in the fall. But I also have longer-term goals. I believe that everyone should try to do at least one thing that is truly epic in their lives---something that defies logic and tests their own ideas of what's possible. That said, in the summer of 2017 I will be packing up my family and heading west to Oregon for three-month bike ride across America. I understand that I've got one shot to enjoy my kids' childhood and want us to share this grand adventure together. We started laying the foundation this summer with a week-long bike trip along the Danube from southern Germany to Vienna, Austria. We covered 110 miles in six days, drank a lot of hot chocolate, ate a lot of bratwurst, sang a lot of bad pop songs and generally had a riotously good time! I must also admit that I've begun thinking about doing an Ironman triathlon (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and marathon) too. Epic.  

Where can we follow you on your journey?

I haven't got a blog but if you like what you're reading maybe I'll start. Let me know what you think.

What brand of bike do you use?

I have two bikes at the moment. I just bought an aluminum Cannondale Synapse to replace my eleven-year-old steel Lemond Buenos Aires as a commuter bike. It has a relaxed geometry, favorable for carrying a heavy backpack, and robust Mavic Aksium wheels to absorb the beating D.C.'s roads dish out. I replaced the tires with Continental Gatorskins. They are lined with kevlar to resist punctures and I've found them to be pretty effective. My pride and joy is a 2009 Cervelo RS. This is a beautiful carbon fiber bike with Ultegra components that I use on longer weekend rides and races. I'm not likely to win the Tour de France anytime soon but this bike makes me feel like I could.


Thanks Mark for not only shooting beautiful and inspiring video at your day job, but for inspiring all of us with your after-hours biking, swimming and running. We look forward to seeing you succeed in your triathlon and ironman endeavors!

If any of you want to get in touch with Mark, let me know and I will put you in contact with him!

Lean Forward and Pedal Fast!


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