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Monthly Archives: November 2014

By Tom Demerly.

NOTE: This story is fiction based on news accounts. It does not contain factual depictions of any events from official sources.

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10:17 Local (15:17 UTC), Monday, 7 October 2013, Administrative Offices, Triple Five Group, Mall of the Americas, Bloomington, Minnesota, United States.

Bob Davis felt a chill race up his spine and down his arms. He saw his hands tremble on the desk in front of him. His ironic sense of humor kicked in when he thought, “Well, Bob, that’s why they call it terror-ism.” He looked at the two men sitting across from him, their mouths moving, but he didn’t hear the words for a second. He forced himself to tune back in to their meeting despite a feeling that this couldn’t be real. It was like walking onto the pages of a Clancy novel.

“…Possibly V-IED’s in the parking lots, ah, that means vehicle-borne improvised explosive devices, a car or truck bomb, like Timothy McVeigh used on the Federal Building, if you recall… There could be some form of crude, locally produced chemical weapon; chlorine gas, something like that. Those have big shock value with the media. There definitely will be explosives and assault weapons used. They can source that equipment locally and may already have from gun shows around the Midwest. We have agents from the Bureau and the ATF at those shows. Even the NRA people have been helping us, but we can’t catch everything.”

Davis manages operations for the Mall of the Americas in Bloomington, Minnesota. Over the past eight years he has seen women give birth there, the most elaborate shoplifting schemes every devised (and busted), a ring of prostitutes operating in the mall and a coyote that somehow made its way inside the giant shopping center on a busy Saturday night. This was the first time he sat across his desk from two FBI agents getting briefed on plans for a possible Al Qaeda style suicide attack on his mall during Black Friday, the busiest shopping day of the year in the busiest mall in the United States.

Davis was being briefed by the FBI about possible terrorist attacks at the Mall of the Americas two days after a pair of U.S. special operations raids, one in Libya, and one in Somalia. Sixteen days earlier Al Shabaab militants attacked the Westlake Mall, a U.S. style shopping center in Nairobi, Kenya. The FBI men told Davis it was a miracle only 67 people were killed in the Africa mall attack. Based on the damage to the mall, they felt the toll would have been higher. “Westlake was a test run for Al Shabaab. It was training for them, a field exercise. They won’t make the same mistakes twice.”

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The two FBI agents pulled up a file on their tablet computer. “Our estimates of casualties here at Mall of the America in a Black Friday attack are between 400 and 800 killed.” Davis felt the grip of what an attack would mean. The country, the economy, Minnesota, his community, his tenants, his family, his job. He remembered the economic impact from the 9/11 attacks. He was 40 years old then, working for the Taubman Centers back in Michigan. They managed a large number of shopping malls around the U.S. The 9/11 terror attacks had gutted the company’s occupancy in the next five years when the economy tanked. And that hadn’t been a direct attack on a U.S. shopping center. What the FBI agents were describing to Davis now could sink the shopping mall industry in the United States.

“The real damage, though,” Continued the larger agent with the iPad, “will be the broader economic impact on U.S. business. Retail for the holiday season would be destroyed. Even the e-commerce guys, like Amazon.com, would take a hit since people would not only be afraid to shop at a mall, they would be afraid to shop, period, because of concern over another economic crash. This is the new 9/11. It really would be Black Friday”

Bill Davis had one question for the two FBI men, “So, what do we do to make sure this doesn’t happen?”

“Well,” The smaller of the two FBI men said, “We think we may have reduced the capabilities of the attackers to execute their previous plans, but we still need your cooperation here at Mall of the Americas, Mr. Davis.”

“I’m all ears guys.”

02:45 Local (23:45, 2 October UTC), Thursday, 3 October 2013, Camp Lemmonier, Djibouti-Ambouli International Airport, Headquarters, Combined Joint Task Force – Horn of Africa (CJTF-HOA).

Nine men were arrested in Africa following the Kenyan mall attack. It took a few days for… the authorities… to extract information from those nine men. Taken one at a time none of them provided anything that seemed of much use. But each minor detail they provided, from how they paid for their meals to how they learned to use their weapons, began to congeal into a pattern. When that pattern was fit against the sides of other patterns, now electronically in a basement in Langley, Virginia, there was a horrific conclusion: The U.S. was next.

Once that conclusion was reached the Director of National Intelligence was briefed. He briefed the President, a man deeply embroiled with a domestic political battle when Congress refused to approve economic changes forcing a shutdown of some government offices. The President and his staff were busy with, among other things, trying to manage the first ever White House online flaming campaign via e-mail and social media. Their target was Congress and their intent was to depict them as uncompromising and unreasonable. To his credit as Commander in Chief, when the briefing materials on the Nairobi attacks reached his desk, the President did not delay. He set the wheels in motion via Admiral William H. McRaven at MacDill AFB. McRaven is the ninth man to command the United States Special Operations Command at MacDill, a unified command that coordinates the training, equipment, doctrine and employment of all U.S. special operations units.

McRaven’s units include some of the most sophisticated military intelligence gathering and analysis capabilities in the world. These operate organically to the special operations community, from the field around the world back to MacDill, largely for the purposes of mission planning. The strategic intelligence may flow upward from McRaven’s units, or downward from Langley, but flow it did, in both directions. When the intelligence McRaven’s units had collected was collated with the information garnered from the West Lake Mall attack in Kenya the picture was crystal clear.

A big part of that picture pointed back to a beach house in the Somali coastal city of Barawa.

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Force Recon Marines from the Special Purpose Marine Air Ground Task Force 12 (SPMAGTF-12) at Camp Lemonnier, Djibouti, had been training local indigenous forces in the region. They also collected intelligence from them during training. Both special operations and CIA operatives joined the activities related to Somalia at Camp Lemonnier to help with data collection and facilitate better, more context-based interpretation of intel. SPMAGTF Recon Marines had even conducted beach reconnaissance of some areas of the Barawa, Somalia coastline. That hydrographic survey data, combined with signals intelligence, some limited HUMINT (human intelligence from operatives on the ground in the target area), satellite and drone images merged with data from the West Lake Mall detainee interviews.

Back at Camp Lemonnier, at MacDill AFB in Florida, on a ship off the coast of East Africa and in Langley, Virginia, planners held a web conference to review the final plans for a direct action mission to interdict the capability of Al Shabaab to carry out their planned U.S. mall attack.

It was Thursday night. The raid on Barawa was a “go”.

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03:50 Local (12:50 UTC), Saturday, 5 October 2013, 473 meters off the coast of Baraawe, Somalia.

High tide hit the rocky beach off Baraawe, Somalia at 04:38 hours under a dim, waxing crescent moon. Just before high tide the incoming tidal current urged the twelve combat swimmers of the Naval Special Warfare Combat Interdiction Group (formerly “SEAL Team 6 or “DEVGRU”) toward the rocky outcrops that lay just off the Somali coast. Swimming along the surface was easy; the black African waters were warm. High clouds filtered what little moonlight there was.

The assault team had left their F470 CRRC boats almost 2 miles off shore to prevent visual detection of the assault boats from land. The boats used sound suppressed motors that were extremely quiet. After dropping off the combat swimmers the rigid inflatable boats immediately turned back out to sea for recovery on a U.S. Navy ship that was even now steaming back toward the coast after the insertion.

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The first element of the combat swimmer/assault team would hit the beach, remove their swim fins and floatation vests then cross inland on foot less than a kilometer south of their target, a large beachfront villa on the southern edge of Baraawe. They would turn immediately north toward the objective. This first six-man element of the team moved inland approximately 400 meters toward the concealment of low scrub. The other six-man element lay prone in the gently lapping waves of shallow water just off the beach until the flanking assault element was in place. A series of clicks on their updated, secure AN/PRC-126 radios would signal the first assault team was in place. Then the two teams would move toward the target, a two-story villa where the objective, a high value personnel target named Ahmed Abdi Godane, was supposed to be located.

The two elements of the assault team were in place. The wind was gentle coming just barely off the ocean, it was 71 degrees Fahrenheit. The sun would not rise for another hour and forty minutes. Each member of the second assault element heard the clicks in their headset when the first element got into position. They responded with a single click of the mic button. Then each team member checked right, then left, clearing his field of fire and began a low, quick advance across the beach, trending right or north to the target.

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The building was surrounded by low walls on three sides and a high wall at the back. It made sense to go over the lower sections of the walls, enter the courtyard section, assault any threats that were providing security and then conduct the entry. Once the entry began, speed and violence of action was their primary tactic. They had to overwhelm what security may be in place quickly, assault the target building and secure the objective, detain Ahmed Abdi Godane or neutralize him, then exfil the target area. The primary extract route was by helo extraction near a defensible LZ south of the target area. The secondary extract was back out to sea.

Overhead surveillance by an RQ-170 Sentinel drone would provide a live video feed to the command center back at MacDill and help give the Naval Special Warfare operators on the beach a high degree of situational awareness via radio. What the Sentinel video showed now was troubling. There were more personnel between the insertion point and the objective than normal. Within the walled compound itself, no less than eight hot targets could be seen, some of them milling around from target to target as if they were spreading information. Outside, there were more than ten hot spots between the insertion point at the beach and the objective. The insertion would almost certainly involve contact earlier than they planned.

A common feature of operations in this region is that its difficult to tell who is a combatant and who is not from overhead surveillance. The hot spot on the drone feed may be a fisherman rigging his boat to go out at first light, or an insurgent walking a security perimeter armed with an automatic weapon and grenades. Until the assault team got eyes on they would not know from the drone feed. They didn’t have to wait to see to find out.

The insurgents initiated contact with one man firing a single round at one of the SEALs as he moved to a concealed position across the beach to establish the flanking position. The single round alerted every other sentry. The SEAL’s weapons were suppressed. When another assault team member put two rounds into the insurgent it didn’t make enough noise to be heard back at the compound a couple hundred meters away. Nonetheless everyone in the compound was alerted by the single shot, then the silence. Now they were coming outside the wall.

The assault team worked an “L” shaped hasty ambush on the objective, both teams directing controlled fire toward targets they could see. When the volume of returning fire began to increase the SEAL assault team leader radioed for a pair of Viper gunships from an assault ship orbiting off the coast to swing inland for fire support.

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The Viper gunships, an upgraded version of the AH-1 Cobra helicopter, overflew the target from the ocean. They banked hard and attacked facing back out to sea to avoid collateral damage from their guns. When the rounds from the AH-1Z Viper ‘s 20 mm cannon hit the compound the result was like cracking open a hornet’s nest. The pilot and gunner could see personnel and vehicles scatter through their Thales Top Owl helmet imagery system. White streaks showed the path of gunfire reaching into the dark to find the assaulters.

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Special operations is a fragile craft with a courageous heritage. But the reality is lightly armed men are flung against sometimes heavily fortified targets in inferior numbers. Their primary advantage is speed and violence of action. If their objective is compromised before it can be overwhelmed their chances of success evaporate by the split second. The SEAL assault force commander on the beach knew this well, having operated on both sides of this double-edged sword for a decade. He knew he had men inland a few hundred meters who risked being cut off from the sea extraction route and that securing a landing zone for extraction was, at best, an iffy proposition now.

The assault was compromised before it began. He signaled for mission abort and emergency extraction.

This contingency was well drilled. The beach fire team put 40 mm grenade fire on the target while the inland team broke contact, peeling back toward the sand and the sea. Each man covered the next in a modified version of the classic peel maneuver to break contact. The Vipers overflew the target at high speed and low altitude, this time flying inland and banking left or south, the opposite direction as before, then paralleling the beach on a gun run to cover the SEALs.

Only twenty-five minutes after the first assault element crossed the beach the team was back in the water as their assault boats raced back inland to recover them. After a twenty-minute swim to the east and south the recovery boats spotted the infrared strobes of the assault teams and the recovery was completed. The Vipers left their orbit along the beach just before the SEALs were picked up off shore and the assault force collapsed back out to sea as the sun lit the horizon an angry orange. It would be hours or even days until U.S. assets would know if the target had been compromised in the raid.

The raid on Baraawe to capture Ahmed Abdi Godane did not go as planned. It also was not a failure. While the primary objective was not achieved it may have killed or wounded Godane. If not, it sent a clear message to Godane and his men: The U.S. will cross the beach to get you before you can get us. Regardless of the results on the beach that night in Baraawe that message was sent and received loud and clear.

10:58 Local (15:58 UTC), Monday, 7 October 2013, Administrative Offices, Triple Five Group, Mall of the Americas, Bloomington, Minnesota, United States.

“We’ll have teams of agents operating undercover all the way from the parking lots to the inside of the mall itself.” The FBI agent told Bob Davis. “We need to put some of our people under cover as store employees and mall workers over the weekend too. Prior to the weekend we’ll be installing some additional surveillance equipment outside and inside the mall. We’re pretty sure we know what we’re looking for and this surveillance should prevent any operatives from gaining access to the mall.”

Davis thought he should be reassured. The thought of installing security checkpoints at the entrance and exit to the mall was unthinkable. It would ruin business and attract the wrong kind of media. This softer approach seemed much less… obtrusive. He hoped it was enough. He noticed his hand shake again.

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By Tom Demerly.

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Steve Hed has died. The inventer of the deep section aero wheel and innovator of so many other products and entire product categories died on Wednesday, November 26.

Hed’s passing, and his life, are momentous to triathlon and cycling for many reasons.

Steve Hed, founder of HED Cycling, was an original among personalities who helped define triathlon. He was more than an inventor. Together with triathlon industry luminaries like Dan Empfield, Emilio De Soto, Jim Felt, Scott Tinley, John Cobb, Boone Lennon and Ralph Ray, Steve Hed engineered products that gave triathletes their own identity. Having a black, deep section aero wheel on the front and a solid black wheel with the all upper-case letters “HED” on them meant something special. When you rode that label, you were a triathlete in the know.

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The definition of a triathlete, circa 1988: Emilio De Soto riding a Dan Empfield designed bike with Boone Lennon handlebars and Steve HED wheels including the first affordable rear disk wheel and the very first deep section aerodynamic front wheel.

The loss of Steve Hed is significant to triathlon for another reason. He is the first of our Founding Fathers to go. If there were a Mt. Rushmore for triathlon innovators Steve Hed’s likeness would be chiseled into that granite. New triathletes will only hear of him now. Sadly, they will never experience Steve’s shy genius smirk, long grey ponytail and hunched Einstein-like posture. He was like a mutation of Steve Jobs and the Wright Brothers.

Steve Hed had the gift of sideways thinking, unconventional reasoning. Want to make a bike wheel faster? Instead of making it absurdly light and fragile, add weight and mass to it but at the same time reduce its drag coefficient by making it airfoil shaped. Want to reduce the rolling resistance of a bike wheel? Make it wider to distribute its pressure over a wider surface area requiring less energy to deform the tire. Want to make a bike frame faster? Make airfoil shapes from carbon fiber and fiberglass and meld them into the aluminum frame to make it more like the solid wheel on a WWI biplane. Steve Hed’s humble and inquisitive nature allowed him to see answers were others were too convinced they were right to ever look. When you walked into Steve’s booth at Interbike, you never knew what you would see, but you knew you would see something new and completely different.

Another thing we lose with Steve’s departure is accessibility. When you call a big triathlon brand, you press 1 for customer service, 2 for inside sales, 3 for warranty, 4 for…. When you called HED Cycling someone answered the phone, and every once in a while it was Steve or his wife Anne. Buying from them was like buying from a trusted corner grocer. Before your big race when you bought a special wheel you saved for you would say to Steve or Anne, “Pick me out a good one”, and they would. If you called strapped for cash but had a big race coming up Steve was just as likely to to say, “I made a wheel last week and ruined the decals putting ’em on. I’ll send it to you for $XX off and put the decals in the box for you, you put ’em on yourself.” With HED Cycling you didn’t order from a password protected dealer portal off a spread sheet. You talked to The Man. That made riding his equipment special.

Finally, the passing of Steve Hed is a stark reminder of what we have now in triathlon, and what we will leave behind when we are gone. Steve Hed built an empire, an identity, a category. What will we leave for triathletes to follow? And for those who shaped the essence of the sport still remaining; Dan Empfield, Mark Allen, Scott Tinley, Dave Scott, Jim Felt, John Cobb, Craig Turner, Gerard Vroomen, Phil White, Mike Reilly, Bob Babbitt and others, how will we honor them while we still can?

Steve Hed left us far too early. There were still more inventions to come. More ideas. More questions to be answered. We will never get those answers from the unique and approachable genius of Steve Hed. Instead, the best we can do is to ask ourselves how Steve would have answered those questions, and remember that those three white upper case letters in a simple font are forever a part of our identity as triathletes and the legacy of a very fine man.

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By Tom Demerly.

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Statistics say I will die 9,563 days from today. On Tuesday, March 11, 2042. Sometime before midnight. That seems like a fine time to go.

That is 229,514 hours and 5 minutes from now.

It is likely I will die from a heart problem or a stroke. I’ve had heart surgery and I am a stroke survivor. Those two factors predispose me to that death. There is no history of cancer in my family, so I probably won’t die from that. Although I ride a bicycle on the road and do other things considered risky, I probably won’t die in an accident. I’ve already survived things you would not believe. I have a proven track record of moderating objective risk.

So that is how, and when, I will probably die.

Knowing that, the most important thing to consider is, what should I do with those 9,563 days remaining? And, what will happen to me after I die? Since today is my birthday I thought I should devote some thought to those two things over coffee before I go to work.

I learned a long time ago a simple way to manage life. Divide everything into two categories:

  1. Things we can control, things that lie in our “Sphere of influence”. 
  1. Things we can’t control, those that lie outside our sphere of influence.

Spend all your time with number 1, and never worry about number 2.

Having learned that I spend almost no time thinking about what will happen after I die. Frankly, I have no idea. None of us do. Instead, I think about what is going to happen for the next 9,563 days.

There are specific things I want to accomplish; goals, activities. They aren’t some tick-mark “bucket list”. I deplore that concept because I think people who make those lists get about as far as making the list, but never accomplish anything on them. Instead, I make decisions that steer me in the direction of things I aspire too. They range from small decisions, made throughout the day against a set of personal priorities, to the big decisions we face only a few times in our lives.

I’ve gotten a couple of those wrong.

People ask, “If you had it to do all over again, what would you do differently?” Some people are wise, lucky, lie or are stupid and say, “Nothing”. I would do a couple of things differently. Knowing that I can make better decisions over these next 9,563 days.

It took 19,354 days to figure that out. Obviously, I’m a slow learner.

There are a few things I’ve gotten right. I’ve traveled the world. That changed my life. I joined the military. I went to school. I loved a girl. I developed an appreciation for animals. I did what Steve Jobs said in his landmark speech on June 14, 2005 at Stanford University, “…Follow your heart and intuition. They somehow already know what you truly want to become.”

I’ve also learned that Steve’s quote was made by a man who usually enjoyed the luxury of choice. Sometimes, we don’t have that luxury. So we have to spend time doing what we need to just to survive. But all the while, we must remain faithful to our heart and intuition.

In 2002 I stood in John McCain’s prison cell in the Hoa Lo Prison, the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” in Vietnam. It was a dreadful, horrific space that made your skin crawl. I stood there for less than a minute, enough to survey the walls, the floor, the ceiling. Then I stepped into the prison courtyard and looked up to the sky. Freedom. Freedom.

In Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape (SERE) school in the military I learned a lesson John McCain employed in the Hanoi Hilton. Every day no matter what, do something small to prepare for the future you want. No matter how small it is, no matter how seemingly insignificant, do something. Move forward. Advance toward the life you want. We may never survive to see that life, but we lived in pursuit of it. And then, live we did.

What happens when we die? I have no idea. I’ve seen several people die. Some die pleading for another moment, regressing into terror and panic. One man died quietly in front of me, slipping away, his last words unintelligible. I tried to help him, it did not work. I’ve seen others die in an instant so that, to this day, they have no idea they are even dead. One second fully alive, the next second… poof. It makes you marvel at the fragility of our lives. I won’t be around after I die, so I don’t worry about it.

Instead, I worry about what good I can do for the next 9,563 days. Starting today.

“So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart.

Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.

Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none.

When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision.

When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.”

Native American Chief Tecumseh, Victor in the first Siege of Detroit in August, 1812.

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By Tom Demerly.

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Every morning I go for a walk, and this is what I see. I live in Dearborn Heights, Michigan.

I’ve been everywhere. All seven continents, lived around the U.S. and outside the U.S. But this is home. For better and for worse, this is home.

Dearborn Heights is next to Dearborn, an oddly shaped city that surrounds Dearborn itself. I wanted to live in Dearborn when I moved back here from California, but I missed Dearborn by about four city blocks. I can see it right up the road. Dearborn is generally considered a slightly better city than Dearborn Heights. Better city services, larger city government (which isn’t always good) and hometown to Ford Motor Company. Having Ford in Dearborn is important because they give back so much to the city. They built a community center, maintain vast areas of real estate and contribute to The Henry Ford, a large museum complex in the center of Dearborn. Dearborn is also home to one of the largest Arab-American populations in the U.S., another thing that adds to its diversity and uniqueness. It’s an international small town.

In Dearborn and Dearborn Heights everyone knows each other. When I moved back I called a good friend named Mark, who is a local teacher and the most solid of guys. He knows everyone. I told him I needed a place to live. He called a friend, the friend called me, and half an hour later I had a big house to live in for half of what I was paying for a three room apartment in California. There was no paperwork, no application, no red tape. That’s a big part of why I live here. We get stuff done here.

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My neighborhood is strange. It has one foot in the recession that destroyed Southeastern Michigan and drove Detroit to bankruptcy and another foot in the economic recovery. We were first to enter the recession and are slow pulling out because we hit bottom so hard. The two houses you see above are an example. They are right across the street from one another. One is a new, beautiful house with a Cadillac in the driveway, the other pretty run-down with an older Ford F150 and a Saturn, one of the companies that went bankrupt, in the driveway. One foot still in the recession, one foot in recovery.

Houses can be cheap here. Some sold for $30,000, which is about what mine might have been worth. They were mostly sold out of foreclosure. Some still remain, but property values are climbing and old houses are being fixed up or torn down, and new ones built.

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We like flags here in Dearborn and Dearborn Heights. Lots of flags. Mostly American flags, but some others too. People fly flags for a few reasons. When you fly the same flag as your neighbor you are putting up a sign that says, “I share your beliefs and values. This is a place we can live together in shared understanding.”

Some people fly flags simply because they look nice, or the other neighbors are doing it. The man up the street from me flies one because he is a U.S. Marine who has been to Iraq twice. For some, the flag brings us together. For a few, the flag is a sign that says “These are my beliefs, do not challenge them.”

There are more than a few Gadsden flags here. The Gadsden flag is a historic U.S. flag from the American Revolution in 1775. It  symbolizes what some people feel is a need to return to older, more original American values. It has a clear message of defiance on it: “Don’t Tread On Me”. The Gadsden flag isn’t particularly endearing. It suggests rebellion. These people don’t want government telling them what to do. The Gadsden flags are a little ominous. A little… too much. I worry that the people who fly them may be so connected to older ideas they aren’t willing to consider new ones. But they still fly here, not too many, but enough to notice.

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The yards in my neighborhood are enormous. There is plenty of room between houses so no one feels cramped, and when we see our neighbors we actually value chatting with them since we aren’t all crammed together.  In California so many of us lived so tightly packed together all we wanted was privacy and solitude. Here we have room to breath.

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Because we have a lot of room between houses and nice trees we have two kinds of friendly squirrels, the exotic black squirrel and the more common red squirrel. They are quite tame and if you feed them long enough on your porch they will let you pet them. My cats sit in the window every morning to check on the squirrels.

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A lot of people here work in the car industry, mostly for Ford Motor Company because their huge manufacturing facilities are close to here and their world headquarters is nearby. Because of that we mostly drive Fords here. There are three kinds of Fords you see commonly: The old, used Ford like I have. People usually paid cash for these. The very new, super nice Ford that someone gets from their job at World Headquarters as a company car. That’s a big perk around here. And there is the new Ford that someone bought and is paying through the nose for.  Those are the ones we make money from, so God bless those people.

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This is what our houses mostly look like. Mine isn’t this nice, but pretty close. Depending on where you live this is either a pretty modest house, if you are reading this from Los Angeles or Mission Viejo, or it is an absolute palace if you are reading this from Mogadishu or Bangladesh.

The truth is, this is all the house we need. People raise three and four kids in these. I live in mine with just my two cats because I like to have plenty of room to myself. I often tell myself that when I am earning big bucks as a famous author I will still live here, but travel around the world frequently and hire someone to come to my house and look after my cats when I am away on trips. I used to do that, and my friend Mario looked after my cats, before I lost everything in the recession.

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We rake our leaves into the street during fall and men in trucks from the city come to pick them up. When I was a kid we would have huge bonfires in the street but we stopped that because of the smoke. This year the snow came before the leaves are all down so it looks like we will have another long, cold, snowy winter.

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The streets and sidewalks here are wide and spacious. We don’t have traffic jams. When people need to pass in a tight spot going opposite ways, one person knows to stop and let the other through. Since there is not much traffic it is a great place to run and ride outside. When I run I just run right out in the street, like I were in a race. That is impossible in a lot of places.

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Winter is here in Dearborn Heights now and it is cold and grey, which I like. Having seasons is important since it places clear boundaries between years. Our lives are delineated in time segments that are synchronized with the seasons; in summer we spend time outside, in the fall we have Halloween and Thanksgiving. The leaves turn and the first snow falls. Kids go back to school and business quiets down before the holiday rush. The winter settles in, and it is three rough, cold, dark months. Then spring comes. In spring 40 degrees feels like 70 degrees. We look forward to the sun because we don’t see it all the time. Rain falls, thunder comes, the moon shines and the grass grows. Leaves come out and trees fill in, absorbing light and sound and making our neighborhood quiet and restful.

That is the extent of what I see on my morning walk. It is neither exotic nor exciting. It is home and it is filled with real people living a real life that makes up the fabric of the American Midwest.

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Tom Demerly.

The single biggest factor controlling our endurance athletic performance is our weight. Most recreational athletes are overweight. I am.

You can still race and be overweight but it makes your racing less pleasant and harder on your health.

There is a psychological component to our participation in triathlons and especially long distance events like Ironman when we are overweight. Our inner voice tells us, “If I can get through Ironman and still be overweight I get a pass on being overweight because I finished Ironman.”

That is shortsighted and dangerous. The reality is we need to be healthy first, and being overweight and doing Ironman is not just slow, it’s dangerous and unhealthy.

There are two truths to losing weight:

  1. The motive must be entirely and exclusively internal. You have to want it. 
  1. It isn’t easy because it is a long, gradual process that never ends.

Here are the steps (not quick tips) for losing weight, especially in the off season:

1. Start Today.

Don’t put off weight loss. Start now (right now, as you are reading this) and adopt small, tangible steps toward controlling your weight

2. Recognize the Two Factors in Weight Loss.

Weight loss is simple: You must burn more calories than you consume. When you do, you will lose weight. That’s it. Start there. Your weight loss needs to contain two simple components: Knowing how many calories you eat and knowing how many you burn. The first number needs to be smaller than the second. It’s that simple.

3. Keep Track.

If you keep a simple, easily accessible record of your weight on a daily basis you will hold yourself accountable. Better yet, you will see the progress you are making and it will further motivate you.

Using a written graph is most effective when it is on the front of your refrigerator, and your scale is next to your refrigerator. This links the two activities: food and weight. Having your scale and a record of your weight in your kitchen is one of the best decisions you can make toward losing weight.

4. Make Weight Loss a Priority.

You will only succeed if this is a priority. That means putting it before everything else. You have kids and a career you say? Everyone does. And that inability or unwillingness to prioritize weight loss first is one of many factors that keep us fat. When you re-orient your priorities to weight loss you will see benefits in every other aspect of your life from weight loss and a healthier, more disciplined lifestyle.

5. Don’t Get Weighed Down by Superfluous Details.

Your mission is to lose weight, and losing weight is simple. You could read this article, make a decision and start losing weight today without spending a penny or reading anything else. You can, Just Do It.

Avoid distraction by the incredible number of gadgets, foods, programs, books, diets, videos and other distractions that make weight loss appear more difficult than it is. You already know the difference between healthy food and junk food. Don’t eat junk. It’s that simple. You know exercise burns calories. Exercise. Do something. Don’t do nothing.

You don’t need tons of gadgets, coaches, fitness routines. You need to go outside and go for a walk. Then another. Then another. Then another. And keep walking until you are seeing the weight come off. Then start running. And riding.

Are there disclaimers and exceptions? Yes. But you likely aren’t one. So stop the excuses and focus on possibilities instead of limitations.

That’s it. Loose weight and triathlons will be easier and you will be faster and healthier and enjoy the sport more.

 

By Tom Demerly.

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The Pro-ser

Prosers race as a “pro”. They may have won Ironman Istanbul and the attendant $184.23 USD prize money after spending $5000+ to get there. They never go more than five sentences in conversation without mentioning they are “racing pro” or “used to race pro”.

Prosers complain incessantly about how the pros are treated by WTC. They remind you they always get a discount- since they’re pro. They have a day job, but did I mention? They are a Pro… And by the way, they are looking for sponsorship, a home-stay and a free meal- and they coach, here’s their website. And Twitter. And Facebook. And Instagram. And Pinterest. So you can see how Pro they are.

Prosers have weighed down the sport with their Walter Mitty, self-feeding super reality. Festooned in sponsors’ logos they never give anything back to, the proser is to the selfie as Van Gogh is to the landscape. It is their medium.

What good can you say about the proser? Well, every triathlon community has one, and usually only one. Except for Boulder, Tucson and San Diego, prosers are territorial. Those places are their winter mating grounds. Prosers are like a living, breathing Strava segment since their over-the-top countenance makes you want to catch them on the bike, beat them in the pool and stay with them on the run. Say what you will about the proser (and I have) but they push us. They keep the bar up for the rest of us while reminding us of how incredibly lame we can truly be without an occasional ego check.


The Pro

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Pretty obvious: Races for the win. Has won. They’re not like you and I. They are so otherworldly fast it’s tough to imagine. The bike speed of Andrew Starykowicz at Ironman Florida: 112 miles in 4:02:17. That’s an average of 27.73 miles per hour- for over a hundred miles. That’s alien. The courage of Sebastien Kienle; going off the front at Ironman on the bike- and never looking back. With courage like that he probably needs special tri shorts.

If you put previous winner Chrissie Wellington between the sun and you, the light would shine through her she is so skinny. The miles Pros put in would be fatal for us. Phenomenon Mirinda Carfrae makes running in Kona look so effortless it is weird to remember how awful we feel off the bike. Most of us couldn’t get our knees that high on any run, let alone at Ironman with a 6:30 pace.

The downside of being a pro is triathletes don’t remember anyone but the winner. Ask a triathlete who won the Ironman World Championship last year. Ask who was third. Because triathlon is a participant sport the people who finish often have no idea who won overall. Triathletes are participants, not fans. We don’t give our pros a very high pedestal. We prefer to have one of our own.


The Warrior

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Something bad happened to them. Lost a leg. Lost both legs. Lost a family member. Had a disease. When they cross the finish line at Ironman it will cast away their demons of affliction, addiction, depravation, crucifixion. Ironman is the filter through which they must pass. It sets them free. A Warrior is just as likely to win their age category as they are to barely make the midnight cut-off. Never, ever count out The Warrior.

The Warrior deserves most of the credit for the success of our sport in the modern era. Without their use of Ironman as a medium of exposure our sport would not be where it is. No other sport has Warriors like Ironman does. Their stories have inspired us. They serve as an adult version of the speech your parents gave you about children starving in Africa. Their message is clear and relevant: Use what you have while you have it. Life and vitality are ephemeral gifts not to be squandered. When you see a warrior, thank them.

An Olympic Gold Medalist may mention a charity, may have overcome a tragedy, but that is an accessory to their performance. For the warrior, their Ironman performance is an accessory to the cross they bear. For the Warrior, it is all about what brought them to the start line, and getting to the finish line. The Warrior reminds us that Anything is Possible, and Ironman is the filter through which they must pass to achieve redemption.


The Super-Grouper

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The soft-spoken, amazingly fast people in the age groups: The Super-Groupers. They surprise us with their results. Races because they love the sport. Probably been doing it for a while, may have been to Kona before. Reserved about their accomplishments but turn in great races while trying to balance their racing and training against that ephemeral annoyance called “normal life”. You never know how fast they are until one day you look for them on the results page, and then you’re blown away. This is the unassuming girl or guy who kicks butt and finishes in 9 hours, 10 hours, 11 hours, 12 hours, 13 hours.

When you go on a training ride with them, you bleed through your eyes. They are often unassuming in appearance. I know an average looking lad who went 9:50 something at Ironman Arizona while he kept his day job. Another Player I know is a top-level exec for an automaker. He kicks butt at Ironman and seldom mentions it. I saw him out on a training ride one day and had a tough time catching up to him on his bike. In my car.

Super-groupers often ride an inexpensive bike from five model years ago, use off-brand aero wheels, have served as President of the local tri club and volunteered at races when they weren’t racing. They are givers and quiet local heroes contributing to athletes around them in ways we often never realize. And they still kick butt on race day.


The Struggler

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They may not belong in Kona, but they are in Kona. And God bless them. Julie Moss is the original Struggler, and she put our sport on the map. Without enough training, with bad equipment and even worse race nutrition they somehow make the cutoff. These are the real “Ironmen”, and by God, they earned the tattoo. The citizen athletes. They will take 40 electrolyte tablets in a race but not drink more than a water bottle per hour and then wonder why they cramped on the run, but run they will. All the way to the finish. They finish in the hour before the cut off, the best hour of the day at Ironman.

When you ask, “What did you eat on the bike?” They answer casually, “63 salt tablets, a can of tuna, a bottle of NutraSludge, eight soggy Fig Newton’s and a GU.” And they wonder why they had G.I. issues that rival an above ground nuclear test.

Ask them how their race went and they’ll tell you, “I shit, peed, barfed, cried and even high fived myself. It was awesome!”

You think the pros are tough? They have been showered, eaten a meal and had their feet up for five hours by the time these girls and guys drag their pee, barf, mucus, energy gel and poop encrusted bodies across the finish line. They are the real Iron(wo)men. And the next morning they line up to register for next years’ race.

The Strugglers are the finishers who make our sport great. The Strugglers are the everyman with so much passion in their heart for Ironman they make it on almost entirely guts, really weird race nutrition and very little training.

 

By Tom Demerly.

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I collect promotional e-mails. I love the medium. I’m fascinated by it. I love the good ones and am entertained by the bad ones. Every once in a while, but rarely, I’m inspired by one. Here are 4 promotional e-mails, 3 are very good, 1 is a disaster that will drive away customers and take the fast lane to the “spam” box.

Here is the idea: We’re looking at these the way they view on my iPhone. Most people see promotional e-mails on their phone now. Soon, nearly everyone will view them on a portable device with a screen oriented more vertically, as with a phone or phablet, as opposed to a computer screen, which is wider than it is tall. That’s important to realize when you write your e-mail copy and design your e-mail, as we will see.

Next, think about the real-word ergonomics of how people interact with their e-mail on a mobile device. Where are they? How long is their attention span at the moment they will see it? What are they doing when they see it and how does it initially view? This goes a long way toward driving that golden BB metric, the “open rate”. If you have a high open rate, you’ve cleared the first hurtle.

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Here is a great one, and I love this e-mail and the headline it came with. “20% OFF”. No bullshit. No poetry. No extra words. This is brilliant. It will convert to orders on their website.

This is how: I subscribed to the list somehow so I am already interested in the product category. That step is done. Now all I will act on is a deal on something I’m interested in. And, since people only see this e-mail for… a maximum of 2 seconds (that’s right, only 2 seconds- and that is the max) it says what it has to say, big, bold, short and to the point and gets out.

My behavior that follows is to quickly click through to the site. If there is anything there I want and 20% is enough of a discount, and, as a consumer I have the discretionary income to create “open to buy”, chances are I will dump something in the shopping cart. The e-mail worked. Short. Fast. To the point. Bam. Winning.

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Here is an anomaly, and these are rare and brilliant. Patagonia and Orvis both do a good job with this very difficult type of e-mail promotion that may not convert to sales within a few seconds of opening it, but it sets a mood and establishes my set of beliefs surrounding the brand and their products.

Retailers usually don’t use these- and they usually don’t work for retailers. Brands usually use these to help establish what their brand is all about. What they mean, what they stand for. Again- this usually doesn’t convert immediately, but it will plant an effective brain seed to bring a customer back later. And, the other brilliant thing about this medium, a kind of visual “haiku”, is that it doesn’t mention prices. It only establishes image or cache’.

This e-mail will make me look back at Orvis again. If there is a good follow-on promotion, I may order. They got my attention, they did it with mood and imagery, and they kept price off the table for now. Winning.

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Here is a train wreck. And it is real. This is from a big-box triathlon retailer. It is hopeless. Remember, 2 seconds… You’re driving your car, you’re sitting in an airport watching your flight get updated, you’re waiting in line at Starbucks, you’re at a drive-thru line and you’re quickly checking your e-mail. This shows up. Delete. Junk Mail.

This is words. Words, words, words, words. This is the guy who just talks too much. It plathers on about… something (I didn’t read it, it has taken less time to write this blog and I’m a busy man) and it has no point. It. Is. Just. Too. Long. Period.

Remember, this is how the e-mail showed up on my phone screen. This is one of the worst sales/promotional e-mails I’ve ever seen. This company has fallen into a trap of sending these and I collect them for just this purpose; to show people what NOT to do. I keep them because soon they will be bankrupt, again.

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OK, get your mind out of the gutter. I know it’s tough, but try to focus on something other than the boobs. Just try.

Consider that you are selling a product category to a strong buying demographic: Young, affluent, high percentage of discretionary income, very fast moving, using lots of mobile gadgets and very connected. You need visuals. Rich visuals. Also, the product you are selling is visual-based. Sports cars, fashion apparel, anything with appearance as its key appeal. Like boobs. So you serve the visual of the product first and foremost. Copy??? Is there even copy on this page? I can’t remember. All I saw was pastel colors and appealing round things. I remember this from when I was born. I was screaming and hungry, and this fixed everything. Still does.

They could be boobs, they could be wheels, they could be food. It is a visual play for a visual product. And it sells. The brilliance of this approach by Frederick’s is they realize that men are a large percentage of their customers, buying apparel for their wives or girlfriends and, in the case of their better customers, both (at least temporarily).

This won’t sell to everyone. Some people will take offense. It is sexist. It is. But that customer isn’t a Frederick’s customer anyway and wouldn’t have received this e-mail. This e-mail shows the goods (literally and figuratively) and it will convert. Another thing about Frederick’s e-mail marketing is frequency. They keep boobs in your in-box daily. You never forget them.

That’s the quick and dirty on promotional e-mails, because promotional e-mails are a quick and dirty business. Especially when done right.