Monthly Archives: January 2016

By Tom Demerly originally for

BF-5 flight #91, piloted by SQLDR. Jim Schofield, performs STOVL operations aboard the USS WASP DT-II.

An F-35B Joint Strike Fighter of the U.S. Marines takes off from the USS Wasp aircraft carrier without the use of a catapult.

You’ve seen posts on Facebook about the new F-35 Lightening II Joint Strike Fighter suggesting it’s a “failure”, “a waste”, “damaging to the environment” and even that “F-35 basing is a racial injustice: new Americans and people of color are disproportionately harmed.” The public vitriol surrounding the F-35 program eclipses any previous defense program.

It begs the question, is the F-35:

A. A costly boondoggle spun as a super plane by the Pentagon “old boy network”?

B. The next ultra-weapons system that will render nation-users invincible?

C. A combat aircraft at the beginning of a typically difficult development program?

The reality is, of course,  “C”.

Another reality is the F-35 is the first major weapons system to do combat on the battlefield of social media. Social media is a great equalizer among combatants. All you need is a laptop and “friends” to fight a battle with the biggest defense contractors on earth. Whether you are Lockheed or Larry Smith the anti-F-35 activist, every opinion on social media is 800 x 600.
If you add some historical context to the development of military aircraft you see daunting realities. Firstly, the F-35 is actually doing quite well for such an ambitious project. In fact, some of the criticism for what has been described as “delays” may actually be the F-35 program’s primary drawback: too much caution. Partially because the magnifying glass of public opinion has focused so much heat on the F-35 the program has ground slowly ahead with more than the typical degree of caution.

Let’s look at some previous military aircraft development programs and think about how they would fare under “trial by Facebook”.


An early model B-17 Flying Fortress breaks up over Germany in WWII. More airmen died in the first versions of the celebrated bomber than any combat aircraft in WWII. Today the B-17 is revered as a great aircraft.

In WWII my father was a draftsmen for Boeing Aircraft in Seattle, Washington at “Plant 2” near the Duwamish River. His first project was drawing a quickly conceived update to the B-17 Flying Fortress: a chin turret with two forward facing .50 caliber guns. The first eight versions of the B-17 lacked adequate guns to defend themselves from a frontal attack. German pilots quickly learned to attack the B-17 from high and head-on, or “Twelve O’clock High”. The results were catastrophic. Early B-17 crews attacking Germany had better odds of dying than surviving before completing their required 25 missions. In fact, more aircrews from the Allied 8th Air Force died over Europe than all of the Marines killed in the Pacific in WWII. Today the B-17 is remembered as a “great aircraft”. How would Facebook pundits have treated the first eight versions of the B-17 with a record like that?


A early model B-29 Superfortress crashed into a meat packing plant in Seattle during its secret testing phase. The program was so classified that firefighters and first responders were initially prohibited from entering the crash scene contributing to mass casualties not getting emergency treatment at the crash site.

My dad was transferred to a top secret project working on a super bomber that would fly too high to shoot down and carry a larger bomb load than the B-17. It was the B-29 Superfortress, a project so secret he wasn’t allowed to tell my mom what he was working on. The B-29 delivered the only nuclear weapons used in combat. It is largely credited with ending the war in the Pacific. But the B-29 was a difficult and dangerous aircraft to operate. It used four Wright R-3350 engines that were prone to overheating, and catching fire. With a full bomb load while straining to get to altitude it was common for the B-29 to have engine fires.

The B-29 killed a lot of U.S. flight crews. The engine problem, combined with navigation and bombing accuracy problems encountered from an undiscovered high altitude wind phenomenon called the “jet stream” forced Maj. General Curtis LeMay to order B-29’s to attack Japan from low altitude, well within range of Japanese anti-aircraft guns. To carry more bombs LeMay told his bomber crews to remove their defensive guns and leave their gunners behind, a request some crews ignored according to the definitive account of B-29 operations, Mission to Tokyo by author Robert F. Dorr. What would people have said about the B-29 program on Facebook?


The General Dynamics F-111 was originally intended as a multi-role, do everything aircraft for both the Navy and the Air Force. The Navy dropped it in early development, opting for the Grumman F-14 Tomcat. It ended its largely undistinguished career in service with the Australian Air Force.

More recently, and in an oddly similar program to the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter, in 1961 former Defense Secretary Robert MacNamara asked for a feasibility study on the development of one aircraft that could perform low-level, supersonic penetration bombing missions into the former Soviet Union and also serve as a fleet defense interceptor launching from aircraft carriers for the U.S. Navy. The result was the General Dynamics F-111. The F-111 was never adopted by the navy and served with mixed results in the Air Force. Initial F-111 operations in Vietnam were a catastrophe, with 50% of the aircraft being lost and the Vietnam deployment being halted. The one shining moment for the F-111 came during Operation El Dorado Canyon under the Reagan administration, when F-111’s attacked Libyan airfields in retaliation for Libyan sponsored terrorist attacks on U.S. servicemen. A version of the F-111 never initially envisioned, the EF-111 Raven electronic warfare aircraft, did serve successfully in the early Gulf war but, in general, the entire F-111 program fell well short of its original multi-role, multi-service concept.

These are three examples of aircraft that had major problems eclipsing anything the F-35 faces. But that was a long time ago. We’re not in a major air war with a similarly equipped air force. Technology has come a long way. Engineering tools exist today that were unheard of even in the 1970’s when the current generation of operational combat aircraft were first conceived. And those are some of the reasons the F-35 has been treated unfairly.


The development and production costs of the F-35 are to be shared between a host of nation-users, but the Eurozone crisis and global recession has placed more economic pressure on the program.

When cost estimates for the F-35 were originally drafted much of the development program included the new generation of virtual prototyping and testing. Computational Fluid Dynamics replaced early prototype flight-testing. Finite Elemental Analysis replaced actual strain gauge developmental analysis. The business model for the F-35 included development in the virtual space spread over international economies of many user-nations. Each of these factors left opportunities for a host of variables to act on the program and drive costs up. Some of those variables, such as the European economic crisis, have become a reality.

Another reality is the need for all combat aircraft to evolve significantly over their life span. The F-16, FA-18, AH-1 Cobra and AH-64 Apache are just a few legacy aircraft flying today that have undergone such sweeping updates they only vaguely resemble their original versions. The F-16 now has conformal fuel pallets, different control surfaces and improved sensors installed. One version of the FA-18 has gotten larger wings, new intakes, improved avionics and become an entirely new aircraft called the EF-18 Growler. And then there is the B-52 bomber, the plane that just won’t die. The B-52’s in operation now are older than their flight crews. They were based on lessons Boeing learned from- you guessed it- the B-17 and B-29 development programs my dad worked on in WWII. And the B-52 is still flying. People post photos of them on Facebook now, talking about how amazing an aircraft it is. Social media wasn’t around for the bumpy development years.


U.S. Marine Corps test pilot Lt. Col. Russ Clift performed the first F-35B night-time vertical landing aboard the USS Wasp off the Maryland coast last Tuesday, August 13, 2013. The F-35B replaces the aging AV-8B Harrier for the U.S. Marines and the Royal Navy.

The F-35 wasn’t developed in the middle of a world war, but it is being fielded in one of the most volatile periods in history, when enemies use airliners as attack aircraft and superpowers are fielding a new generation of combat aircraft like the Russian T-50 and the Chinese J-20. While it’s unlikely Al Qaeda, Islamic Jihad, ISIL and their radical splinter organizations will field a new- or any- combat aircraft the ability to command the airspace over insurgent controlled territory has kept their doctrine near the Stone Age and their controlled territory isolated from U.S. shores. It may have also helped prevent another 9/11.

The F-35 won’t bring peace to the world. It isn’t the final answer- no single combat aircraft is. It’s likely not even the best combat aircraft ever. But it is a viable next generation multi-role combat aircraft with a degree of information sharing and mission flexibility that can’t be retrofitted to aging current aircraft systems. It is also designed to fight a war we don’t know everything about yet: the next one. And while uncertainty, at a minimum, swirls around the F-35 on the vaunted spaces of social media the one thing that is certain is, that next war will come.


By Tom Demerly for


Purity and distillation. In endurance sports these two things reduce us to our motives, our capabilities. They hold a mirror to our our inner core and reveal what drives us. What keeps us going forward when there is nothing else there- no music, no crowds, no finish line, no mile markers. Only distance and our own strength.

Between Clearwater and Tampa, Florida stretches a rare 9-mile ribbon of white pavement. Set against a stark backdrop of water and sun it distills ambition to reality and leaves a volatile cocktail of capability. What is left after the distillation process is what you have to work with. The Courtney Campbell Causeway is a two-lane traffic span for people driving to the Florida coastal region of Tampa from Clearwater and back. Purpose built next to the highway span is a multi-use path for bikes and runners.

When you run Courtney Campbell out and back it is 18 miles. And it is hot.


The Garmin Connect map display from my Garmin 920XT showing the mile markers.

I ran Courtney Campbell on Monday, January 25th. It was 60-degrees Fahrenheit with an East North East wind at only 6 MPH and low humidity at 57%. Perfect conditions.

You run Courtney Campbell at noon by yourself on a weekday. There are almost no other people there. You are left alone with your ambitions, your shortcomings, your capabilities. After 18 miles of running the concrete ribbon across the brilliant ocean you understand what you can, and can’t, do. And that is why I was there.

It is quiet. Brilliantly, disturbingly quiet. The ocean surface is finely rippled. Seabirds paddle in groups above submerged weed patches on the sand looking for fish. You hope for a good omen- perhaps a shark or a dolphin, to add some mystic power, some suggestion of allegiance to the wild sea.


A boat crosses under the causeway toward the other elevated highway to the south.

Because the miles accumulate without markers or fanfare you simply glide for hours without concern. It just feels good to be next to the ocean, running, in the company of the wild sea.

People run and do triathlons for many reasons. As you grow older your reasons change. Evolve. If you are still in this sport after 30 years it isn’t to impress someone, it isn’t to prove anything, it isn’t for a tattoo or a medal or a T-shirt. It is for the things on the Courtney Campbell Causeway.

Wind. Distance. Air. Ocean. Strength. Purity. Solitude.

I found those things on the Courtney Campbell Causeway, and I had missed them for the past few years.


The Courtney Campbell Causeway is Highway 60 at the North end of Old Tampa Bay. There is parking at either end and restrooms at the east side, but no water or restrooms on the causeway.





By Tom Demerly for


Immigration, the economy, national security, foreign policy, health care: the hot point issues in the 2016 election.

But the single most important issue for Americans isn’t on that list.

This single issue governs the direction of every topic listed above. The success or failure of this single issue, usually low on the list of hotly debated topics, will determine the trajectory of our collective future in every area. It also has the potential to fix nearly every major challenge our nation faces.

It is the single most important issue in society, and one of the most neglected.

It is education.

America has done decades of government by crisis management. From the federal budget to the Affordable Care Act to our diplomatic efforts, our collective doctrine is to moderate problems after they’ve happened. Usually when they are in crisis.

As a result of our collective “fix it after it’s broke” doctrine we waste billions of dollars on missed opportunity, crisis management and bad planning, from the personal level with individual citizens to the national and international level with failed projects, damage control and wasted conflict. We legislate common sense instead of teaching it. We litigate tolerance and acceptance instead of learning it. And we struggle to resolve endless global conflicts in a bizarre replay of history that seems never ending.

We do this because we are collectively less educated. We’re less able to think critically to solve complex problems. Because we know less based on the trends in our test scores, we draw from a smaller and smaller inventory of knowledge and skills to solve problems. More importantly, we fail to learn from mistakes and avoid them in the future. That is an ominous trend. As the world becomes more connected and more populous we become less able to think critically, to reason and make well-conceived decisions. Our decisions become simpler and less forward thinking.

When we do learn, we learn the hard way, and the ominous trajectory of society is that we are becoming less educated, not more.

In 2013 then- Secretary of Education Arne Duncan said, “We have a real state of crisis. This is much bigger than education.”

Duncan was talking about the effects of an “education deficit” emerging between the United States and the rest of the world based on a global comparison of test scores in a battery of tests administered to 166,000 people, ages 16 through 65, in 23 countries in both 2011 and 2012. Results reveal the U.S. is trailing many other countries in test scores and graduation rates. These test results make the U.S. less employable, productive and innovative.

Our collective health is in decline only a few decades after massive reductions in physical education. We needed more exercise in school, teaching better lifelong health habits. Instead we have a band-aid healthcare system that protects big medicine financially and sticks the individual healthcare consumer with the bill, mandated by law and enforced by fines. All the while we get fatter, sicker, eat worse and spend more than we can individually afford on healthcare. Better health and fitness education over the last four decades could have moderated this crisis. Instead we try to fix it after it is broken.

The same paradigms exist in math and science. America has lost ground in test scores in every area. As other countries teach English as a second language requirement, our schools struggle to even teach English. Americans can voice a passionate opinion about Syrian refugees but can’t name that country’s capital or find it on an unlabeled map.

Our next President needs to put education first, above all other agendas. If people are educated in problem solving, recognizing signs of mental health problems, resolving conflict and accepting diversity they may not choose gun violence as a way to resolve conflict. Someone may recognize a person’s mental illness and help them get treatment. If people are better educated they will make better life choices and avoid substance abuse. If people are better educated they will take more responsibility for their health and be less likely to be obese. If people are immersed in sciences we may produce the student who becomes the doctor who cures cancer. But only if we put education first.

Why hasn’t education gotten more attention in the election rhetoric? It may be a self-feeding problem. We’re too dumb to realize how bad it is.

And while the economy, national security, foreign policy and health care are the banner issues in this election, the structural problems with our future only get worse. Based on the Republican and Democratic debates, it doesn’t look to improve any time soon.


0238 Hours Local Zone Time, 17 January 1991. Baghdad, Iraq. 


It is dark and Mike Smith’s clothing is wet.

Mike Smith is an athlete, an elite athlete in fact. He is a triathlete, has done Ironman several times, a couple adventure races and even run the Marathon Des Sables in Morocco- a 152 mile running race through the Sahara done in stages.

Mike has some college, is gifted in foreign languages, reads a lot and has an amazing memory for details. He enjoys travel. He is a quiet guy but a very good athlete. Mike’s friends say he has a natural toughness. He can’t spend as much time training for triathlons as he’d like to because his job keeps him busy. Especially now. This is Mike’s busy season. But he still seems very fit. Even without much training Mike has managed some impressive performances in endurance events.

It’s a big night for Mike. He’s at work tonight. As I mentioned his clothing is wet, partially from dew, partially from perspiration. He and his four co-workers, Dan, Larry, Pete and Maurice are working on a rooftop at the corner of Jamia St. and Khulafa St. across from Omar Bin Yasir.

Mike is looking through the viewfinder of a British made Pilkington LF25 laser designator. The crosshairs are centered on a ventilation shaft. The shaft is on the roof of The Republican Guard Palace in downtown Baghdad across the Tigris River.

Saddam Hussein is inside, seven floors below, three floors below ground level, attending a crisis meeting.

Mike’s co-worker Pete (also an Ironman finisher, Lake Placid, 2000) keys some information into a small laptop computer and hits “burst transmit”. The DMDG (Digital Message Device Group) uplinks data to another of Mike’s co-workers (this time a man he’s never met, but they both work for their Uncle, “Sam”) and a fellow athlete, at 21’500 feet above Iraq 15 miles from downtown Baghdad. This man’s office is the cockpit of an F-117 stealth fighter. When Mike and Pete’s signal is received the man in the airplane leaves his orbit outside Baghdad, turns left, and heads downtown.

Mike has 40 seconds to complete his work for tonight, then he can go for a run.

Mike squeezes the trigger of his LF25 and a dot appears on the ventilator shaft five city blocks and across the river away from him and his co-workers. Mike speaks softly into his microphone; “Target illuminated. Danger close. Danger Close. Danger close. Over.”

Seconds later two GBU-24B two thousand pound laser guided, hardened case, delayed fuse “bunker buster” bombs fall free from the F-117. The bombs enter “the funnel” and begin finding their way to the tiny dot projected by Mike’s LF25. They glide approximately three miles across the ground and fall four miles on the way to the spot marked by Mike and his friends.

When they reach the ventilator shaft marked by Mike and his friends the two bunker busters enter the roof in a puff of dust and debris. They plow through the first four floors of the building like a two-ton steel telephone pole traveling over 400 m.p.h., tossing desks, ceiling tiles, computers and chairs out the shattering windows. Then they hit the six-foot thick reinforced concrete roof of the bunker. They burrow four more feet and detonate.

The shock wave is transparent but reverberates through the ground to the river where a Doppler wave appears on the surface of the Tigris. When the seismic shock reaches the building Mike is on he levitates an inch off the roof from the concussion.

Then the sound hits. The two explosions are like a simultaneous crack of thunder as the building’s walls seem to swell momentarily, then burst apart on an expanding fireball that slowly, eerily, boils above Baghdad casting rotating shadows as the fire climbs into the night. Debris begins to rain; structural steel, chunks of concrete, shards of glass, flaming fabrics and papers.

On the tail of the two laser guided bombs a procession of BGM-109G/TLAM Block IV Enhanced Tomahawks begin their terminal plunge. The laser-guided bombs performed the incision, the GPS and computer guided TLAM Tomahawks complete the operation. In rapid-fire succession the missiles find their mark and riddle the Palace with massive explosions, finishing the job. The earth heaves in a final death convulsion.

Mike’s job is done for tonight. Now all he has to do is get home.

Mike and his friends drive an old Mercedes through the streets of Baghdad as the sirens start. They take Jamia to Al Kut, cross Al Kut and go right (South) on the Expressway out of town. An unsuspecting remote CNN camera mounted on the balcony of the Al Rashid Hotel picks up their vehicle headed out of town. Viewers at home wonder what a car is doing on the street during the beginning of a war. They don’t know it is packed with five members of the U.S. Army’s SFOD-D, Special Forces Operational Detachment – Delta. Or simply, Delta.

Six miles out of town they park their Mercedes on the shoulder, pull their gear out of the trunk and begin to run into the desert night. The moon is nearly full. Instinctively they fan out, on line, in a “lazy ‘W’ “. They run five miles at a brisk pace, good training for this evening, especially with 27 lb. packs on their back. Behind them there is fire on the horizon. Mike and his fellow athletes have a meeting to catch, and they can’t be late.

Twenty-seven miles out a huge gray 92-foot long insect hurtles 40 feet above the desert at 140 m.p.h. The MH-53J Pave Low III is piloted by another athlete, also a triathlete, named Jim, from Fort Campbell, Kentucky. He is flying to meet Mike.

After running five miles into the desert Mike uses his GPS to confirm his position. He is in the right place at the right time. He removes an infra-red strobe light from his pack and pushes the red button on the bottom of it. It blinks invisibly in the dark. He and his friends form a wide 360-degree circle while waiting for their ride home.

Two miles out Jim in the Pave Low sees Mike’s strobe through his night vision goggles. He gently moves the control stick and pulls back on the collective to line up on Mike’s infra-red strobe. Mike’s ride home is here.

The big Pave Low helicopter flares for landing over the desert and quickly touches down in a swirling tempest of dust. Mike and his friends run up the ramp after their identity is confirmed. Mike counts them up the ramp of the helicopter over the scream of the engines. When he shows the crew chief five fingers the helicopter lifts off and the ramp comes up. The dark gray Pave Low spins in its own length and picks up speed going back the way it came, changing course slightly to avoid detection.

The men and women in our armed forces, especially Special Operations, are often well-trained, gifted athletes. All of them, including Mike, would rather be sleeping the night away in anticipation of a long training ride rather than laying on a damp roof in an unfriendly neighborhood guiding bombs to their mark or doing other things we’ll never hear about.

Regardless of your opinions about the war, the sacrifices these people are making and the risks they are taking are extraordinary. They believe they are making them on our behalf. Their skills, daring and accomplishments almost always go unspoken. They are truly Elite Athletes.


I wrote this fictional, based on fact, article a few days after the start of Operation Desert Storm in 1991. In the days that followed its publication it went “viral” with over 1 million hits per day. Almost every major news agency contacted me about the article and my sources; CNN, MSNBC, Knight-Ridder and others.

I got an e-mail and a phone call from the U.S. Army Criminal Investigation Division for Intelligence at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. They were interested in hearing my sources. I told them to check my service records. They did, and advised me to be more careful about what I wrote about.

Following the publication of “An Elite Athlete” in 1991 several literary agents contacted me to submit book proposals. At the time, I was advised not to do this for a long list of good reasons. So I never did.

Recently a friend asked me to repost “An Elite Athlete” in its original form to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the start of the Gulf War. People still tell me, “You should write a book.”

I still haven’t. Not yet.

By Tom Demerly for



Triathlon is big business now. With profits to earn and gadgets to sell how do you cut through the marketing haze and decide what really gets you to the finish line?

There are 2,377 books about triathlon on An online seminar, a Facebook page and- bam, anyone is a triathlon coach. Add triathlon forums, that guy with an M-Dot tattoo dispensing advice and the amount of bullshit heaped on new triathletes is harder to cut through than the swim pack at Lake Placid.

Here are 10 no-bullshit, hardcore, old-skool insights on triathlon training. No quick-starts, no “12 Weeks to Ironman” plans. They aren’t easy, they aren’t pretty, but they produce results. You may not like them, you may disagree with them, but history proves these are solid producers for getting better.

  1. Fire your coach.

You don’t need them and they’re probably not qualified. You can learn everything you need to know about swim stroke, bike handling skills and transitions faster and for free on YouTube. Mostly, you just need to train more. Your first year in the sport should be about building an aerobic base and slowly developing technique. As a wise old-timer once said, “Intervals are the icing on the cake, and you don’t have a cake yet.”

Triathlon coaching in the U.S. is a mostly B.S. affair. Anyone who passed a three-day clinic can call himself or herself a coach. By contrast, in Germany using the title “coach” requires a graduate degree in exercise physiology. While there are outstanding triathlon coaches in the United States there are many more who are not qualified to dispense training advice, especially to new athletes. The difficulty in knowing the difference between the few truly good coaches and the many truly bad ones combined with the basic goals of building an aerobic base while losing weight mean coaching can wait.

Take ownership of your knowledge of the sport. Learn basic exercise physiology. Learn technique. Do the reading. Be a student of the sport, not just a consumer of cookie-cutter coaching plans. And most of all, put in more time.

  1. Actually Learn How to Ride Your Bike.


Get on the road. Yes, a car might hit you. You might fall. No, you will fall. There are two kinds of riders: the kind who have crashed and the kind who will. Sport has risk. The difference between a competitor and spectator is accepting- and managing- that risk, not just avoiding it.

Wear a current helmet adjusted properly. Find out the safest routes to ride from local road cyclists. Get out of the protected parks and onto roads that are appropriate for cycling. Ride in the real world. It is dangerous. But it is important to develop good bike handling skills and the ability to not panic when you are in a real-world riding environment. Your “A” race won’t be held on a spin bike at the health club. And, you may be interested to know the facts show that road cycling is safer now than in previous years.

  1. Take Responsibility for Basic Bike Maintenance.


Can you fix a flat tire? Remove and replace your wheels? Put a bike in a flight case? Do you know your bike fit measurements? If not, learn those skills from YouTube. Don’t be the person who can’t change his or her own flat tire, didn’t carry a spare and has no clue how to remove and replace a rear wheel. Take responsibility. Be competent. Learn today. If you can’t name the components on your bike, start there.

  1. Your Bike Doesn’t Fit. 


It doesn’t. I’ve been fitting triathletes on their bikes since before triathlon bikes were invented in 1987. I see good triathlon bike positions about once a month. I do about four bike fits a day. Very few triathletes I see are on a bike that is the right frame size for them, and even fewer are in the right position to remain comfortable and be efficient.

If you hear a bike fitter say, “We’re going make your position lower and more aggressive and get you more aero” don’t walk, run out of there. No one can guess at aerodynamics. No one can guess at what will make you “more aero”.

If you’ve heard an athlete say, “Triathlon bikes are less comfortable than road bikes” what they are really saying is; “My triathlon bike doesn’t fit me and I don’t know what I’m talking about.”

Spending money on a bike that fits and is comfortable is one way you actually can buy speed, and it doesn’t have to be a $10K superbike. It just has to fit, and your bike likely doesn’t.

  1. Get in the F@#king Open Water. NOW!


Scared of the open water? That’s fine, there’s still bowling and ballroom dancing.

Triathlon was born in the ocean, by people who were competent and comfortable in the ocean. Lifeguards, swimmers, surfers, watermen, Navy SEALs. Yup, there are sharks. They won’t hurt you. Well, probably not. There are waves. You’ll get seasick. The salt will burn your eyes. Deal with it. This is triathlon. We swim. In the ocean. With the big fish.


If you are doing all of your swimming in a pool and expect to be immediately comfortable in an open water mass swim start- that is not a reasonable expectation. You will panic and be a danger to yourself and athletes around you. You will get kicked and shoved. When you freak out (and you will) it is your fault. You failed to prepare adequately. Get your swim anxiety under control before race day. Way before. Take responsibility for being competent in the unforgiving maritime environment. Your race will depend on it, and someday your life may too.

  1. Swim More. Way More.


Good swimmers swim a lot. Three days a week might get you through the swim leg. It might. It also might not. There is an axiom in triathlon: get tired running, and you walk, get tired cycling, and you coast, get tired swimming, and you drown. The reason the swim is first is to improve your chances of living through it.

Talk to any good open water swimmer and their yardage and time is incredible. Five days a week. Six days a week. Two times a day. Swimming is no-impact (except on race day) so you can put in long training sessions regularly and not suffer overuse injuries. On race day you will not only be a safe, competent swimmer you may actually have a decent swim split. This one is easy: Swim more.

  1. Ditch the Superfluous Gadgets.


If it takes you more time to learn how to use your GPS, power meter, training log website, “smart” indoor trainer, smart phone app, body fat calculating scale, swim gadgets and all the other crap available to triathletes, than you spend in a workout- get rid of them. And just train. I used a “smart” indoor bike trainer for a season but spent so much time setting it up, making sure it was connected, trying to sync all the apps and then trying to find the “data”, much of which wasn’t really data at all but largely an estimate of power output the trainer made, that I eventually stopped using it. Using a “smart” trainer made me so dumb I didn’t realize I was wasting a total of 2 hours a week just trying to get it set up and working right. I could have used that extra time for training. And believe me, I needed the training more than I needed the technology. When your technology takes time from your training, get rid of it. You need the training. You don’t need the technology. 

I’ve been in the triathlon industry since it started in the 1980’s. I am one of the guys responsible for selling this stuff to you. Some of it is useful, most of it is a time suck. Some of it makes training more convenient and easier. I only use one gadget: A Garmin Fenix wrist top computer since it is easy to use and does what I need. That’s it. Only one. It tells me how far, how fast, how hard. That’s all I need.

Think about this: how much data do you really need? The sport is pretty basic: Speed, time, distance. Most fitness apps are so overloaded with features that cutting to the chase of how fast and how far takes scrolling, clicking and sifting through reams of superfluous “data” that is really just bullshit. And don’t get me started on “sharing” your workouts on social media. That is a bizarre phenomenon all to itself. The reality is, if you have to flaunt your training in some disjointed attempt to “stay motivated” then you are doing it in a vein attempt at impressing someone else, not for yourself. The motive needs to be intrinsic. It needs to be internal.

Remember, at the finish line only one metric counts: how fast you got there.

  1. Practice Transitions.


You say you are just there to finish, but I have been doing this long enough to know that you are lying. If all you wanted to do was go the distance you wouldn’t have pinned on a number or paid an entry fee. It’s a race. Race it.

The best way to shave a few seconds (or minutes) quickly is to practice transitions at home. Set up a transition area in your driveway and let your neighbors laugh at you. You’ll get the last laugh on race day when you win your age category by the 15 seconds you just learned how to save in transition. That is free speed.

  1. Lose Weight.

You’re too fat. Don’t take offense, I am too. The fastest way to get faster is to be lighter. Nearly all of us could drop 10-30 pounds. Finishing a triathlon when you’re overweight is an impressive accomplishment, but it doesn’t give you a pass on being overweight. It is less healthy, harder on your body and your equipment and even more dangerous.

Take responsibility for your fitness. This isn’t about body shaming. It is about health, safety and performance.

Losing weight is basic: burn more calories than you take in every day. That’s it. Do that and you’ll lose weight. It is inherently simple. That doesn’t make it easy. It’s one more reason not everyone does this sport. If it were easy, everyone would.

  1. Just Train More.


More is more. There are no shortcuts. Time and distance are ruthless, indiscriminate arbiters. On race day you learn that you either put in enough time or you didn’t. Almost everyone realizes they didn’t. There is no faking it.

We live in an iThing, instant gratification, One-Click world where almost everything we aspire to can be had quickly and easily. Not here, not in this sport. If you want to have a good race you have to earn it in the months and years before race day. There are no shortcuts. You either have the miles in your legs or you don’t.

Before race day, make sure you do. There is no bullshitting the miles or the clock into believing you do.





By Tom Demerly for


Hope or fear? Which do we choose?

More than any recent decade Americans are strongly divided between two themes: Hope for a better tomorrow or fear of repeating an ominous history.

Both hope and fear are presiding doctrines that come with peril. The human condition has never been problem free.

Which narrative prevails? Why do both exist?

Our country is founded on hope. Hope for religious freedom, hope for greater opportunity. Hope for a new tomorrow that, while fraught with peril, so greatly exceeds a prior condition it is worth any risk. Even risk of life.

Read the lore of our founding fathers, this is their doctrine: risk for the hope of a better tomorrow. Some starved, some were killed in wars. Some lived to see the birth of a nation so vast that in only two short centuries has lead the world to countless new things. Our country passed ancient ones fraught with conflict, suffering and oppression for thousands of years, and we did it in less than 200 years. In nearly every case, when a person is downtrodden and wants to leave their homeland for the Promised Land, the United States is their first choice. Because hope is our legacy, our doctrine, our national narrative. Not fear.

The advancement of mankind and of our country has accelerated at a dizzying rate during the last centuries. At first our national throttle was at idle for a few decades, moved into “drive” for a few more, slammed into “reverse” around 1867, nearly ran out of gas in 1929, plowed forward through terrible storms at a grinding speed until 1945 then drove down the on-ramp of a new freeway in the 1950’s and accelerated to a speed that went supersonic.

Like any momentous journey through time there have been tragedies and triumphs; wars, depressions, recessions, scandals and controversies. But these have only punctuated a national narrative of momentous success and dizzying progress.

What is the next chapter in this great national novel, the Story of America? Is it that we circle the wagons, build walls and shut out a world that accelerates at a pace approaching and in some countries exceeding our own national velocity? Or, do we espouse a risky and promising doctrine of world community? inclusion rather than exclusion, new ideas and new challenges rather than a serialized, romanticized yesterday often embellished by historical lore and suspiciously untarnished by the historical reality that any time our national tempo toward “better” has diminished, calamity has followed.

I still choose hope.

This comes from a man who has had everything, has lost everything, and grinds inexorably back toward that great American Dream; not just material wealth, but precious things that enrich our lives like free ideas, a sense of community, the guarantee of inclusion and the promise of growth so vast I cannot envision it. And mostly that ephemeral and fleeting feeling of safety.

These things are possible. We have had them. And while we have suffered tragedies the trajectory and acceleration of our national destiny tracks more favorably when propelled by the thrust of hope than the drag of fear.

So, I still choose hope.