Guest Blog: Jim Gourley

Today, for the first time (but probably not the last), I turn my blog over to a trusted fellow journalist and someone I now consider a friend.  Jim Gourley is the military athletes columnist for Lava Magazine, and contributes to other publications as well.  He's also got a successful blog, "Life Against the Clock" where he goes more in-depth on key topics within the triathlon space as well as life in general.  Jim is currently addressing gripes about the WTC, the corporation responsible for the Ironman brand. In his piece below, Jim calls upon his combat experience to explore why athletes such as myself use military metaphors to describe triathlon competition, and which warrior analogies may fit specific athlete archetypes.  I know you will enjoy it immensely.

Here's Jim!


"Ryan often refers in his columns on LAVA and on this blog to the mindset with which he approaches training. He recently asked me about a passage in an upcoming column in which he discusses feeling like a soldier in a war movie. He wanted to make sure the reference wouldn't be offensive to real soldiers. It reminded me of how, during my time in the Army, I and my comrades often made references to some of those same movies. As I recalled one instance after another, it struck me as funny how, in the middle of my most depressing or dangerous moments in Iraq, someone would pop off with a quote from a movie that was eerily appropriate to our situation.
But not films like Saving Private Ryan or The Hurt Locker. We mostly recited lines from flicks like Office Space or Groundhog Day. In case no one's let you in on the big secret yet, combat for most troops is more like the latter pair than the former. As the saying goes, it's endless days of utter boredom, broken up by five-second fits of sheer terror.
I've noticed an irony in that difference in perception. Ryan is one of probably thousands of athletes that psyches himself up to train or race by thinking of a warrior preparing to do battle. He's thinking of Russell Crowe wading through the carnage of the Germania battlefield as he comes out of the water and rushes through transition. He's Maverick on the bike. He's Private Gump coming down the chute on the run. A lot of athletes start their training each day by reciting the mantra of the Navy SEALs-- The only easy day was yesterday. Meanwhile, that warrior preparing to do combat is psyching himself up by thinking of things in terms of sports. "Get your game faces on," the sergeant tells his troops. "Pace yourselves. It's a marathon, not a sprint," the commander admonishes his lieutenants. "Your squad leader's been injured. I need you to carry the ball," the lieutenant tells the young corporal. If you only had their lingo to distinguish a competitor from a combatant, it's likely you'd get the two
confused in short order.
Within that confusion exists a misconception that may hinder the efforts of some "Iron-warriors" to get their heads in the game. Specifically, there's no such thing as "the warrior mentality." Like athletes, there are as many different warrior mentalities as there are warriors. Oddly enough, I see this misconception in both my military and civilian friends. Everyone has the same idea of what the "warrior mentality" is, and it's most strongly associated with the ancient Spartans. I assume it's a result of the highly stylized (and only marginally accurate) portrayal of the Battle of Thermopylae in the movie 300. The marketing push for that film included a lot of articles in the fitness press about the workout program Gerard Butler and other actors endured to get into shape for their parts.
Yet, as essential as the Spartan mentality was to Spartan victory in that battle, it could be as detrimental to another warrior or athlete in different circumstances. What if Leonidas and his Spartans hadn't found the narrow passage through the cliffs to act as a chokepoint for the approaching Persian forces? A "death before dishonor" attitude wouldn't have achieved much on an open field where they could have been surrounded. We've all been in situations where discretion was the better part of valor. A Spartan attitude on an out-and-back course would have you bonk from pushing against headwinds on the way out before you turn on the inbound leg where you could really make speed.
Perhaps you are the Spartan Warrior, the archetype that thinks pain is to an Ironman what a beer bong is to a frat party. The pain itself is what you're here for. The more you make it hurt for yourself, the more it hurts the competition. You can absorb as much punishment as it takes to watch the other guy crack and fade away. That's how you win.
Or maybe you're the Zen Warrior-- the Samurai of Japan or the Shaolin monks of China. The pain is not an end unto itself or even a means to victory. Rather, victory relies on achieving a state of mind free from being distracted by thoughts of pain, distance or time. When the mind knows only the instantaneous form and function of your body, then you have achieved what the famed swordsman Miyamoto Musashi called "the Void"-- a place of no thought, where the mind sees limitless possibilities and the body has infinite potential.
You might be the Revolutionary Warrior-- you run for a cause more dear to you than life itself. Nothing will stop you from reaching your goal. Neither pain nor peace motivate or detain you. You're the passionate fighter, the one who not only shows one can be a lover and a fighter, but that you only truly love something if you're willing to fight for it.
Sun Tzu, in his treatise The Art of War, said "If you know your enemy and not yourself, you will win a battle and lose a battle. If you know both your enemy and yourself, you will win a hundred battles without fail. If you know neither your enemy nor yourself, you cannot hope to win a single battle."
Before getting into your warrior mentality, ask yourself what kind of warrior you are. Like the man said-- knowing is half the battle."

84 days and counting.