Steve Croucher (#374) loves two things that most of us try to avoid. The first is swimming. The second is failure.
"I can't tell you the number of times I still trip over a root or ski over a snow snake," says Croucher. "I did five XTERRAs this year, and in one of them, I dropped my chain. I had never dropped a chain in my life and I thought I broke it. So I ran my bike the three miles in. Afterwards, I took it to the bike shop and they were like, 'Croucher, you just dropped your chain buddy. You know how to put that back together.' And I totally do, but I was nervous, it was the middle of the race, and it hadn't happened before."
This year at the XTERRA World Championship in Maui, the nozzle on his liquid reservoir broke and he lost two liters of water and 400 calories in about 30 seconds. As a result, the 2016 XTERRA Pan Am Champ finished significantly farther down in his age group than he should have given his training and fitness.
"OK, so really, I love failure about a week later," admits Croucher. "But truly I cherish it. It's like, OK, that's out of my system, that's not happening again."
This attitude towards mistakes and learning is part of what makes Croucher such a good athlete and a good coach. An excellent swimmer in high school and then at Ithaca College, Croucher used to coach the masters swim program at the Westin Beaver Creek, where some of his swimmers included Josiah Middaugh, Jen Razee, and Peter Dann.
"What made it really fun was taking the first 15 minutes and going person by person and giving every athlete just one thing to focus on for the next two weeks," says Croucher. "That's it, just one thing. Josiah had his thing and Jen did too."
Often, Croucher would hold his breath and watch the swimmers in the water under the lane lines to analyze their rotation, body position, and technique.
"You can get to know a swimmer if you are right next to them. A good coach can give you the building blocks you need to get better, and you give an athlete just one building block at a time. You fine tune one and then you move onto something new. You can't be scared of breaking swimming down into its elemental levels."
This time of year, Croucher believes, is an excellent time to jump into the pool and focus on technique.
"If there's a time to throw out the clock it's in December and January," says Croucher. "Just throw it out. Intervals come at the end of the season."
His next piece of advice may not be so comforting - but maybe not surprising coming from Croucher.
"The mantra I live by is that you gotta be comfortable being uncomfortable," he says. "The way I apply that now, is that I hit the reset button on my season. You have to be willing to take two weeks off from swimming and be OK with it feeling weird when you jump back in. You gotta go through that process and feel what it feels like and be willing to start fresh."
Croucher believes too many off-road athletes focus heavily on volume and sacrifice technique.
"This isn't the time to got to the pool to get your 3000 meters in," says Croucher. "No, get back in and have fun. Play water polo. Get a feel for the water again. Then do your drills. Work on body positioning, rotation, that natural catch in the water. If you can fine-tune those skills while you are fresh and your base is gone, you can build a better base. Why the hell would you want to build your house on sand, right?"
Next year, look for Croucher to be first out of the water in both the XTERRA and ITU Cross races he enters. At 28, he is only getting stronger and faster, and his "failures" are leading to success.
"Maybe it's not failure if you're learning," says Croucher. "And that's the great part about triathlon - you are always learning."
Photos courtesy of Enduro Photos