By Jason Koop,
Head Coach of CTS Ultrarunning
Over the past 12 months, I’ve slowly been siphoning some of my savings into Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies. Up until that time, I’d been largely uninformed and unconcerned with this part of the financial sector, chalking up the whole space to something that resembled Monopoly money more than an authentic store of value. While there were many catalysts for my personal about face in the area, the learning process over the past 12 months has been eerily similar to what I’ve experienced in the coaching and endurance realms. Furthermore, the skills I’ve used to ensure that my hard-earned fiat would generate a reasonable rate of return in the virtual world have nearly been identical to the skills I use when evaluating endurance training and modalities in sport. Let’s get all of the caveats out of the way: I am not a financial advisor, nor an expert in crypto, and you should not take this article as financial advice. However, I’ve observed some interesting parallels between these two seemingly-unrelated worlds.
Cryptocurrencies’ biggest hurdle for adoption, and this was certainly my personal hurdle before leaping into the space, is that the fundamentals are difficult to understand. Obscure and simultaneously rooted in computer algorithms and philosophy, the fact that one person would pay for string of ones and zeros, use it as a store of value, and then be able to sell that intangible asset for a profit just seemed weird and not at all based in reality. No analogy of how ‘Bitcoin is like digital gold’, or the ‘technology is like the internet’ seemed to resonate, as those comparisons were just too far-fetched and never properly described the fundamentals of the technology itself. So, rather than blindly accepting the analogies and haphazardly exchanging the money in my bank account for virtual currency, I took some time to understand the fundamentals behind how Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies worked. This means research into how it is created, mined, distributed, bought, sold and stored in order to bring life to an asset class that is fundamentally intangible. As it turns out, by understating the fundamentals I could go from a skeptic to a believer in the crypto space.
Understanding endurance training follows this fundamental framework as well. When I am coaching athletes, evaluating training interventions and analyzing different nutritional approaches far more often than not I am leaning on things I learned during undergraduate level physiology, biochemistry and exercise science. I don’t need far-fetched analogies to tell me that ‘strength training is like adding springs to your legs’ or something similarly bizarre because I understand the fundamental adaptation: strength training has ‘the potential to improve running economy through improved musculo-tendon stiffness’. I know the fundamentals and how those fundamentals interact with the activities athletes actually do. If you understand the fundamentals, it goes a long way in determining the right way to train.
Nothing is ‘up only’
People normally jump into Bitcoin after they hear of someone making a boatload of money off of it. Most of the newcomers into the space have these grandiose ideas of becoming instantly wealthy, retiring early and sailing off on a yacht into the sunset. In this way, they think that the market is ‘up only’, incapable of any hint of a retracement. They throw money FOMOing into cryptocurrencies and projects that are up 100X without even bothering to look at a chart or whitepaper. This theme runs rampant thought the entire space, as part inside joke and part wishful thinking. ‘Up only’ is even the name of a popular Twitch stream, where anyone can tune in for trading ideas, market updates, or just plain old entertainment. The reality is that Bitcoin and other crypto assets are highly volatile, and they move up and down faster than you can blink. While your portfolio might be massively profitable one day, just as you are about to buy that yacht it seemingly turns on a dime satoshi because of an Elon Musk tweet. As the reality of this volatility sinks in, many individuals with paper hands and without proper risk management leave the space, unable to take the financial and psychological toll the (short term) losses create.
Similarly, training for ultras is not an ‘up only’ affair. When many people first start training for endurance events and ultramarathons, they have this idyllic fantasy that the process will be filled with rainbows, epic sunrises, endless fields of brilliant wildflowers, and that they’ll see improvement each and every week without fail. The first moment they encounter a really hard training block and experience lethargy, dead legs and see their Strava Segments take a nosedive, the reality that ultrarunning can be really friggin’ hard finally sets in. Athletes get discouraged that their progress is not ‘up only’.
In both Bitcoin and fitness things will never be ‘up only’. There will be periods when Bitcoin retraces as well as when your performance is worse than is was the previous week. These downward movements are actually healthy for their particular ecosystems. With crypto, retracements are necessary to bring the equilibrium of buyers and sellers back to the market. With training, you actually need to impose a stress big enough to initially get worse before you will get better. During these times when things are worse than they were just a short moment ago, it’s important to zoom the lens out, look at how far you’ve come and where you want to go.
Beware the shillers
This final similarity between crypto and fitness has to be my favorite. If you have been following this newsletter, my Instagram, Twitter or my podcast for any appreciable amount of time, you understand I offer no quarter to the fitness influencers offering the latest get fit quick scheme. Unfortunately, the health and fitness industry has become overrun as of late with charlatans who offer up everything from the latest diet guaranteed to help you lose 10 pounds in week to a supplement guaranteed to improve your VO2max by 20%.
As much as I loathe the nonsense peddlers in endurance sports and nutrition, they don’t hold a candle to their peers in the crypto space, which is filled with their own breed of inauthentic influencers, called shillers. These shillers, who have amassed large and influential followings through slick marketing and catchy YouTube content, consistently promote the next crypto asset ‘guaranteed to make 10,000% returns’. They do so only to line their own pockets by promoting the crypto assets they own, thus driving the price up, and then subsequently dumping said assets on the market, which drives the price down for anyone who was late to the game. Producing content alongside these shillers are authentic, knowledgeable and well-intended people in the space, who only want to educate and inform. Telling the difference between these two groups is nearly impossible, said for one feature: education. The shillers will essentially give calls, telling you to buy or sell and that’s about it. The authentic influencers will not only tell you what to buy, but why, what the fundamentals are and try to educate you on the process.
The fitness industry is the same. You can open up your Instagram feed on any day and find folks promoting the next pair of shoes or anything else. Some of these influencers authentically like and endorse the product or service they are peddling. Others are simply taking the money and running (literally). And for the lay consumer, it’s nearly impossible to tell who is who. Because I’ve been in the industry for so long, I can pick these people out like a sore thumb. The fitness industry equivalent ‘shillers’ are the ones who constantly have a new product to promote, always think it’s the next greatest thing, and promise returns on the physical investment without a shred of additional information or educational points on why it’s so great for you.
When navigating crypto-Twitter, Instagram and YouTube, I apply the same principles. Look for people who have the best educational platforms, who look to inform their audience and tell you the why’s behind what you should be doing, not just what you should be buying. This strategy has served me well, as I have so far been able to avoid any schemes, ‘pump and dumps’, and other ploys that are solely developed to take your coins.
I still consider myself very green in this space, and I will likely never be an expert in cryptocurrencies. But learning about them has given me a window into what it’s like for people who are new to endurance sports and training. If you feel like you’re drinking from a firehose and being bombarded with contradictory messages with ulterior motives, my recommendation is to take a step back, focus on learning the fundamentals of the topic, and find a handful of trustworthy resources to rely on. And in fitness, nutrition, cryptocurrencies, or really anything in life, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.