Athlete Profile – Ross Kaffenberger

Ross Kaffenberger

About the Athlete
Location: McLean, Virginia
Age Group: 40-44
Years in Triathlon: 10

What two or three books would you recommend?

It doesn’t have to be triathlon related, but may have helped you with motivation/balance or to get through a tough time… create a new approach to the sport. 

Lately, I’ve been drawn to Stoicism because it’s so practical. It’s a philosophy that speaks to living a good life—or how to train for triathlon—by emphasizing purpose and intention, a measured perspective and acceptance of that which is beyond our control and developing the will to act accordingly. A bunch of Ryan Holiday’s books have Stoicism at the foundations including, Stillness is the Key, which emphasizes the importance of finding peace within our mind, body, and spirit through a variety of historical vignettes. 

I’ve also been reading author Cal Newport. We’re both technologists and we’re nearly the same age, so I’d like to think we speak a common language. Though he’s a professor of Computer Science at Georgetown University, he’s achieved notoriety amongst a wider audience through his blog and books that touch on productivity and greatness. His book, So Good They Can’t Ignore You, challenges the common career wisdom of “following your passion” and urges instead thinking of your career as a long-term investment of “capital” and working towards finding a mission—the kind of ideas that work well in the context of triathlon.

What is the one thing (other than a bike or power meter) you purchased that you use and benefit from all the time?

Name specific brand and where you got it so others can share in your love. 

Despite working in tech, I don’t consider myself a technophile when it comes to training. I don’t spend much time pouring over data or stressing about CTL; I’m curious but not obsessed.

That said, I’m really happy with my purchase of a smart trainer, a 2017 Wahoo Kickr. The Zwift-Kickr combination has helped me train for three IM races over the past three years, easily 12,000 miles, with basically zero technical issues. As a single dad who lives in a high traffic city with little to offer in safe riding, having this option has been the difference for me. The key: I enjoy indoor riding way more than I did when I rode a dumb trainer. Finding reasons to enjoy training can be the difference between building successful habits and failing altogether.

Ross Kaffenberger

What is a specific “failure” or “apparent failure” in a race or training that set you up for future success?

Or what was a turning point in your triathlon career that changed how you approached the sport/lifestyle?

If we looked only at race results as a measure of success/failure, then it would be hard to ignore the results at my most recent Ironman event, IM Lake Placid. Over the past three years, I’ve shown steady improvement at both the IM and Half-Ironman distance. That is, until IMLP, where I finished 90 minutes behind my personal best. Was this a failure? I mean, I didn’t have my best race for certain. After having time to reflect and debrief with Coach Robbie, it was clear that I was overextending myself once we factored in all the stuff going on in my personal life, not to mention the evolving needs of my three-year-old son, and the demands of IM training. To put it simply, I was overtrained. 

This year, we’re approaching some things differently, including changes in my diet and daily habits along with a new emphasis on bike preparation. We’re still committed to consistency and came up with a more sensible race and training schedule that I can fit into my busy life. All in all, we’re looking forward to a good year.

If you could make an Instagram post you knew would be seen and shared by millions, what would it say?

It doesn’t have to be your quote, just something you love and think would make a difference. 

“Remember how long you’ve been putting this off, how many extensions the gods gave you, and you didn’t use them. At some point you have to recognize what the world is that you belong to; what power rules it and from what source you spring; that there is a limit to the time assigned you, and if you don’t use it to free yourself it will be gone and will never return.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

What is the best or most worthwhile investment you’ve made in triathlon?

This could be financially, time, or energy investments.

The best investment I’ve made is getting personal coaching from Coach Robbie. I had been training for triathlon for years through generic online or group training plans. While I’d been able to finish my races, I knew I was leaving a lot on the table in terms of performance.

What is an unusual or absurd habit or superstition you have that relates to training or racing?

I often pee in T2 while kneeling at my spot and putting on my running shoes.

Ross Kaffenberger

In the last 5 years, what is the behavior, habit or new belief that has most changed how you train?

From Coach Robbie and Mike: frequency is king

It comes up often in the podcasts; good examples being How to Not Suck at Running Part 1, #317 and How to Not Suck at Running Part 2, #336. While I used to be more of a weekend warrior, I’ve learned how running often throughout the week, month after month, is a great way to build strength and endurance while minimizing injury risk. 

What advice would you give a friend your age who is just getting into triathlon? What advice should they ignore?

Go out there and have fun. Triathletes, new and veterans alike, find a ton of things to stress out about: logistics, race times, flats, nutrition, you name it. For all the stuff we tend to worry about, there’s a ton of crap in there we can’t control. Best thing to do is accept it and deal with whatever challenges you’re left with. Focus on enjoying yourself and the moment. 

Ignore any advice in an article titled something like “10 ways to get faster in the heat with your arms tied behind your back.”

Ross Kaffenberger

What is your “why” when it comes to triathlon and how do you keep it present in your mind?

My wife, Jen, passed away three months before our surrogate gave birth to our son, Jasper. I have committed myself to triathlon to help make me stronger, to build resilience, to deal with my grief, to set an example for my son, and to honor my late wife. Through this sport, I remind myself daily: Never quit, keep moving forward, be the best I can be.

For more from Ross, please check out his interview on Crushing Iron Podcast #45 “Turning to Triathlon When Life Turns on You”

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