Interview with Adam Carlson, Triathlete

Physical fitness has been always been a central part of my stress management regimen and my identity in general; I even wrote about it in this publication while 2015 Bar President. However, my perception of myself as ‘fit’ was shattered when Adam Carlson joined our law firm nearly five years ago. Adam is a triathlete, but not in the ‘I just trained and actually completed a sprint distance triathlon!’ sort of way. Adam performs at the highest levels of the sport, competing with one of the top amateur teams in the country and even qualifying for the Ironman World Championship in Kona three times.

The following is my interview with him.

When did you start doing triathlons?

I’m happy to be celebrating 10 years in the sport. Well, technically, I did a sprint triathlon in high school, but I don’t really count that. I did my first triathlon as an ‘adult’ hobby in November of 2006, during my second year of law school.

Approximately how many triathlons have you competed in?

I estimate that I’ve done about 45 triathlons.

How many Iron Mans have you competed in?

I’ve done five Ironmans (one word). It’s a branded race, so don’t get it wrong or the World Triathlon Corporation, owner of Ironman, will see you in court.

How would you describe the Every Man Jack Team?

Every Man Jack is a line of men’s personal care products founded/owned by a very competitive triathlete, Ritch Viola. About six years ago he decided to start a triathlon team in the Bay Area. The team has grown from about 25 local guys, to 70 guys nationwide and in Canada. The team is comprised of elite amateur triathletes who train together, ‘tri-geek out’ together about gear and training ideas, and aim to foster a positive triathlon community at any race they compete in. Triathlon is an individual competition, but it’s fun to have people to train with and have people in your life who may actually care about your split times.

What are 2-3 results that you are most proud of?

Three results really stick out in my mind.

There was nothing quite like crossing the finish line of my first Ironman, in April of 2008. The race distance seemed so impossible. A part of me thought it wasn’t real. I mean, seriously, swim 2.4 miles, bike 112, and then RUN A MARATHON? It was 18 months after my first ‘adult’ sprint and, had I maintained the pace I did in that sprint for the entire Ironman, then it would have taken me 10 hours and 13 minutes. I ended up completing the course in 9 hours and 52 minutes, on a day when temperatures reached 97 degrees. There was an added bonus of making it onto the podium for my age group.

Another result that I’ll never forget was racing my way to the podium at the iconic Escape from Alcatraz Triathlon in 2014. In my opinion Escape from Alcatraz is the best triathlon in the world. I had volunteered at that race every year since 2008 and finally was lucky enough to race it in 2014. It’s so crazy to jump off a boat near Alcatraz and swim to shore. I had a nice run split that allowed me to just barely make it onto the podium. What a race, and what a memory.

Lastly, my Ironman race last summer at Vineman (Sonoma County). It was such an incredible day all around. It was a local Ironman and there were lots of people I knew out on the course cheering for me, which made it extra special. I was very proud of my 4th place overall amateur finish. Three punks beat me, but I’ll get ‘em next time.

How have you fit triathlon training into your practice?

I often say the hardest part of doing an Ironman is waking up early to train. I try to wake up at 5:15 every day to fit in 90 minutes of training before work, but the snooze button never stops being tempting. Right now I’m also taking advantage of the long summer days and will typically add in a workout in the evening if I’m free. If I do one or two big days in a month, typically on a Saturday, then simple consistency in the training, roughly 90 minutes per day, is sufficient to get me where I need to be. I enjoy coming up with challenges to keep it interesting. I just completed a challenge to run 100 miles in 10 days. I did a lot of small runs to get the mileage up, including the occasional 2 mile run at lunch. They all add up!

I am always thinking about how I can add a workout into my day or week, and it often gets shaped by where my practice takes me. Early in my career as a public defender, I learned Spanish partly by watching Spanish movies while on a bike trainer. The other day I signed up a new client during the afternoon in San Francisco. Rather than fight traffic coming back to the East Bay during commute hours, I brought running clothes and went for a 90-minute run in Golden Gate Park.

Whenever a deposition gets scheduled or a hearing set, I immediately start thinking about a workout that can go along with it.

Has being a triathlete assisted your practice of law?

Being a triathlete has helped me in a lot of ways. Being a lawyer can obviously be stressful, and exercise is an excellent stress reliever.  One of the bigger lessons I’ve learned from competing in triathlons is that focusing on the process is my key to success. Often times I get so fixated on the outcome of a race, like visualizing myself on the podium, that I don’t place enough emphasis and mental energy on what it takes to get there. My successes come more often when I’m focused on the building blocks, like my next workout and making sure I hit the intervals hard enough.

Similarly, I often get so wrapped up in the fact that I should win my next trial and visualizing the jury reading a favorable verdict, I forget to focus on what I need to do for the case. The more I stay grounded and focus on what witnesses I should call, what foundation I need for my arguments, etc…, the more likely it is that the case will go well.

Lastly, it’s a reminder of how important physical well-being is tied to overall well-being, and allows me to empathize with clients I represent who have suffered serious injuries.

Update: Adam Carlson completed the Ironman Santa Rosa on July 29, 2017. He finished 4th in his age group, 18th overall (out of 1,736 participants). For the 4th time, he qualified for the World Championship in Kona. Adam’s 3:07 marathon time also was fast enough to qualify for the Boston Marathon.