Over the past several years, it’s become clear to me that I’ve needed to make a a meaningful change in my professional life. And not just because I’m getting older and because I’ve got a family with four young kids to support. I believe long-distance triathlon is changing as well. Since 2012, the sport has been both growing – there are more races now globally than ever before – and shrinking – participation numbers in the US are roughly half of what they were five years ago, something that is mirrored to varying degrees in virtually of the traditional triathlon strongholds globally.
My work off the race course – especially my technical work – has always been at least as important to me as my racing; I’ve never been just an athlete But my current approach here was no longer adequate. I needed to reinvent myself. But I didn’t quite know how.
And then a remarkable opportunity fell into my lap. And I took it.
I have a new job.
At the end of September, I will begin work for Zwift as a game designer.
Even as triathlon and the larger cycling industry are experiencing a period of contraction, one sector is growing exponentially – indoor training. And Zwift is the clear leader in this space. It’s a massively innovative company that has a totally unique product that completely reimagines the indoor riding experience.
But I am NOT retiring from triathlon.
Biking and running will still be an integral part of my work. Zwift is, after all, a training platform and continuing to use it will be an integral part of my work. Training on Zwift is a huge part of how I came to get this job in the first place. I’ve logged over 70hrs (over 20% of my riding) on Zwift this year and have set new career-best benchmarks for both total volume (year-to-date) and performance.
And I will have flexible enough hours that I will to be able to continue to train and race as an elite athlete. I expect to perform at even a higher level than I have over the past few years because of the structure and stability that this opportunity provides; that’s not only my belief, but my coach’s belief as well.
I’m not racing IMKY because it seemed pretty much impossible to do a good job with my final preparation with my mind being at least partially elsewhere; Ironman requires full-focus. It also seemed like too abrupt a transition to finish an Ironman and then immediately start a totally new job.
While this is the end of the 2017 season, I don’t think Santa Cruz is definitely the last race of 2017. I’m not putting another race on the schedule just yet, because I want to focus on getting my bearings in my new job, but I’m definitely hoping that I will toe the line again before the year is out and get an early start on next season.
What exactly is a game designer and what does one do?
Mostly, I expect, I’ll be learning. Having never worked as a game designer – though I’ve got a fair bit of experience in software architecture, feature design, and project management thanks to Slowtwitch – and with Zwift hardly being a typical video game in the traditional sense, I am not exactly sure what I’ll be doing day-to-day.
In the near-to-mid-term my role will be to help Zwift with the roll out of new features that are already slated for development. And they’ve got a lot in the pipeline. Eventually, my role will be to help improve and to help design new features for Zwift. I’d like to learn some of the code – I’m not much of a C programmer, though I know the very basics – so I can better understand the work of the engineers.
I’ve got a stack of four books about game design (well, a virtual stack; I read on a Kindle) that will help me understand the role better. And I’ve got a lot of learning to do from the people who’ve been doing this day in and day out for years. Much the way that I packed up my things and moved to Flagstaff and apprenticed myself to Simon Whitfield back at the end of 2006 in what was – at the time – a similar scary-but-exciting life decision.
So what now?
I’m excited to start this job and excited to train and race. I have a truly special opportunity to marry my passion for triathlon with my passion for technology that also allows me to carry on as a world class athlete. What more could I ask for?