In our first Meet the Members feature, we chat to club founder Ken Globerman about tri-atha-lons, what brought him to Poland, where the I in WITC came from, the club going viral, parlaying (?) and his plans for the future.
It’s Tuesday 17th April, just before the first Tuesday night run of the season, and I’m sat with Ken at PKP Powisle…
AP: First of all Ken, can you tell us what got you interested in endurance sports in the first place?
KG: While completing my MBA I’d gradually found myself getting more and more out of shape. Although I played inline hockey once a week it wasn’t enough and my weight kept slowly creeping up. Then one day I had my “come to Jesus” moment. I was eating dinner after a workout on a treadmill and got this slight chest cramp. I went to see a physician and although I was told everything was okay, I made up my mind to do something about it. My brother recommended a great book to me by Diana Schwarzbein called the Schwarzbein Principle which gave me a radically new way to look at health and nutrition, for example, the chapter I’ll never forget – “”Fat doesn’t make you fat”, and I changed my diet and started running. I started with 5k, then moved to 10k and then my first half-marathon in March 2003. For the first time in my life, I actually CONSIDERED a marathon – maybe 2004? But in 2003 I entered the NYC Marathon lottery just for fun, not really expecting to get a place. But I actually got IN and found myself suddenly faced with having to train for a marathon, having never ran more than 13 miles before, just 6 months before the big day.
AP: And what about triathlons?
KG: Between 2003 and 2005 I did a ton of long distance running races – probably 8-10 per year, half of which were half marathon distance or greater and including the 2003 and 2004 NYC Marathon. I noticed I was getting some aches and pains in my knee from the marathon training back then, so to protect my body from what appeared to be the wear and tear of long distance training, I looked for cross-training outlets. Triathlon seemed like a good direction, but I couldn’t swim more than 100 meters! So it didn’t seem like an achievable goal. But in 2008 I finally decided to give it a go. My first race, a sprint triathlon, was a virtual disaster, but things improved from there. Now I mix in triathlons with running events, and the rest is history. By the way, no more knee pain.
[At this point I noticed that the recording function on my not very smart phone wasn’t running, so the rest of the interview should actually sound a bit more Ken-esque…]
AP: Anyway … I want to ask you a few non-triathlon questions now. Moving forward a little bit more, what brought you to Poland?
KG: Well, wow, that’s a story, that’s a question I get almost every day here. I grew up in New York City and after University came back there to work – it’s different when you live in New York as an working adult versus growing-up there, I think once you get past your early 20s and begin to make new friends, through work, relationships stuff like that, you start to realize that most of your friends in New York are no longer New Yorkers, they’re all transplanted New Yorkers, coming from somewhere else with a goal of working or doing something in New York. I think, like, 10-15 years after University I kinda hit a point – it didn’t come one day, it was over time – where I started to realize that all these people I’m meeting are all coming into New York and realizing some kind of objective or dream and that perhaps I’m missing out on something.
My first trip to Poland was actually in 2003 and I had a great time. And when I thought about where, I started to realize that a lot of my recent post-University friends, from about 2005 onwards, were all from CEE. I don’t know why, but in hindsight most of the friends I was keeping were from Hungary, Croatia, Poland, Czech Republic, Slovakia, Bosnia, Russia and the Ukraine, so I thought, there must be something to the region. I was coming to the region about once a year with work and often extended those work trips into some personal vacation to explore different cities. Basically I did a bunch of diligence on these countries because I work in the private equity/investment field, and after talking to a number of parties, this city, Warsaw, made the most sense for me to come to look for opportunities that perhaps were related to investment activity. New York City is and will always be my true home, but Warsaw has been a great place to achieve some personal and professional milestones.
AP: Ok, so it’s fair to say your reason was primarily work-related. Right Ken, you’ve been coming to Poland for about a year and a half now so you have had a good chance to get to know the country and the people. What do you like most about Poland?
KG: [Ken takes a moment to think while I relax and enjoy the silence…]
AP: You must get asked this question all the time, I know I do.
KG: Well, you know, I think it’s 2 things. I think on the one hand there’s definitely something about the way I interact with people here that has been a positive, even before I started coming here. I feel I interact well with Polish people. I‘m sure it’s a combination of a lot of reasons, and I think it’s mainly because I’m very different with the way I go about things and communicate, I am not too shy to express myself in strange situations, I pretty much wear my emotions on my sleeve, and I have no problem telling someone how I feel about something, I am also the kinda person who likes to talk, as we all know, and I also like to, not impress myself to a ridiculous degree, but I like to offer up different points of view where hopefully someone can get some learning out of that. I found people in Poland to be open to listen, open at least to respect my opinion for something different that could be interesting, it doesn’t mean I’m changing the world, but, you know, I guess that’s kinda the two things together.
AP: Ok cool. So you must have had some preconceptions about what Poland was like and what the people were like before coming here. Can you say what has surprised you most about life in Poland?
KG: That Polish winters are not as bad as everybody complains about.
AP: Maybe you just haven’t seen a bad one yet!
KG: Maybe not. It’s been two winters now and so far I’m going with that. And related to that, people complain about health far too much in this country. Health, sickness – it’s like, “wow”.
AP: Have you heard the thing about pressure – air pressure?
KG: Yeah it’s completely foreign to me, the whole air pressure thing, people are just too focused on health and weather it’s just like out of control. And related to that, you know, in Poland the minute the weather goes down below like 15 degrees Celsius you see people with winter coats and hat’s on, they’re over-prepared.
AP: Right, going back to the US, what do you miss most from home when you’re in Europe?
KG: Well ..
AP: It could be anything … apart from KFC!
KG: Well in fact the choice of really good food, and restaurants. The ability to eat out well late at night, for not a lot of money. You just don’t have the same choices here.
AP: So it is the food then! Let’s go back to sports now. What made you set up the club?
KG: In late 2010, I didn’t see any running, triathlon nothing, although I noticed there were more runners than in 2003. I actually came earlier in the year on a business trip in 2010 and ran the Warsaw Half Marathon, I came here for about a week then, and it was nice to see like 5,000 runners doing the race. I had a friend who used to live here, he’s a road cyclist, and he was like “there’s no roads to ride there and no-one who rides road bikes” and I figured, well I’d like to keep running and I’d like to keep doing triathlons while I’m here, I’m just not sure who I’ll train with, so over the winter I started to have this idea that when the season starts I’ve just got to create some sort of group to meet up and do stuff like this. In Brooklyn, I was a member of the Brooklyn Triathlon Club so I thought, “You know what, why not try to rubber-stamp that community-oriented, local grassroots effort in Poland?”. But before doing that, I found myself convincing people (or trying to) that they could run, do a race or do a triathlon, but this whole thing just kinda like parlayed [editor’s note: I have no idea what that means – it sounds French to me] into the idea of creating a group to specifically target people who aren’t necessarily super athletes but just wanna go out and compete and maybe compete with themselves, but they’re not competing to win. There was very little sport activity in Poland and even less for the average Joe.
AP: And obviously you used Facebook as the main medium for that.
KG: Yeah I just set a Facebook group up and at the beginning I added, like, 20 of my friends in Warsaw, who I thought might like to join me, and after that I never ever included anybody in the group that didn’t actually join us or tell me that they wanted to join.
AP: Hold on a sec, let me just check my phone is working …
[There’s a sigh of relief as I see it’s recording this time :)]
AP: Ok so, the club’s been going over a year now, what aspect or aspects of the club are you most pleased with?
KG: I guess the main thing is, well, we’ve got about 180 people on our Facebook group, which is nice, but it’s really easy to put yourself in a Facebook group, the fact of the matter is we probably have 50 what I call active members and about 25-30 core members, and so it’s 2 things: 1 I’m really happy to see a group of core members, that’s great; 2 I’m really happy that the group didn’t fall apart over the off-season, because through this first summer as it was growing I always had this, like, fear that we’d hit October and the Marathon and after that things would fall away, so I’m really glad that whatever ingredient worked we kept the group together pretty well, and now we’re poised for a new season where we’re doing our first Tuesday night run today and we’ve got like 15+ people coming, which is awesome. Last year I started in April and I had 1 or 2 people joining me, so that’s really cool. And I guess the last thing I’ll say is, we have been able to successfully transition interest in running into another discipline with the swimming. I always had this strategy of getting people interested with the running and the idea was always to slowly sell people on the idea of triathlon, and migrate to the second and third sports – frankly we tried cycling last year and it kinda fell apart. I was not successful at recreating any good group rides last season and you know now, by the virtue the fact that we’ve got people with these triathlons in front of them, by the sheer nature of that alone we will have better opportunities to ride together.
AP: And I think through the winter, obviously starting up the swimming really helped keep the group together. And about the transition from a running club to a triathlon group, when I first joined the Facebook group it was a running group, then about a month or 2 later the name suddenly changed into a triathlon group and I remember thinking to myself – triathlon, really?!?
KG: Well back then we didn’t have a logo. I always had it in my mind, I didn’t really communicate it much but it was always there. I thought that triathlon was going to be a better differentiator because we were so far at the front end of triathlon at that time. You know what? It kinda happened by accident, we became an international group, that was not planned. I thought because we’re in Poland it would probably end up being primarily a Polish group but just by the virtue of me being a foreigner and starting this group, the initial people and their friends being foreigners, we now have this group of people where maybe half are Polish but the other half are from several different countries, so the name changed. Originally I was calling it the Warsaw Triathlon Club, or actually WTC, but WTC was actually an acronym that was taken by a running group, if you Google it in Polish it actually stands for something related to a Polish running club, and I was actually thinking of going with a Polish version of the Warsaw Triathlon Club, like WKT, but that felt weird, and then the idea came up, someone in the group said it – why not call it the Warsaw International Triathlon Club – WITC, and it sounded like a neat idea.
AP: It sure does! Me and you have talked a lot about some of the aims for the club in the future, and I know there are a lot. Could you tell us about one or two of the big ones for the next 6-12 months?
KG: I would love to see the club’s awareness go viral in Poland. We’ve done a pretty good job of incremental growth, growing from zero to 180 people on Facebook, with 50 very active members and 25 or so core members, I’d love to see, as you know we’re trying to create this sort of fan/club member rank, I’d love to see a five hundred to a thousand fans, I’d love to see the awareness of the club come out even greater than that. I don’t think the core members need to go up too much higher, it’s going to change everything if all of a sudden the club has 200 active members, but if we can get the club let’s say by the end of the year to 50 core members, 100 active members and like 500 fans, basically double where we are now, that’s one goal I have in mind. And the second goal is to really get 20-25 people successfully through a triathlon this year, you know, we’ve got a lot of people who are registered but are they gonna show up come race day? I hope so. So I want to see the club get 25 or so people really going, and maybe by that time we’ll have another 25 who by the end of the summer are poised to do it next year.
AP: Ok cool, that was nice and short! We’re onto the last question now, what are your personal targets for the next 12 months when it comes to sports?
KG: You know, I read a book (given to me by Tomek Jozefacki) called What I Talk About When I Talk About Running, written by a Japanese guy, I forget his name [editor: his name’s Haruki Murakami for those of you interested], anyway, I guess I’m at that point in my life and my age that I’m fighting and debating with myself whether I can continue to improve or whether I’m on that endless downslope of times going down due to chronological reasons. I don’t buy into it yet, because I never really achieved my greatest potential, so I know I still have room for improvement. Do I have time goals – yeah of course I do but my fitness right now is so far off from being able to achieve the time goals I really would like to achieve. So for the next 12 months I guess the aims are for me to get through the Summer, do these 3 triathlons, including the half ironman in Borowno, and do it well, injury-free, that’s really what I have in mind over the short term. The key is injury free. And you know, of course I always have in my mind the goal of one day running a 1.30 half marathon and one day running a 3.30 marathon but I’m just not there, I’m not there. My personal half-marathon best is now several years old and it 1h38 or something like that, and I’m now 5-6 years after that so I’m gonna have to work real hard to get there. But it’s still there in the back of my mind for some time in the future, let’s say before I’m 50!
AP: Hehe … alright thanks a lot for that Ken, that’s all my questions. Here’s to a great 2012 season!
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