Monday, August 12, 2013

Life-Lessons From an Ironman Triathlete

Palm Desert Triathlon -- Katie placed 1st in her age group (40-44)
I've always felt that one of the best ways to become a better person is to study people whom I admire. My friend Katie is tops on my list in a few categories. Not only is she a fantastic mother, an honest and reliable friend, and a very smart cookie, she is now also an Ironman Triathlete. While competing in a triathlon has never been on my bucket-list, I knew that I could apply what Katie has learned from her success in all of these areas to my own life. 

Katie has always been athletic and competitive and even played soccer for Stanford University with Julie Foudy.  She continued to stay fit through three pregnancies by running regularly. After undergoing knee surgery, however, her doctor suggested she stop running. Katie realized that she had taken her athletic body for granted and decided to start training for triathlons both to make the best of what her body could do now, and to extend her ability to exercise farther into her future.
Competing in triathlons has now become a major part of Katie’s life. She completes one or two big races a year and fits some smaller, single-activity races in between. She trains most days of the week with a combination of long swims, long bike rides, runs, or strength and conditioning work. She has traveled the world to compete, including a sprint triathlon in Australia and a full Ironman Triathlon in Canada. For anyone who is not super-familiar with triathlons (like me), an Ironman is a 2.1 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run (I know, HOLY CRAP!!!!, right?)

I am inspired by Katie’s accomplishments, however, as someone who hates to run and can’t imagine doing a triathlon, I wasn’t so interested in learning about triathlons or the training itself. What I really wanted to know was how she fit all of that training into the rest of her busy life as a wife and mother. And I wanted to know how she has maintained her focus and commitment to this lifestyle for years. 

Here are the life-lessons Katie shared with me:
1.       Figure out what makes you “sing inside” and find a way to do it. Living your passion makes you happier which makes you much better as a person and a parent. It also sets a wonderful example for your children. Katie’s parents set this example for her and she, in turn, is teaching her children this valuable lesson. Whether her kids compete in triathlons or not, they will value physical activity and hopefully make time for whatever makes them sing inside. Side note: her 10 year old son Patrick has already competed in 2 kids' triathlons and will be competing in the Pacific Coast Triathlon this September!

2.       Identify your purpose. Every workout should have its own specific purpose which should fit into a framework of the overall training goals. Having a goal gives you focus. Triathlons provide clear results that show how the training is paying off which keeps her motivated. Even her off-season rest is purposeful; it would be impossible to keep up that kind of training and focus all year-round.  Wanting to be successful in the triathlons prompts her to eat better, rest, sleep, and recover because those things are as important as the training itself.

3.       Get support. Katie trains with a team and a paid coach. Her teammates encourage her and her coach gives her invaluable knowledge and support.  She makes sure that she communicates with her family about how her training affects all of them. Her husband, Steve, is very supportive, taking care of the kids' needs while she trains. Sometimes she is away for hours on long bike rides or at competitions. She frequently “checks in” with Steve to make sure that she’s not leaning on him too much. She also  touches base with her children and asks that they let her know if they feel that she is away training too much.

My favorite quote from the interview is: “There will always be things that need to get done, and they WILL get done.” When she gets on the bike she just focuses on the pedaling and within a few pedal strokes the endorphins start to kick in and the to-do list starts to fade away. It becomes meditative. She said it’s her Prozac. She recognizes that other things can be put off or delegated to others allows her to focus on her workout. This is possible because she has built and maintains such a strong support system. 

4.       You can do more than you think you can. You may have to break the task down into smaller challenges, but you’ll still be moving in the right direction!  Katie said that competing in triathlons has changed her definition of “hard”. Now she feels like if anything seems too difficult, it just means that she needs more practice. While she always feels nervous before a race, she knows that in order to accomplish anything, she needs to push into uncomfortable zones. Competing in triathlons gives her the opportunity to keep raising the bar for herself and challenging her body in new ways. Since I interviewed Katie, I run this as a loop in my head when I workout. And she's correct; it is very empowering.

I won't be competing in any triathlons, but I've already applied these lessons in other areas of my life and I know that I am better for it. Thanks Katie! 

How will you apply these lessons in your own life?




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