[S3E6] Three inspirational conversations with New Yorker triathletes

inspirational triathletes

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Last June (2018), I was very fortunate to travel to New York for work and while there, I thought it'd be fun to meet up with other triathletes, train with them and hear their story!

I sent a message to the Empire Triathlon Club in New York and soon found myself attending one their strength sessions and runs! They welcomed me with open arms and I had truly a terrific time. If you're ever a triathlete in NYC, I highly recommend joining them!

While still hot and sweaty from the session, I caught up with three of their athletes! Our conversations are short and varied: achieving goals, overcoming fears, journeys into triathlon, being courageous , giving back and much more!

I chatted with Jimmy Fernandez, who has been crushing it since last June with various half ironmans, ironmans and ultras!

Sara Bryant who is a coach at Empire Triathlon Club and triathlete, helping athletes balance work, life & sport!

And Doc Halliday Golden, who is triathlete and triathlon/run coach, helping others achieve their goals and experience the positive power of sport!

{Click on the player above to listen to the podcast episode and/or read on for a detailed overview}

Adelaide: Hello and welcome to another episode of The Adelaide Podcast! You can probably hear New York City in the background, because I'm in Central Park in with Jimmy and Sara who are members of the Empire Triathlon Club!

Adelaide: Hi, Sara, how are you?

Sara: I'm great! Hi, I'm Sarah. I'm a coach and ambassador with the Empire Triathlon Club. I've been with the club for about four years now, almost as long as I've been a triathlete, but I've gone from the sprint distance when I first started and now up to the half Ironman distance, where I like to focus my attention.

Adelaide: What did you do last year (2017)?

Sara: Last year (2017) I competed in the Half Ironman World Championships in Chattanooga. It was a really, really incredible experience. It was actually my second half Ironman race, so it's a pretty impressive one!

Adelaide: Amazing! And here we have Jimmy, could you tell us about yourself?

Jimmy: My name is Jimmy and I've been with Empire for about a year now. I did my first race on Mother's Day last year (2017). Since then I think I've done seven triathlons and three duathlons, and I'm just getting ready to do my first half Ironman in two weeks. So really excited about that. Yeah.

I really got addicted to it after last summer. However, I must say I was an awful triathlete when I first started! I was afraid of water and all throughout the summer I had such awful water experiences. So my goal for this year (2018), was to become a good swimmer and not be afraid of the water, and two, to become a much faster runner than I was last year. So I made it to the National Duathlon Championships and I was able to achieve my goal and reaching a 20 minute 5km!

Sara: Incredible!

Adelaide: That's insane!

Sara to Jimmy: And you swam over how many yards this year?

Jimmy: I have swam 90,000 yards (82,296 meters or 35 miles) this year!

Adelaide: 35 miles?!! And you're so casual about it! oh my god!

Sara: Yeah, exactly, so somebody who was afraid of swimming, afraid of water, a novice swimmer, you have turned yourself from that!

Jimmy: I have, after January 1, I told myself I really need to conquer this fear of water. I just kept going to pool day after day, like three times a week since January 1, and I just would not stop swimming. I still can't stop swimming! But now I actually enjoy it, so I could spend hours in the water.

Adelaide: Why did you choose triathlon and duathlon if you were afraid of water?

Jimmy: Because I am a person that when I encounter a challenge or something, I was like, No, there's just no way that I'm going to give up, and that just keeps me going. Yeah, it just keeps me going until I'm able to achieve that goal and overcome that challenge. So that's how I am.

Sara: You said to overcome it, not hide from it. You not only overcame came it but now you love it and are a passionate, hopefully for life!

Jimmy: I love it!

Adelaide to Sara: So how did you come to choose triathlon?

Sara: I have a background as a runner, mostly I was a high school soccer player and track and cross country runner. After college, I was a recreational runner and after numerous 5 K's and 10 K's, half marathons, marathons, I decided I really wanted something more, somebody had suggested triathlon to me and I never had really considered it before. I'd had biked a bit and I grew up swimming, but never competitively.

I signed up for a sprint triathlon. Just like everybody else, I went in incredibly nervous and unsure of whether or not I was going to be able to complete it, let alone complete it competitively. Not only did I complete it, I fell in love with it!

Since then I've found myself on the podium, almost every race in some capacity and now qualifying for the World Championship last year! I feel like somebody who has always been someone average in all three sports or slightly above average maybe, but not ever the best in one, I found that triathlon was a perfect balance for that for me, where I could find somewhere where I could be competitive, and still really have a lot of fun doing it, and learning how to get better in all three disciplines simultaneously.

Adelaide: So what made you go from doing sprints to doing the half ironman?

Sara: Just the desire to do more. For me, I also find that I kind of prefer middle distance, for both biking and running. I'm really comfortable in that kind of sub-threshold level of exertion. When I'm on the bike, I feel like it's very comfortable, I'm at that sweet spot where you just get into your groove and you get into a nice rhythm, and you can maintain it for 30 miles or 50 miles. It's a really great challenge, you know, a test of your endurance.

So I found myself craving slightly longer distances and in addition, it's something that you can really see how focusing on training can translate to more successful racing. For me, I'm very much like to be a good student and see the results in competition.

I think that you get a lot of that when you start challenging yourself to do these longer distances and you really, really see all the work that you do for the however many weeks, the 20 weeks that you put into your training plan. You know, it culminates in one race, usually, and it's a lot of pressure, but it's really, really exciting. It's not just about that one race day, it's about the whole journey. That's what I think is really rewarding about some of these longer distance races.

Adelaide to Jimmy: Do you find the same?

Jimmy: I agree with Sarah. The long distances it's actually, I mean, everything is fairly new to me, but long distance is really, really new to me. I just did my first two marathons this past November, and within two weeks apart actually!

I absolutely fell in love with marathon running and now I'm booked for four marathons this fall!

Sarah: But it's incredible to see what your body can do!

Jimmy: I love testing the limits of your body. It's fascinating what the body can do and what it can keep up with. It's just amazing to the results.

Sara: I remember when I had taken a hiatus from running for a while, and I tried to get back into it, and I have very distinct memories of not many years ago, you know, running on the West Side Highway and needing to stop, after three miles and walk for a bit. Now I look back on that and when I'm in marathon shape, it's like you're going 23 miles in a training run without stopping and it doesn't even occur to me that I want to stop.

So I'm the same person, I'm in the same body. I've just put in the training and the effort in. It's just amazing to see how that can translate in like your cardiovascular abilities, your energy and your sleep, like in your overall health, wellness and happiness, like the way that it affects your life and your body, it is just incredible!

So I just I love to see that. I truly believe that anybody who's able to put the time in and have the motivation, you can achieve it.

Jimmy: Yeah, there is an impact on all aspects of life and I really enjoy that part.

Sara: Jimmy says that he's ever had more energy in his entire life and he doesn't even sleep anymore!

Jimmy: That's so true, but yeah I've never had so much energy in my life as I do now! Before I was really sluggish and had really poor concentration. My thinking skills are so sharp now.

Adelaide: Is that just from training or have you also altered your diet?

Jimmy: It actually started with diet first, for the first three months and then I started training.

Sara: And they are all in our time. You just make healthier life decisions and all the effects that it has. Mentally, physically it's just a really a wonderful way to live if you ask me!

Adelaide: I think all triathletes would agree with you! You have your half IM coming up, which one is that?

Jimmy: Mont Tremblant Half Ironman in Canada. We're actually both going!

Sara: Yeah, we're both racing the same one! We have about 5 or 6 Empire athletes who are going to be racing that weekend.

We have a little contingency. If nothing else we will enjoy the beautiful scenery up there!

Jimmy: It will be much more fun having teammates out there.

Adelaide: I did Ironman Barcelona last year (2017) and there was eight of us in the end. It was so much fun doing it together, going to the check in together and they showed me what to do, as they were all veteran Ironmans!.

[Listen to my conversation with my old triathlete coach Will Usher to discover what it was like competing in Ironman Barcelona: [S2E02] How to be resilient and compete in your first Ironman race with Will Usher]

Sara: That's why when people ask about triathlon and what I enjoy about it, and why I'm part of Empire and what I like about having a team, even though I do a lot of training on my own maybe, is having having people to train with, talk to and relate to your lifestyle, who are going through the same struggles, you know, like, 'Oh, my gosh, Jimmy, how did you get through that set of 400's today?', or whatever it is. It's nice to have that network, but more than that, it's on race day.

The one thing that drew me to triathlon in general versus a running race you know, you show up to a 5 K, everyone has their headphones in, no one's paying attention, everyone is just at the starting line, the gun goes off and everyone goes. Once you go across the finish line, everyone leaves.

There's no interaction. It's not social. It's fun and it's great and it tests your limits, sure. The first triathlon I ever went to I showed up by myself, I was supposed to race it with a friend, they broke their collarbone a couple weeks before and decided to drop out. It was raining and Father's Day, so everyone kind of bailed and I was like, 'Okay, you know what, I'm still going to do this.'

So I drove out to Long Island by myself, brought my bike and I didn't really know what I was doing. I set up my transition area. The people around me struck up conversation, they wanted to know if this was your first triathlon, where are you from and what are you doing? You end up with this little kind of home base in transition, where you make friends, everyone's so friendly, I feel like even though they might be competitors, per se, I just find the camaraderie of the triathlon setting and race day, despite the nerves and all that, I think everyone is really excited, because everyone's in it together and they recognise that. Everyone loves to feed off of that.

So then you have that in general and then add on to that racing with actual friends or teammates. Then when you're in the race, just having people yell out, 'Go Empire!', they might not know who I am, but they know our club, it lifts your spirits! It makes you think, 'Okay, this person is paying attention to me, I'm gonna keep going, because I was just starting to feel like I can't go anywhere.'

So I think that triathlon in general has this amazing community and network that I don't feel like you find in a lot of these other sports. On top of that, being able to race with team members and friends is just incredible. It makes it so much more enjoyable and really, really fun when you're hurting!

Adelaide: The trainings at 6:15pm?

Sara: Yeah, we should get over to meet the group!

Adelaide: Thank you so much for coming on, it was great having you on the podcast!

Jimmy: Yeah likewise!

Sarah: We'd love to catch up with you anytime you're back in New York. So yeah, keep us posted!

Adelaide: Hi everyone, I'm sat again in Central Park with the wonderful Doc Halliday.

Doc: Hello.

Adelaide: And we are here to talk about triathlon! Doc is also part of the Empire Triathlon Club who I've just trained with and they're really awesome! So we're here to talk more about triathlon, because it's the best thing ever!

Doc: It really is!

Adelaide: Could you tell us a little bit about who you are and why you chose triathlon as your sport?

Doc: Like you said, my name is Doc Halliday. I grew up in upstate New York and was involved in outdoor activities and different sports and things. I didn't know much about triathlon and later on, maybe in high school or in my college years, I learned more about what triathlon is. I just said I want to do this, I want to try this. I want to take these three elements and weave them together, and do them as a race all at once and just kind of push the limits of my physical fitness.

A few years ago, I volunteered for a few triathlons and just wanted to learn more about it, and see how I can serve the athletes, and at some point crossover. After I volunteered, I signed up for my first one with trepidation. Then I found Empire Triathlon Club, so that I wasn't doing this thing on my own. And the rest is history!

Adelaide: Amazing. So what was it like competing in your first triathlon having volunteered for so long?

Doc: It was really incredible, because I had a team to train with. When I started, I had had some experience running and I say experience, because I wasn't an outstanding runner. But I had some experience, didn't really have any experience on a bike and could barely swim, could just swim two laps in a pool before I was completely exhausted.

But training with the Empire Triathlon Club, I swam with them, I bike with them, I ran with them, and we strengthened each individual discipline, and then combined workouts together. So that when race day came, I was nervous, but I was so excited to be doing that with several of my teammates.

It was incredible and an extraordinary accomplishment that first day of being like, I've wanted this for years and years. You know, you don't if it's possible or how you'll do, but you just commit to something and do it. So it was awesome!

Adelaide: What have you committed to this year (2018)? What's your race?

Doc: So this year (2018), in two weeks, I'm doing the New York City triathlon for the fourth time in a row. My A race is the Atlantic City Half Ironman in September.

Adelaide: Just so people know that a A race is the big race of the year that you train for.

Doc: Yes, it's the big one that you train for and you focus on throughout the season. Some of the other races are more likely training races or fun races.

Adelaide: What have been your biggest challenges?

Doc: Probably time management.

I'm not a pro athlete, I still have to work. I work in Times Square, but I live in New Jersey. I have family responsibilities, social responsibilities, I commute about two hours each day and still have to find time to train. Sometimes I have to train before work and again after work, so that you're getting enough time in on each discipline. You can't just swim once and run once during the week, you need to do each several times. So managing time has been the greatest challenge for me.

Adelaide: Has there been any revelations in your time management? Have you tried to different things and found something didn't work or one thing that really worked?

Doc: I wouldn't so much say there's been revelations in time management. I've had personal revelations, during my races about life. Yeah, but in terms of time management, I think my best tool is to write down what I'm going to do.

If I write down my training schedule for the week, what the specific individual workouts are and the time I'm going to do it, I'm much more likely to get it done. If I write down workouts for one week and then the next week I didn't have time to write out all the workouts, then I usually miss workouts This is because I haven't committed to it, in writing or mentally.

Adelaide: So people who are time poor, would you say that's a good thing to do?

Doc: Highly recommend it. Yeah, to write it down and also to talk to people. We have several different tri chat groups on WhatsApp, so that you're accountable and you can say, 'Hey, are you swimming tomorrow at six o'clock in the morning?' or 'Are you going to be at the run on Thursday at seven?' And so that you're having a conversation and a dialogue with people, about either what your personal workouts are? And if it were to come up later in conversation, 'Hey, did you do that swim?', you can say yes. Then also, for the group workouts, if you know that someone's expecting you, then you're much more likely to just do it and to be there and show up and not be a liar.

Adelaide: You mentioned you've had some personal revelations while racing, what it's been like, if you're happy to talk about it, what's been like one of the standout ones for you?

Doc: One of the standout ones. Okay, so last year, during the Lake Placid Half Ironman, which for those who aren't familiar, a half Ironman is a 1.2 mile swim, a 56 mile bike ride and a 13.1 mile run.

I had been training for several months and was dealing with some things personally, and I had prepared, I had studied the course, I had ridden the course, I had practiced my nutrition, what I was going to eat, when I was going to eat it, I packed my pouches and like everything in preparation for this race.

Come race day, when I got to the run part, and this was several hours into the race, I had all this nutrition that I had trained with and spent a lot of money on and was really prepared to use, and it was just weighing me down.

In reality, it wasn't a lot of weight, but it felt like a lot. I had to let it go, even though it was something that I had invested in, like time and money and preparation, and it's what I thought would be best for me. At a certain point, I had to throw it all away because it slowing me down and trust that the people who had organised the race, that the nutrition that they had set up at the different stations, and they've been doing this for years, that I could use that. That was hard for me to let what I knew and what I was in control of and what I had tested and tried. It was hard for me to let that go, and trust the race directors and trust God, that I would be able to get through fine. Eventually I did and I took the nutrition that they had and was able to finish strong.

It was just like a parallel in life. There's a lot of things that you invest in, or that you think are best, or that you're in control of, that sometimes you have to just let go of, and the thing that you think is helping you, might actually be weighing you down. So that was one of them. I probably have revelations in almost every race that parallel to my life.

Adelaide That's such a good metaphor for life. Now you run the HSS Club, could you tell us about that?

Sure! HSS stands for the Hospital For Special Surgery. I do a run club for their employees each week. So it is a hospital, but it's not for the patients, it's for the the doctors, the nurses, the lab techs, the anaesthesiologist, etc.

It's really a joy to do, because I'm used to being a coach for Empire Triathlon Club and working with athletes, which is also a tremendous joy. But at HSS they're not athletes, most of them don't have experience in running, they don't necessarily go to a gym and they're not necessarily fit. But because the running programme comes to them, we meet them there at the hospital, they're willing to just try it out and kind of be social and try to get fit and make positive choice in their life.

So a lot of them come just to do something positive. It's a joy to help them to improve their health, outlook, attitude and perspective, and experience things and accomplish goals that they've never done before. Like your first 5K, or weight loss or anything like that, and for me.

One of the individuals is a middle aged woman, she's pretty heavily overweight, a single mom, has three teenagers and barely has time. Everything is such a struggle, but she's able to take this hour each week and come and run with us. Over the course of the past several weeks, she's lost several pounds, she comes home and her kids are like 'Mom, you look great.', 'Mom, you're so happy.'. 'Mom, I'm so glad you went for a run, are you going to go for a run again, tomorrow? It makes you feel so much better'.

To see people's lives improve simply by taking the time out once a week to run. Also being able to give them different creative workouts, to give them challenges in different areas. Sometimes, there's more of a focus on strength and hills, sometimes there's a focus on speed, sometimes there's intervals, all these different things that are fun and creative and healthy to offer to people who wouldn't ordinarily go to the gym, or sign up for a race, or do have any other physical outlets, and now they have a team of people just like them, that are doing this each week.

About two weeks ago, several people signed up for their first race and then finished it. It's just such a joy to work with someone over 10 weeks and then they do their first race, you get to have a little part in it with them and celebrate with them.

Adelaide: Oh, that's amazing. How did the run group come about? Was this your idea? Was this your brainchild?

Doc: It was not. One of the women who works for the hospital knows somebody from our club and reached out to them and said, 'Hey, I'm on the wellness Committee for the hospital, is this something that you would be willing to bring to us and work with us, collaborate on?', and that's kind of how it started last year. We've been doing about a year.

Adelaide: That's incredible how just an hour of running can be so powerful.

Doc: It really is and it's also like when people have the positive experiences that they have with us, and in a safe, non-threatening, non-intimidating environment. It provokes them then to do more on their own. When you see how much joy, endorphins and adrenaline you get from that, you want to do it on your own.

Adelaide: Apart from the HSS Club, what would you say is your proudest moment in your triathlon journey?

Doc: My proudest moment in my triathlon journey... One of the things I guess that I'm most proud of in a sense, but also just most grateful for, is having experienced what I've experienced and done what I've done in triathlon, which isn't extraordinary. I mean, I've done 12 or 13 triathlons, but being able to be a coach for the Empire Triathlon Club's beginner programme and, again, to walk that first season, which for a lot of people is very scary, and intimidating, and like other people have been doing Ironmans for years, and, you know, people are swimming as fast as fish and you're still trying to learn how to get your stroke, to be able to go alongside and make a scary situation not scary, and run with the slower people and let them have a safe place and be encouraged that they're going to make it through the race. That's probably what I'm most proud of, is just being able to take my small experience and share it with other people, so that they don't quit.

A lot of people want to do a triathlon or sign up for a beginner programme, go to two or three runs, get freaked out and say this isn't for me. For me, being able to step in those moments, and in some way try to prevent that from happening and just encourage people throughout the journey. That's probably what I'm most proud of.

Adelaide: I can understand that, that's incredible. Do you teach them any mindset tips or practices that help them keep that momentum going, so they don't quit or to overcome that fear?

Doc: Usually it's based on each individual and their needs and a lot is based off of what they asked or what they're experiencing.

I think one of the biggest tips to help people with, is just that you can do it, like you are doing it. If you are out here tonight and you are going, you are doing a good job and you're making forward progress, and you're going to get to race day, and you're going to cross the finish line. That's usually just what people need to be reminded of.

I know one, like years ago, before I did my first half marathon, I was afraid of nonsensical things, like I would break both my legs in the middle of the race for no reason. Virtually impossible! But you get these crazy ideas and fears or that you're going to cramp up in the water and drown to death! You know what I mean? That's irrational. And to have like, just to remind people that what you're doing is normal, it's healthy, you are making progress, you're going to get there, then that usually goes a really long way and just to have someone alongside you.

If you're going fast and someone can go fast next to you, you feel like you're a part of something and you're moving towards a goal together. If you're going slow, you definitely want someone beside you and to have someone beside you when you're going slow and remind you that, it's okay and you're still you're still going to make it, this is your race and this is your journey. You know, you take it at whatever pace you need to. That's what people need to just be reminded of, that this is for them and they're going to make it.

Adelaide: I think we'll end there, because I don't think we can get a better ending. That was really amazing. I'm now feeling very empowered!

Doc: Great! I'm very glad that!

Adelaide: Thanks for coming on!

Doc: Oh, my pleasure, it was great talking with you.