What Makes a Good Runner?

Fall is typically running season.  Triathlon season is winding down for most folks, and there are lots of great local runs – everything from 10k’s to marathons.  Even if you don’t run road races (or cross country races, for that matter), running by its very nature is integral in triathlon.  Remember – swim, bike and RUN.

The thing is, though, that many of us a likely not good runners.  To be good by most folks’ definition today means that we can run a mile/kilometer at X pace.  Or perhaps that we’ve qualified for the Boston Marathon.  By those definitions, I’m not a good runner.  Well – maybe I used to be a pretty good runner…way back in high school.  I ran track and cross country – and while not the fastest kid around, I could run a sub 5-minute mile on the track, and went about 18 minutes for a 5k.  I can’t even approach those speeds today.

But I don’t necessarily define good running by pace alone.  I think that you can be a good runner who runs a 10 minute/mile pace.  Likewise, you could run a 7 minute mile and be a bad runner.

Exactly what do I mean by this?

It all boils down to form.  Essentially, it’s about HOW we run, not about HOW FAST we run.

There’s a plethora of information out on the internet and from coaches regarding proper form.  Should you be a mid-foot runner?  Is heel striking OK?  How should I hold my arms?  Do I need a special shoe?  Should I run barefoot?  You could almost achieve paralysis by analysis if you devoted hours and hours to reading material.  The crux of all the debates, in my mind, all boils down to high run cadence drives good form.

Here’s an example of really superior running form:  Miranda Carfrae.  Just last weekend, she won the Ironman Hawaii race by setting course records in the marathon and overall.  Her form is awesome – even at late stages of the run.  Don’t take my word for it:  check out this video


Rinny does a spectacular job keeping her cadence really fast – and that seems to be a common thread among really good runners.

Faster cadence (or leg turnover) is usually more preferred than slower, loping run styles.  What seems to matter less is how your foot lands when you’re running.  By that, I mean that it doesn’t seem to matter so much if you are a heel striker or a mid-foot striker so long as your cadence is high and your feet land generally underneath you – and not stretched out in front of you.

Common thought is that a run cadence around 90 steps per minute is optimal.  How do you know what your cadence is?  Simple enough – set your watch for a 15 second countdown.  Hit start, and count every time your right foot hits the ground.  At the end, multiply that by 4 and you’ll get your cadence.

Mine is generally in the low 80’s.  Way too slow.  I am a heel striker – and I tend to take too long strides – which effectively act as brakes with each step I take.  Long strides could also drive the impact force in ways that might lead to injury – I suspect that this may be a factor in my year-long bout with Plantar Fasciitis.  Remember, 90 is the optimal foot turnover number.

Luckily, there are drills that can help you improve your leg turnover – and I’m hereby committing to start doing these again (I did them back in the day in high school…now I know why).  Some drills you can try are quick foot drills, high knees, butt kickers and skipping.

I found a really awesome video series today called “Ambushed – Extreme Running Makeovers” starring pro-triathlete & Olympian Joanna Zeiger and Brandon Del Campo.  Essentially they spent an afternoon in Boulder going up to random people and offering to help them with their running style.  There are two videos so far – and they are both really great.  Check out episode 1 below


To see other videos, check out Joanna’s website.  You could also just Google drills for high running cadence.

If you’d like to learn a little bit more about Joanna, check out a “Ten Questions With…” interview I did with her back in 2012.  You can read that here.


Ten Questions With…Professional Triathlete Richie Cunningham

When folks hear the name Richie Cunningham, lots of non-triathletes immediately think of the fictional character from the 1970’s TV series “Happy Days”.  Richie, the triathlete, is a professional triathlete who originally hails from Australia.  He’s a prolific racer, and this season ranks among his best seasons in the past several years.  Just this year, Richie logged back-to-back victories at Rev3 Quassy and Rev3 Portland.  He’s also notched a bunch of podium spots…he’s been on the podium in five of eight races so far in 2012.

More than just a stellar athlete, Richie is a great ambassador for triathlon in general and Rev3 specifically.  He’s well on his way towards winning the 2012 Rev3 series and the ultimate prize of $25,000.  Plus he raises chickens. 

So kick back, grab your favorite hydration beverage and meet Richie.  He’s the focus of this week’s “Ten Questions With….”


Credit: Revolution 3

TriMadness:  For purposes of background, you grew up in Australia, spent 10 years in Germany, and now live in the US.  Tell us about the part of your career in Germany – what kind of racing were you doing, how did you like living in Europe, and what ultimately compelled you to move to the US?

Richie Cunningham:  I was mostly doing Olympic distance ITU racing while I lived in Germany. The training in Germany was really good. I lived right across the street from the pool, had miles of trails to run in and good riding.  I moved to the US because it was were the future of racing was. I moved up to 70.3 and it seemed like a good time. I also started dating my now wife, who was living in Boston at the time, so that sped up the move.

TM:  You race quite a bit…over the past several years you have averaged 14-17 races, and you seem to race anything from Olympic distance to half-iron distance.  It seems that the half-iron distance is your favorite distance though.  What about that distance “clicks” for you?

RC:  I think it’s just where my talent lies. I enjoy the training for it the most too.

TM:  You’ve raced quite a few (12) Rev3 races over the past three years, and have a really solid track record at their races (25% on the podium, with two victories).  The fields at Rev3 races are generally loaded.  Is there something about these races that brings out the best in you?

RC:  Rev3 races are usually on challenging, hilly courses and that suits me well. I also just really enjoy the Rev3 race experience. They really take good care of the pros and pick nice courses.

TM:  You just won the Rev3 race in Portland in a relatively close contest.  Walk us through your strategy on the run when you realized that Jesse Thomas was gaining ground on you.

RC:  My run strategy actually started at the end of the bike. I saw that Jesse was too close to me and I really didn’t want to start the run with him so I hammered the last 10k of the bike to add a bit more lead. In the last few miles I saw that he was close, so I put in a hard mile hoping that would be enough to keep him from catching me. Then I just tried to maintain my pace until the end. It was a tough race.

TM:  Looks like you have a pretty commanding lead in the Rev3 Championship Series.  Are you a lock for the $25,000 prize at the end of the year?

RC:  It’s hard to do all the math to figure it. I am hoping that I can have solid races in the rest of the series and hold the lead, but Jesse and Victor could still take it from me.

Credit: Revolution 3

TM:  You’ve been pretty vocal about the whole Lance Armstrong/USADA thing.  Do you think that USADA’s current testing process is optimal?  What changes would you make?

RC:  No, I think everyone should be on the blood passport system and blood should be stored for testing any time in the future.

TM:  What is the testing process like?  How frequently are you tested – every race, randomly, monthly?

RC:  I’m tested about 2-3 times a year – usually just urine.  I’m tested occasionally at races – usually when I am on the podium. I am also in the USADA testing pool, so they can come find me any time for a blood/urine test.

TM:  Do you think that triathlon in general is a “clean” sport?  Is there ever any talk amongst the pros that “so and so” must be juicing because of his/her performance, improvement, etc?

RC:  Yes, in general I think it’s a relatively clean sport. It’s still a young sport, so I think that helps. As pros, we do like to bitch about who we think might be doping. Hopefully we’re wrong.

TM:  OK…on to easier an easier topic.  I read recently that you and your wife raise chickens.  Tell us about them.

RC:  We got chickens last December. We have 6 of them (all girls) and named them after our friends – Joe, Pat, Alan (my brother), Terra, Chris, and Edwina.  Joe is the noisy but friendly one. I though that fit Joe Gambles well. Pat (Evoe) is an easy going, nice chicken. Alan is the fat one, so I had to name her after my brother. Terra takes care of the eggs, so we named her after Terra Castro, Chris has the tightest feathers – Chris Legh likes to wear tight shirts… and Edwina is named after our friend Mary Edwina Miller. She got to pick her chicken.

TM: How often do people confuse you with the Richie Cunningham from the “Happy Days” TV show?

RC:  I used to get jokes all the time, but now the show is getting older and a lot more people have never seen Happy Days.

Check out Richie’s website here.  You can also follow him on Twitter.


Ten Questions With…Professional Triathlete Sarah Piampiano

Imagine your life today.  You may well have a good job and be settled into the normal routine of your life.  Work, training, some racing, leisure life.  Then imagine, quitting your job, moving across the country, and totally changing your way of living in order to pursue your dream.  Normally, when we hear of folks that do similar things, those stories are often about people who give up the trappings of civilization and go off to live in the wilds of Alaska or some tropical island.  Less frequently do we hear about folks who do that to pursue an athletic dream.

But that’s just what rookie pro triathlete Sarah Piampiano did.  She pulled a total life and career reset by packing up and moving from New York City to Los Angeles so she could focus on improving her craft on the pro racing circuit.

Sarah’s had a pretty amazing year already – taking a victory in her second race as a pro at IM 70.3 New Orleans as well as top ten finishes in all her other races.  She’s primed for a strong first year and is absolutely a pro we should keep our eyes on.

So now….sit back and enjoy this version of “Ten Questions With…”


Credit: Sarah Piampiano


TriMadness:  it’s your first season as a pro, and you go out and drop a victory in one of your first races of the year.  No more sneaking up on the competition, huh?

Sarah Piampiano:  Yehhhh….that win in New Orleans was fairly epic in my world of personal victories.  It was so unexpected and a very gutsy race for me – every time I re-live it in my mind I get chills.  As for “sneaking up on the competition” – I don’t know.  I have yet to show a huge amount of consistency in my racing in the pro ranks.  I think people are probably more aware of who I am now, but my bet is that until I start putting up strong performances week in and week out, nobody will really consider me to be a major threat.    

TM:  Could you describe your feelings the moment you realized that you were going to win in New Orleans?  What was going through your head?

SP:  The entire run I was running scared.  It just wasn’t a position I expected to be in, so I didn’t have a race strategy for being in the lead off the bike.  I knew there were some seriously fast runners out there in Mirinda Carfrae, Caitlin Snow, Amy Marsh and Heather Wurtele and I kept saying “just don’t make a fool of yourself, Sarah”.  I was having visions of being the idiot first year pro that killed the bike and then blew up on the run and faded to an un-inspiring finish.  Thankfully that didn’t happen, and I held it together, but based on my history of sub-par run performances anything could have happened.

Seriously though, I didn’t really consider winning to be a possibility until mile 9 of the run and even then, it wasn’t until I had 400 meters to go that I truly believed the win was mine. When that moment hit, there was a constant stream of swears running through my head; then I started panicking about the breaktape; and then I kept thinking “Matt is not going to believe this!  This is insane!” and “My family is going to FREAK the HECK out”!

All winter Matt (Dixon) and I had talked about my race plan and strategy for the year.  Making the jump to a full time pro was a scary thing for me – I felt compelled and almost even obligated to perform at the top in order to not only be able to support myself financially, but also to validate myself to my sponsors.  I’ve been so fortunate this year to be supported by such an amazing group of brands and companies and it is important for me to do them proud.  But Matt – he kept telling me that this year was all about gaining experience and I shouldn’t be chasing podiums.  Just as that really started to sink in and I began racing within myself – BAM!  I got that win.  Funny how that works sometimes!   

TM:  How have some of the more “seasoned” pros responded to your early success?

SP:  It has been mixed.  Some people have been incredibly supportive and super nice and congratulatory and others less so.  As females I always hope that we will look out for one another and encourage and empower each other.  I understand that we are competitors and I am very new to the scene, but at the end of the day I really believe we should be celebrating each other’s successes.  I think some people see it that way and others not so much.  You just have to respect that.  When you are in a competitive environment like this and are constantly being pitted against each other, it is natural for people to respond differently. 

I’m fiercely competitive, but I grew up with a feminist mother, so I always am fighting and cheering for the success of other women.  I love seeing this sport being transformed on the women’s side and am so proud of everyone that is contributing to and leading that charge.  It inspires me to want to be part of that.


Credit: Sarah Piampiano


TM:  Folks may not know that you gave up a pretty lucrative lifestyle in New York City this year to focus on your new career as a professional triathlete.  Not only did you quit your job, you moved from the east coast to the west coast.  What has been the biggest adjustment for you?

SP:  Yep!!! At the end of 2011 I left my job at HSBC, where I had worked for the past 7 years doing Mergers & Acquisitions.  My job was fantastic and I loved it. 

The biggest adjustment for me??  Life in general.  My whole world has done a complete 180.  I used to go to bed at 4 AM.  Now I wake up at 4 AM…or there abouts.  I used to smoke, drink beer and eat pizza.  Now I lead a very clean and healthy life.  I used to spend money frivolously.  Now I have my life budgeted down to the cent.  I used to always eat out and never cook.  Now I only cook.  I lived alone for the last 7 years.  Now I have 2 roommates.  I could go on and on.  Don’t get me wrong – none of these changes seem like burdens in any way – in fact I embrace them and LOVE LOVE LOVE this experience.  As I have said in some other interviews – money does not buy happiness.  I am poorer than I have ever been in my life, but also happier than I can ever remember.  And so despite all of these lifestyle changes and things forgone, none of it really seems like a sacrifice – it is all just fun and part of the journey.  But, aside from my amazing friends and family, everything that had been my life doesn’t really exist anymore.  It’s kind of insane.  I’m still adapting – I believe it takes a little while to get fully comfortable with new surroundings and situations, but it’s a path I love and am incredibly enthusiastic about taking.

TM:  How is living and training in LA different from NYC?

SP:  Yay!  I love this question because I need to clarify something about NYC.  Everyone probably THINKS New York is a terrible place to train, but it honestly isn’t so bad!  There is not the plethora of mountains to climb or trails to run on that you might find in a place like Boulder, or even LA for that matter, but it can be a great training environment.  When I lived there I did a lot of my longer rides up in the Hudson River Valley, which is just north of the city.  You have to ride the first and last 20 minutes through city streets.  It sounds miserable, but I also think it was a good way for me to learn some bike handling skills.  Then, once you get up past the George Washington Bridge, everything changes – tons of trees, beautiful roads with wide shoulders.  It is a great place to train. 

The City also has plenty of pools – no different than any other place you might go, and Central Park has a 6.2 mile closed course loop with some great hills for repeats.

Plus there was no shortage of training partners.  The Wassners live and train there and I worked out with them a lot plus a great group of people that would join us for swims, rides and runs.

NYC may not be ideal, but it is definitely not a bad place to be by any stretch. 

That being said, in order to address my weaknesses, I needed to be in a location where I could work closely with an open water swim coach (Tower 26) and have more mountains and hills for the bike and run.  LA was the perfect fit.  LA seems like it would be just like NYC, but just north of Santa Monica you have the Santa Monica Mountains, which are an AMAZING place to ride and run.  The number of potential routes is endless and it is challenging.  Some climbs are 20 minutes long and over 20%+ in grade, others are an hour long with more gradual climbing.  On some runs the first 4 miles are all uphill before it levels off.  Others are more up and down.  If you train along the coast it is cool, but if you go up into the mountains it is hot and dry in the summer.  LA provides everything I could want – open water swimming, multiple environments (hot and cold) and tons of different terrain.  I love it!

TM:  So far this year you’ve raced the Texas 70.3, New Orleans 70.3, IM Texas, and Eagleman in Cambridge, MD.  How did you come up with this schedule?  Are these races you did as an amateur or do you sit down with your coaches or sponsors to plot out a schedule?

SP:  Matt Dixon (my coach) and I collectively came up with the schedule.  Effectively I came up with an extensive list of races that I wanted to do, and then based on our goals for the season, Matt developed the schedule.  We definitely took sponsors into consideration as well – what races they felt were key, etc – all of that went into the final schedule we planned out.  For me there are a few key goals for 2012:

  • Gain as much experience as possible and learn how to race as a pro
  • Gain experience in Ironman racing
  • Target some heat races to gain experience in hot climates

Based on that we came up with the schedule.  It looks fairly unlikely that I will qualify for Kona, and I may just qualify for Vegas, so the back half of my season might change a bit to start accumulating points and planning for next season all while continuing to keep the strategy and plan in place for this year.

This year the focus was experience.  Next year we’ll target some of the bigger races with higher points, more prize money and larger fields.    

TM:  How different is racing as a professional from racing as an amateur?  What are some of your key learnings so far this season?

SP:  Racing as a pro is vastly VASTLY different than racing as an amateur.  On the swim, I used to benefit from this great draft of all the swim waves that were ahead of me.  Now, since I am one of the slowest swimmers in the women’s field, I pretty much swim in no-man’s land.  On the bike, you can use the other amateurs for motivation (in terms of passing people) and also – even racing completely legally – you still benefit from having other riders around you.  As a pro, for the most part, you ride alot on your own.  It becomes a real mental battle to stay strong.  As an amateur on the run you honestly have no idea where you are in terms of placing – it’s a bit annoying actually.  And as a pro, you do know where you are placing wise, and usually you are able to get some splits out on the course. 

On the whole, the racing strategy is very different as well.  As an amateur I could rely on the strength of my bike and run to carry me through the race and now I’m racing against women whose bikes and runs are as fast as, if not faster than mine. 

My goal is to get my swim to a place where I can exit the water with a pack of girls who are comparable riders to me and we can work together (legally) to bridge up to the leaders.  Riding with/ around people is such a benefit to being out there on the course alone.

It is a totally different ball game for SURE!    


Credit: Sarah Piampiano


TM:  You mentioned in other interviews that to you, success as a professional athlete is defined not just by your results but also how well you are able to make a business out of yourself.  How would you assess your performance in regards to creating “Sarah Piampiano – the brand”?

SM:  As you mentioned, my approach to being a professional triathlete is with the mindset that I am an entrepreneur and I am building a business.  As with any new business, I believe you need to develop a 2-3 year business plan and set milestones that need to be achieved in order to indicate whether you are on a trajectory to success or failure.  I have a long ways to go to achieve what I want and build the “the brand” that I hope for, but in the first 6 months, things have gone very well.  I’ve been very lucky with sponsors, I’ve gained good traction with my blog and website, and the hard work I’ve put into my training has paid been paying off with the results.  I have so many ideas of things I want to do that I am excited about, but everything needs to fall into place naturally.

 So I wouldn’t say that “Sarah Piampiano – the brand” is a global phenomenon just yet (ha!!), but I’ve met a lot of the key performance indicators I had hoped to by this stage and am starting to look ahead to the next phase of growth.  Next year I’m setting a really high and big bar for myself from a performance standpoint.  Sponsorship-wise this year was about getting sponsors and beginning to build relationships.  Next year I’d like to begin collaborating with them a bit more, as well as looking outside the sport for some additional opportunities.  It is a process.  But so far so good!  Every bit of success and development feeds the next steps.  If you push things too quickly it can blow up and if you don’t push hard enough you fail.  The key is balancing the growth at a rate that makes the most sense.

TM:  The race reports you put on your blog following your win in New Orleans and your race at IMTX are quite spectacular in terms of the level of detail that you shared.  It’s rare to see pro athletes open up about things that went really well (or not) in their races.  Do you think that more pros should open up and show what’s behind the curtain (so to speak)? 

SM:  I understand why people don’t, but in my “circle of trust” – being my coaches, Matt Dixon and Gerry Rodrigues – the sharing information is encouraged.  They believe helping everyone to become more educated will benefit the sport as a whole.  I learn so much from them, but I also learn a lot at each race by trial and error.  If someone else can learn from my mistakes (or successes for that matter), that is pretty cool.

At the end of the day though, everybody is going to have a different approach.  Personally, I don’t love the endless stream of race reports that are a play by play of every pedal stroke taken for the full 112 miles of the bike…”and then I thought “Go Sarah, you can do This!…so I increased my RPMs to 90 and then I took a sip of my drink, but it was so sweet it tasted gross….”….blogs like that bore me.  I try to engage readers more with a description of the emotional side of how races unfolded for me.  I like blogs I can really relate to, and people tend to relate to the emotional and physical pain experienced during some of these races.  Connecting with the reader is critical.      

TM:  Last month you gave the commencement speech at your former high school.  What was that experience like for you?  What was the message that you shared with the graduates?

SM:  Oh MAN!  It was so amazing on a number of different levels.  It was an incredible honor for me to be asked to give the speech.  I feel like it is something that is reserved for really important people, and so it humbled me to be considered.

But beyond that, I was incredibly inspired by the graduates.  I attended Stratton Mountain School, which is an elite ski academy in Vermont.  Almost every kid there is focused on trying to make his or her national team in their respective sport.  As a high-schooler, I don’t think I fully understood or processed how significantly accomplished we were at that age.  When I went back and I listened to what all these kids had achieved over the last year and what they would be doing next year – it blew me away.  Some of them were already racing World Cups.  Of the 20 graduates, 4 of them had acceptances to Dartmouth.  Some had been invited to train at the OTC.  Here they were with athletic resumes that would floor you, yet at the same time they were so obviously high schoolers – their naiveté and pure enthusiasm was exhilarating.

My message to them was to reach for the stars and not to be afraid to fail.  That to try and fail was better than not trying at all.  And if you try and succeed – if your dreams become reality – well there is nothing more inspiring than that.  I find so often people are scared to take the plunge and do something that they truly love because they are too scared to fall on their faces.  The people that win Olympic gold medals, or become CEOs, or win Kona – it’s because they take the chances that others don’t.

Be sure to check out Sarah’s website here.  You can also follow her on Twitter!

Ten Questions With…Professional Triathlete Joanna Zeiger

If you’ve paid attention to triathlon for more than a few years, you certainly know the name Joanna Zeiger.  Joanna has been in our sport for a handful of years…OK, perhaps more than a handful – she turned pro in 1998…and been a mainstay in terms of endurance racing and coaching.

Zeiger was the 1997 amateur triathlete of the year and the 2000 triathlete of the year.  She’s competed in the Olympics, the world championships and much more.  Today, Joanna lives with her husband and dog Diesel (who affectionately calls her Crazy Blonde), coaches athletes and works in the field of Genetic Epidemiology.

Keep reading for this week’s version of Ten Questions With….Professional Triathlete Joanna Zeiger!

Joanna Zeiger cutting the tape as the winner of the 2012 Cross Country Nationals

TM:  You’ve been an athlete for a long time – going back to your elementary school swim-team days.  How has your approach to training and racing evolved over the past 20 years or so?

JZ:  I started swimming competitively at the age of 7. My swimming progressed over the years from the 30 minute workouts of a beginner to the double workouts required by my high school swim coach. We were classic over-trainers! I took that work ethic directly to triathlon. My early years as an age grouper and pro were decidedly non-scientific and consisted of the “more is better” philosophy. Over the years, my training became more systematic, with specific intervals to work on different paces on the run and different wattage zones on the bike. I cut down the number of hours I trained to accommodate the increase in intensity. Now, since my racing is quite pared down from what it used to be, I have a mixed approach to my training. I am mostly running with some swimming thrown in. I do intervals a few days a week and I try my best not to over train. However, I do allow myself some latitude with the running and if it is a beautiful day or week, I will take advantage of the weather. 

TM:  How do you differentiate between the normal soreness that we athletes over 40 seem to always have from a possible injury?

JZ:  Normal soreness goes away in 24-48 hours. A potential injury lingers beyond a day or two and often hurts when you are not training. Do not ignore these potential injuries. Get it checked out early. Better to have someone tell you it is nothing than to wait around and have it become a huge something.

TM:  This is an Olympic year – and you’ve got quite a history when it comes to participating in Olympic Trials.  You’ve participated in Olympic Trials in 6 of the past 7 summer Olympics.  That’s quite extraordinary.  Which Trials stands out for you?

JZ:  All of the Trials races for me stand out in their own unique way. My first Olympic trials were for swimming in 1988. It was an eye opening experience to swim in such a high level meet. It was incredibly motivating heading into my freshman year of college.  The triathlon trials in 2000 were amazing not only because I qualified for the Olympic team, but also because it was history in the making. It was the first ever triathlon Olympic trials and therefore very special.  The most recent trials I participated in was the 2012 marathon Olympic trials. It was also special because I qualified when by all accounts I shouldn’t have. I was (and still am) in the midst of a very long term rib injury and had some trouble qualifying, so getting the standard was a huge challenge.

TM:  Tell us about your experience on the Olympic triathlon team in 2000.  What is your strongest memory of the Sydney games?

JZ:  The Olympic triathlon in Sydney was incredible. Most races have only a few spectators here and there on the course. In Sydney, the course was lined three or four deep with people. I had to really concentrate on the bike and not look around! We had a great pre-camp in the town of Wollongong, we didn’t move to the village until after the race. My strongest memory of the race itself was carrying an American flag across the finish line. I do have a good story though: Before the race all of the women were lined up underneath Opera House waiting to be called one-by-one to the start line. We were in our wetsuits due to the cold water. We had been standing there a while when I turned to my teammate Sheila and said “I’m peeing right now”. She said she was too, and then suddenly about 15 voices piped in and said that they too were peeing! If you ever find yourself underneath the Sydney Opera House, watch where you stand.

TM:  Just a few months ago, you raced in the Olympic marathon trials but DNF’d.  Could you share what happened?

JZ:  In January I ran the Olympic trials marathon. Running the qualifying time was a complicated task. In 2011, I ran 3 marathons in pursuit of the time (2:45.00). I finally achieved the time in December when I ran 2:43.48 a PR by almost 4 minutes. By the time the trials came along I was over cooked and my rib injury that I have been dealing with since 10/2009 was flared up. But, it was the trials and I wanted to be a part it, especially since the men and women were competing on the same course on the same say. I got to catch the tail end of the men’s race when I was getting lapped, which was very cool (I even got on TV for a second or two!).  At mile 18 I started vomiting, either from dehydration or the rib pain or both, and by mile 20 I was so dizzy I could barely stand up. There was nothing to be gained by continuing and a lot to lose, so I decided to drop out. While it was disappointing not to finish, I knew it was a gamble running two marathons so close together. I don’t regret a single moment though. It was a fantastic weekend.

TM:  You competed in the Maccabiah Games – which you describe as the Jewish Olympics.  What about that event was special to you?

JZ:  I competed in the Maccabiah Games in 1989 in Tel Aviv, Israel. It was a truly eye opening experience for me. It was my first international competition so that in itself is memorable. However, the most important part of the Games was being exposed to Jewish athletes from all over the world. I grew up swimming in an environment where being Jewish was an oddity. It made me uncomfortable. After the Maccabiah Games I fully embraced being Jewish.

TM:  Earlier this year, you were inducted into the Jewish Sports Hall of Fame.  Could you describe the emotions that you experienced when you learned that you were selected for the Hall?

JZ:  It was truly an honor to be inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame. It is thrilling to be recognized for my achievements in sport. But, more importantly, I feel that this is an opportunity to let other Jewish athletes know that they can succeed in sports no matter how different they may feel from other competitors.

TM:  You’ve been pretty successful as a professional triathlete – a World Championship, a couple of Ironman wins, more than a dozen 70.3 wins, success at ITU.  What has been your favorite distance and why?

JZ:  Ever since my first half Ironman at the former Muncie Endurathon I have been hooked on that distance. It is the perfect combination of speed and endurance. Throughout my career, I juggled Olympic distance (both drafting and non-drafting) and Ironman. I always felt that the half Ironman was the perfect compromise.


TM:  Today, you coach triathletes.  What gets you most excited about working with age groupers?

JZ:  Of course, I want to get help my athletes achieve their goals. But, the best part of coaching is problem solving. Everyone has issues and they are varied. I like working through them with the athlete. Sometimes I have personal experience draw upon (lord knows I have had a lot crap happen) or sometimes I have to refer them to a specialist. Solving the problem is like solving a puzzle and I love puzzles! Ultimately, I aim to get the athlete back on the path to training and racing.

TM:  You have a PhD in Genetic Epidemiology from Johns Hopkins.  Have you done any research on endurance or multisport athletes?

JZ:  Hah! Funny you should ask. Over the past few years I focused my research on the effects of physical activity on general and mental health. I am in the process of getting a new project off the ground to explore these associations further. This project will be in collaboration with USA Triathlon using their membership as the subjects for the study. Most studies on physical activity do not have a decent representation of physical activity so it is often difficult to draw good conclusions. We hope to rectify this deficiency by recruiting triathletes who are generally high exercisers. We will be looking at several measures of general health, well being and drug use.

Be sure to check out Joanna’s website here and follow her on Twitter!

Ten Questions With….Professional Triathlete Jessica Jones Myers

I have really enjoyed being able to do this entire “Ten Questions With…” series.  Many of the folks I’ve been able to interview have been so very interesting and have had such compelling stories to tell.  I’ve got to be honest with you, though, that I am tremensously honored to bring you today’s interview.

As you know, today is Memorial Day in the United States.  It’s a day in which we honor servicemen and women who have paid the ultimate price in the defense of our country.  Soldiers, Sailers, Airmen, Marines and Coast Guardsmen who have died.

It’s my true honor to share with you today an interview with Jessica Jones Myers – herself an Army veteran.  This interview carries a little extra specialness for me today because of her (and countless others’) volunteer service in our military, and the knowledge that without patriots like Jessica and so many others before her, our country would not be what it is.  We are indebted to folks like Jessica.

And so, without further ado, I bring you Ten Questions With….Professional Triathlete Jessica Jones Myers:

credit: Jessica Jones Myers. Photo by Eric Wynn

TM:  You come from a really large family (3 brothers and 1 sister). What was it like growing up with all those siblings – were you guys competitive against each other? Tease each other?

JMJ:  I can’t tell you how great my childhood was. Obviously with that many kids we didn’t have a lot of “material” things. But at the end of the day we had each other, as corny as it sounds. I wouldn’t say we were super competitive with each other, but we did build each other up and give confidence. I remember looking at my siblings and they’d say, “If I can do this, you can do this…” On the flip side, you have to have thick skin coming from my family. Teasing would be a mild term. We went for the jugular as far as making fun of each other–picking out imperfections or whatever to get the other going. But in the end my parents always taught us that at school we were a unified front.

TM:  Each of the Jones kids went into a service academy (all West Point except your sister – who went to Annapolis). Could you share with us the background of what compelled you all to go that route? Do you come from a family of veterans?

JMJ:  Great question! My dad had always wanted to go to Annapolis, but he was medically disqualified because of his eyesight. This is ironic because he ended up doing ROTC at the University of Houston, and was a forward observer in Vietnam! My mother was an Air Force brat and her father flew bombers (retired as a LTC.) When my sister (the oldest) was in high school, my dad told her she would be great for Annapolis. This is a little funny because my sister was a bit of a southern belle. She’d get up early for school to curl her long beautiful, blonde hair. My mom also wasn’t into it. Her response was, “No daughter of mine will ever be in the military.” But I have to hand it to my dad. He had a vision and he was persistent. Eventually he got my sister to go visit, and the rest is history! My two older brothers ended up at West Point. When it came down for me to choose I was torn. I was always set on Annapolis, but then this great coach from West Point kept after me. He was the great Jerry Quiller and I just loved him. Finally I said, “Whoever wins the Army/Navy football game is where I’ll go.” I was so nervous watching the game that I went and took a nap. When my dad woke me of course I asked, “Who won??” He said, “Army.” I said, “Sh!t.” I reported on 1 July 1996 to West Point.

TM:  What can you share about your military career? What did you do, where did you go? What is your favorite memory of being in the Army?

JMJ:  I graduated and was commissioned on 27 May 2000. I decided that I wanted to be an Engineer Officer. I first went to Fort Leonard Wood for my Officer Basic Course. Then I posted to Fort Hood, Texas. Why you might ask? The hardest part about West Point was being so far from home. Fort Hood was less than a 3 hr drive. I held jobs as platoon leader, S-1 (admin), Executive Officer, S-3 (operations). During this time I deployed to Baghdad, Iraq from 1 Jan 2004 until 9 Feb 2005. I worked mainly in operations during this deployment. When I got back, I decided to go do the Armed Forces Triathlon in June. I ended up winning and doing very well at the Military World Triathlon. I submitted an application to the Army World Class Athlete Program (WCAP) and was accepted. I went to Fort Carson, CO in September and was there until February 2007.

As far as my favorite memory–this is a tough question. I loved being with troops. I loved being a platoon leader and XO. Staff Officer, not so much!! The interaction, the feeling of motivating soldiers to do more and be more than they thought possible gave me the most satisfaction. When I took over my platoon, I was 22 years old. I had the largest platoon in my company, nearly 40 soldiers. I also had the highest number of failures on the PT test (physical test) and the most on the over-weight program. By the time I left I had none on either. I was darn proud of that, it was hard work!!

TM:  You’re involved with Team Red White & Blue. Could you tell us what that organization does and how you’re involved?

JMJ:  Team RWB is a grassroots program for veterans and their goal is to reassimilate veterans back into society through sports. I got the opportunity to go to the first tri camp in April. It was amazing to see these guys. Some had very obvious wounds. Some you would never be able to tell. But they all got out there and are or on their way to becoming triathletes. It allows them to have goals and to strive for something they might not have thought possible. My role is an ambassador. Obviously I’m a triathlete, but I’m also a combat veteran. These issues and wounds are very real for me, and I love that I can share my experiences in both arenas.

TM:  OK….let’s shift to “triathlon related questions” now. You seem to race mostly 70.3 distance races. What is it about that distance that clicks for you?

JMJ:  Well, my swim was not quite up to snuff in the ITU racing. Also, after I had the twins my heart just wasn’t into going all over the world trying to get these ITU points. The 70.3 distance was taking off and I thought, “Great, double the distances of something I actually like to do (bike and run) and not much more swimming, sounds great for me!” It’s been a good fit, but I think if I can keep a healthy body the full distance will be my best distance.

TM:  When you’re deep in the pain cave, how do you push through? Do you have a song on repeat in your head – do you repeat a phrase?

JMJ:  The pain cave. Can I tell you that I would gladly take the pain over some of the other stuff I’ve endured? hahaha! But seriously…mental pain I think is much harder than physical. I think, “This too shall pass.” And I think about the time I’m away from my kids to train, or the soldiers, sailors and airmen who don’t get this opportunity because they are overseas somewhere or out in the field working and I say to myself, “This isn’t bad, you get to do this, so get after it!” As for the song, probably whatever I heard last–which can be a real curse!!

TM:  You’re not only a triathlete – you’re a mother of young twins. So what is a “typical” day like – when do you fit in training with the already full-time job of being a mom?

My kids just finished Pre-K, which is a whole new world. Now they are in school 5 days a week, which really is completely different for my training. I actually get to rest now! Typically I drop the kids off at school at 730, then have some variety of swim/bike/run, pick them up at 230 and that’s it. Once I pick them up training is done, full time mom. So I get my workouts in during that time or they don’t happen.

TM:  Do you have a diet indulgence – something that you just can’t do without?

JMJ:  My latest is greek yogurt. And coffee!!

TM:  Speaking of food…what is a typical day of meals like for you, and how do you fuel for hard workouts/races?

A lot of my meals seem to be on the go. So I’ll usually pack some sort of nut butter sandwich. I also take a lot of Power Gels during workouts and some sort of Powerbar immediately following to hold me over until my next meal. Dinner is usually some sort of salad and meat, chicken or beef. I have two five year olds, so our meals are planned so that they’ll actually eat what’s prepared!

TM:  What is your best moment as a triathlete? Your worst?

JMJ:  I think winning my first 70.3 (Augusta 2010) was pretty special. Also, my first 70.3 when my twins were 18 months old. I knew I wasn’t in contention for a win or anything, but I’m proud I had the courage to start. I think my worst is anything out of my control–like a mechanical that you just can’t avoid.

Check out Jessica’s blog here or follow her on Twitter here.