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Ready to tri? How I balance triathlon training with real life

The idea of completing a triathlon may seem impossible. It is a physically challenging sport that consists of varying distances of swimming, biking and running. While it is true that some triathletes are professionals, many are not. They are normal people, with normal lives who decide to make their dream a reality.

Jaclyn Guetzko is one of these normal people who has managed to find balance between her demanding career as a certified nurse practitioner, wife, mom and triathlete.

What made you decide to train for your first triathlon?

Just exercising for 30 minutes is never going to be enough for me to feel like a well-rounded athlete. Something I know about myself, is that I need competition. I was a swimmer in high school and college, and I completed a handful of 5Ks. Training for a triathlon seemed like a natural way to challenge myself and feed my competitive spirit.

How did you train? Did you enjoy it?

Swimming is where my natural athletic talents lie. So, I started by really focusing and improving in my weaker sports: running and cycling. I started with building my cycling confidence by going to spin classes. As my confidence and endurance increased, I began to add new physical challenges: I would run to the gym, attend spin class and then run home again.

I really like incorporating a mix of the three sports. I feel like it gives me choices and I’m still working toward my ultimate goal. If I don’t feel like running today, I can go for a bike ride instead.

How did you make time in your schedule for training?

At the beginning of each week I would look at my calendar and schedule in time for training around other commitments. I also tried to train in the morning, so I wouldn’t talk myself out of my workout throughout the day.

I consider myself a low-maintenance triathlete, I never told myself that I had to work out seven days a week to be an athlete or be successful. I think rest days are important for my mental and physical well-being. I don’t beat myself up about missing a workout, sometimes life gets crazy or in the way. I’m still an athlete. I’m still going to train. And, I’m still going to compete.

What do you mean when you label yourself a “low-maintenance” triathlete?

It takes so much time to train for a big event, like a triathlon. I enjoy competition, but I’m not interested in overhauling my life or sacrificing aspects of my life in order to train. I have only trained and competed in sprint triathlons (0.25-0.5-mile swim, 15-19-mile bike, 3.2-mile run) because I feel the training commitment for this fits with the reality of real life obligations (work, family and friends). I’m OK not being the best in my age group. I recognize that training and competing is for my personal satisfaction, not standing on a podium.

Did you change your nutrition while training?

I started to become more aware of nutrition choices that would set me up for failure. For example, having pizza and wine for dinner the night before a long morning run and bike ride didn’t do me any favors. As a result, I started making food choices that supported my fitness goals. I also discovered that when I’m working out and eating healthy, I don’t crave as much junk food.

How did your first triathlon go?

I competed in the Lifetime Tri Maple Grove sprint course (.25-mile swim, 15-mile bike, 3.1-mile run) and finished in the middle of my age group. Just finishing was the big accomplishment! It made me feel amazing, and the endorphins made me quickly forget about the pain.

Was there anything that surprised you about your first triathlon?

I came out of the swim feeling really good, but again swimming is my sport, and transitioned easy enough to the bike portion. The transition from biking to running was surprisingly difficult. After 15 miles on my bike, my legs were like jelly. I was tired and had to walk a bit of the 3.1 mile run. I hadn’t realized how hard the transitions would be and didn’t prepare myself for that during training. When training for my second triathlon, I spent a lot more time preparing for this.

What is your advice for others aspiring to complete a triathlon?

Go for it! You can accomplish more than you think you can. You learn so much about yourself while training and completing a triathlon. There is a learning curve, so be kind to yourself. Keep it fun. Keep it low maintenance. Just finishing is the big accomplishment.

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