Sitting at a stop light isn’t necessarily where you’d expect to have a life-altering experience, yet one day as I sat waiting for the light to change I saw something that changed everything: A group of Ironman competitors doing the bike portion of their race who sped right in front of me.
Something about their speed and athleticism made me instantly want to be one of them. So as soon as I got home I marched up to my husband and said, “I want to be an Ironman.” Startled, he said, “but you don’t know how to swim, you don’t like running and you don’t even own a bike!” (Let’s just say he is the realist in the family.)
To understand where I was in my life then, you should know that five years earlier I’d given birth to twins, making me a mom to three kids within two years of each other. The pregnancy was difficult and the twins had been born prematurely. The years after that had been a struggle, both physically and mentally, but eventually I found solace in the gym. Working out helped me lose the 70+ pounds I’d gained during that pregnancy but, more importantly, it helped me regain a sense of myself again. At first, it was tough-I felt like I didn’t belong at the gym-but I had gradually worked up to lifting weights and tried some high-intensity workouts.
Coming back to that day when I saw those Ironman competitors: I’d been working out steadily for a couple of years at that point and was feeling stronger, and I was ready for a new challenge. So, why not pick the biggest challenge? It didn’t get much bigger than an Ironman, right? My husband was right: The cards were stacked against me. I’d never done any kind of race or triathlon, much less one that required a 2.5-mile swim, a 112-mile bike ride, and after all that a full marathon distance (26.2 miles) run!
Despite all that, I was determined, so I hired a coach to teach me the basics, my buddy and mentor Matt helped me build a bike and taught me how to ride it, and I even overcame my huge fear of the open water by practicing breathing techniques in my bathtub. (I mean, Olympic Gold-Medalist Gwen Jorgensen Went from Accountant to World Champion, so if she could do it, I could, too.) Training was incredibly tough, but it felt worth it to escape all the anxiety and stress I put on myself. After the twins, I’d quit my career to stay at home and while it was the right choice at the time, in a sense, I didn’t know who I was anymore. I would wake up each day and not shower until right before my husband came home. I began taking antidepressants, but I felt alone, even though I was surrounded by so much love. My once bubbly personality turned hostile. I just couldn’t find my happiness.
But training for the triathlon gave me back me, in a very powerful way. I stopped taking the antidepressants-I just didn’t need them anymore. Being able to try new things that I would never have done before (and succeeding at them) made me feel so confident and comfortable in my body. That new mindset brought me to the end of my very first Ironman, and it was incredibly meaningful to me when I crossed that finish line. All those hours of training, crying, and overcoming fears were worth it just to hear the announcer say, “Christine Schultek, you are an Ironman!”
Since the Ironman, I’ve done a full marathon, a handful of 1/2 marathons, completed a Tough Mudder, ran numerous 10ks and 5ks, and biked across Wisconsin to raise more than $17,000 for pancreatic cancer research. But the point for me was never the medals or the bragging rights, it was always about how I could use my experience to help other women achieve their own fitness goals-no matter how big or out of reach they looked. I’ve since opened a small personal training studio, Xtreme Core Fitness, and now every day I get to live my dream. One thing I hear often from my clients or other women is “Oh, I could never do an Ironman!” but I’m living proof that they can because I could.
If I-a depressed, anxious, overweight mom of three tiny kids-can do it, then so can you. Here are my best pieces of advice on how to get in the right mindset to accomplish an Ironman or whatever your goal might be:
1. Create a schedule (and stick to it). A busy schedule is worth crossing that finish line and coming home a better person for it.
2. Get educated. I hired a trainer, which was one of the best things I could have done. You could also find a friend who’s done it before to act as a mentor or join a local triathlon training club. (Running, biking, and swimming solo? Try this 12-Week Olympic Triathlon Training Plan for Beginners.)
3. Think strong. Stick to your workout plan and don’t sacrifice muscle to get skinny. It’s not about weight, it’s about strength.
4. Find a support group. Whether it’s family, friends, people you meet at the gym, or all of the above, find a group of people who love you and will support you and encourage you to keep going when it gets hard. (Because, trust me, it will get hard.)
5. Feel confident. Don’t worry about your size. I’ll always remember doing my Ironman and struggling to get up a super steep hill on my bike, only to see a woman twice my size just blaze by me. Athletes come in all different shapes and sizes. You don’t need to be a certain size to succeed, you just need to train.
6. Be your own superhero. Remember why you made this goal in the first place. Write it down. Take pictures. Be proud of every little accomplishment, and don’t ever let anyone (especially yourself) tell you that you’re not good enough.