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      Advice From An Olympic Gold Medalist On Dealing with Setbacks

      Advice From An Olympic Gold Medalist On Dealing with Setbacks

      A season-ending injury isn’t what she wanted, but it’s what she got. And in retrospect, it may well be the thing that brings Olympic Gold Medalist Gwen Jorgensen to the thing she wants most: Olympic glory, for the second time—in a new sport.

      Gwen Jorgensen was ultimately not to be spared the ignominy of pain. She was indeed familiar with the exquisite, rewarding pain—the good pain—that hard training brought. But this? This was different. Injury is the bane of an athlete’s existence, and for all her success, this sharp, nagging pain was about to upend a four-year plan.

      Enter Coronavirus, the pandemic that turned the world upside down and put a halt to everything, not the least of which were races. While it put the pro runner’s season on pause, the self-quarantine was what Gwen Jorgensen needed—body and soul.

      “I’m itching to race, but we don’t know if and when that’s going to happen. You just can’t control the uncontrollable,” Jorgensen says. “So I just need to take advantage of what I can control, and that’s being healthy and getting in the workouts.”

      A Wisconsinite by birth, Jorgensen’s name is revered among the multi-sport space. After swimming and running at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, she spent a few years in the corporate world as a tax accountant. That was before USA Triathlon scouted her and groomed her to represent the United States in its quest for national glory on the International Triathlon Union circuit, and ultimately, on the Olympic dais.

      Not only did she establish herself as a dominant force in triathlon, she netted two Olympic appearances (2012 in London and 2016 in Rio). It was her focused decision in 2012 to create a four-year mission—all in for a gold medal in Rio— that was rewarded with the top prize that year. After battling with Swiss powerhouse Nicola Spirig all race, Jorgensen launched an explosive run kick, instantly breaking away from the Swiss triathlete. With 40 seconds in her pocket, she reached out, grabbed the finish banner, and raised it over head with a smile. Rio gold was hers.

      She won ITU Olympic-distance events at will. She had transformed from a run specialist to an all-around threat, earning two ITU World Champion titles as a result. She now had the biggest prize in the sport, an Olympic gold medal. Her dominance in the sport was so thorough, she decided it was time to have a child (she and husband Pat Lemieux welcomed son Stanley Jorgensen in late 2017), and retire from triathlon. She instead pivoted to a new challenge: running.

      “With triathlon, I felt I’d reached my potential,” Jorgensen says, adding with a laugh when pressed, “No, nope… not coming back to triathlon. No desire to come back! I’m honestly happy I made the switch.”

      Photo @talbotcox

      Now as a professional runner and with triathlon in the rear view mirror, Jorgensen can focus on outright run speed missions across all distances. She also set a running goal akin to her 2012 pledge: win an Olympic gold medal in the marathon at the 2020 Olympic Games, as well as a World Marathon Major, which includes Boston, Chicago, New York, Tokyo, London and Berlin.

      But for the woman who has literally achieved all she has set out to in her career, last year presented a daunting roadblock. For the first time in her pro career, Jorgensen was facing a huge derailment to her four-year Olympic Gold, Volume 2 program; the first chronic injury. Haglund’s deformity, a bony enlargement at the back of her heel, resulted in painful bursitis. “It actually started when I was pregnant, and it didn’t get bad until I did the Chicago Marathon.”

      Rest and platelet-rich plasma treatment wasn’t resolving the pain, leaving just one option: surgery. In retrospect, it was the right call. “Coming back from it was slow, but It was so worth it to be able to run without pain,” she said.

      Photo @talbotcox

      Still, the surgery put her on the proverbial back foot. She was unable to make even a qualifying event start, let alone perform at her peak. Her season was done, and so too it seemed was her quest to win an Olympic medal in another sport…at least for 2020.

      Then, COVID-19 spread around the globe. Sports became an afterthought, taking a backseat to community health threats. First went spring running events. Then Olympic qualifiers. Then, ultimately, officials had to make the call: suspend the Olympics until 2021, the first such suspension due to a global pandemic.

      And if there was a gold lining in it all, it provided Jorgensen a fresh lease; her Olympic running dream could continue.

      Photo @talbotcox

      Like the rest of us, Jorgensen’s quarantine at home in Portland, Oregon was a case of making do. She didn’t have weights at home, but had a treadmill and bike trainer so she could still train, plugging into Zwift to keep it interesting.

      But she did have one extra edge: an opportunity to turn off the full-time athlete mode and just be mom.

      “It’s funny; with COVID-19 going on, I’ve had so much more family time,” she says. “I obviously haven’t been to the gym—and I don’t miss the pool at all, she says with a laugh— but I’ve had all this great time at home with my husband and son. Really, the hardest part, as a mom, is not being able to take my son to a park. That’ll come with time. But we’ve made the best of the situation, and having this family time with Stanley as he’s growing up, I wouldn’t want it any other way.”

      Photo @talbotcox

      With the Olympics now slated for 2021, she has also reset her goals. She’s pivoted from marathon to shorter distance events. Fully healed from her heel injury, she’s joined a small bubble of 14 other self-quarantining Bowerman Track Club teammates for a short altitude camp in Park City, Utah as they get back to small group running. Her Olympic dream was deferred, but it’s still very much alive. “I was still training hard at home in Portland, but It was hard to remain focused,” she says. “I had to teach myself to push harder without others around, which has been different. Now, we can run together as a team and to be honest, I’m just happy now to be able to run healthy.”

      Her Olympic dream was deferred, but it’s still very much alive. While she is afforded another chance at chasing Olympic glory next summer in Tokyo, starting with Olympic Trials for the 10,000 meter and 5,000 meter events in mid-June, Jorgensen has a greater sense of her place in the grand scheme….and it’s perhaps because of her setback last year that she recognizes it.

      “Things haven’t gone as smoothly as I wanted with being injured, and it hasn’t been that great performance-wise to this point,” Jorgensen admits. “But now, I’m in a great place. I love the training, I see the improvement, I know that what I’m doing is making me a better athlete and of course I really want to race. But there are way more important things going on in the world right now.”

      Photo @talbotcox

      Provided the Olympics do go forward next summer and Jorgensen makes the team, don’t bet against her. With a gazelle-like physique, long legs grabbing meters in huge strides, married with Tokyo summer temperatures typically running from 80 to 90 degrees F, her morphology should be well suited. “If it’s hot, being leaner and taller means my body should be able to dissipate the heat quickly,” she says. “I’ll be prepared for any situation— but I need to get through trials first.”

      And if the stars align and she qualifies for the Tokyo Games? Having been in the Olympics twice already, she certainly has an advantage in navigating the chaos. “It would be a dream come true,” she says with a lilt in her voice. “My first Olympics in London, I learned so much. I needed that first one to succeed in the second. It’s not just any other race.”


      Gwen's sunglasses

      Enjoy Every Moment

      Enjoy Every Moment

      Eric Lagerstrom qualified for his professional card in 2011 at 22 years old. By 2014, he was placing in the top five in ITU Continental Cup races. In 2018, he switched to long distance, non-draft triathlon with immediate success. Last year, he was second place at Ironman Indian Wells. He continued to place in the top ten at several other half Ironmans and grabbed 19th overall at Ironman 70.3 World Championships. And really, he’s just getting started.

      When talking with Eric, you get an immediate sense of his passion – for the sport, for community, for creative endeavors – and refreshingly, his humble attitude and genuine approach to life. Besides training several hours a day, Eric also owns a video production company, and together with his girlfriend, Paula Findlay, he is building a brand to promote their love for the sport. He’s busy, but you don’t get that sense when you talk with him. For Eric, it’s about keeping a sense of relaxed intention in every little thing.

      “When I was first turning pro and going through the Olympics, it felt pretty easy to be intensely myopic. I slept on an air mattress and lived in a house with several other guys. We're all trying to go to the Olympics and just four years of your life, just boom, disappears, the day-to-day training and fatigue blur together.”

      In his book “Outliers,” Malcolm Gladwell explains his theory of the 10,000-Hour Rule: practicing a specific task for 20 hours a week for 10 years. Now, multiply that by three to be the best at triathlon. No doubt to be a professional there is definitely natural talent involved; however, it also takes an incredible capacity for immense mental and physical endurance, and a lot of time.

      Perhaps it was the balance he had as a teen that gave Eric the ability to train with balance as a professional. He didn’t do twice a day swim practice as a teen or even Saturday morning practice. He spent Saturdays doing everything fast: skateboarding, snowboarding, longboarding, etc. And now training as a professional he stays balanced. For years his training has looked like: a bit more swimming than most pro triathletes, a bit less biking, and about the same amount of running. It’s even.

      Eric Lagerstrom winning Escape from Alcatraz triathlon

      At the 2013 Escape From Alcatraz, Eric had a career defining win. The race was amazing, but it was his ability to enter that race without expectation, and still give his all that provided him the biggest lesson.

      "I was in the shape of my life - running better than I've ever run maybe even to this day, and I honestly didn't think I had a chanceSo, you kind of relieve yourself from expectation. On race day, there was this unfolding magical thing. I swam well. My only goal was being in the mix. Halfway through the bike I thought maybe I'd have a chance of getting top 10. And just as the race went on I realized I'm still here, wow, I'm still here… And then it was only a few miles to go, we caught up to Josh Amberger. I was just behind Andy Potts. I realized, I can't not see this through to the end. I caught back up on the downhill. The whole time it was just, Wow, I can't believe it, I can't believe it."

      The balance of removing expectation, yet still being fully dedicated to the moment is easier said than done. For Eric though, it was a lesson his parents emphasized. A key phrase they reiterated to him was to ‘do what you love and do your very best at it,’ so whatever he does or for however long, it is 100%. Eric has a close relationship with both parents; his dad is a mentor and a best friend. Much of his approach to training and life he gained from his dad, “My dad's very methodical; very hyper-logical, everything's pretty even keel, stoic even. And that’s my philosophy: control what you can control, do what you can do. Adapt. Go with the flow.”

      As a professional athlete, Eric practices this constant balance of training hard and stepping back to rest. He actually takes a true offseason, usually a month to recalibrate. During that time, he dives deep into other passions: videography, building out his van, enjoying daily life with those closest to him.

      Throughout peak training, he stays aware of where he’s at physically, emotionally or mentally. For most of us and especially for the pros, it’s really easy to become obsessive, myopic even, with training and racing. We love it right? But in our minds, a bad swim will result in a disappointing race, a workout tanked, or something feeling off becomes a harbinger of injury. Or it’s the opposite. Things are great, confidence builds, and as a result so do expectations.

      Refreshingly, Eric’s perspective and approach to the sport is based on his humble, yet unbridled love for each moment he gives to it. “If I haven't been out on my bike and had this moment of looking around and going, ‘Wow, this is so cool.’ It’s a Wednesday, and I’m on my bike. It's beautiful. And if I haven't had one of those moments in a week or two, I can kind of pick up on it and I step back and go, dude, don't be like that, this is pretty amazing. This is what little 15-year-old you always wanted.”

      His approach is working. He continues to improve year after year. With 2020 on hold for racing, we’ll have to wait till 2021 to see what’s next. Regardless, he’s using this time wisely. Eric launched “That Triathlon Life” via his YouTube channel and social media to share his passion. He aims to show how accessible the sport is, that racing doesn’t have to be the end result, and that triathlon can be enjoyed in tandem with a full life beyond the sport as well.

      For sure, he’s still using this time to train well and find ways to improve. But, he’s taking it a bit more relaxed than usual. If he needs an easier day or a day more focused on his videography, he can do that. And he’s keeping it fun and lighthearted—because really, sport is meant to be fun. So, he may swim in a lake, or drive to a trailhead instead of the track for his tempo run, or take out the mountain bike for a ride or two. Races and outcomes don’t have to define what we do. Now more than ever, we can step back, enjoy the process, and the joy of the day to day.

      ERIC'S GO TO GEAR

      Meredith Kessler's Mindset Toward Sport, Life, and Motherhood

      Meredith Kessler's Mindset Toward Sport, Life, and Motherhood

      Over the course of a storied athletic career, mother, mentor and Ironman Champion Meredith Kessler has earned 11 Ironman titles and 21 Ironman 70.3 titles. She started competing in 2000 and continues to dominate year after year. But more than all of those accomplishments, for Meredith it is more important “..to be known as Meredith, the person, rather than Meredith, the athlete.”

      WRITING Letters to Mak

      When Meredith and her husband welcomed their son Mak into the world in late 2017, she began writing letters to him. “Writing letters to Mak is my cathartic outlet... when my race afterglow fades away, there is a sort of emptiness that sets in because what we worked so hard for is over. I needed a way to express the lessons learned and the emotions of the day, so my creative juices latched onto synthesizing a journal for Mak of rawness that he can learn from when he is older. Hopefully? HA! We'll see! Mak, this is your mom in her most vulnerable state, reflecting on what just transpired in her life.”"

       That’s life though isn’t it? Constant effort and build up to something... and then it’s over. Maybe it’s a life goal, career achievement, or our own athletic pursuits, but we are all constantly striving towards that next thing. To learn and grow however, is work. To share that with a child so they can learn from you, that is exemplary.

      The training required for this consistent level of success means Meredith will spend about 30 hours a week in training, usually spending time in all three sports on a given day. Then there is the strength training, PT, recovery, hydration, and eating to stay healthy and strong year after year. It would be easy to complain or use this level of day in and day out effort as an excuse not to be entirely present. Yet, Meredith doesn’t.

      BALANCE

      “One of my consistent mindsets is to always recognize the privilege of GETTING to do what we GET to do. There is no HAVE to in this equation. Whenever life is challenging, it is important to continually remind myself that ‘I get to spend time with my son’ or ‘I get to bike on the trainer for a couple of hours.’ This is a stark contradiction to when I hear someone say, ‘I HAVE to get this morning workout in’ or ‘I have to read to my child every night.’”

      It is because of this mindset Meredith can be a present mom, wife, and friend. Remembering that our lives are filled with choices, shifts the attention away from “me” to joy and gratitude. It also allows for balance.

      “People talk about that coveted ‘balance,’ yet it takes a lot of effort to attempt to balance your life and somewhat achieve the true nature of the word. Balance, to me, is not having something consume my life to the detriment of the essential things such as family and friends. I will never miss that important girl's dinner date or being there for a friend at the expense of training, business, or frivolous activities. I would never sacrifice those precious life luxuries to win. It's more important for me to win at life, than on the race courses.” Though she does win often, it’s clear Meredith places just as much regard and effort on her personal life as her professional life.

      BREATHE

      Yet even in those early days with a newborn and a drive to come back to her sport just as successfully, Meredith maintained a positive mindset that can help guide us today. “I distinctly remember Ironman Mount Tremblant in 2019, and Mak decided not to sleep from 2 am to 5 am the nights before the race, the most important nights of sleep for a triathlete. With blurry eyes, my husband and I took turns in the cramped hotel room to try to get Mak asleep to no avail...We realized that all lead-ins to race day would never be perfect, so we have to be good at taking the curveballs that life and raising a child throw out to you daily.” By the way she took 6th at that race.

      This Mother’s Day, let’s breathe in a little deeper and remember so much of what we get to be and do in life is right now, and it is good. Take that breath, recharge, and let’s tackle it all by remembering we get to do it. As Meredith shared, “There will always be challenges, and you are the captain of your own ship, so take a deep breath and try to hit that curveball that life threw at you, out of the park; or at least get a single!”

      See more Meredith.


      MEREDITH'S GO TO GEAR

      The Road to Victory: Aliphine Tuliamuk Breaks the Tape at the U.S. Olympic Trials

      The Road to Victory: Aliphine Tuliamuk Breaks the Tape at the U.S. Olympic Trials

      Many didn’t expect her to win, but she did. Aliphine Tuliamuk’s remarkable win at the US Olympic Trials isn’t as surprising when you look at all she did to get to that starting line.

      To many it may have seemed that Aliphine Tuliamuk’s victory at the 2020 US Olympic Trials was a complete surprise, but if you knew her, you knew she was right where she should be. She won the trials, to earn top spot for the U.S. Olympic team with a personal record and well under the Olympic standard with a time of 2:27: 23. Though the past two years have been plagued with injury, Aliphine’s career and training led her to this moment. Her personal bests include: 5,000m – 15:18.86 (2013), 10,000m – 31:54.20 (2016), Half Marathon – 1:09:49 (2015 and 2020).

      Tuliamuk was born in Kenya, and grew up in a family of thirty-one children, where her dad had four wives. As a child she endured losing two of her brothers, and witnessed much suffering around her due to inadequate access to healthcare. Running was a dream, but competing seemed out of reach. 

      One day, Kenyan marathoner Tegla Loroupe happened to visit Tuliamuk's school. In Tuliamuk's remote village, running was a regular part of life. Tuliamuk would run to school, and to get water. She enjoyed it and dreamed of running competitively like Loroupe, but competing seemed out of reach until Loroupe, the current marathon world record-holder who came to speak and hand out gear to Tuliamuk's class, gave Aliphine a pair of shoes.

      Those shoes changed the direction of Tuliamuk’s life. These shoes enabled her to compete in a local 10k and eventually move on to the national championship where she placed second. With this distinction, she received more support for training, and chasing her dream. After high school, Tuliamuk was recruited to run for Iowa State, and later transferred to Wichita, Kansas where she would major in public health. Her studies were a passion borne out of childhood in Kenya

      Post collegiately, Tuliamuk saw some success, but was also not seeing the results she wanted in races. She placed a 'disappointing' 13th in the 2017 New York City marathon and questioned whether she'd ever figure out the marathon distance. But she kept showing up to practice. 

      Aliphine became an American citizen in 2016, the same year she won the USA Track & Field 25K, 5K, and 20K titles. In 2017 she further improved her performance from the year before by winning three USATF titles: the 25K, 10K and 7 miles and placing first at the USA Cross Country Championships in Bend, Oregon. In 2018 she won her 3rd 25K in a row.

      Aliphine currently trains with Northern Arizona (NAZ) Elite in Flagstaff with Stephanie Bruce and Kellyn Taylor. The trio train together, pushing and motivating each other to the results like we saw at the Olympic Trials marathon in Atlanta.

      One of the unique things about NAZ Elite is their transparency. This is great for the sport and gives us the inside scoop on what Aliphine did to get to this moment. Take a look at her workouts a month out from the Trials:

      Lactate Threshold - 5 x 2 miles + 8 x 30/45
      Lake Mary. 5 x 2 miles at 5:30 pace with 1/2 mile jog recovery (including the final repeat). Then straight into 8 x 30 seconds fast, 45 seconds easy.

      3up and 2down.

      Run - Long Run - Tempo/Long/Tempo
      Lake Mary. 4mi Tempo/10 miles/4mi Tempo

      Mile Marks= 0-4, 4-9 and 9-4, 4-0.

      4 miles at 5:40
      10 miles at 6:30 with miles 3, 6, and 9 at 5:40.
      4 miles at 5:40

      2up and 2down.

      These two killer workouts were part of a 110+ mile week. Most of her miles outside of these workouts were easy. Those big workouts matter, those easy miles matter. Aliphine put in the work to get her to that starting line ready to perform and to break the tape in Atlanta.

      Beyond running, Aliphine knew she wanted to use her opportunity in the U.S. to help those at home in Kenya. She has worked as a caregiver and also wants to pursue her masters in healthcare to hopefully create a foundation and open a free clinic in Kenya. She also makes hats that she sells to help support her family and community. Aliphine Tuliamuk is an incredible human, and athlete. The best part: she’s just getting started.

      ALIPHINE'S EYEWEAR

      Sold out
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      HOKA NAZ Elite to Partner with Rudy Project as Official Eyewear Partner

      HOKA NAZ Elite to Partner with Rudy Project as Official Eyewear Partner

       

      FLAGSTAFF, (AZ) – January 14, 2020 – HOKA ONE ONE Northern Arizona Elite has announced a partnership with Rudy Project, one of the world’s leading sports eyewear companies. The deal, signed January 1 of 2020, ensures HOKA NAZ Elite athletes will wear Rudy Project performance sunglasses exclusively in both training and racing.

      Rudy Project, founded in 1985 in Treviso, Italy, has been worn by some of the world’s greatest endurance athletes including Tour de France Winners and Ironman® World Champions.

      HOKA NAZ Elite, launched in 2014, has quickly become one of the most successful, and most popular, professional distance running teams in the United States and across the globe. The team’s athletes have won 10 National Titles, produced eight top-ten finishes at World Marathon Majors, taken home five international medals and won a grand total of 62 races.

      HOKA NAZ Elite head coach Ben Rosario said Rudy Project is exactly the type of partner the team was looking for.

      “Rudy Project has been, and continues to be, a leader in performance eyewear because they are relentless with their innovation,” Rosario said. “That relentlessness, we feel, mirrors our own and we are thrilled to be able to wear Rudy Project sunglasses in training, in racing, and to share the product with our fans all over the world.”

      Rudy Project Director of Sports Marketing, Chris Lupo, echoed Ben’s thoughts.

      “We, at Rudy Project, are so excited to partner with Northern Arizona Elite. This is a world-class running team, comprised of extraordinary people. Rudy Project is proud to support the Team with the most technologically advanced sports eyewear in the world.”

      The HOKA NAZ Elite roster currently includes six athletes who will compete at the upcoming United States Olympic Marathon Trials; Stephanie Bruce, Scott Fauble, Scott Smith, Aliphine Tuliamuk, Kellyn Taylor and Sid Vaughn. Nick Hauger, Lauren Paquette and Danielle Shanahan will focus on the U.S. Olympic Track and Field Trials. The team also features three international athletes hoping to represent their respective countries in Tokyo; Matt Baxter from New Zealand, Canadian Rory Linkletter and Great Britain’s Alice Wright.

       

      About Northern Arizona Elite
      HOKA ONE ONE Northern Arizona Elite is a professional sports organization whose mission is to recruit, develop and produce distance runners to compete at the very highest level of international athletics and operate as a successful business by building a global fan base for the team and its athletes through comprehensive and ongoing marketing efforts on a local, national and international level.