A professional tri-athlete, Dede Griesbauer, has won multiple championships in her career. Before her career as a tri-athlete, DeDe set multiple high school and college swim records, she competed in the Olympic Swim Trials where she narrowly missed a spot to the Barcelona Olympics. Starting her career first as an amateur and then going professional after two years. She has set multiple world records in Ultraman’s and Ironman Time Trials, making her one of the best in her field even amongst her male counterparts. Due to her extensive training demands, Dede needs to pay extra attention to her nutrition. Especially fueling her body with what it needs to recover. Dede fuels with none other than the best…Certified Piedmontese Beef. Check out Dede’s latest blog entry on how she is keeping up with her fitness in a COVID-19 era.
My 2020 Journey from Professional Athlete to Professional Exerciser
2020 started out well enough. I was riding high after some solid performances at the end of 2019 and looking forward to a new challenge at the start of 2020.
A 16-year veteran Professional Triathlete, it’s hard to come up with new ways to make swim, bike and run different, but at the start of 2020, I got to check a big item off my Bucket List. I took my nearly 16 years of experience as a pro, and dove head first into a new experience; an experience more than twice the distance of my traditional “day at the office”. Over the course of my career as a pro, I’ve actually lost count of how many Ironman races I’ve done, but safe to say, it’s a lot. For 2020, I decided to up the proverbial ante and entered Ultraman Florida.
Ultraman is a 3-day, 320-mile multisport event. Day 1, a 6.2 mile swim and 92 mile bike. Day 2 is a 171 mile bike and Day 3 is a double marathon of 52.4 miles.
I had a super race, placing 2nd overall (only lost to one man in the event), winning the women’s race and setting a new World Record for the distance by over 1 hour and 18 minutes. My finishing time: 22 hours, 48 minutes, 31 seconds.
I was slightly overwhelmed by the accomplishment, but at the time, I had no idea how special those 3 days would end up being. Within weeks, concern over COVID-19 had reached a fever pitch, and just 1 month after crossing the Ultraman finish line, we were locked down.
Seemingly overnight, I went from being a Professional Athlete and World Record Holder to a Professional Exerciser with an uncertain race future.
There was the immediate physical change. No swimming, though good friends have an Endless Pool at their house (think, swimming treadmill) and they graciously allowed me to use it a couple times a week to maintain some feel for the water, but fitness slid. No squad sessions; I typically train with a squad and we would have group sessions about 8 times per week. No gym. No body work to keep this 49 year old veteran pro in once piece.
And then, of course, there were the emotional changes; dreams dashed, race goals ambiguous at best, and all the fitness I’d built in preparation for Ultraman diminished over time. The contrast from the emotional high of winning Ultraman to the emotional low of having what will likely be the rest of the race season canceled was stunning.
So what does the life of a professional exerciser look like? How do you regroup? Reorganize? Take some control when there really is none? I faced these challenges not only as an athlete, but also as a coach. How do I guide my athletes?
Focus number one was to allow a time of depression…loss….sorrow…anger…or (insert your emotion here). Some try to dismiss these feelings saying, “People are sick and dying. Get over your silly little races.” Fair enough and true. But it’s important to acknowledge the loss in the context that every individual has lost something; plans, freedoms, jobs. Just because others might be suffering worse doesn’t mean your suffering is irrelevant. So for a while, I tried to just let it be and not try to pump myself up when I just plain didn’t feel like it.
Focus number one (part II) was to stay healthy. That meant cutting back on some training stress so that the immune system had a fighting chance. Suddenly, we were able to take back a little control. I might not be able to race, but I can keep eating like I’m going to (taking ownership of a slight uptick in wine consumption). I can sleep like a champ. I can take care of my body because doing so will make me feel better than not doing so.
Once I had a small focus again on something I could control, I started to find other things I could control. Training would obviously look different. 35+ hour training weeks no longer required. Physiologically, one can not maintain peak fitness, or keep pushing fitness higher in search of peak performance, but I could still make myself a better athlete. I didn’t have to be “race fit” to be a better athlete. I could work on smaller things that often get thrown by the wayside when training is solely focused on racing goals. I could work on my mobility and flexibility. I could get stronger. I could work on things that came less naturally to me; foot speed and agility running, top-end/VO2max work on the bike.
And little by little, and step by step, I had a little bit of a plan again.
It’s now July and while things on the race front look bleaker than ever, I am trying to embrace my new “job” as a professional exerciser. It has become easier not to dwell in the bad sessions. It has been fun to modify the typically rigid training structure for some alternative adventures (1000km bike weeks with less regard to swimming and running, epic trail hikes over long runs).
Not every day is rosy and bright. There is still frustration and loss, but knowing that the goals I had at the start of 2020 are the same, it is only the timeline that is not brings some comfort. And so we carry on, focusing on smaller steps, and on new and different perspectives of “getting better”. Just maybe? We’ll be better for it in the long run.