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Tri-Athlete Dede Griesbauer: 2020 Fitness Journey

A professional triathlete, Dede Griesbauer, has won multiple championships in her career. Before her career as a tri-athlete, Dede set numerous high school and college swim records, competed in the Olympic Swim Trials, where she narrowly missed a spot in 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 on 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.

"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 headfirst 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 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 three days would end up being. Within weeks, concern over COVID-19 had reached a fever pitch, and just one month after crossing the Ultraman finish line, we were in lockdown.

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 of times a week to maintain some feel for the water. Still, my 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 bodywork to keep this 49-year-old veteran pro in one 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 a huge blow.

So what does the life of a professional exerciser look like? How do you regroup? Reorganize? Take some control when there 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 for 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 accurate. 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 just to let it be and not try to pump myself up when I 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 very 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 more minor things that are often thrown away when too 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, step by step, I had more 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, and the only difference is year does bring me some comfort. And so we carry on, focusing on smaller steps and on new and different perspectives of “getting better.”

And just maybe? We’ll be better for it in the long run.

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