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day in the life

What Does It Take to Compete in a Triathlon?

Spoiler alert: it takes a lot of hard work.

Before she was a triathlete, Heather Lee was a swimmer, and she loves being in the pool. Here she is taking a breather between laps at Chelsea Piers. Photo credit: The Well

For many of us, running a half marathon would be a lofty goal. For Heather Lee, it’s merely a third of the triathlon she’s currently training for. A competitive triathlete, Heather—a 33-year-old  living in Brooklyn— is training to go to Campeche, Mexico, in March 2018 for the half Ironman. That’s a 1.2-mile swim, 56-mile bike ride and 13.1 mile run, in that order.

To date, Heather has competed in 12 triathlons, including one full Ironman in 2017. Her goal is to finish this year’s half Ironman in less than five and a half hours, which would qualify her for nationals.

"Triathlons are something people either love or hate and there’s no in-between," Heather explains. “If you love them, they’re very addictive, and training is almost like having a full-time job. It takes a lot of time, commitment and work.” In fact, Heather plans to make this her actual full-time job—her goal is to eventually become a sponsored athlete for a major brand.

Here’s a look at a typical Saturday in Heather’s world. She’s not kidding about the hard work.

Photo credit: The Well

Heather wakes up at 6am and starts her morning with a protein shake, grapefruit and slice of toast, followed by a much-needed cup of coffee. Every day’s routine is different, but Saturdays are her most rigorous training days—she’s going to need a lot of energy!

Photo credit: The Well

Once she’s suited up and energized, she chooses her biking course (28 miles, which will take about two hours to complete) and something to watch on Netflix.

Photo credit: The Well

Heather prefers to ride outside, but today, because of snowy weather, it’s safer to cycle indoors. She takes a break at mile 17 for a cup of tea and banana.

Photo credit: The Well

After biking, it’s time to prepare for a run. Heather takes her vitamins and supplements—turmeric, B-12, iron, and a multivitamin— before hitting the road.

Photo credit: The Well

Heather braves the cold and snow for a short 3.1 mile run before meeting up with a friend.

Photo credit: The Well

Heather and her good friend, Clara, chat at a local coffee shop and fuel up before heading out again.

Photo credit: The Well

The two women share a love for fitness; they actually met while running, and often log miles together as a part of Heather’s triathlon training.

Photo credit: The Well

After her run, Heather goes home to recover. She stretches, foam rolls her muscles and drinks water with amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of protein. They’re used in athletic supplements to build and maintain muscle tissue after grueling workouts.

Photo credit: The Well

Smart nutrition is crucial when you’re training, so Heather always makes time to grocery shop for the week. "If anything is within a mile or a mile and a half, I walk it,” she says. “It helps a lot with the soreness.”

Photo credit: The Well

Heather stocks up on fish and veggies at her local grocer. She usually opts for lean proteins, although she also likes to have steak once or twice a week. Hunger comes with the territory during intense training, and the fat from the meat helps her feel full.

Photo credit: The Well

Lunch is Heather’s biggest meal of the day. Today, she whips up salmon with vegetables and pan-roasted potatoes. Since she burns roughly 5,000 to 6,000 calories a day, she needs to eat a lot of healthy foods to fuel her body.

Photo credit: The Well

With two-thirds of the day’s training behind her, it’s time for a 30-minute power nap to recharge before her nightly swim at Chelsea Piers.

Photo credit: The Well

Heather began as a swimmer and has always loved the sport. "I never thought I’d be a triathlete, but one day my swimming coach asked if I wanted to join his triathlon team for a week of training. It was so painful! I hadn’t run in years and had only taken a handful of spin classes. It was a real shock to my body and mind. I was exhausted, I was hungry— but I loved it, mostly because of the amazing people I got to train with."

Photo credit: The Well

R&R time: After dinner, Heather calls it a day. "By 8:30, I'm pretty beat," she explains. “While training, I don’t go out as much. But I think the most rewarding part of all of this is the sense of accomplishment when I finish a course or a distance I haven’t done before. All the hard work I put into training, all the parties I’ve missed, and the small day-to-day sacrifices pay off.”

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Published January 9th, 2018