We head out to Utah to meet Sydney Tervort on this edition of The Kona Edge. Having placed 4th in her age group in Kona 2016 and a 2017 qualification already in the bag, Sydney shares her victories and disappointments with us and gives us some sound advice on coaches.
BRAD BROWN: Welcome onto The Kona Edge today, all the way in Salt Lake City in Utah and it’s a great opportunity to chat to Sydney Tervort. Sydney, welcome, thanks for joining us today.
SYDNEY TERVORT: Thank you, thanks for having me.
BRAD BROWN: Sydney, this is going to be published in a few weeks but as we’re recording this today it’s Thanksgiving in the US and happy Thanksgiving to you and thank you so much for chatting to me on a day that I know is pretty special to most Americans. I really do appreciate it.
SYDNEY TERVORT: Thank you, I have a little extra time today, so that was a perfect day for me to talk with you.
Use Kona fitness to qualify for your next Kona
BRAD BROWN: Sydney, I’m fascinated. You obviously raced in Kona in 2016 and you were just telling me before we started recoding, you’ve raced again subsequently in Arizona. In Ironman Arizona and qualified again for the Big Island. Two big races like that, six weeks apart, that’s pretty impressive, how are you feeling?
SYDNEY TERVORT: I’m feeling really good. I’m surprised by that as well. I went into that, just throwing my hat into the ring to see what happened, I’ve never raced that close together, so I was trusting my coaches and gave it a shot, so I was really pleased with the outcome.
BRAD BROWN: It’s obviously worked, is it something you would suggest someone do if they’re in that sort of position?
SYDNEY TERVORT: I think since I did it and as I was getting ready to do it, where I thought, a lot of people said: That’s crazy. I said: Yeah, I would have thought that’s crazy too, but I was hearing in Arizona that a lot of the pros do the same thing, like using the fitness coming off of Kona and just doing whatever workouts in between. But using all that fitness where they go into Kona, so I think a lot of people do actually do that. It wasn’t something I would have thought of doing without my coaches encouragement.
BRAD BROWN: That’s incredible and I know for a lot of people as well, they feel they don’t have too many full distance Ironman races in their body in a year, for you, what would you say your max is? How many do you realistically think you could race hard in a year?
SYDNEY TERVORT: I think that’s an interesting question because I started doing Ironman’s in Chattanooga in 2015, so just a little over a year ago and so since Chattanooga 2015 I’ve done four and that’s the only four I’ve ever done in my life. I came from a marathon world, so I just started triathlon. I think four in like 13-14 months is probably as many as I’d want to do.
BRAD BROWN: I’m sure. I’m hoping you’re going to take some time off now, particularly with the thick of winter on its way. Are you taking a bit of a break? What’s the plan?
SYDNEY TERVORT: The plan is, just going back to what we do here in the winter, we do CompuTrainer, so I’m taking a break. The next race isn’t until Oceanside in April, so through the winter we do a lot of indoor biking and then running off the bike with treadmills, so a lot of indoor training, but much more of a break in terms of hours and training.
BRAD BROWN: Let’s take a step back and dig into your athletic history and where it all started for you. You mentioned a running background, how long have you been a runner, have you been active like that all your life or is this something that’s come on in fairly recent times?
Dancing, teaching and racing
SYDNEY TERVORT: Always active. I started dancing when I was two and did the dancing/gymnastics thing all the way through high school and then didn’t do anything in college but came back in the 80’s where of course the aerobic scene was very big. I was an aerobics instructor, moved from there after I had my kids into running, just shorter distances, 5km and 10km and then it wasn’t until about 2000 that I started running marathons and so over the course from 2000 until 2013/14 I did 27 marathons, so that was kind of where I was with the running. I decided to do a half marathon that was just local here because I’ve always liked to bike on my off days, so I just had to learn to swim. I got in the pool to see if I could actually swim a mile, so there we were good.
BRAD BROWN: Minor details the swim in a triathlon isn’t it?
SYDNEY TERVORT: [Audio skips] and then go from there and that was just like 2.5 years ago. I just moved into triathlon, starting with the half and then got a coach and from there I’ve stayed with my same coach and my same team of coaches and gone into half Ironman and full Ironman.
BRAD BROWN: That’s incredible and I’m not going to give your age away, I’m going to say that you are in the 60-64 age group, so we can sort of workout from there, but for me that’s incredible, that you took up the sport of triathlon, yes, you come from a running background, but you’ve only been in the sport for a few years and it’s incredible what you’ve been able to achieve.
SYDNEY TERVORT: Thank you, it’s all new to me, so every time, I’m always the one that’s doubting myself and so every time I’m able to pull it off, I’m really pleasantly surprised.
BRAD BROWN: What do your kids think of this?
SYDNEY TERVORT: They’re in their 20’s and because they’ve always seen me either be running or do something, they’re really the least interested. It’s not that they’re not interested, it’s just that they’re not, just not surprised by it, I guess, because I’m always involved in something. They don’t say much, they congratulate me.
BRAD BROWN: Are they pretty active? Do they really comprehend and understand the magnitude, physically, of what it is that you do?
SYDNEY TERVORT: They are active, but not in triathlon. One of them has always been a snowboarder and works at one of our local ski resorts. The other one in high school played football, lacrosse, has always been into sports and works actually at a fitness centre here, so they are involved in different kinds of sports, but never, I don’t know, not biking, neither one of them I don’t think could ever swim.
BRAD BROWN: Definitely not in the middle of winter in Utah, they’re definitely not.
SYDNEY TERVORT: Yeah, I wouldn’t throw them in the water and hope they survive at this point.
BRAD BROWN: Sydney, as far as running and taking up running with kids, it’s difficult. I know my wife, we’ve got three kids ourselves and it’s something she struggles with and it’s probably only in the last six months that we’ve sort of got a handle of when we can do it and try and get training in around the kids, but it’s something a lot of women do struggle with.
Support structure is crucial to your Ironman success
SYDNEY TERVORT: Yeah, and that’s what got me into it. That’s when I switched, my kids were 19 months apart so while one was in preschool I had the other one in a jogging stroller. I switched from teaching aerobics which was harder because everybody has to juggle their schedules, to running the 5km and 10km because I just had a jogging stroller and so my time, I had to work it out between working and my son’s preschool, I would go out and run and have the other one in a baby jogger. That’s how I managed it and then my husband has always tried to help and do the hand-off and try and figure it out as well. It’s hard.
BRAD BROWN: It’s important to have that support structure and the help in place to allow you to do it, otherwise it just wouldn’t be possible would it?
SYDNEY TERVORT: Exactly, it wouldn’t be possible. You have to have someone because you can’t just leave your kids obviously!
BRAD BROWN: Sometimes you feel like you’d like to, but you’re definitely not allowed to! I think that’s the rule!
SYDNEY TERVORT: Exactly yeah, that would be a good one!
BRAD BROWN: You took up running, obviously it was to stay fit, were you competitive when you started or has that come later on in your athletic career?
SYDNEY TERVORT: No, that was kind of the same thing with Ironman, I’d been so active, like I said, when I was younger, but I hadn’t been a runner. The first one of my clients had encouraged me to come to a 5km with her and I actually won my age group and placed in the top 10. It was a surprise to me that I was able to run, but I think it was just the training I had been doing which enabled me to switch over to running. It was the 5km in the beginning, so I was pretty fast at that and successful at that, so that encouraged me to move on to 10km and then onto the half marathons and then full marathons later on in life. I couldn’t train for the full marathons when my kids were little, there was just not that much time.
BRAD BROWN: Yeah, it is difficult and that’s obviously something my wife is struggling with now. She’s got a couple of running goals, she would love to do an Ironman or perhaps a half, but she’s got some big running goals and she wants to run a couple of ultras next year and that’s something we’re working towards, but it’s a definite juggle. Talk to me about the managing of a career, being a mom, athletic, it’s a lot of pressure on you isn’t it?
SYDNEY TERVORT: It is, when the kids were younger that was the bigger thing and of course I went back to school and got my Masters, so I was juggling the kids and school and working at the same time, so there wasn’t a lot of intense training then, more the shorter distances. As my kids have gotten older and need me less there, it’s my career, juggling training with a fulltime career is probably my biggest challenge. A lot of times it’s mornings and lunch time and night, I’m getting off the treadmill at 9:00 or 10:00 at night, you just fit it in when you can. My least favourite is the 6:00am swims. I mean I love the 6:00am swims, my least favourite time is the 6:00am, but I do it.
BRAD BROWN: You love the 6:00am swims when they’re finished!
SYDNEY TERVORT: Yeah, I do and I love being there because it’s the team swim and it’s friends and coaches and it’s a lot of fun once you get there, but oh my goodness, 5:30 in the morning you’re thinking: Is this a really good idea…
BRAD BROWN: Sydney, what’s been the biggest lesson that Ironman has taught you?
The mental concept of Ironman
SYDNEY TERVORT: To listen to my coaches, to trust the training because when you step back, I mean for me, when I stepped back and looked at 140.6 miles and I looked at swimming 2.4 and then if you just go out on a bike ride, that’s 100 miles you think: Oh my gosh, could I really run a marathon after this? To trust the training, trust the plan and to know that on race day everything I’ve done is enough, so that’s what Ironman has taught me is that you can do it. Your body can do way more than you think it can and I just never could fathom, I couldn’t get my arms around the fact that your body could do that much.
BRAD BROWN: That is probably one of the biggest things that novices and newbies really struggle and grapple with, is the mental side of it. Yes, it is a real physical challenge and now that you’ve done a good few of these things too, you know this, that your mind gives up long before your body does, that you can do it, you just need to know and believe that you can do it.
SYDNEY TERVORT: Exactly, cause before I tried it, I just, I mean I had enough trust in my coaches and in our team, for the people that I trained with and knew were like: Oh yeah, you can do this. I just believed that somehow on race day my body would pull this out, but I didn’t see how it was going to happen, but I believed it. Yeah, the training you’re doing doesn’t always seem like, oh my gosh, I don’t think I could run another step after this but you can. You can.
BRAD BROWN: Once you’ve been around the sport for a while you seem to forget what it was like coming in new and those thoughts in your mind and it’s often you’re only reminded when somebody who is not involved in the sport asks you what you do and you tell them and you get that look on their face and they tell you you’re crazy.
SYDNEY TERVORT: Exactly and because I’m still relatively new to the sport, like only having done it a little over a year, everything is still new to me and then doing two so close together, that’s another first. I thought between Texas and Kona was close and so I was like, everything is still new to me too and I still keep just thinking, okay, people do it and I’m not going to give up.
BRAD BROWN: You talk about the races you’ve done, you’ve had a fairly interesting year, if you look at Texas and the weather conditions in Texas in 2016, I don’t even know the word to describe how incredible that was. Kona was Kona, it was hot, as always and Arizona was also, had its own challenges. You haven’t had the easiest of races have you?
SYDNEY TERVORT: Luckily for me when I did Chattanooga in 2015 it was a perfect day. My first experience went really well, so you know it can happen. I would hate to be someone whose first experience was Texas, that was such an interesting situation. That was fun!
BRAD BROWN: The pictures from that run were phenomenal. I want to know, was the run wetsuit legal?
SYDNEY TERVORT: Yeah, that’s what I wanted to know too at the time we were running and your ankles, there was no place that was dry, even in the middle of the street going up a hill, it’s like water rushing down. I don’t know that I’ve ever been in a real flood before, it was amazing.
BRAD BROWN: Incredible. Sydney, when did Kona first pop up on your radar? Obviously you had done the half and you’d done Chattanooga, when did you start thinking, this World Championship thing sounds like it could be fun?
SYDNEY TERVORT: I think it’s a little different when you’re in a team, in a group like I am because I have really great coaches and they get a lot of people to Kona, that’s not unusual in our group. Everyone was talking about it way before I was talking about it or thinking about it. My first one in Chattanooga I placed 3rd and just missed a Kona spot. There were two spots and I missed it by two minutes. That put in my head that they kept thinking I could get Kona and it put in my head that it was a possibility if my day turned out right. I started thinking about Kona only because other people were saying this is what you need to do and that you have this opportunity. I didn’t know how bad I wanted to get to Kona until I actually got there and found out how amazing that race is. It was so incredible.
BRAD BROWN: It’s funny the progression and I love the progression particularly in your case because I think because it’s so almost compacted that, like you say, you’ve only been in the sport for just over a year where you almost qualified and then you did qualify and then you went and raced and not only did you race but you got a podium in Kona. You finished 4th in your age group, you’ve qualified again at Arizona and I’m guessing you’re not going back to Kona just to finish on the podium, you want to go back to finish on the top step of the podium?
Setting the bar high from the start of training
SYDNEY TERVORT: You know, that’s what’s funny. I would say that you think like my coaches. That’s not an expectation I have. More in my head is I want to go back and do the best that I can do for me and whatever it is on that day I would love to finish on the podium again, but I’ll be a year older and what I will be pushing to do is do better, try to improve what it is I do. I hope that it works out well. I don’t know if I can beat some of those people.
BRAD BROWN: The triathlon scene is very different to the out and out marathon scene. I do both. I love both groups of people, but there’s something special about triathletes. Do you wish you had got into the sport sooner?
SYDNEY TERVORT: Well, no, I guess I’ve never really thought about that. I really loved marathoning and I did very well there too. My last marathon was a couple of years ago and I took 4th in Chicago and that was a great day too. In fact, I did that with my triathlon coaches, I had the same coach then who coached me through that race. I really love marathons, in fact I’m kind of thinking, I don’t want to give up Ironman or triathlon, but I really would like to do another marathon and get back there, try to get my speed back.
BRAD BROWN: How incredible would it be to be able to do a marathon where you don’t have to swim and bike before it, that’s quite an interesting feeling that, I’m sure!
SYDNEY TERVORT: That’s good but where my real goals lie is in trying to get my marathon time in my Ironman better cause I feel like that’s probably the thing that I need to work on the most, is that I should be a runner and I don’t feel like I’ve been able to pull off the run that I should be able to do yet. That gives me something to work for that I’m trying to figure out.
BRAD BROWN: Looking at your result in Kona, you seem to me to be a bit of an all-rounder. You’re pretty solid in all three, you were 10th in your age group out of the water, you were 4th off the bike and you finished 4th, so pretty solid. Would you say one is a lot weaker than the other? I know you said you had to learn to swim but you must be pretty comfortable in the water swimming the times you are?
SYDNEY TERVORT: Yeah, I’m comfortable there but I do need to improve that. I was really happy with my swim in Arizona this last Sunday because it was just within a minute of my time in Kona which was a good time for me, which tells me I’m getting more consistent. I was not happy with my swim time in Texas because I swam an extra 500 or 400 yards, so that extra 10 minutes reflected that. I’m still trying to get down to swimming straight and what I am feeling is more confident and more comfortable in the water and more solid, but I still need to improve that speed, I have work to do.
BRAD BROWN: What are you most proud of as far as your athletic career is concerned?
SYDNEY TERVORT: Most proud of… well, wow, I don’t know that. I know my favourites, I’ve done Boston eight times and 2013 was a hard year and 2014 was a great year. The Chicago Marathon, I’m really proud of that one and I guess getting to Kona and getting a Kona spot and then podium in Kona. I’m pretty amazed by that, that I was able to get on the podium in Kona.
BRAD BROWN: What’s been your biggest athletic disappointment and what lessons did you learn from it?
SYDNEY TERVORT: I have to tell you, St George Half Ironman, not this last year but the year before when I did it, it was hot, I got really bad cramps. I literally collapsed in front of the finish line and had to crawl across on my rear. My friend and I were laughing hysterically, my husband wanted to disown me but yeah, I managed to get across the finish line and pull off a fourth place in that one, it was so awful.
BRAD BROWN: And the lessons learnt from that, by the sounds of it, with the cramping, it might have been a nutrition issue I’m guessing?
SYDNEY TERVORT: Absolutely. Let me tell you, a whole lot of work went into the nutrition after that, that was a huge learning experience, a lot of the nutrition, the drinking, the staying on top of nutrition in the drinking, yeah, a big lesson there.
BRAD BROWN: I guess it’s something we all have to learn at some stage in our triathlon career and unfortunately some of us learn it harder than others.
SYDNEY TERVORT: Yeah, but I knew that before I got to Kona cause this year was windy.
BRAD BROWN: Sydney, what do you still want to achieve in the sport? You mentioned going back and doing as well as you possibly can for you personally, but what do you want to achieve still?
SYDNEY TERVORT: I am focused right now, I am signed up for another Ironman before Kona, so I want to learn and get more experience from that. I would like to have another great experience at Kona and then from there I haven’t really thought about it, we’ll see how that goes and I might focus on half’s for a while after that and we’ll just see, I don’t know. I know I do want to run another marathon, I know that.
BRAD BROWN: Looking at your buildup to Kona 2016 and knowing that you’re going back now, is there anything you would change in the buildup, second time around, to what you did first time around?
SYDNEY TERVORT: No, I think I had a lot of great experiences there and I think that it worked well, getting the experience before I went to Kona. I’m not going to do this many Ironman’s every year, I think maybe a few more half’s and only one full or something.
BRAD BROWN: Who is your biggest inspiration? Who really fires you up?
SYDNEY TERVORT: Hmm, well, I haven’t really thought about that. I should know that shouldn’t I? Mirinda Carfrae, I love her because she’s such a great runner, so I’m always amazed to watch her, how she can get off the bike and just run that pace and then Gwen Jorgenson, I think they’re just amazing athletes. I think so many of them are though, I’m just in awe of all of them.
BRAD BROWN: You mention those names and you look at the top triathletes in the world, describe to me what it’s like sharing a course with them in Kona, knowing that on the day you’re there with the best athletes in the world, fighting the same conditions, fighting the same wind, the same heat, it must be a pretty special feeling?
SYDNEY TERVORT: It is and what’s really fun at Kona, when you get to see the leaders coming back on the bike course, when you see how fast they’re going, you actually get to see these people out on the course because of the way the bike course is, so that is really special getting to see them in person and seeing them race against each other, seeing who is in the lead and then finishing up with the results, seeing how that pulled off at the end of the day, that’s very special and knowing that they’re out there racing the same course and that there are so many of them, of the people that you just see, it is really special.
BRAD BROWN: If you could go back and tell yourself, knowing what you know now, starting out your triathlon career, what would you tell yourself?
Trust your coach and your training plan
SYDNEY TERVORT: To listen to my coaches, to just know, I would say one of my biggest things is that I don’t have as much faith in myself as other people have in me, so just to make sure to listen, to believe that I can do it.
BRAD BROWN: Let’s talk about the coaching side of things. There’s a lot of athletes who are self-coached, there are lots who have coaches, what’s important to look for in a coach, what do you look for when you’re looking for a coach?
SYDNEY TERVORT: I started out with this group because I was encouraged, this is how I got into triathlon, as a matter of fact, I never really said: I think I’ll switch over to triathlon. I started with a CompuTrainer class in the winter time with this group. It’s balance start multi-sport, it’s our bam group and everybody there was into triathlon and Ironman that kind of got me thinking that way. My coaches are in this team, so I met them and knew them and so what I look for in a coach and what has worked well for me is if you find someone that you can communicate with because with my job it’s really demanding and they have to work around it a lot, but we still have to get the workouts in. I would say with me, you have to find a coach that you can work with as a team and you need to listen to them. I don’t second-guess my coaches. I have too much to do at work and this is their job, they’re really good at it, so I would say to find a good coach and then I would say to communicate with them and so someone you can have a good relationship with that you trust and that’s what I do. I just trust that the training plan they give me is the right one and then they work with me around my job and that’s what’s been successful for me.
BRAD BROWN: Work-wise, what do you do for a living Sydney?
SYDNEY TERVORT: I’m the Managing Director of Financial Affairs at a college, so I’m over the accounting department and all of the budget and all of that.
BRAD BROWN: Pretty stressful?
SYDNEY TERVORT: Yeah, and even more so at certain times of the year, it is pretty stressful and it’s very busy.
BRAD BROWN: Is triathlon a bit of an escape for you?
SYDNEY TERVORT: Yeah, I would say it is. When you have things on your schedule and you know you have to do that, I would say it is. It’s an escape because at that point in the day when you have to go do your workouts, all your focus has to be on your workouts and so that gives your mind a break from all the other things that you have to deal with in the day.
BRAD BROWN: Sydney, what’s been the biggest struggle that you’ve had to overcome this year?
Balancing act between work, family, training
SYDNEY TERVORT: Just what we were talking about. The biggest struggle that I have to overcome is managing my time between work and family and training, so fitting it in.
BRAD BROWN: I think that’s something lots of age groupers battle with, it’s probably the question I get asked the most. Have you got any hacks that you use or things that you do that you think is the way to go? Are you very analytical when it comes to planning? Do you plan your week once a week; do you sit down and go: This is what I need to do, these are the sessions and they get done regardless? How do you manage your calendar?
SYDNEY TERVORT: Like I said, I just look at my training plan and that’s up to my coach. I look at a week in advance. On Sunday I’ll get my training plans, so I look at my training plan and I make sure that all of the schedule works and then if it doesn’t, then I let my coach know that on a certain day that I have too much going on, that I won’t be able to do that, maybe two full hour workouts are spent three hours that day, so she’ll move it around to make it work with my work schedule. I do sit down and I look at what she put out there and then I work with her on if that’s going to work or not.
BRAD BROWN: Looking at dream races, obviously you’ve raced on the Big Island, you’ve raced some of the iconic Ironman races in the US, what are some of the big races you’d still like to do, are they US based, around the world, what do you have your eye on?
SYDNEY TERVORT: I would like to do some of those international races that I haven’t chosen which one, but I know that’s in the back of my mind. The other one that I wanted to race is Santa Rosa but was called Vineman and I’m actually signed up for that one next year, so I’m really excited to be going to do that. Vineman was my first half 2.5 years ago, so I’m really excited to get back there and do the full. That was on my list and then I haven’t picked which European race, but I would love to go do, maybe one of the ones in Mexico, I’m really fond of beaches and warmth.
BRAD BROWN: When it comes to choosing races, do you choose courses that suit you? What are you strong at? Do you love the faster flatter courses or do you love the hillier ones?
SYDNEY TERVORT: What’s funny, I should probably be much more analytical about those kinds of things but up to this point, I’m just so new to this, I sign up for the ones my coaches tell me to sign up. We go as a group, that’s a lot of the fun of it for me and that’s what got me into it and that’s what keeps me here and that’s what keeps me challenged is that we have a really great team and so when we go into races, there’s usually quite a few of us and so I kind of go with the pack. We had seven of us in Kona.
BRAD BROWN: Wow and that’s incredible and that’s probably some great advice to somebody starting out in the sport too is find like-minded people to hang out with because the sport can get very lonely and the races themselves are quite lonely. When you’re out there for a long time, you’re very much in your head and it’s nice to be able to have a group of people who get you and you get them.
SYDNEY TERVORT: Absolutely and we have such a group of people that aren’t racing who will come and cheer, so you know you’re going to have your cheer points along the way and get encouragement along that run where you need it so bad and yeah, I wouldn’t do this sport, without the social aspect, without the team, without the fun because like you said, you brought up earlier, it gives you a chance to get out of your head. This is my fun, this is my entertainment and the people make it so special.
BRAD BROWN: That they do and I think that’s a great point to leave off. Sydney, thank you so much for sharing your story with us, I think it’s going to inspire a lot of people and best of luck to the buildup to Vineman next year and Kona 2017, I think it’s going to be another incredible race and I know you’re going to go better than fourth, I can’t wait to see what you do.
SYDNEY TERVORT: Thank you, I love your faith in me, thanks so much!
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