The Kona Edge heads off to Chicago to catch up with Sara Fix an chat about her Ironman story. Sara, a wife and mother 3, has been to Kona 5 times and she has a cool Ironman story.
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BRAD BROWN: We head to the US now to touch base with Sara Fix. Sara welcome onto The Kona Edge. Thanks for joining us today.
SARA FIX: Thanks for having me.
BRAD BROWN: Sara you are based pretty much in Chicago, just outside I think you said on the West of Chicago. The triathlon scene in Chicago, what is it like?
Making Triathlon your entire life
SARA FIX: It’s very active and it’s active from the city to all the expanding suburbs. It’s got a very big, predominantly club kind of feel where people are affiliated with the club, train with the club, and race with the club. So that makes it fun. There’s a real sense of community in that regard. It’s in my entire life.
I’m a mom of 3 kids and I’m married and I live in Hinton, Illinois. It’s my living, I wake up every day; I have two training facilities where I coach and train. I have eight coaches that work for us. We coach and train triathletes. We’re the largest club in Illinois. It’s called Endure It Sports. We are ranked nationally and internationally, pretty high up. We just won Madison 70.3 overall which was really exciting. I coach athletes online and I have retail facilities as well where we sell Cervelo, Scott and Trek. Soft goods that pretty much tie in to club apparel; I don’t do a lot of extra clothing and items that are not strictly Endure It.
So, I basically live and breathe triathlon every day. I’ve done 24 Ironmans. I’ve been to Kona five times; I’ve done lots and lots of half Ironmans. It’s really an important part of my life. I love it and I love spending time with new athletes and training on my love and learning from all the athletes. Our age groups span from 30 to Bob Scott who is one of the oldest Ironman guys around. I know most of you have heard about Scott. He lives in Naperville which is where one of our locations is. We put on 4 training camps a year, so like I said I’m pretty busy and I love it.
BRAD BROWN: Sara, where did your love for triathlon stem from? What is your background? How did you get into the sport?
A blind date leads to marriage and love of triathlon
SARA FIX: Ok so very quickly, I will not bore you. I was a horseback rider girl and in 1996, I went on a blind date with this guy and he had just gotten back from the Ironman World Championships. He was explaining to me how that all works and I sat there for 2 hours in absolute disbelief. Like asking every question. I could not figure out how you would get out of the water, put clothes on, then bike 112 miles. The whole thing just sounded weird to me.
At that point I had started running marathons so I got the idea of being competitive and needing a workout, but that to me was just totally over the top. So we started dating and again that year, in 1997, he qualified for Kona. And that year he asked me to go with him and I went and watched. And I just remember feeling, I volunteered, and I remember feeling when they crossed the finish line they would morph into something else. There was just no way this had just happened before my eyes and they’d been out there doing all this. I could not grasp it.
I did not know how to swim at this point. So, we came home from that and we were still dating and I said would you teach me to swim. That man became my husband and the father of my kids. He taught me to swim and in 1998 I did my first bunch of triathlons. I raced and raced and raced and we got married. And in 1999 I did my first 2 Ironmans. I did Ironman Canada and Ironman Florida back to back.
Preparing for Ironman within 9 months and 2 babies later
I came home from Ironman Florida and I was actually pretty old. I was about 33 or 34 at the time. And I thought well, we’re married now and I’m getting older and I love to do Ironman. I thought it was so cool. But I thought if I’m going to be a mom I’d better get going on it. So I had 2 babies. First I had Olivia in 2000, and then I had Charlie in 2001. They’re a year apart. And I came back from that and I thought well I could get ready for an Ironman in 9 months. So I got ready for Ironman Wisconsin within 9 months, carried them across the finish line and finished 15th woman overall and qualified for Kona.
BRAD BROWN: Wow
SARA FIX: Then I went to Kona that year, 2003, with them. They’ve been to almost every single Ironman I’ve done since, so it’s a total family affair as well.
BRAD BROWN: You talk about the horseback riding. Were you pretty competitive horseback riding or was it more just an activity to keep yourself in shape?
SARA FIX: No, we were definitely competitive. Something I do with my sisters. So we did hunters and jumpers and my sisters still do it. But when I got to college I thought, it was never really for me. I kind of did it because it was our family sport but I never excelled at it like they did. And I don’t think I ever really loved it as much as them. But when I started running in college and started competing in marathons that was like, I’ve got it, I loved it.
The family loving every part of triathlon
And that’s the same thing with triathlon. I love it so much and I love every part of it. I love the training, I love the racing, I love the camaraderie, I love the friendships, and I love this camp we just did. Over 200 miles in 48 hours. We ran probably, average somewhere between 22 and 28 miles and they swam. They had a short swim. We had 32 campers there and I’m really tired this morning. I’m wiped out but it’s just so fun to be able to do that at 51 years old. To be fit enough to be able to do that kind of exercise. My daughter was one of the stag drivers so that means she gave support. She’s now almost 17 so it’s been a long haul but I just think it’s such a great sport.
BRAD BROWN: Sara what’s the key to staying fresh in it? You’ve been around it for a while now. Like you said, you’ve done lots of races and you’ve trained year in and year out. You see it so often, people come into the sport, they burst onto the scene, they stick around for a year or two and then you never see them again. How have you stayed fresh and focused and motivated to keep doing what you’re doing?
SARA FIX: Yes that’s so funny. My husband and I talk about it. My husband actually, he went on to do Hawaii, I think we went 5 more times and watched him competing in Kona. Then he did Ironman Wisconsin as well, two times. Now he’s retired. Even my kids last night at dinner said “Dad you know it will be really cool if you got in shape again”. He definitely had staying power but he’s retired.
Tenacity keeps you in the game longer
And a lot of our friends who trained with us when I was in my early 30’s, they are totally out of the sport. And I see it all the time in Endure It. I have customers that will be around for a couple of years, and then they’ll leave for a couple of years. I have owned Endure It for 12 years so I have seen that way come and go. But for me, I just say I think I’m kind of like a Jack Russell.
There are really elite athletes and professionals that can race lots of Ironmans and that’s their number one focus and they can do 2 and 3 a year. But I have a full time business that takes probably at least 50 hours a week. I train, I coach, and I coach online 62 athletes. Take care of 3 kids. Most people don’t stick around for Ironman through that. I don’t know what it is. I think I’m just tenacious. Once I start something I don’t stop. I’ve never quit. I’ve been taken off one Ironman course and that’s because I crashed and got taken off in an ambulance. I’ve never DNF’d except for that. I’ve never quit a 70.3, it’s just not in me. I don’t know what it is. I think I’m strange.
BRAD BROWN: You must be pretty good time management wise. Like you say you’ve got a busy life. You’ve got a business, you’ve got a family, you’re a wife, you’ve got kids to take care of, you’ve got to train yourself. How do you keep all those balls in the air? What’s the secret to keeping sane in that situation?
A fulfilling life being in motion
SARA FIX: I think honestly, what blows me away is how little some people do with their life. We also put on 4 events a year at Endure It and give a lot of money to charity. Sometimes I look at people and think okay, if you could just take one thing and fill your life up with things that are so much more meaningful than some of this other garbage that people get caught up in. I don’t know how to live any other way.
I like my life feeling full and I know, and I have felt before, that people might think it strange but my kids are really well adjusted. They have a really good family life. Our company is thriving so I know that it’s just kind of what I’m meant to do and it’s just sort of a natural thing for me. If I take things off of my plate I think I’m less effective and less happy. I enjoy giving, I enjoy being involved, I enjoy being in motion, like 24 hours a day. That is just the person that I am. I’m up every day at 4am and busy with my kids into the late evening. And it’s just sort of how I’m wired.
So I would say there’s definite time management and I have people in my life like my business partner at Endure It and my husband and my kids and friends and people and customers. People that help and participate in my life that make each little slot a little easier. I get help where I need it but I think my motto is that I’m just happier in motion. And I’m happier and really feel better with a full life.
BRAD BROWN: As far as achievements in the sport, what are you most proud of personally that you’ve managed to achieve in the sport?
Time management with 3 babies and a new business
SARA FIX: Ok so I have lots of waves. I had that great time in 2002/2003 that was really cool and I came home from that and I thought oh my gosh, I am now officially getting old. I won’t be able to have babies anymore and I loved having babies. I loved bringing Charlie back home and I should probably have one more. So I had another baby, Andrew. And he’s 12 now. That was 2004. 2005 I took that year off.
Then from 2006 till about 2011, that’s when Endure It opened and I sort of struggled. I had 3 little babies. They were all like 4, 3 and 1. Then Endure It was opened and from 2006 till 2011 I did a ton of Ironmans. I think I might have put 12 in over that period of time and I’ve never gone, which is kind of sad, I’ve never gone slower than an 11:55 but I was like stuck. It was between 11:20 and 11:55 so I stayed there in that time frame for all those years which was fine. I was busy.
I never put a lot of pressure on myself. I loved competing; I was still finishing on top in my age group but I was never getting a slot to Kona, I was just always off. I’d finish races and I’d go this is it for sure; I’ve won this one. My husband would look over at me and go like Nah, you didn’t. And I thought my time to be great would stop right in that little bud.
Make your workouts about you
Then 2011, I had a breakthrough year. I did Coeur d’Alene and I won an 11:05 and went off to Kona and did 11:03. So I qualified there and that was like a pinnacle year. Then I kind of went back to that same spot. Just sort of drifting and then the next spot was, I felt that Endure It was in a good place. My kids are in a really good place and I thought well maybe now I’ll put some effort into it. And I hired Magoo Mogado who was a professional triathlete and he gave me a lot of guidance.
It wasn’t that I really needed a coach; I just needed real guidance on how to manage myself and my workouts and make my workouts about me. I was not really great at making my workouts about me; I was always kind of fitting them in. Because I’d do run club and I teach Computrainer and I do runs with people and swim the swim team; it’s always about everybody else.
So he helped me stop that cycle and get a little more focused on myself and what my real needs were. I did Ironman Texas, qualified for Kona and did Ironman Texas again and qualified for Kona. Both years I was 7th at Kona. And my biggest accomplishment was that I finished Texas in 9:40 and I biked a 4:20 at age 50.
BRAD BROWN: Wow
It might take a few years but keep training, don’t give up
SARA FIX: I had a PR at age 50 that was out of this world compared to what I’d been doing. Then went to Kona a couple of months later and was 7th. That was only a year ago. So everybody keep training, don’t give up. It might take you 20 years but you can get that Pr.
BRAD BROWN: That’s incredible. Would you say it was getting a coach and focusing on you that made the big difference? Is that the only reason why?
SARA FIX: Again, I don’t know what else it could have been. Because the training was a little bit different but it was more about the idea that this was about me and not about anybody else. So we’d go to run club and I would ride a bike which was weird for me instead of running with everybody.
Focus on you to help your workouts
Then I would go do my run, on the track I would do my run. It didn’t take long; it wasn’t like I needed a year to do it. I have a huge base. He took 12 weeks and he really just had me focus on me and make the workouts about me. And he did it in a way that made it super easy. Like the Computrainer. Even though definitely I could have been outside more. He utilised Computrainer and things that were really easy for me to get on and do alone, and be super focused. Not big long workouts, but lots and lots of focus. And it helped.
BRAD BROWN: You’ve worked with a lot of athletes through your career. This is a tough question to ask. If somebody comes to you, do you think it’s possible for anyone to qualify for Kona? If they’re willing to do what it takes?
BRAD BROWN: From a gadget perspective, do you as a triathlete need all the bits and bobs, in your opinion?
Do you really need the latest gadgets?
SARA FIX: I’m lucky because I have a store that I can get all the nicest things now. But you will be surprised, Endure It opened in 2005 and I don’t think I ever had the nicest bike in the shop until this year. And my bike still isn’t the nicest bike but one of the nicer bikes. I had nice bikes and I had fine equipment but I have never been one to be a real, that’s why Eric who is my business partner, that’s more his thing. I sell the top bikes. For me that’s never been “oh I’ve got to have this on my bike”.
I can’t get too carried away with all that but I have to say two things that I’ve gotten that I love. Electronic shifting, I thought that was crazy and I thought that was so not appropriate for a cyclist. Because I thought it was so against the grain and not grass roots and you can’t switch your own gears and I just thought that was silly. Why would you even get anything electronic and what if it doesn’t work on you?
So, I got electronic shifting and I think that was one of the turns in my cycling career because you become so much more efficient. It’s like wind because you’re constantly shifting so you’re always in the right gear. So the more you’re in the right gear, climbing, descending, on flats, you’re more efficient, you’re more effective. That was one thing I thought was awesome and I would highly recommend people getting that.
Try out those gadgets and get a new life on your bike
I watched it this weekend on some of our older athletes, where they should be the most efficient on those climbs and things that are really difficult. They get stuck in gears because they have to lift their hand up and pull and then they have to go over to the side and pull. And so they get stuck and they are not as quick to change gears.
Where electronic shifting is just taps with your thumbs and it’s just so much easier. You can put them on the bullhorn; you can put them up on the aero bars. So that’s one thing I love.
Then one thing that I thought was silly was the CeramicSpeed which they introduced last year in Kona. Really, that was like the big push. Again I thought that’s so silly I don’t get that. And then I put it on my bike and actually the rolling power and the amount you can feel your cranks going, it’s so much more of a natural pedal stroke. So I think those are really two things that I definitely could say it made a difference for me.
BRAD BROWN: Tell me bike wise, what are you riding at the moment?
Super happy on a new bike
SARA FIX: I’ve always been on a Trek and I’ve switched to the Cervelo. And Cervelo we sell, I think we’re one of the top dealers or right up there, 1, 2 top dealers in the Midwest for Cervelo and we sell a ton of them. They’re awesome bikes, they’re like the pinnacle of the sport bike.
That’s all Cervelo does is make road and track bikes. They’re not involved in anything else the way all the other bike lines are. So this is their main focus and I just never got on a Cervelo because everybody in the shop was riding a Cervelo. My husband always rode a Cervelo; Eric always rode a Cervelo so I always stayed on the Trek. But this year I got the P5 and I really love my P5. Super happy.
BRAD BROWN: Let’s talk Kona and the big island itself. It’s a pretty mystical place. Anybody who has raced there will tell you that. For you, what makes Kona so special?
SARA FIX: It’s always been a family vacation except for that first year that I went to watch David. Ever since then the times that we’ve gone with David or with me, it’s been the whole family which is super special, I always start crying.
Surrounded by the awesomeness of Kona
I think Kona is really awesome, primarily just because we get there and it’s so fun to be surrounded by the best athletes in the world. Especially when you love the sport the way I do because it’s the celebration of these people who have put so much into the sport the way you have. And it’s just fun to be around that many amazing athletes that are so far superior to me because there’s such a huge pro field there too.
So, it’s just so fun, the whole week. We always go for 10 days and the whole atmosphere and all the expo is fun and all the new products are fun.
The swim start. Going down to the swim start in the mornings with all the people and my kids go down with us. My kids are actually swimmers so they do the swim with us. My kids know now so much, way more about the pros and all that stuff, so wherever we go they’re getting autographs and they’re just really excited. And I obviously love the weather. I love it.
Take a break and reassess to make you hungry for Ironman
This is actually my first year, so Kona I finished in October, and this year I decided I’m taking a full year off racing. So in October I’ll pick my next year’s races, but this year I’ve actually completely taken a year off. Which I’ve never done except for when I’ve had babies. So we’re obviously not going to be going to Hawaii this year but it’s good to miss it. It’s good to want to go back.
BRAD BROWN: Yes, sometimes it is good to take a break and just step away for a while and reassess things. I’ve found that this year as well and I haven’t done an Ironman this year. The plan is not to do one this year but I’m starting to now feel the itch is back and sometimes I think you need that. You almost can become jaded by doing the same things over and over. You need to reassess and look at goals and come back hungrier sometimes.
SARA FIX: Right, yes.
BRAD BROWN: From a mental perspective Sara, for you, racing from a physical versus mental perspective, we all talk about training physically, what about training mentally? Is that something you focus on?
Do more than tick off the list in your workouts
SARA FIX: Okay so this is my big speel, my athletes that I coach is that I feel really on race day, most people now have coaches or clubs. And a lot of clubs now have training programs so they do Computrainer together, they run together, they swim together. So when everybody shows up, there’s a few outliers, but most people have done about the same training. They’ve followed some 12 week program, or 16 week program. So everybody to some degree has got almost the same training under their belt.
And in the end what it comes down to is that most people focus on all those workouts and marking those all off the list and they never train their nutrition. They don’t even think about their nutrition. They go on these long bike rides and they go to gas stations, they treat the gas stations like a schmoga store, they never focus on race day nutrition. When they go running they take a Gatorade before and then they run. So that’s never their focus.
Only you can teach yourself mental strength
And then the other thing is the mental. The guys that show up on a racecourse with their mental game in order and their nutrition game in order, those are the winners. So I think the mental thing is a huge part of the race and I don’t know if you can teach mental. I think sometimes to watch someone prepare and execute a race, and watch their intensity and their focus is helpful.
I think early on, my husband was an age group high school and collegiate swimmer, went to the Olympic trials. So he had this whole ability and mindset about how to really over focus and get really turned into himself. And when we were dating, this was a short course.
Back then he could qualify for Kona by doing Chicago, the Mrs. T’s, or whatever they call it now, it has a million different names. That’s a big Olympic distance race but even for that, which in my mind is a short distance, and absolutely it’s super hard if you’re going to try and win the race overall. But his ability to hone in and focus, I just watched that over and over, I watched it in his training.
And I think that was one thing in our relationship early on that I could not understand. I was just like golly, how does this guy do this, it’s so kind of weird. Because I’m like trying to bring the whole world in and I never want to focus on myself too much. But I watched it over and over and over. I watched it in his training, I watched it in his racing, I watched how he did this and it rubbed off on me.
The more moments you’re focused the more free time you gain
I can’t do it for long periods of time but I’m able to do that thing where I can flip the switch and I can start to really focus in on myself, and say okay now it’s about you and now you’ve got to get into your own space. And you don’t have to do it for long. It’s just those couple of days before the race.
He would do it through training too which I can’t do. But just right before the race, being able to turn off the world and really focus on the task at hand. Doing a lot of mental imaging. And my two little keys that I say to everybody “the more moments that you’re focused on your race, every pedal stroke, every run stride, it’s all free time”.
The more moments in your 11, 12, 17 hour day that you are focused on exactly what you are doing in that moment, never letting your mind drift, always focusing on your food, how you’re going to ride the hills, how you’re going to descend. Your gearing, your splits, your run stride, whatever it is, all those moments that you’re focused, those are just free time.
A lot of people just get out there and their mind goes and they can’t remember why they’re in the sport and they’re drifting and doing this and doing that, and they’re just giving away time. I think that, from a mental perspective on that day, I think that’s probably the most helpful thing.
BRAD BROWN: Brilliant. Well Sara I think we can leave it there. I look forward to chatting about the individual disciplines next time out but we’ll save that for another day. Thanks for your time today on The Kona Edge.
SARA FIX: Thank you. Good talking to you.
Brad Brown is a 40 something age grouper that dreams of one day qualifying for and racing on the big island (He may have to outlive everyone in his age group though).
Morbidly obese in 2009, Brad clocked in at 165kgs (363lbs) at his heaviest.
He's subsequently lost a third of his body weight on the way to a half Ironman pb of 5:06 and a full Ironman pb of 12:21.
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