by Brooke SchohlWith a three-month-old and toddler at home, TeamSFQ'er Brooke Schohl had the opportunity of a lifetime: entry to the legendary Norseman Xtreme Triathlon. We chatted with her about her decision to embrace this challenge and how she managed to do it all, including run her own Endurance Sports Nutrition business.
I know Norseman entry is by application only, well in advance of the race. I’m imagining the timing would have had you at home with a newborn while applying to partake in this epic challenge less than a year later! What inspired you to throw your name in the ring?
You are so right - the applications were due in October (2017) and baby Greta was only 2 months old at the time! Norseman had been my #1 bucket list goal for over a decade; something I’ve aspired to since getting into triathlon in 2007. My Dad’s side of the family hails from Norway, and we made a trip there in 2014 for the Haugesund 70.3 race. There were several athletes on the course wearing Norseman jerseys and that solidified my desire. One day, I thought…. I will back here, and will earn one of those jerseys myself.
This goal exhilarated and terrified me at the same time. Watch a recap of the race and you’ll see why, but I like a good challenge I guess. I never intended to race an Ironman-distance with 2 babies. It was common knowledge - no one gets drawn his/her first year, and each year that you enter the lottery you have a better chance of being selected. I thought, hey maybe I’ll be drawn in 3-5 years when the kids are a little older; that would be perfect! Little did I know… ;)
You prepared for one of the hardest triathlons out there with two kiddos under three at home which is absolutely incredible! How did you decide on this of all years to be THE year to do it?
When I got the acceptance email on November 11th, I about passed out and called my husband as fast as I could. Now if anyone has a can-do attitude it’s John – he makes the impossible, possible. And all he could muster up in response to my news was “Wow, NEXT YEAR?!!!”.
I know how difficult it is to get into this race (I had only a 5% chance of being drawn), and I just couldn’t pass up the opportunity. What if I let my entry go and was never drawn again? After a long heart to heart with John that night, we decided that I would go for it. He would help me make it happen. I knew the next 9 months would be craziness. So I took a few moments to establish the parameters of my training as it related to family and my nutrition coaching business, Fuel to the Finish. First and foremost, family would always take priority. If the training got too crazy, and my family life or business started to suffer, I’d pull out of the race. (Read the full list of my non-negotiables here.
I’ve raced multiple Ironman distance races, but this one would be especially challenging for a few reasons: 1) It is one of the hardest (if not THE hardest) Ironman due to 10,000 feet of climbing on the bike, a run course featuring 3,000 feet of climbing, multiple climate changes as you travel 140.6 miles across Norway and oh yeah – the race kicks off when you jump off a ferry into freezing fjord water in the dark. The race is also unsupported; you must bring your own crew to provide you everything from food, water, clothing, bike tools, and bike supplies. 2) This would be my first Ironman after having 2 babies back-to-back. I was coming into this training with no fitness, and I had just 9 months to prepare. 3) I now had 2 little munchkins that are pretty time-consuming, as well as a booming business.
When was the last time you had trained for an Ironman before this one and how did your body feel comparatively after growing two humans in three years? What were some of your biggest challenges in coming back to training and racing after these pregnancies?
My last Ironman pre-baby was Cabo in 2013. I raced all 70.3s in 2014 – St George, Haugesund, and the 70.3 World Championships in Mont Tremblant. I got pregnant in December of 2014 and again in December 2016. I’d love to say that I was one of those fabulous women who continued to train and race during pregnancy, but that was far from the truth. I had exercise restrictions with both kids, so walking became my fitness. It was quite a change from the intense swim/bike/run regimen I had adopted the 7 years prior. After having my son Henry, I could only run 3 miles at a time due to pelvic floor prolapse issues. For the last 2 months of my pregnancy with my daughter Greta, I had such bad back/hip issues that I hobbled around in horrible pain for 8 weeks. And now, 3 months after being unable to walk, I was starting Ironman training! I wasn’t at all sure how my body would respond to the training load I was about to place on it. For this reason, I decided to keep my crazy adventure a secret. Only a handful of people knew I’d be racing Norseman - my family, my coach Cheryl Miller, and a few friends/training partners.
Getting back into a training schedule was quite the adjustment. Moms, you know that there is very little predictability with 2 young kids!! Throughout much of training, Greta was still waking in the night to feed. I became quite good at training on just a few hours of sleep. I breastfed her up to 8.5 months, which was a whole other challenge in itself – trying to maintain my milk supply while training ramped up. I did tons of research in this area, and scrutinized my supply to ensure she was getting enough. If production started to dip, I immediately pulled back on my workout intensity.
I completed 4 other races this year – a sprint, two Olympics, and a half ironman. The height of my training happened to coincide with the Arizona summer rolling in full force. So I escaped to Flagstaff a few times for long training bricks. My most challenging days included 2 Mount Lemmon rides and 2 century rides in Flagstaff. The first of these century rides was followed by a 10-mile run and by the time I finished the 8-hour workout (plus 2 hour road trip), it was all I could do to stay awake during dinner to feed the kids and myself. I burned the candle at both ends for many months. There were times when I questioned my sanity and whether the extra stress and sleep deprivation would be worth it in the end. But I kept my head down and kept my eyes on the prize.
Tell us about race day! Norseman is such an iconic event that many will never have the opportunity to experience so please tell us about it! Did it live up to your expectations?
AHHH! It was INCREDIBLE.
The logistics of an overseas Ironman takes considerable planning. In the final weeks leading up to the race, all of the detail management got a little stressful for my Type A self. You have to account for transportation of your self/bike/gear, jet lag, unfamiliar foods and accommodations, rebuilding of bike upon arrival. Additionally, we were leaving the kids at home, so I had to arrange around the clock coverage for them including meal planning and trying to foresee/plan for any issues that might arise while we were away.
We arrived a few days prior to the race. The caliber of athlete there was exceptional. The field was mainly European male triathletes - lots of Kona qualifiers and many Norwegians (who had been training on the course day in and day out). Of the 250 participants, there were only 34 women - and only 6 US women). I loved meeting people from all over the world; it’s the coolest thing about racing outside the US.
Race morning arrived and once I plunged into that freezing water, it was like the weight of the world lifted off my shoulders and it was time to RACE! The course is breathtakingly beautiful, the scenery changes constantly throughout the day and I never tired of looking around me (even when I was swearing out loud on those massive bike hills). I give a detailed account of my race day experience on my blog here if you’d like to know more. It was truly epic and I was honored to represent the United States in such an iconic event!
In addition to being a mom to two young kiddos and preparing for a huge race, you also run your own nutrition business. Can you share some of your top tips for how you manage the great juggling act (feel free to write a dissertation on this btw:))?
For the 9 months of training, I essentially had no down time. Between the babies, my business, training, cooking, housework and trying to see my husband from time to time, every moment of my day was accounted for. It was exhausting, but you learn what you are truly capable of accomplishing in a day and it is pretty impressive! I have to give John a HUGE shout-out as well – this race would not have been a possibility without his support and hands-on fathering.
Here were my top 5 balance tips:
1) Prioritize Commitments & Develop Realistic Time Allotments - always family first. Then work. Then training.
2) Make Peace with What You CAN Accomplish – there are only 24 hours in a day and there’s only one of me. I’ll do my best, that’s all I can do.
3) Minimize Guilt – a certain amount of Mom guilt accompanied me throughout my training, especially when the workouts got really long. But this was where my small network of clued-in family and friends were able to keep me motivated and on track. I focused on the example I was setting for my small children rather than the time spent away from them.
4) Make Every Moment Count – whether it was time spent with family, with clients or in training, I tried to be fully present at all times.
5) Waste No Time – no time for procrastination or whining. Whatever could be accomplished each day – in the moment – was done quickly before the opportunity passed.
Well, having IM training under my belt sure helped put things in perspective! I feel like I have SO MUCH FREE TIME NOW. LOL, it’s wonderful. The routine of normal, day-to-day life is such a beautiful thing.
What’s next for you in triathlon and life?? I want to qualify for and race the Boston Marathon in the next few years. But in the short-term, you’ll find me sleeping in (until 6am!), and spending time with John and my babies ☺
Brooke Schohl is a 4-time ironman finisher, mother of two, and owner/founder of Fuel to the Finish endurance sports nutrition coaching. We are so proud to have her on our TeamSFQ!