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Tamara Jewett is a pro triathlete from Canada. Tamara has 8 Ironman 70.3 podiums on her resume, including 3 wins. She is known as being one of the fastest runners in triathlon and is currently ranked 9th in the world in the PTO rankings. In this interview we discuss Tamara's training, her progression through the sport, combining training with a full-time job (until 2022) and lots more.
In this episode you'll learn about:
- Tamara's running background, and overcoming injuries and eating disorders
- Her 2023 season so far (winning Oceanside 70.3, 6th in PTO European Open) and goals for the rest of the year
- Detailed breakdown of a key training week before PTO European Open
- How she has improved her swim by slowing down and focusing on technique
- Being one of the fastest runners in triathlon on three runs per week (but about 60 km in those three runs)
- Combining training and racing as a professional with working a full-time (at times part-time) job until the fall of 2022
- Brick workouts, strength training, rest days, naps and more
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- I am a professional athlete from Canada with a background in track and field.
- I began my triathlon journey in 2018 after a decade of struggling with injuries on the track.
- 2008 as a junior athlete, I had a breakthrough year in track, performing well at the World Junior Track and Field Championship.
- However, when I started university the following year, I faced constant injury problems.
- My injuries included multiple plantar fascia tears, which took a long time to heal due to the low blood supply in that area.
- I also experienced femoral and tibial stress fractures, a disc bulge in my back, and sesamoiditis.
- Each injury posed challenges and required significant healing time.
- The final plantar fascia tear at the insertion point took around 18 months to heal, leaving me unsure if I could ever run again.
- Despite attempts to train through milder cases of plantar fasciitis, my condition would worsen, leading to tears.
- I started focusing more on swimming and cycling to maintain my fitness and keep my athletic goals alive.
- Initially, I participated in age group triathlons, intending to gradually reintroduce running. However, I enjoyed the triathlon immensely and ultimately decided to switch sports.
Factors that lead to those injuries
- Dealing with my injuries was like peeling away layers of an onion, with multiple factors contributing to my challenges.
- At 16, I struggled with a serious eating disorder, which affected my nutrition and hindered my training support. It took until my late 20s to improve my condition and reach a safer state gradually.
- Still, the prolonged impact affected my body's healing capacity and made me more prone to injuries.
- The structure of my feet and body also played a role. If not closely monitored, I have rigid arches and a predisposition for developing plantar fascia issues.
- Middle-distance running, particularly on indoor tracks with tight turns, caused hip imbalances and further exacerbated my injury risks.
- Balancing the stress of sports and academic responsibilities added to my challenges. The constant pressure and juggling of priorities did not always contribute to optimal recovery or injury prevention.
- Unlike many runners who experience injuries due to sudden increases in mileage, that wasn't a prominent factor for me. My coaches were cautious with my running mileage during my first year of university. However, there was resistance to incorporating significant cross-training unless necessary. Integrating more swim and bike training alongside my regular running may have saved my track career.
Solving eating disorders
- Looking back, I wish I had sought more professional help for my struggles.
- While I did work with nutritionists to establish better healing habits, I neglected to work with a psychologist, which made my journey much more challenging.
- I took on the process primarily by myself, driven by my determination.
- At 16, I faced the most severe physical issues: underweight, anaemic, and poor blood indicators.
- My coaches primarily focused on working with a nutritionist to address these concerns.
- Although it helped me reach a baseline level of health and improve my running, I remained around eight pounds lighter than my current stable and healthier weight for a long time.
- During my first or second year of university, I was referred to a well-rounded program at a Toronto hospital that addressed the female athlete triad, including psychological support.
- However, my stubbornness prevented me from continuing with the program. Over the next decade, I embarked on an internal journey, continuously working to solve my problems.
- Despite initially contributing to the issue, my strong drive to improve my athletic performance played a significant role in realising that my approach was not working, prompting me to seek alternative methods.
- Dealing with an eating disorder is psychologically challenging and can create a tense, controlled, and unhappy mindset.
- It wasn't until my late 20s that I felt fully healed. Interestingly, one of my femoral stress fractures, which forced me to be on crutches for an extended period, resulted in reduced activity and acceptance of changes in my body.
- Although it was a complicated process, it brought a significant psychological boost.
- My sister, training to be a clinical psychologist, worked in an eating disorder clinic and informed me that forced cessation of exercise is a standard treatment with some success.
- In a strange twist of fate, some of my injuries inadvertently mimicked this treatment, which I was initially reluctant to pursue.
- However, it is challenging to provide a clear roadmap for others to achieve the same positive outcome, as my journey was unconventional, arduous, and time-consuming.
How common are eating disorders in athletics
- In my experience, running-related issues are widespread, especially in the younger athlete's development path in track and field.
- However, switching to triathlon, particularly long-course triathlon, I've noticed more support within the sport that helps mitigate psychological challenges.
- Triathlon seems to have a more diverse body image perception than the narrow view of a desirable body image in running.
- The emphasis on being thin to be fast, which didn't work for me in the running, is less prevalent in triathlon.
- I've found it a relief to leave the track and enter triathlon due to the broader acceptance of different body types.
- I've discovered that I run faster now at a heavier weight than when dealing with body image issues.
- This contrast in performance has reinforced the importance of fueling correctly in endurance sports, especially cycling.
- In long-distance cycling, the sensation of bonking and the acute need for more fuel is a visceral reminder that my body requires sufficient calories to perform.
- In running, I felt I could push through with less fuel and tolerate more stress, whereas, in swimming and cycling, I feel the need for proper nourishment is more pronounced.
Swimming and cycling as cross training
- I started incorporating swimming and cycling into my training as cross-training before getting into triathlon.
- Around 2014, I began swimming with a recreational triathlon club at my university in Toronto. Initially, I would swim with them during periods of injury and then solely focus on running when I was injury-free.
- My interest in swimming arose from a prolonged cross-training period, primarily through pool running, which eventually became monotonous and led me to seek a change.
- Joining a training community and engaging in a sport where I could participate in Master's competitions appealed to me.
- It provided additional goals beyond pool running, which lacked competitive opportunities.
- As for cycling, my cross-training mainly consisted of stationary biking in the gym until around 2017.
- During this time, my partner, Chris, who was passionate about cycling, introduced me to road cycling, further expanding my involvement in the sport.
Tamara's cycling and swimming level when she started doing triathlons
- At a recreational level, swimming came naturally to me as I had always been comfortable in the water, growing up playing in pools and lakes.
- Although I hadn't received formal competitive swim training, I felt at ease. With good aerobic fitness, I worked towards achieving a 30-minute 2 km swim time in triathlons.
- Regarding cycling, I don't recall my specific bike splits during that time.
- It has taken me a while to develop the ability to push myself as hard in cycling as I do in running.
- I've started to feel more confident in my cycling performance and learned to exert the same effort as I do while running.
- I'm unsure, but we have emphasised cycling-specific strength training in the past year.
- It has been a gradual process of adapting to the unique sensations and exertion of cycling.
First Triathlon races and pro licence
- I participated in various triathlon distances, including sprint, Olympic, and 70.3. In Ontario, where I live, there is an excellent local triathlon circuit.
- During my first summer in triathlons, I completed one sprint, two Olympic, and two 70.3 races.
- One of the 70.3 races I did was Muskoka, which didn't have a pro field then. This race was significant because it was local and closest to me.
- In 2019, I started competing in my first professional races.
- My coach, Suzanne, has guided me towards professional triathlon since I started getting into the sport.
- Initially, I thought I would focus on returning to the track, but my focus shifted as I began enjoying the triathlon.
- In 2018, I won all my local races and obtaining a pro license wasn't an issue.
- Originally, our goal was to qualify for the 70.3 World Championship.
- We analysed my bike split and compared it to another pro triathlete in Toronto who had competed at Worlds.
- We strategised about the races I should participate in to have a chance at qualifying.
- However, that season was challenging as I broke my collarbone one month before my scheduled pro race. This led to a delay, and I ended up racing in September 2019, participating in just two pro races that year.
Current season review and goals for the future
- I'm thrilled with my recent performances.
- Winning the 70.3 Oceanside was a breakthrough, mainly because it was a highly competitive race. Unlike previous races, I could stay at the front during the swim and bike segments, which was a new and exciting experience.
- It was a great way to start the season.
- I'm also pleased with my sixth-place finish at the European Open, my best result at the PTO's 100km distance.
- Although I lost my pack during the swim, I stayed positive and worked hard to catch up during the bike and run segments.
- Overall, it was a significant improvement from my previous races.
- My goal is to achieve a top-five result at the 70.3 World Championship.
- I'm focused on building my progress and will be racing in IRONMAN 70.3 Aix-en-Provence in May and IRONMAN 70.3 Mont Tremblant in Canada, which is always a fun environment for Canadian athletes.
- I also have plans to participate in the PTO US Open in early August and the World Championship at the end of August.
- However, the fall season is still uncertain due to race organisers being slow to publish their schedules.
- I'm hoping that Ironman will add more races to their current calendar. I keep checking for updates each month and will start considering my options for the fall.
- When planning my race schedule, I consider several factors.
- Firstly, the financial aspect is important, so I assess the prize purse and travel requirements.
- A larger prize purse makes travelling more enticing and often attracts high-level competition, which is valuable for my development as an athlete.
- Due to the strong fields they attract, I prioritise races that offer more than the typical 70.3 schedule, such as regional championships and PTO races.
- Additionally, I take into account the proximity to my home. If there is a good race nearby that I can drive to, it reduces expenses significantly, eliminating the need to rent a car and lowering overall costs.
- While planning, I consider the timing and spacing of races. I usually have a goal race at the start of the season, often aligned with the 70.3 World Championship.
- I aim to strike a balance between racing frequently and not overwhelming myself.
- Typically, I limit races to a maximum of two per month, or sometimes only one, allowing for designated building months and more time at home.
- With my coach Suzanne, we review all these factors and examine the schedules with these considerations in mind. In doing so, a suitable race schedule naturally falls into place, ensuring I make the most of the opportunities available.
- My swim progress in the past few years has been thanks to my current swim coach, Miguel Vadillo.
- He has helped me and Suzanne to improve my technique rather than just swimming faster.
- Initially, it was challenging as I had to slow down and trust Miguel's guidance for each practice. We worked on body position, even starting with floating exercises. Only recently have we incorporated more fitness work on top of the technique work.
- The swim volume varies depending on the access I have to the pool. I could only swim for about an hour during the pandemic, so we stuck to three-kilometre swims.
- However, recently we have increased it to a range of three to six kilometres per session, with occasional seven or eight-kilometre sessions.
- I usually swim five times a week, including one session focused purely on technique with age group athletes, where I also add some speed work at the end.
- Miguel plans the sessions, and the training varies throughout the year.
- On Fridays, we have a larger group for the technique session, usually around six people, and we swim at a private pool owned by a triathlon club member.
- On other days, there are around four to six of us, and my main training partner is Kristen Marchant, another talented pro athlete. Although she has had injury issues and cannot run much, her swimming has improved significantly, pushing me to keep up with her pace.
- Since the small group sessions, Miguel has provided us with personalised feedback and pays attention to each athlete.
- I swim with this group three times a week, while the other two swims are done on my own at a local pool, following the workouts given by Miguel or Suzanne.
Types of swim workouts
- Suzanne's workouts are not necessarily more challenging but consistently prioritise overall fitness.
- While she also pays attention to swim technique, Miguel is primarily responsible for planning and refining technique.
- When I receive a workout from Suzanne, it usually includes targeted fitness sets aligned with specific goals.
- With Miguel, the workout may involve swimming a specific interval and adjusting the pace based on my perceived effort that day.
- Therefore, his workouts offer a bit more variety.
- They still emphasise fitness but include a broader range of activities. Miguel often incorporates different swim strokes and uses swim equipment more frequently.
- His workouts are designed to be more specific to individual needs and goals, allowing for greater customisation.
- During the winter, my cycling training is on the trainer, which generally involves fewer hours than outdoor cycling. I don't precisely calculate the exact hours of biking each week, but I perceive it to be less on the trainer. The trainer workouts are often more intense, including two high-intensity weekly sessions, such as Zwift races or short, high-intensity intervals.
- There is more unstructured riding when I train outdoors, with some intervals added to keep my mind engaged during long rides.
- Once I transition from the trainer to outdoor cycling in the spring, one of the bike workouts becomes a brick workout, combining cycling with a run.
- Another cycling session in the week focuses more on interval work. Most of my training is on my TT bike, as my road bike is old and needs maintenance.
- I reserve the bike for group rides with cycling clubs that prefer traditional road bikes.
- Additionally, I incorporate some mountain biking into my training.
- Although I'm not highly skilled in mountain biking, it is a recovery ride alternative and allows me to ride with my partner, Chris. It also helps improve my bike handling skills over time.
- I currently run three times a week, totalling approximately 60km. Running has the lowest volume compared to the other two sports.
- My weekly routine consists of two interval workouts and one mileage run.
- The mileage covered during intervals depends on the intensity of the workout.
- Intense intervals may result in lower mileage, while others allow me to cover more distance. Typically, my mileage run is around 20km, and I adjust my warm-up and cool-down to match that distance. Occasionally, the mileage may exceed 20km, reaching around 23km. However, I rarely exceed 30km in one session, as I am not training for a full-distance Ironman.
- The duration of my runs varies, but on average, I maintain a pace of 4min30-45s/km. This equates to approximately 90 minutes or more for the entire run.
- Regarding cycling, I aim to bike five days a week, similar to swimming.
- Occasionally, due to logistical reasons, I may have fewer biking days. In the past few months, there have been days where I have participated in all three sports, but typically I focus on two sports per day. I could only manage two sports in a day during my previous full-time work commitment.
Winter run training
- I prefer to do most of my training outdoors, especially for interval workouts. When I lived closer to the University of Toronto, I used their indoor track.
- However, accessing an indoor track is inconvenient since I currently reside outside Toronto. Fortunately, quiet roads near my location are promptly cleared of snow, allowing me to maintain good road conditions for my intervals.
- I enjoy bundling up and running outside, even in cold weather.
- I don't particularly appreciate doing intervals on a treadmill, although I occasionally use it for steady mileage runs when necessary.
- If given a choice, I prefer to avoid treadmill running, particularly for interval training.
- Throughout the past year, I only resorted to indoor intervals once, primarily for injury recovery purposes rather than a preference for indoor training.
Run training periodisation
- In terms of running, my training approach differs from cycling. We focus on slightly lower-intensity runs during the winter and gradually increase the intensity in the spring, often incorporating outdoor track sessions.
- Although most of my training takes place on the road, we occasionally incorporate shorter track workouts, such as 300m, 400m, and 200m intervals, usually during the spring season.
- In the winter, the emphasis is on rebuilding a solid running base.
- In late December, I took a significant break to prevent injuries and slowly ease back into running.
- My brother-in-law Ethan, who used to run with me at the University of Toronto, provides guidance and advises Suzanne and me on my run workouts.
- We observe patterns in his training and gradually increase volume during the winter while saving more intense sessions for later in the year.
- By the time of our races, I felt stronger and more prepared for longer distances at a slightly higher intensity.
- Last year, leading up to the worlds, we focused on building solid five-kilometre hilly intervals to match the challenging St. George course.
- This period was when I felt remarkably well in my running, as all the training throughout the year came together.
Typical training week
- During the last big training week before heading to Europe, I had 25 hours of training.
- This included 9h30 of swim and biking, four hours of running, and three hours of strength training.
- The strength training consisted of three weight room sessions and additional bodyweight exercises daily.
- The key workouts during the week included two 6km swims and a challenging brick workout that involved 40km of cycling just above race watts, followed by five-kilometre progression intervals.
- The brick workout helped build fitness and confidence on the bike. The rest of the week, I included hill repeats, cornering technique work, easy long rides, mileage runs, and shorter swim and strength sessions.
- On Friday, I had a leisurely technique swim and a trainer workout, which could be substituted with mountain biking.
- The weight session on this day was lighter than earlier in the week, with more repetitions of each exercise. Saturday was typically an off day, but occasionally I would fit in a swim if necessary. However, I aimed to prioritise complete rest on Saturdays for mental and physical recovery.
- Sunday focused on a run workout consisting of various intervals alternating between tempo and race pace within longer intervals. This session covered a total volume of 11km.
- This week of training took place two weeks before the race in Ibiza.
- I prefer to take Saturdays as complete off days to allow for adequate rest and recovery, benefiting my mental state and the absorption of nutrients in my body.
- My most challenging workout of the week is the brick workout, with the 40-kilometre bike effort followed by a run workout.
- The bike effort is typically 10 to 20 watts above my race goal power output.
- Throughout the primary season, I incorporate a lot of brick workouts into my training routine.
- Although Suzanne prefers to do them every week, I've noticed that my body doesn't respond well to them in the week following a race, so we avoid doing them during that time.
- However, besides the post-race period, brick workouts are a regular part of my training regimen.
- This year, we started them earlier since I participated in a training camp in Las Vegas in late March, allowing me to ride on the roads earlier than usual.
- Typically, we begin brick workouts in April when the weather is still cool enough to ride outside for an extended period comfortably.
- We continue these workouts until November, with the bike portion sometimes transitioning to an indoor trainer due to weather conditions.
Combining work and training
- While transitioning to triathlon in 2018 and 2019, I faced an intense period as I balanced my training with articling at a law firm.
- Articling is a residency-like program where hours are unpredictable, making it challenging to find time for training.
- I would wake up early, around 4:30 or 5 in the morning, to fit in a training session before work.
- Training hours were limited, possibly around 12 hours per week. I had to be flexible with my planned off day to accommodate work demands and lack of sleep.
- Balancing work and training left little time for social activities, but I managed to squeeze in workouts with my supportive now-husband.
- Although it was draining, I found energy and enjoyment in my work and triathlon pursuits.
- I negotiated a year off from work in 2020 to focus on triathlon, but the pandemic disrupted international racing, leading me to return to full-time work in October 2020.
- I negotiated a part-time work arrangement with reduced billable hour targets to create a better work-life balance.
- However, the nature of my work made it difficult to have a fixed schedule, requiring proactive time management and accepting a lack of control.
- Throughout the year, I worked fewer hours and focused on efficiently and proactively completing tasks.
- Mornings were crucial as they allowed me to control my training before the rest of my day became unpredictable.
- Even if I couldn't complete all my planned training for the day, starting with a solid morning session helped me clear my mind and be focused at work.
- This efficiency allowed me to avoid wasting time and be productive in completing tasks.
- A flexible day off was beneficial as it provided a pressure relief valve in my week, allowing me to accommodate my work schedule.
- Although it didn't always align perfectly with my training schedule, it helped create a balance.
- I had to relinquish the expectation of constantly feeling optimal before a workout. It was important not to be too precious about how I felt and instead focus on making the most of the available training window.
- If a workout didn't fit within that window, I had to accept that it wouldn't fit.
- Sleep was not always optimal, and fatigue was a common experience.
- Despite my efforts to go to bed early, I couldn't always control the variables that affected my sleep patterns.
Transition to pro triathlon
- The main factor in my decision to pursue triathlon as a full-time endeavour was realising my deep passion for the sport and allowing it to have room to flourish.
- It was a gradual process of connecting with other professional athletes and learning about their experiences in making triathlon their sole focus.
- Financial stability was also a consideration, ensuring I could sustain myself year-by-year without worrying about finances.
- There is no specific milestone that I feel compelled to achieve to justify continuing in the sport.
- Instead, I assess each year to determine if it remains feasible and if my heart is still fully committed to triathlon.
- The end-of-year evaluation of my feelings and satisfaction with the journey carries more weight than specific athletic achievements.
- Throughout the year, I try not to stress about various expectations overly.
- Instead, during the fall, I take the time to reflect on the past year and assess whether this path is still working for me.
- Importantly, I have a safety net in knowing that I can return to a career in law if needed, providing a sense of security.
- I participate in one training camp annually, often with a different group each time. This allows me to gain insights from various groups and expand my network within the sport. Last year, I joined Real Triathlon Squad and organised a training camp with them.
- In the past, I have attended camps led by specific coaches and their groups.
- These camps allow me to ride more on the road during late winter or early spring and break up my training blocks at home.
- While I will have focused training blocks at home for the upcoming season, the rest of the year involves a lot of travel to races.
- This naturally interrupts my training routine at home.
- Therefore, I prefer to spend the remaining time at home with my partner, training in familiar locations. As a result, I typically only engage in one training camp of this nature per year.
- The heat adaptation has occurred naturally for me. One race where it could have been beneficial was in Dallas last year, as the conditions were extremely hot and challenging.
- Unfortunately, my performance suffered in that race. However, racing in hot locations is easier for me when I have been training in the heat naturally.
- The part of Ontario where I live experiences high temperatures and humidity during the summer, so adapting to those conditions has generally been advantageous for me in hotter races.
- We continuously strive to improve our bike setup and explore options for testing aerodynamics.
- While wind tunnel testing is something we are interested in, it is pretty expensive.
- Instead, we have worked with different individuals to refine my bike fit. A local startup is experimenting with equipment to test aerodynamics on the road, and we have made adjustments based on their input.
- My sponsor, Jakroo, conducts wind tunnel testing on their race kits. However, our approach has been to gradually improve my position and bike setup each year rather than simultaneously pursuing significant changes.
Total training hours for 2022
I have no idea.
Best VO2 max ever measured
We have never measured my VO2 max.
Best 400-meter swim time or if you have done another kind of typical time trial distance
I don't know my 400 meters. For 200, just under 2min30s and for 100, 1min09s are my best times.
Best 70.3 bike power
220W. We're finally hitting that goal. I'm a relatively small rider, so it's not like crazy high watts.
Best standalone running performance
My best results have been my 70.3 splits regarding my strength and confidence in running. My track times make me a little unhappy because they're far off what I had hoped to achieve at the time. My 5km track PB is about 16min06s, and we aim to get it into the low 15-minute range.
As a junior runner, I ran 9min15s in the 3km at the Junior Worlds, a couple of seconds off the Canadian junior record. My goal was to break nine minutes, and I could never put together consistent enough training.
Do you have one triathlon run that is your best one to date
Oceanside was good psychologically and in terms of speed, and technically is my fastest split. I was also happy with Indian Wells at the end of last season. It was about two minutes faster than I had run on the same course the year before.
What is your typical carbohydrate intake in grams per hour in races?
I have yet to calculate that correctly in grams per hour. I have all the information about what I took in, but we've been thinking about calories in the past, which isn't what you're supposed to be looking at. But I still try to take in at least 200 calories an hour. So for the European Open, we had increased that a bit, maybe more like 240 calories per hour.
I've just started working very recently with a sports nutritionist I know from my running community at home and Precision Fuel and Hydration. And we're taking a more careful look at that now.
Typical sleep duration per day
I'm always aiming for eight hours. I am still determining what it would typically be in terms of when I'm planning my sleep.
I'm trying to get at least eight hours of sleep a night. But I also, since I stopped working, I nap quite a bit during the day.
When and what was your first-ever triathlon?
It was before I started to get into triathlon a bit more in 2018.
It was like a couple of years before that. But it was the K-Town sprint triathlon, an old one in Ontario. And my partner Chris's family lived in Kingston, where that triathlon took place at the time.
So he was doing it for fun. I hadn't done any specific training for it.
I had just returned from a trip to Belgium for track and field that had not gone very well because of a minor injury. However, I had to pull out of a few races there. So as long as I could run on it without pain, I would do that triathlon. And it was a lot of fun. I won the women's race. I was in seventh going into the start of the run and then ran my way up into first by the last kilometre.
Three pieces of advice to improve triathlon performance
- The first point emphasises the importance of focusing on technique and movement in the water, especially for those without a strong swimming background.
- This can raise the swimming potential ceiling and improve speed, even if it feels counterintuitive.
- Another critical aspect is balancing caring about data and not becoming too obsessed.
- Understanding perceived effort in your body and how it correlates with the data is essential.
- Racing based on feel, rather than relying solely on watches or time splits, can be beneficial and has led to breakthrough performances in the past.
- Maintaining joy in the sport is crucial for long-term motivation. During races, finding and appreciating beautiful sections of the bike course can serve as a reminder of the love for the sport.
- These small moments of appreciation can contribute to resilience and motivation over time.
Rapid fire questions
What is your favourite book or resource related to endurance sports?
Thriving in a 24/7 World: An Energizing Tale about Growing through Pressure - book by Peter Jensen
What is an important habit that you have benefited from athletically, professionally or personally?
I am very disciplined about scheduling and time management. (even if I'm not tidy)
Who's somebody that you look up to or that has inspired you?
My coach Suzanne Zelazo is my biggest inspiration, and mentor. She has a lot of life wisdom and gave me the courage to to do triathlon full time in the way I am now.