Transcending Triathlon Training: An interview with Rafa Olarra

Maybe you call yourself a runner. You might swim laps at the gym when you’re looking for a change of pace. Go out for a long, Saturday afternoon bike ride, to see where the road takes you. But just because you can–and like to–run, swim, and cycle, does that mean you’ve got what it takes to be a triathlete?

According to Rafa Olarra, Le Mec founding member and Creative Director, the answer depends more on your mindset than it does on your physical ability.

It’s no surprise that becoming a triathlete requires incredible physical endurance, commitment, and versatile training. With all that training, it’s easy to get so caught up in what your body is physically capable of, you forget that what gets you across the finish line aren’t your lungs or your legs, but your mind.

As Rafa prepares for his next triathlon, we sat down together to ask about how novices and experts should view their training in a new light and learn how having the right mindset can result in rewards that transcend the expected. And did we mention he’s just four months out from having major knee surgery?

Here’s what he had to say about training for a triathlon on October 5th. 

LM: Rafa, this isn’t your first triathlon, but do you ever stop and ask yourself, “Why am I doing this?”

Rafa in Los Olas Triathlon in Fort Lauderdale 2019

RO: I do, but I already know the answer. I do this to embrace the challenge, to push the limits of my mind and body. The difficult part is the training and preparing your mind for the hard physical work.The mind always gives up before the body.

LM: When is your triathlon and when did you start training? What motivated you to sign up for it?

RO: The triathlon is on October 5th; it’s my first since I injured my knee a year ago. I had surgery 4 months ago, and 3 weeks ago I started running again. I started out by running 5 min per day for a week, then a week of 10 min per day, then 20 min per day. I’m still not back to where I was before the accident. But I like the challenge of trying to be in my best possible form in 30 days. It motivates me.

LM: Out of all the training: running, cycling, swimming, diet… what do you love the most? What do you like the least or is the most challenging? And why?

RO: Running is my favorite. I like to do it at sunrise, when everyone is still asleep and it’s quiet out. I set my phone on silent so it’s just me and my thoughts. It’s active meditation. It clears my head and gives me a positive perspective to face the day. Running also makes me get into a zone where my mind leaves my body and I connect to something superior.

What I like the least is swimming in the ocean, where the water is too deep to see down to the bottom. I love doing laps in the pool, but I’m terrified of the deep ocean. I tend to panic out there, so I developed a method to refocus on my training by counting my strokes, which helps me conquer my fear.

LM:  What advice do you have for someone who is training for a triathlon or thinking of doing one?

RO: Interval training is possibly the most effective method for building endurance. It teaches the body to work the muscles when they aren’t getting as much oxygen as they need, so they can last longer and longer over time. A good night’s sleep is super important. Learn to compartmentalize pain. And, most importantly, enjoy every second of the journey!

LM: What motivates you to keep going when you’re tired or overwhelmed by your training routine?

RO: I’m never too tired for training, I need it. Training is my anchor point. No great achievement is accomplished without hard work. That mindset is an eternal source of motivation.

LM:  What are your must-have workout accessories?

RO: My Pas Normal Studios Training Shorts and compression shorts are essential. Along with my Garmin watch and my Bose headphones.

LM:  How is this triathlon training different from others you have trained for? 

RO: This training is different because I’m still recovering and healing from surgery, so I have to be extremely careful about how and how much I push my body. Some days I have to rest my healing knee. Normally, I would train every single day with almost no rest.

LM:  Do you feel that your personal life has been impacted positively or negatively by your commitment to your training? In what ways?

RO: It’s definitely been impacted in a positive way. Because of my training routine, I wake up earlier, making my day longer, and when I go to work my mind is more focused and works much faster and effectively. And I sleep better at night. Training has also pushed me to start healthier relationships. I’m surrounding myself with people with similar interests and motivations.

LM: How much does a desire to win influence your training goals? Is this just about competition for you or a desire to evolve?

Rafa in Miami International Triathlon 2019

RO: Winning is definitely not the ultimate goal. It’s all about evolving, about the challenge of pushing the limits to be a better version of myself and build resilience. I focus on the process, not on the outcome.

LM: Do you have a quote or mantra that keeps you motivated?

RO: “The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.” - Marcus Aurelius

If you’re gearing up for triathlon training or looking to upgrade your workout essentials, check out Le Mec’s curation of Training products.

You can follow Rafa @RafaOlarra

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