Goal Setting, Endurance, and Resilience

Featuring Cindy Hutchings

Elite Triathlete

Cindy Hutchings is an elite triathlete who competes around the world, participating in events such as the Ironman and Triathlon World Championships. Here, Cindy talks about her passion for exercise and shares some tips on goalsetting, endurance, and resilience.
AMY KWAK: How did you get your start as a triathlete?

CINDY HUTCHINGS: I have always had to move since I was a kid and swam competitively growing up. I started running as an adult by simply jogging around the neighborhood for fun, which lead to doing some races with friends. Then in the ‘80s, my friends wanted to try this new race in Baltimore called a triathlon, so I borrowed a hybrid bike and was all in. I quickly learned that hydration is crucial, as I ended up in the medical tent at the end of the race. Despite that experience, I was hooked and immediately signed up for a 2nd race in Chicago. I took a break with grad school and kids, but got back into triathlons after my youngest was born. With toddlers in the house, it was very helpful to have a goal and a purpose. The mental health benefits of exercise were a bonus.

AMY KWAK: I didn’t realize there are different types of triathlons – the Olympic, Sprint, Half, and the Ironman. Can you describe each one and also share how you came to compete in the elite category?

CINDY HUTCHINGS: A triathlon is always swim, bike and run, but the distance varies depending on the type. The shortest is a Sprint, which is usually a 500-750 meter swim, 12 mile bike and 5k run. The distances for the Olympic, Half Ironman and Ironman are standardized. The Olympic is a 0.93 mile swim, 24.8 mile bike, and 6.2 mile run. The Ironman is a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, and 26.2 mile run. The Half Ironman is literally half of an Ironman – a 1.2 mile swim, 56 mile bike, and 13.1 mile run.

I am competitive by nature, so when I got back into triathlons, after every race I found areas where I could improve. As I changed my training and race strategy, I would place higher and higher in my age group. After several years, I qualified for the National Championships and barely missed out qualifying for Team USA and racing in the World Championships. That miss ignited a fire in me, and I was extremely motivated to qualify for the World Championship in London the following year. Ultimately, I ended up qualifying and was then motivated to keep earning a spot at Worlds every year. The World Championship races are electric with all of the pomp and circumstance, the high caliber of athletes, and the enthusiastic spectators lining the race course.

AMY KWAK: Clearly, you have to train a lot just to finish one of these races, not to mention compete at such a high level. How often do you work out, what does a typical work out look like, and is there a particular diet that you follow?

CINDY HUTCHINGS: I usually work out 6 days a week with a day off which is important for recovery. I typically swim 3x/week, bike 3x/week, run 3x/week and do yoga/strength training 3x/week. My workouts depend on where I am in my season and the type of race I’m training for, and consist of a mix of endurance and speed work. As for diet, I should probably follow a particular diet, but I am always hungry and don’t always make the best decisions.

AMY KWAK: How do you prepare yourself mentally before a competition? Is this something you work on while you are training?
CINDY HUTCHINGS: I am a huge believer in positive thinking. I learned about it as a competitive youth swimmer and minored in psychology in college. If you envision yourself being successful, you will be successful. There might be some hiccups along the way, but eventually you will achieve your goal. In my training, my biggest hurdle is usually just getting out the door and starting the workout. But once I am out the door, I focus mentally on the last 25% of the workout. This is when I am tired and want to stop, but I know the best benefits – mentally and physically – are in the last 25% of the workout. I would never stop short of the finish line, so I will not stop short of a workout.
I am a huge believer in positive thinking. If you envision yourself being successful, you will be successful.
AMY KWAK: You had mentioned to me that you liked goal setting. How do you set goals and how do you keep coming up with new ones at your elite level.

CINDY HUTCHINGS: For me, I just keep trying something new – whether it be a new World Championship or a new distance or a destination race that friends are doing. I am part of the DC Triathlon Club Elite team and am proudly the oldest member. Being around younger, highly motivated, successful teammates keeps the fun in the training and racing. If something isn’t fun, I won’t stick with it. Last year, after many, many years of racing the Half and Olympic distances, I decided to sign up for my first full Ironman.

AMY KWAK: You must face obstacles and surprises when you are training and competing. Let’s say you get a flat tire, or your body stops cooperating and you hit that wall where the body is about to give out. Can you share some mishaps or tough experiences you’ve had and how you’ve overcome them? How do you keep pushing forward?
CINDY HUTCHINGS: I love problem solving! I approach each race with the attitude that something will not go according to plan and my mantra is, “I am ready, bring it on.” I try to have a plan for every scenario so I am not surprised, but I also realize some things are out of my control. Those are the days when I’m very happy to be alive and appreciate that I’m healthy enough to do what I do. Bike flat tires are easy to fix, but sometimes the body will say enough is enough. When I was younger, I would ignore the body and have overuse injuries that would sideline me. Now I listen to the body and take better care of it with stretching, yoga and taking time off if needed.
AMY KWAK: What is the hardest race you’ve ever done in terms of conditions, or does each race have its challenging aspects?

CINDY HUTCHINGS: Each race has it challenging aspects. Usually you can train for the course, whether it be hilly or flat, choppy or smooth water. Some folks may think a flat course is easier, but it can be difficult with no changes in elevation. It is usually the variable conditions that make a race difficult, namely weather. You can’t always train for the weather conditions, especially if you are traveling a great distance for the race. I recently had a race in Utah that was difficult because the swim was in 59 degree water. It dropped my body temperature, but as the day heated up, I was then dealing with elevated body temperatures. I was also in the desert with no humidity or sweating. Of course, all my training was in the DC area with a cool spring, so I had no heat acclimation. These are all additional challenges that keep me thinking and adjusting as I race.

AMY KWAK: How do you stay motivated during a race, and what is your favorite part about a race?
CINDY HUTCHINGS: I focus on executing my race strategy and staying on top of my nutrition and hydration – no more medical tent visits for me! When I get to the running portion, I tend to push the pace and my body more knowing the finish line isn’t far away. I like to pick athletes ahead of me and see if I can catch them. Anytime I can pass a younger athlete on the course is a win for me. With my first Ironman coming up, I am expecting the race to take me 13-15 hours. I know I will be digging deep for motivation at the end during the 26.2 mile run, and am very happy to have my family and friends there to support me. One thing I love about the sport is the camaraderie. It doesn’t matter what level of athlete you are, everyone is out there training, competing, and supporting each other.
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