When the 5:00 am Saturday morning alarm sounds, it immediately transforms my state of blissful rest into focused determination. It’s race day and there’s no turning back.

I’ve always believed that the activities we do ‘outside’ work have a profound impact on us ‘inside’ work. The year was 2014 and I signed up for my first sprint triathlon; ¼ mile open water swim, 10 mile bike, 5K run. I’d been thinking of completing a tri for at least 10 years. As I approached my 5th decade of living, trying a triathlon seemed like a great idea. I was getting antsy and was looking for a new way to challenge myself. And so I did.

Over the past three years, I’ve competed in and completed 18 triathlons. I am registered for six more this summer and clearly addicted to the sport!

The more I’ve raced the more I’ve realized that lessons learned through triathlon competitions are called upon in virtually every aspect of my job. Triathlon has many parallels to the work week, whether sloshing through the open water swim, pushing the pedals to scale the incline of the hills, or the “pound on the ground” run. Living, learning, and pushing boundaries reaches new heights with each medal earned.

The swim

The open water swim can be daunting. It’s not uncommon to get kicked in the head, side, or back. Peering into the water offers limited vision as the black Florida lakes provide minimal visibility. Then, there’s the reminder that we are swimming in a Florida lake, the natural habitat of alligators.

Through the psychological and physical, sustaining calm and rhythmic breathing pushes me through the occasional kick in the head and smack of waves. There’s no time for anger, defeat, or sinking – it’s time to swim stronger and navigate a path to complete the first leg of the race.

High Angle View Of People Swimming In Triathlon business life career tips career advice
Don't be overwhelmed by the competitors around you or a workload that's pulling you down. ©Christian Herzog/EyeEm

The swim parallels many core competencies that are easily at play in my talent role.

Clarity in the goal becomes greater and the determination to overcome the challenge escalates. Perhaps the greatest parallel is the ability to remain calm, self-assured, and confident that the end result will be achieved.

Navigating the open water shows me I can not only stay afloat but most importantly move forward, in fluid situations. The swim reminds me to flex my plan, in water, and without getting discouraged. If you stop swimming in a Florida lake, you may be putting yourself at risk; drowning or a gator meeting. And, if you stop swimming in your work week, you run the risk of sinking in performance and letting down the team, the company, and most of all yourself.

Lesson learned: Don’t stop swimming in your work week. Being quick to problem solve in ambiguity has its benefits! You’ll stay afloat and move on to your next project or goal.

The bike to run transition

In my opinion, the most difficult part of triathlon races are the transitions. Whether moving from the swim to the bike or to the run, transitions are grueling. I would rather double up on my swim time than move through transitions.

Your legs feel like lead coming out of the bike and into the run. Cement slippers pave the first mile. It’s never a picnic but it must be done. Mind over matter is the task at hand and, within minutes, your body kicks into autopilot. Confidence, trust in your training, accountability, and determination become your friends, cheering you on as the final miles are in sight.

Transitions tease us and may even taunt us like a childhood bully. The most important lesson learned in transition, both on the triathlon trail and in the workplace, is how we react. Do we give up? Stop working? Throw in the towel? Or do we step up and push through, to defeat taking the easy way out?

Triathlon transitions are like work transitions (or work changes)…they remind us to adapt, stay the course, and keep moving forward. Eventually, the finish line is crossed and the medal is earned.

medals-triathlon-Tina Nicolai-triathlete-in-the-office-adidas-employee
My delight is clear after collecting my medal and completing another competition against myself!

Each race offers a new opportunity to start fresh. And, like each new work day, we have the opportunity to wake up, jump in, and create the new. Our limits to succeed in triathlon are similar to the limits we set at work. One of the greatest returns on my triathlon investment has transitioned into the ability to compete. I compete hard. I compete strong. I compete fast. But, the competition is not against those who I am so lucky to work with every day at adidas. The competition is 100% against myself. Triathlon is my greatest motivator to show up as my personal best on the course and in the workplace.

Tri it!


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by Julia 17.05.2017
Love it!
You are totally right, the swim part is very similar to our work life -> remain flexible, stay afloat and manage performance :)
by Tina Nicolai Julia 17.05.2017
So glad you appreciate the swim
parallel! And, perhaps the toughest of the legs. Thanks for reading and commenting.
by Elles Lohuis 02.06.2017
LOVE THIS ARTICLE! It's so true - mastering yourself outside your work has a HUGE impact on our performance - and joy! - at work. I've just started on my fitness journey a year ago, getting ready to do my first obstacle race in 3 months and I've notice a huge impact on my performance as an entrepreneur - more focus, more productivity, more energy, making better decisions from my core - thank you for sharing.