10 Questions for Joanna Zeiger

Joanna Zeiger, the 2008 Ironman 70.3 World Champion, 4th place finisher in triathlon at the 2000 Olympics, bronze medalist at the 2001 ITU Olympic distance world championship, winner of two Ironmans, many half Ironman titles, three–time Boulder Beer Mile champ and stubborn survivor of countless physical ailments and medical setbacks, is approaching 40. Along the way she has accumulated a certain amount of wisdom on matters large and small, much of which has nothing to do with her beloved sport. She shares these thoughts with slowtwitch.

What is the most overrated virtue? Underrated?

The most overrated virtue is patience. If everyone was patient, nothing would ever get done. I have spent years fretting over my impatience – I hate waiting in line, waiting for appointments, waiting for people to do things, waiting for people in general; I want things done yesterday. I have now embraced my lack of patience and would request that people stop asking me to be more patient.

The most underrated virtue is resilience. Life is hard and unexpected. No matter what plans we make, what goals we set, what time-line we expect, curve balls are always thrown our way. It is those who are resilient that come through a crisis intact and ready to conquer the next battle. In my own life, I have encountered obstacles athletically, socially, and academically. It is through my resolve and stubbornness that I been able to weather the storms.

What are some things that every elegant woman should have?

I am not sure I know elegant women! Most of my compatriots are athletes; we are rugged, curse like sailors and have no shame. In fact, many years ago, at the end of a blind date I was told that I was charming. I almost laughed in his face. I am many things, but charming is not one of them. I guess every elegant woman should have a sense of humor and a “rough” side.

Do you ever think about money when in a race?

When I am racing, I am so focused on getting to the finish line I do not think about money. After the race, though, especially when the race went poorly, I think about what could’ve been.

I believe in….. God? A metaphysical whatever? The human spirit? Love? The devil? Yahweh? Mohammed? Nothing? Random chance? Fate? Luck? The Great Pumpkin?

I believe in making your own luck and I believe in the healing powers of the sun.

Why are so many excellent triathletes so smart? Mari Rabe is a Rhodes scholar, Scott Tinley got his PHD, Ray Browning has a PhD, Sri Lindley and Karen Smyers are Ivy Leaguers, you have a doctorate … Can a dumb triathlete be very good?

According to a recent study (http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/health/8467811.stm) exercise helps brain growth. Well, it made mouse brains grow which scientists have extrapolated to humans. Thus, it seems that exercise itself has made triathletes smart. Ergo, there are no dumb triathletes (although I have seen smart triathletes do dumb things).

If an asteroid hit the earth while you were leading Ironman Hawaii -- given that the asteroid didn’t hit immediately nearby but was large enough that disastrous consequences were looming -- would you finish or would you stop and hug your husband Mark and your mom and dad?

Given all of my horrendous races in Hawaii, it would only be fitting that an asteroid would strike at the time of an impending win. Since my parents and Mark would not be there (they have all vowed not to return there since I have had so many terrible days), I suppose I would trot on in to the finish.

If tri is swim bike and run plus transitions, is in-race urination the fifth discipline? What woman is best at this special skill?

Any woman that has mastered peeing on the bike or while running is my hero. After all these years, I still have trouble with peeing while moving and often pull over to the side of the road to make pit stops. I know that the technique on the bike is this: coast going down a hill, lift up off the saddle, relax, let if flow. Easier said than done! Once, I pulled over to the side of the road during the run to relieve my bladder and a kid saw me and started shouting “You’re going to the bathroom!” In my defense, my shorts were on.

Is it even possible to use makeup during a race? If so, what do you use?

I have been known to sport pink zinc oxide on my lips, but that is preventive medicine not make up.

What scares you the most?

The thing that scares me the most is the unknown. I am a meticulous person; I approach things with a game plan and even alternative options in case plan A fails. When the unexpected occurs, I handle it poorly and sometimes cry (you know it is very therapeutic).

Do you ever watch your races on TV? Why or why not?

I never watch my races on TV. There are two reasons. First, I hate the way I run and there is no need to see it knowing it is being displayed all over the country. My gait is such that people always tell me they see me a mile away. That is code for, your stride is awful and we can pick you out of a crowd. Second, I remember every race very clearly and I don’t want to ruin the image in my mind by what is on TV.

If you are interested in Joanna’s advice and thoughts about competing after 40, check out her blog: fastatforty.blogspot.com