Laura Wheatley

Laura’s biography

The short story

“In 2001 I wanted to be a high school teacher, was overweight, and could barely run a mile without stopping… fast forward to 2012 and I have been a practicing exercise physiologist at a major university for 4 years and on the age group podium at an Iron-distance triathlon. I’ve found my passion in endurance sports, and I have worked my way from a rock-bottom beginner to an elite age-group athlete. I would like to use my practical experience and scientific knowledge to guide other athletes, of ALL levels, to triathlon, swimming, running, and cycling success!”

 

The long story

From the beginning

As a child, my parents did their best to keep me active—I was involved with softball, soccer, volleyball, cheerleading, gymnastics, you name it. The problem was, I was TERRIBLE at any sport that required extensive coordination or skill! Instead of making friends through team sports, I was actually losing them, ha!

 

How I got started

I wasn’t always an athlete- In high school I was becoming very inactive, and I was unhappy with how I looked and how I felt about my body. In October of my senior year, a friend convinced me that the distance track team was NOT like other teams—she described the team as supportive and fun!  However, she did warn me that I should be able to run three (!!) miles before preseason started in January. My training began October 2001 and hasn’t ended since!

I was hooked on endurance sports after that season of track in spring 2002—even though my times were slow by most standards, I was happy with each personal record (PR) I set, whether it be distance or faster times in races. My teammates were so encouraging and proud of me, and I was starting to feel happier with what MY body could do.

 

The rookie year

It didn’t take long for me to discover local running races, and I continued my new running hobby through my first year of college at Illinois State University. In spring 2003, I was having fun with it, but I was looking for another challenge. Coincidentally, my brother Don told me he was going to be part of a relay for a local “triathlon” in Schaumburg, IL…once he informed me what a “triathlon” was and what this race consisted of (400 yd pool swim, 15 mile bike, 5K run), I decided that THIS was my new challenge!

I trained for this event from April-July, and had so much fun with the variety the training provided! I didn’t know anyone else who did triathlons, so I really was all on my own. I felt confident going into the race, yet a little nervous because this was going to be the longest race I’ve ever done. Sure enough, I LOVED every minute of it! Except for one thing- I was working so hard on my hybrid bike, but all of these people on “racer” bikes were flying past me barely pedaling…and I thought to myself, “How much faster could I go if I trained a little differently and had the right bike?” That summer I did several other sprint distance triathlons and had bigger dreams and plans for 2004.

 

New lifestyle, new ambitions

When I returned to ISU for my sophomore year, I joined the small triathlon club (ISU Tri-Birds) that was established. We became a tight-knit group that spent our free time running, cycling, swimming, and recovering together! I was completely enamored with this lifestyle and the people that it brought into my life. I became excellent at time management in order to keep up with my schoolwork and fit in training. At this point in my triathlon “career,” I was pushing my limits to see just how far I could go—each new distance brought me a sense of accomplishment. In fall 2004, my junior year, I ran my first marathon in Chicago (4:09) and stunned my family and friends who knew me back then. That race was a turning point, and I realized that I was capable of so much more than I thought possible.

 

The greatest distance yet

While I had challenged myself to Olympic distance triathlons (1500yd swim, 40K bike, 10K run), I had two friends that were signed up for an unimaginable event, an Iron-distance triathlon, that consisted of a 2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike, 26.2 mile run. I thought that they were crazy! Was that even POSSIBLE? However, in September 2004 after several months of training with them, and only a month away from completing my first marathon…I thought that maybe it was possible for me. I drove up to Madison to spectate this Iron race and ended up registering for 2005 it the very next day!

Meanwhile, this “guy” Dan Wheatley in the triathlon club also signed up for the event, and we ended up spending a lot of time together while training…several months later we started dating, and have been together ever since. Like I said before, I’m grateful for the people that triathlon has brought into my life.

Making it across the finish at my first Iron-distance triathlon in 15 hours and 43 minutes was certainly one of the most memorable accomplishments of my life; however, I wanted to learn more and do it better the next time around. My distance and completion goals had reached their limit… it was time to start going FASTER!

 

A new career path

I started getting my hands on all literature triathlon-related; I was fascinated by the science and systematic approaches to training. I had also learned that at ISU there was an actual academic major called Exercise Science, and that they even had a graduate program. In my heart I knew that this was the career path I wanted to take; I was becoming uninterested in my current program and was dedicating my free time to not only training, but studying the science and physiology behind the sport. In 2006 I applied for and was accepting into the Exercise Physiology Graduate program! I graduated in December 2006 with a B.A. in Social Science Education and minor in Psychology, and started grad school in 2007!

I devoured information in grad school—I took almost everything I learned and applied it to triathlon training. In the summer of 2008 I lived in Clermont, FL during the summer to complete an internship at the USA Training Center (formerly the USA Triathlon training center), and had received hands-on experience testing and training athletes. I developed a special interest in performance testing; I learned just how important and useful they are for customizing athletes’ training programs.

I earned a 4.0 GPA when I graduated in December 2008, and I was hired on to teach classes and coordinate the Exercise Physiology lab at Illinois State. I had officially turned my passion into a career.

 

Racing, racing, racing!

Throughout the rest of my undergrad and graduate years, I experimented with many different training strategies, completing five more Iron-distance triathlons, a handful of marathons (including Boston, which I qualified when I ran Chicago again in 2006), and many of shorter distance races. I’ve learned lessons from each one of my big races regarding appropriate volume and intensity of training, pacing, nutrition, and preparation. Armed with my experience and knowledge from school, I have learned to identify the positive and negative aspects of each race or training program, and I am constantly striving to improve not only my own performance, but my clients’ as well.

 

Balancing it all

As a dedicated athlete, it can be a challenge to balance and prioritize your family, friends, home, other obligations, and training. This is an honest conversation that you need to have with yourself and your coach, as it will help determine realistic goals and training schedules. As grad school wrapped up, my “real life” hit me rapid fire: engagement, thesis, wedding planning, buying a house, getting married, and starting my career. I learned how to train smart. I knew how much time I could dedicate to training and how to make the workouts count. I trained for and completed two more Iron-distance events- in Penticton, BC (2010) and Cozumel, MX (2011) with the goals of having fun, finishing healthy, and using the races as a travel excuse.

 

No going back

As I settled into my career and home life, I was ready to really race again. I was also lucky enough to be selected by REV3 Triathlon to be a part of their age-group team. In 2011, I set some hefty goals for my 9th Iron-distance race in Arizona. My work led to an age group podium finish and a PR of 10:46. This was another turning point in my triathlon career:  I wasn’t just able to complete this distance…I could compete. I am now guiding other athletes to this same success!

 

Sharing my passion

I began coaching in 2011 after being approached by several clients. Their goals ranged from “learning how to run” to “seeking a personal best in an Iron-distance triathlon”. Seizing the opportunity to share the scientific and practical knowledge I acquired, I created my coaching company and have successfully guided my athletes to their personal goals season after season.