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Interview with Open Water Swimmer Christine Coppola

I met Christine a couple of years ago when I was starting my practice and I clearly remember her statement at the consult: coming back after motherhood has been hard, and I am happy to see how dedicated she has been on building her way back to sports. During her preparation for SWIM NEW YORK-20 bridges, I saw her swimming and swimming. When I say swimming, she REALLY put the work in. She is a great example showing how when there is a will there is a way: work, family, sports.

We usually follow many elite and pro athletes, however recreational and amateur athletes encounter many many challenges while try to meet the demands of family, work and training. This is the reason is why sharing her story was a MUST for me as I believe strong female athletes can encourage other athletes to never give up on their dreams.

Let's see what she has to tell us, and of course get her insights in nutrition recommendations for open water swimmers, endurance, and female athletes!

Majo: When did you start swimming and how did you get into swimming?

Christine: I started swimming with a team was I was 9 years old. I got into it through a friend in elementary school.

Majo: Can you tell us a little bit about your swimming career as you grow up?

Christine: I continued to swim, swam for some wonderful coaches in particular my high school coach, John O'Connor. He was teaching us the importance of visualization and tools that have stuck with me my entire life. The team of amazing young women on my high school team I still keep in contact with (I just saw one who was co-captain with me at Nationals this year). My junior/senior year I decided to dive and swim just to mix it up a bit. I went to UMASS and was on the team but at that point I was pretty burnt out and needed a break (tired of having wet hair every day of my life). Unfortunately I picked up some unhealthy habits, which is a story for another day. I took a ton of time off, then eventually started running to get back in shape. Then, I was intrigued by Ironman and figured I could swim and run so why not bike. I've done around 20+ 70.3s and 3 full Ironmans. After I had my son, I had trouble getting back to triathlon. I would try and start to train for all 3 again and it was a lot of start and stop and inconsistency. My mom said, "hey why don't you try and just focus on one sport at least to start and oh by the way you were a swimmer so why not swimming?" After my dad passed away in 2021, swimming was very consoling (he was a HUGE part of my swimming life growing up) so I decided to go with it. I did two 70.3s in 2022 then put the bike away in July 2022, stopped running in October of 2022. I decided to commit to swimming longer distances in 2023.

Majo: How is your typical training routine?

Christine: Now I swim 4-5 days a week and strength train 3. A light week is around 20k yards, heavier weeks leading up to NYC were 50k weeks.

Majo: How do you manage work, been a mom and wife, and training?

Christine: I have to be super organized with my time and it takes teamwork. I love my job, and there are simply weeks that get super busy or I have to travel, and I have to just accept that I won't be able to hit all the workouts. There are times when family needs more focus so I have to dial back on workouts. I try and go with the flow and rhythm of what's happening in my life or what demands my attention and make some shifts. On the weekends, I try and prep as much as I can for the week ahead. It is also helpful to have a long term view of your training plan so you could make adjustments based on what might be going on personally or professionally. I also try and keep things simple and not overcomplicate when it comes to the training. My Training Peaks is rarely all green and I don't care.

Majo: How is your nutrition on a day to day basis?

Christine: So, I eat a LOT, I always have, but I do try and eat clean. I do food prep to stay organized and on track, especially now that we are back in the office vs home. I try and eat a balanced diet, and when I snack have healthy options available so I don't make bad choices when I am in a hangry state :).

Majo: What races have you done this year?

Christine: In 2023, I did some swim meets (nabbed a US top 10 time and team record in the 1650 freestyle), I did the Swim Miami 10k, Swim Around Key West 12.5 mile, and New York Open Water's 20 Bridges circumnavigation around Manhattan which is 28.3 miles. I have Alligator Lighthouse (8M) coming up in September, and then Around Coronado on 9/29 to secure a boat for Catalina Channel Swim on August 2023.

Majo: Talking about the last race! Tell us about it!

Christine: 20 Bridges swim was a blast. Leading up to the swim I was pretty anxious as I've never done the distance but I did try and keep emotions in check. It was a very cool process to train for it, and I felt really good that day - I felt like the stars aligned a bit - weather, physical, nutrition, amazing crew so I had so much fun. Around hour 5.5-6 shoulders had some fatigue, my mind strayed a little bit and I had to just reel myself back in and take it feed to feed until the end and really just focus on the moment and enjoy the swim regardless of whatever physical or mental fatigue I had. Afterward I felt really good, better than I thought, but taking the time to rest and recover.

Majo: How did you fuel for the race (previous, during, after)?

Christine: I started carb loading Thursday (was a Saturday swim), hydrated a lot leading up to it. That morning since we started 11:30AM I had time to have a good breakfast. During the race, my feeding plan was every 1/2 hour I would drink one half of a bottle and take one gel (Performance Hydration mix in the bottles, and mostly Performance Hydration gels - toward the end I weaved in two caffeinated Maurten gels). Bottles had 1.5 scoops of Performance Hydration. You can't touch the kayak, they can't touch you so you need to tread water at the feeds and keep them short. The nutrition piece was flawless and I had no issues and kept them pretty quick. I never felt depleted and also never felt like I couldn't ingest another gel.

Majo: What are some nutrition challenges you have found when it comes to meeting your training demands?

Christine: Clean fuel - a lot of products have a ton of junk and bad ingredients. I also tried some very clean options but they didn't sit well, so through trial and error, landed with Performance Hydration and I've had great luck with it.

Majo: What are some challenges you have found through your career as a female athlete?

Christine: I think being able to dedicate the time for my training and me when I have other priorities. I had a lot of guilt spending time training after I had my son, but now I feel ok doing something for me, and then try and make up for it by being super present when I spend time with family.

Majo: Any message you want to share with our athletes?

Christine: I would say mental training and nutrition are very important parts of the bigger picture of training. If you have competing demands, don't stress it too much and go with the flow of life. I am a big fan of less is more/minimalist training :)

Majo: Any nutrition tips for endurance athletes and swimmers?

Christine: Know the ingredients and try and keep the eating clean and simple, and learn what works best for you. What works for other people may not work for you and it's a bit of trial and error.

TAKE HOME MESSAGE: nutrition for endurance athletes is key to promote performance and recovery. When there is no time, flexibility and planning are key! Stay consistent with your nutrition, training and recovery; be flexible with your approach, and aim to use a training and nutrition strategy that you can sustain over time. Then PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE.

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