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Written by: Amanda Grant
Natalie Morales, mother of two, co-anchor of NBC’s The Today Show, and five-time marathon finisher, recently competed in her first triathlon. Morales raced in the War At The Shore Triathlon in Long Branch, NJ. The race consisted of a .3-mile swim, a 9.5-mile bike and a 3-mile run. Morales placed fifth in her age group. When asked if she’ll continue with triathlons, she said: “I’m hooked!” We caught up with her after the race to hear about her experience.
Triathlete: Tell us a bit about your athletic background.
Morales: I’ve pretty much been a jock my whole life. Until about 11th grade, I went to high school in Madrid, Spain where I played volleyball, softball and soccer because we didn’t have a track team. But when I moved to the United States my senior year, I started running a lot on my own and that’s when I developed my love for running. When I moved to New York, I joined the Roadrunner’s Club and decided in 1995 that I would run a marathon. From there, my passion picked up and I started training seriously. I ran the New York Marathon in 1995 and 1996, Hartford, CT in 2001 and 2002, and after a 10-year break from New York, I ran it again in 2006.
Triathlete:What inspired you to compete in a triathlon?
Morales: SELF Magazine threw The Today Show the challenge and I thought, “You know what? I’m up to it!” Having been only a runner prior to this, I had my work cut out for me in preparing for the swim. I trained with a swim coach who helped me build my strength and endurance. I eventually got to the point where I could swim 30 laps with no problem. Before training, I was exhausted at four laps!
Triathlete: Of the three triathlon legs, what did you fear the most?
Morales: I was so afraid of the swim because I swam the course the day before the race and jellyfish were everywhere; I’m one of those people who does not like swimming with other things. But in the end, the swim was the most exciting because I faced my fear and pulled it off.
Triathlete: Describe how you felt after the race.
Morales: Because I had trained and conditioned, thankfully I was not sore. The overall emotion I had was exuberance and excitement that I did it and had fun. At the end of the race, I immediately thought: “Okay, I’ve got to find another race.” I can see how triathlons become addictive.
Triathlete: Now that you’re officially a triathlete, will you continue down this path or go back to running marathons?
Morales: I’m hooked. While talking with my trainer the other day I asked, “When can I sign up for my next race?” I started with a sprint-distance race and I think my next triathlon will be an Olympic-distance. I’m definitely continuing with triathlons. And once my children are a bit older, I’d like to try a half-Ironman. You see, as a marathon runner, you eventually reach a certain point where you wonder: “How much longer and how much further?” Whereas with a triathlon, you transition so much that it allows you to break up not only the physical motion, but also to alternate the psychological challenge.
Triathlete: Do you ever race with friends or family?
Morales: I’ve run all five marathons with my husband and we’ve always finished together. He has never done a triathlon, but as he watched me cross the finish line, he had a fire in his eyes. He said he definitely wants to race in one.
Triathlete: What would you say to mothers who are struggling with motivating themselves to train for an event?
Morales: Here’s the real motivator: do you want to have the tightest buns and abs ever? That worked for me, though I think I need a few more races to get me there. Seriously, you’ll never be in better shape in your life. Because I have made a point of scheduling workouts and because you break it up so much, I am so much more efficient and am usually home a lot earlier these days. And here’s the major bonus, if you want to be the best example and mom to your kids: give yourself a little over an hour a few days a week and you’ll be the most present, most involved, most high-energy mom. When I crossed the finish line my son told me he wanted to train for one too. Training for a triathlon is an example that I gave him of working hard, committing to something, and then enjoying the success of accomplishment.
Triathlete: Do you have any advice for people racing in their first marathon or triathlon?
Morales: Giving yourself enough time to train before the race, whether it be a triathlon or marathon, is the most important because you don’t want to injure yourself. Recently, my friend was training for her first marathon and as she started adding on the miles, she let her ambition get the best of her. By not taking a break between her long runs, she ended up injuring herself. Give your body time to heal and slowly increase your mileage. When training for your first triathlon, start with a sprint-distance race, gradually working your way up to longer races. Whatever discipline it is or whichever sport it is that you feel is your weakest, work you hardest with that and when race time has come, you’ll be well prepared.