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Episode #62

Setting Ambitious Goals

with Gwen Jorgensen

04 Jan, 2022 · Running

Gwen Jorgensen, professional marathoner and Gold Medalist in the triathlon at the 2016 Rio Olympics, as well as 17-time ITU World Triathlon Series Winner, shares her journey in sports.

Transcript

Stef Strack: 

Today's guest is Gwen Jorgensen, 17 time ITU world triathlon series winner in 2016. Olympic gold medalist in the triathlon. Gwen is now a professional runner sponsored by Nike now training for the marathon, hoping to clinch a spot at the 2024 Olympics. In this episode, Gwen shares her journey with mental health body image and how she built a healthy mentality for dealing with change.

Gwen emphasises the importance of setting process goals, as opposed to outcome based goals and how this distinction helps her stay engaged in long, hard races. Gwen also highlights the power of journaling and acknowledging your strengths as an athlete. Not only focusing on the weaknesses that you need to improve on.

She also reminds us that rest is incredibly important for both mental and physical health, but also for performance. I love Gwen's story because it's a story of constant growth and change. It shows us that we are so much more than a runner or a swimmer. We are all people and embracing your identity as more than an athlete will elevate you to the next level in sport and life.

Welcome to the Voice in Sport podcast. Gwen, we're so excited to have you here with us today.

Gwen Jorgensen: 

Yes. Thank you for having me. I'm excited to talk.

Stef Strack: 

Well, I'm so excited to dive into your journey. You are a two times world triathlon champion and the 2016 Olympic gold medalist. You also had an incredible experience training down in Australia for five years, then joining the Bowerman elite track club.

And now most recently peeling off to Boulder, Colorado with your new coach, Bob McGee. So I'm excited to unpack that whole journey and go deep into your transitions and how you took care of your mental health along that journey.

 Let's start first with your college career. You had a lot to deal with just in college, because you transitioned into college as a two sport athlete, which is pretty incredible competing in track and cross country as well as swimming. How did you make that decision to go into college division one, which is already hard enough in one sport and decided to do two sports.

Gwen Jorgensen: 

Yeah. In high school swimming was my thing and something that I love doing, I really enjoyed, but I was definitely better at running. And I remember I'd get recruiting letters for running, but never swimming. And I'd just take the recruiting letters for running and throw them away.

Cause I was like, I just want to swim. And I actually only swam my first two years of college. And then I did both swimming and running my junior year. And that transition for me was something that I really learned, especially in college. You're so busy that you learn time management. And I almost felt like the busier I was, the more I was able to get done.

 And I also had two very accommodating coaches. And I had accommodating coaches in high school too, that I really attribute a lot of my success to, where they weren't forcing me to only choose one sport. So even in college, I just felt like it was really rare that my swimming coaches encouraged me to go to track and to miss some swimming stuff in order to do track workouts and they saw the benefit and the crossover.

And I think that's something that I'm just really fortunate that I had those mentors in my life at that time.

Stef Strack: 

Oh, yeah, that's incredible. Well, you ended up having an amazing career at the University of Wisconsin. Not just on the track and swimming, but also in school, getting your degree in accounting and then going on to be an accountant, a CPA, which is pretty incredible, but I'm curious, how did you ultimately balance both because it can already be hard just to be a one sport athlete and do great in school at that elite level. So for the girls that are thinking about doing a two sport athlete approach in college, what would your advice be to them?

Gwen Jorgensen: 

Get a lot of sleep and use your sport as your social time. So for me, I wasn't really doing a lot of social activities. I wasn't going to the movies. I wasn't going out with friends or doing anything like that for me, the time when I was training was my social time.

And that's when I really got the benefit of being around people. And I'm also an introvert. So I guess I liked spending a lot of time alone, but I guess as well, really lean into the resources that your college or university has, especially as a student athlete, you'll often have more resources to help you just with schooling.

I know at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, where I went, we had study halls that we had to do as an athlete, but there were tutors there that we could rely on and help us with our homework and things like that. So that's something that I really leaned into and I felt like was really beneficial, was just going into and leaning into the resources that were available to me.

Stef Strack: 

Well, what were some of your favorite things about being a two sport athlete? This is a little bit of a late study done in 2017, but 27% of division one female runners were multi-sport athletes. So I was surprised by that stat. So I'm just wondering, what did you love, what was your favorite thing about being a two sport athlete?

Gwen Jorgensen: 

Yeah, that actually surprises me as well. I don't know if I knew others on my team that were on my running and track and field team that were a dual sport athletes, but what did I love about it? I think it's interesting. Each sport is so different and I just had so many different friends and two different friend circles, and that was something that to me was pretty special.

And I was a D1 swimmer and a D1 runner, but I was definitely better at running than swimming. I would say I was the worst on the team. I didn't, you know, make it to the NCAAs. I wasn't scoring at big tens. The only reason I was on the travel team was because everyone traveled. Our team was small enough that everyone traveled.

 Whereas in running, I was on the opposite end where I was NCAA American, arguably the best runner on the team. And something that I really enjoyed was just learning both sides of that and knowing, when I was on the track team and performing well, I knew what it was like to be the worst on the team, but still be working really hard.

And I felt like I had a better connection with some of those athletes. And I felt like I almost, I was able to, I think, support them in a way that I always wanted to be supportive and was supported in swimming and when I wasn't the best. And so I think just having that and to have that disparity and to see both sides of it, I think really made me grow as a person and an athlete.

Stef Strack: 

Yeah, I think it's humbling. I think if you're really good and you're always on the top and you're feeling that pressure, but then also confidence from being on the top, it's actually really good for you to have that moment where you're like, ah, I really have a different level on this sport.

Gwen Jorgensen: 

At the time I didn't think of it this way, but it teaches you to focus on just the basic skills of working hard, focusing, coming in before or after and doing drills, doing all the little things when you're not successful at something and you want to be, are willing to do all those things.

And I think then it carries over into things that will then make you very successful because you've learned how to do all the little things.

Stef Strack: 

Absolutely. That's such a great point. I'm curious, how do you shift from the Headspace of training to the Headspace of being a student and working on your schoolwork? It's a lot of back and forth, especially then you add in 2 sports. So do you remember how you tried to shift your mindset as you were transitioning between training and then between being a student and doing a good job as school?

Gwen Jorgensen: 

I think it's different for males and females. I think usually for females when we're in sports, we're type a, and we want everything to be kind of perfectionist. And for me, I wanted to do everything to the best of my abilities, whether I enjoyed it or not, I wanted to get the best out of myself and for schooling, I actually did really enjoy it.

And so for me, it was a nice break. I think it's something that in high school, I would say my identity was all me, the athlete, and it wasn't healthy for me. I was Just upset more often, really volatile with my moods, depending on how workout went or something like that. And I saw a psychologist actually in high school to help me with that.

And I think in college, I enjoyed being a student athlete because I had something other than just being an athlete. And so I liked the schooling. I like to study for it. I liked that Gwen was not just an athlete and that was something that helped me in my athletic performance, but also just having a good mentality in life.

Stef Strack: 

I think it's such an important topic. And often the girls in college, part of our community at VIS they ask a lot to talk to some of our mentors about finding their identity outside of sport. So what did you learn from that psychologist in high school that got you thinking about framing your life and who you are in a way that was really healthy?

Gwen Jorgensen: 

Oh, it's so hard. There's not one thing, and I feel like I've learned so much since then. Even in college, I was struggling with it as in college as well, but not to an extent where it really impacted me mentally. And just the older I get, the more I realize we're not defined by our athletics.

And also I think it's really good to have perspective. This is a hard perspective to have, and it's going to sound weird, but as an athlete, you could get injured tomorrow and never be able to do your sport again. And that's the reality in every sport and every athlete. For me, realizing that forced me to rely more on friendships.

And when I'm at practice and I'm not at a meet. I don't talk about it. You know, I I journal every day and I write down how training's going, but besides that portion and besides training, I really try not to think about it. Don't talk about it. I really just try to almost live two separate lives.

Just because I think for me mentally, that that really helped me realize I wasn't just an athlete.

Stef Strack: 

I love that you called out journaling too. That's why the things we have on the Voice in Sport platform is a digital journal for girls. So they can write down their reflections, their thoughts, but also ideas they have about not just sport but life. And I think the power of affirmations is so important.

Do you ever use affirmations and do you have a favorite?

Gwen Jorgensen: 

Yeah, you're getting to exactly what I started doing once I became a professional that really, really helped me in my journaling. And that was, I wrote down three things every day that I could improve, which I felt was super easy to write down three things I could improve a day every day, but then I'd also force myself to write down three things I did well every day.

And that was something that I really struggled with. I struggled to find the positives that I was doing every day, and everyday we are doing things that are good every day and like it to write down three things that you did well. And to struggle with that, I think is ridiculous.

But I think as a female athlete, that is a lot of time how our mentality is. We only see the negative and it's hard for us to see the positive. So that was something for me that really transformed me into not only gaining confidence, cause I could look back and see like, oh, I've been doing these three things really well every day and they changed every day.

But that was something that gave me confidence. It helped me just with my self esteem. And it's not exactly an affirmation like you were getting at, but things that I like to do for affirmations or in a race, if I'm struggling, that I like to think about, they're always process-based and never outcome based.

So it's things like focusing on form or technique instead of saying, I am strong for me, I don't know. I find it useful to say in my head, increase your cadence, relax your shoulders. And those are things for me that distract me and bring me back to what I'm doing and also help me go faster.

Stef Strack:

 Oh, I think it's so important, because as an athlete, we're trained to take critical feedback. And so then you're constantly criticizing yourself, it actually can be detrimental if you only focus on the bad things. And so learning how to find the good things in yourself, and actually this transitions into our next topic, which is also about your body image. Some of these things that you can write down can be positive things about your body.

Doesn't have to be about your performance. It could be body, mind, spirit. It could be a lot of things. So I want to talk about that because I think as female athletes, often we get into this space of comparison and especially when we get into college, because then all of a sudden you're around a whole new group of women and you're like, oh wait, look at how she's training, look at how she's eating and it can be a really dangerous space to get into.

So I want to unpack your experience as a two sport athlete in college. Did you ever struggle with this concept of comparing and did it affect you.

Gwen Jorgensen:

 It definitely impacted me. And I think I'm going to go back even further. I just remember, like in grade school I was this really tall, really skinny girl, and I just remember being made fun of, and not really having any confidence in my body and just not appreciating it. And I remember struggling with that a lot as a younger kid and.

Then, I transitioned into college and I no longer had those feelings, but I definitely was comparing myself and I, when I specifically changed when I started running in college. So my junior year, when I started running, it was quite different the way the swimmers eight versus the runners. And I remember we'd have team dinners together.

We traveled together and I'd see what everyone ate. And I noticed, oh, well, none of the runners ever have dessert. So I must just not have to have dessert. Like, that's what you do to be successful in running. I just looked at everyone and thought, if that's what they're doing, that must be what I should do.

 It's the only time in my career, in my life that I've had a bone injury and I had two stress fractures all because I stopped eating dessert and started focusing, started almost limiting my calories. And it was something that for my body did not work. And it's when I really realized that we can't compare to others.

Everyone's body is so different. And especially when you're training at that level in college, your body will form into what it needs to form into, and it's going to be different than everyone else's and that's something that I've really learned. And I think it's just super important for people to know that when you put in the work, your body will become what it needs to become.

And you know, my body transformed when I was a swimmer. And then when I was a runner and then a triathlete and now a marathoner again, every time I switched sports the body is really smart. And if you give it the fuel, it needs, it knows what to do.

Stef Strack: 

That's why it's so important, but unfortunately, a lot of girls don't give it enough fuel and that's something really common across swimming and running that we're trying to better educate athletes so they don't get into that position because it does start affecting your reproductive areas.

It starts to affect your bones. It can have long term effects on your body. And in the moment you might think, oh, it's doing something positive, but that's a really, really bad spot to be in. And I want to talk a little bit about advice you would give to girls that might be struggling comparing themselves right now and are restricting their eating because they're looking at somebody else and saying, oh, Well, they don't eat that.

So I shouldn't eat that. And if you could whisper to that girl today, what would you tell her?

Gwen Jorgensen: 

Well, I think if I was talking to myself, I hope times have changed. But I remember even when I was younger than college, I remember people saying, and I heard whispers of if you lose your period, it's fine. It was almost like a badge of pride to lose your period. Like, oh, they're working really hard.

They lost their period. That's totally fine. That happens when you work hard. And that is such a misconception and something that I really want people to know that that's not the case. If you lose your period or miss your period, it's becoming sporadic, it's your body telling you that there's too much stress and not enough fuel and too much stress and your body's shutting down like that is what your body's doing.

And there are long term health risks or things that happen. Your bone density will never be the same. If you put your body in such a state, that it becomes a long-term thing, you will have bone issues, the rest of your life reproductive issues. There's so many things that you can really mess up in those years.

And I think it's important to realize that one, you're not just an athlete and two, if you want to be an athlete, long-term, you need to take care of your body and you need to fuel it right.

Stef Strack:

 So, what do you think are some of the signs that girls should be looking out for to indicate they might be under fueling or what are some of the first signs that you noticed yourself in college and that the other girls should just be aware of too, not just for themselves, but also for their friends.

Gwen Jorgensen: 

Yeah, I think mood changes. So if you're moody it's often because you're under fueling. If you're quick to anger or in a bad mood often or even depressed, it can because you're under a fueling as well. I'm waking up in the middle of the night, or even in the morning, hungry.

If you wake up starving, it's likely a sign that you didn't get enough fuel the previous day. I remember many times not sleeping well, because I wasn't fueling. And so I would wake up hungry. I think those are some signs. And then your period, it will disappear if you don't eat enough.

So that one's almost when it's too late you've already done some damage and you can still correct it at that point. And if you lose one month or two months, it's not a huge deal and you can get back on track, but once that's happened, it is a sign that you have gone too far and your body is shutting down.

Stef Strack: 

Yeah. It's so important and the statistics are not great in this area. We know that one third of division one athletes have reported behaviors of demonstrating developing anorexia nervosa. But at the same time, the mental health part is very concerning with over 48% of college athletes feeling depressed or anxious.

So these two things are really tied to each other, and I believe it goes back to a lot of comparison and the environment that these girls are in and the lack of education on these topics. And that's why it's so important to becoming to some of these sessions that voice in sport is an example, learn about red S understand the signs like know your body and listen to your body because it's one of the smartest things that you have that tell you what's going on and you don't want to ignore it.

You don't want to get to a point where you hurt yourself. Or in your case you had two bone injuries. So it's just so important to educate yourself, but also speak up for your friends. You guys are in this together, your teammates, you got to look out for each other.

Gwen Jorgensen: 

Yes for sure, because that's probably the first people that notice are the people you're living with your teammates, your friends yeah. And the people you see that you're training with every day.

Stef Strack: 

Yeah. And seek help, nutritional coaches and sports, dieticians, they are different. And I think understanding the qualifications of the people you are meeting with is really, really important.

And You also got to find somebody that you relate to, if you can't have open and honest conversations with them, try somebody else.

Gwen Jorgensen: 

Same with a psychologist, you need to have a rapport with them and be able to talk to them and enjoy the conversations and be willing to share everything with them. You need to be able to feel comfortable enough to be open.

Stef Strack:

 That's right. And that's a big reason why we have so many of VIS experts on our platform because it's not the same for every girl. You might not relate to one person, so don't let that stop you from trying somebody else. And usually at these universities, they only have one or two, and then that's not your only option though. And I think that's, what's so important is there's a lot of different ways you can get help.

Gwen Jorgensen: 

Yes.

Stef Strack: 

Okay. Well, how did you get back? So you had these two bone injuries. So for the girls that are also out there struggling in this area from an injury, what would be your advice to get back on track… 

Gwen Jorgensen: 

Oh boy. To get back on track, I was in a very unique situation at that time where I was being recruited into triathlon and I had felt like I wasn't good enough to be a professional athlete. And so I was just like, I'm done with sport. I'm gonna use my CPA license. I'm going to be an accountant.

I was really passionate. I want it to be this strong female who could support myself. And I remember my parents saying, oh, you could live at home. We'll help you, you can only be a professional athlete for a little bit. You could be an accountant the rest of your life.

But for me, I wanted to be independent. I wanted to be able to support myself. And so I had my two stress fractures. I remember I actually went to Europe backpacking with two of my friends right out of college before we all started work. And I remember I was hobbling around in a boot and it was kinda miserable.

But they were awesome and I think that was a good time for me to just reflect and see how much there was to life more than just running. And I think a lot of times when we are injured, that's the hardest part of sport being injured. And I actually had Haglund's deformity which led to an Achilles injury, which is just a bone overgrowth a couple of years ago.

And just having those injuries and those time off, it's more important than ever to find something that you're passionate outside of sport and to distract yourself during that time. A lot of athletes come back stronger after an injury because we often don't give ourselves enough rest. You get better only with hitting it hard and then also recovering hard.

So we often forget about the recovery part, but that's actually when we build our muscles and become stronger. So for me, I remember I was being recruited into the sport of triathlon and I didn't want to do triathlon. But they said, well, you have to cross train.

So you might as well do some swimming and biking. And that's how they actually got me into triathlon. But at the same time, I said that that was just going to be a hobby. And my job was going to be accounting.

Stef Strack: 

I love that. It's such a cool story. Cause you know, you made the hard decision where a lot of girls are facing when they're transitioning out of college and thinking about their life. They're like, okay, do I go the pro-life route or do I go the school career route? And you chose to go the career route.

You got your CPA license, you went to one of the best accounting firms in the world, Ernst and young. And you became a tax accountant, which I do think is hilarious. But my sister's an accountant. I know how hard you have to work to get there. So soon after you started your job, though, like you said, you got recruited to join the USA triathlon. I'd love to understand what went through your head with your decision-making process. How did you ultimately decide to transition from being an accountant?

Gwen Jorgensen:

 I actually didn't make that decision to be a full-time athlete until I already qualified for the Olympics. So when they approached me, I didn't believe in myself at the time. And I think that's why something like voice in sport is so important to have for young females to have mentors and people that believe in them and help guide them.

 I was told, you're going to be an Olympian on paper. And I just didn't believe them. I didn't believe in myself. I said, I've done sport and I'm not good enough. I just won't make it. And so I had these people who believed in me and I had a mentor, Barb linguist who called me every week and she didn't force me into the sport, but she kept just being there for me.

And that was something during that transition time that that really helped me. And I definitely wouldn't have started triathlon without her and I wouldn't have gotten a gold medal. So it's just for me something that transition was a lot of people believing in me and a lot of people encouraging me. Zosia Bulhak:

Thank you for listening to the Voice in Sport podcast. My name is Zosia Bulhak, and I am the producer of this voice and support podcast episode. I run track and cross country at the University of Houston. I love working with voice and support in order to empower young girls and women in sports. And I would love it if you would join us in trying to make a change. 

Go follow us on Instagram, TikTok and Twitter at @voiceinsport for more amazing content, you can also sign up for free and join our community of female athletes at voiceinsport.com for mentorship, sports, content and inspiration. Thanks. I hope you enjoy the rest of this episode and now let's get back to Steph and Gwen.

Stef Strack: 

Well, I totally agree having that support system and mentors is so important I think it can be just a huge part of success for any athlete. I want to dive into your success actually, because then you went on to become a 17 time ITU world triathlon series winner, and then a gold medalist at the 2016 Olympics in the triathlon.

You also became the first triathlete, male or female to complete an undefeated season. So what was it like to have all that success, at such a young age and so consistently, did you struggle with the pressure of going almost into every race as a favorite? How was that for you?

Gwen Jorgensen: 

Yeah. I struggled with that. I would say before that winning streak. So I remember in college, I was a big 10 winner in the 5k. Three K five K at one meet. And I remember going into NCAAs and I'd never had pressure before and never had to do interviews, never had the spotlight on me and I got lapped and NCAAs like, and it was just this huge swing of, I just had two PRS.

I was champion and then I go to NCAAs and just big flop. And that was probably the first time I started to realize how much your mental game can really impact your performance. And I noticed that again in triathlon, when I qualified for my first games, which was in 2012 and for me, what really helped me is I worked with a sports psychologist, but also focusing on the process, not the outcome was something that really, really helped me and doing that on a daily basis.

And then as well, just figuring out what I can handle. So I knew if I did 10 interviews the day before a race that mentally wasn't good for me, I needed the day before the race to be by myself. So I came up with a structure of what I knew I could handle and it'd be like, okay, I can do four interviews, three days before a race, but there's a cutoff of one.

We can't do any more interviews. And things like that, that really helped me. Just as an introvert, if I had to expend all that energy, doing that the day before a race, I realized it really drained me. And so with a sports psychologist and with my friends and coaches around me, we came up with what we called mind, body guard.

And it was just these limitations of how much we knew I could do before race. And so by the time I got to that winning streak that you're talking about ahead, knew what I could handle. Before every race I'd be asked, are you worried about your winning streak this week?

And it was just every week, the same questions over and over again. But for me, I had such a good system and such a good mentality of it doesn't matter if I win or lose and I can't control what the other women do on race day. I can only control what I do. And so I'm going to focus on the processes that I want to focus on.

So in the water, it was, having a high elbow and on the bike, it was leaning into the corners and looking up ahead and on the run, it was focusing on my cadence and relaxing my shoulders. And so those were the things that I knew I could control. And I knew that at the end of the day, if I did those things right, I would be proud of my race.

And maybe I wouldn't be happy with outcome if I had lost, but I knew that I could be proud of my race and happy with the effort I put within it. And that's really what helped me during that time.

Stef Strack: 

That's such great advice. I know that there are studies out there that show that the leaders of the pack or the race, they actually struggle a little bit more with mental illness than the middle of the pack. And that could be in the season or in a race because you have that added pressure.

So I think what you said is so important. So working with a sports psychologist, it sounds like you've learned a lot. What are those tips you would give to girls if they haven't yet seen a sports psychologist or they don't have the money to do it. Cause sometimes it's expensive.

What would be your top tips that you have learned from them about dealing with pressure?

Gwen Jorgensen: 

I think everyone is just so different. And for me I would say I struggled a lot in triathlon I didn't like being contacted and you don't think of triathlon as a contact sport, but in the swim you just get annihilated.

And I remember just thinking all the time. If somebody touched me, I'd be like, okay. Oh, it's your turn. Go ahead. Yup. And the mentality I remember talking to my sports psychologist was like, I don't want to be seen as this aggressive person. And I think he talked to me about how a lot of times aggressive, if you're a female is bad, but you can view it as assertive and that's still may be bad if you're a female, but a male is that might be a good trait.

And so we talked through that and talked about how I could still focus on me without doing harm to others. And that was something that was really beneficial to me. But you touched a little bit about when you're on the top and how people have more of a mental struggle. And I would definitely say that I struggled more when I was winning with feeling lonely than any other time in my career, and this is something that I've talked through with my sports psychologist as well, but some of it's inventing it and some of it's reading into it, but some of it is there where you feel like everyone doesn't like you, or is everyone's trying to beat you. And in triathlon, I was seen as this runner. So a lot of comments where she's just a runner she won't be good at a real triathlon race and things like that impacted me. And that's when I would go back to focusing on what I can do well, focusing on my processes and not worrying about what others think.

And I think that's the one thing I wish I could have learned as a high schooler. And I don't think I could've learned it back then. I don't think I was emotionally or mentally strong enough to, but to not focus on what other people think. And at the end of the day, the people that matter and the people that care about you don't care how you do.

And honestly, fans only remember your good races as well. Nobody ever remembers my bad races, nobody. And, and I think those are things that helped me through some of the tough times as well.

Stef Strack: 

That's great advice. Well, I want to talk a little bit about it. You're in a sport where you're going for quite a while in those races, it's not like a a hundred meter sprint and you're done. I want to talk about pain for a little bit and how you deal with pain and before we get to that, I want to start with motherhood.

 So You won the gold medal in 2016, and then you transitioned again, you took 12 months off to become a mom to your amazing son Stanley. And in an interview with women's running, you said that your first trimester was relatively easy and that you trained through it.

But actually the experience of giving birth itself was pretty difficult and painful. So can you talk us through your mental headspace going through training as pregnant and then comparing that with childbirth.

Gwen Jorgensen:

 Pain is an interesting thing. In sport, I always say, enjoy the pain before a race. That's something I write down. And I think it's interesting for non-athletes to comprehend that, but I think if you're an athlete, you can understand that. And almost like sometimes you enjoy that pain and you enjoy pushing yourself to that limit.

Having a child is way different. You don't control the pain when you ever having a child. And I think it was really hard, my husband's has said, and we've talked about this. Like if we wouldn't have had modern technology and gone to a hospital, either myself or Stanley would have died through that process.

And it was it was traumatic and I want to have another kid, but I am definitely traumatised from what I went through with Stanley and my pregnancy was super easy. I was running a hundred mile weeks while I was pregnant. Never threw up, had morning sickness, but if I got outside and ran, I felt good.

So that was relatively, I would say easy and I loved being pregnant. Giving birth was traumatising. It was hard. And just talking about pain, I had an epidural and I'm like, I don't know how anyone could not have one. I was having contractions for 40 some hours. It was something that you can't control that pain.

And for me, I actually think I'm really weak in pain tolerance when I can't control it. and in athletics you can always control the pain. And I know that at any time I could stop and I think that's what allows me to push myself so far in athletics is that I'm controlling it. And when I was giving birth, I'm not in control at all.

And you don't know when it's going to stop. And so it's just a completely different thing.

Stef Strack: 

Oh, you described it so well, and I'm just curious. Do you think all the work that you did with the sports psychologist, in training as an athlete, did it help you get in the right mindset when you were going in to have your baby. 

Gwen Jorgensen: 

No, I think the reason it didn't was in sport, you train for your race, you train for that pain. When I won Olympic gold, I trained for four years for that one specific day. And you can't train for having a baby. Every birth is different.

Every woman is different. And then every child that you have is different as well. And you can't train for that. And in sport expect the unexpected was something that I always think about and write down before my races as well. And so in that regard, I remember before giving birth to Stanley, they had talked about a birth plan and I was just like, well, can you really plan it out?

And they're like, not really, but people like to have them. And I was like, well, then it seems silly to have a birth plan. And so I think that helped me coming from sport, where I knew, you can't control these things and you can only control what you can control so I can control my breathing.

I can control the positions I'm going to be in and making healthy decisions in the moment for myself and my child. But the pain, I don't know how it's just a different pain than running.

Stef Strack: 

Yes, it is.

Gwen Jorgensen: 

I don't want to discourage people from having children. I think I was in a very unique situation. I've talked to other runner mothers Kara Goucher for instance, who was running 10 days after she gave birth. And from what I understand was it pretty an okay process giving birth and everyone's different. Don't be scared. And actually I learned something which I should have done before, but to see a pelvic floor specialist before giving birth and they can really help with positions of you should be in. And a lot of times it's athletes our pelvic floor is too tight.

And so that's something that the general population normally doesn't have. And so they can help work on loosening that up, which helps the process. So don't be too scared.

Stef Strack: 

It's also one of the best things in the world to have kids.

Gwen Jorgensen: 

It is. 

Stef Strack: 

Just want to share that it is amazing. But I'm super curious about the recovery, because I completely agree. The pelvic floor is so important knowing and learning about key goals before you have your baby is really important.

But let's talk about the 10 day thing, because I have seen amazing athletes, like Kara recover really fast and come right back into running, which is incredible for them and their body, but it's not always the case. And a lot of athletes need to take a lot of time off to recover after birth.

So how did you deal with not being able to come straight back after giving birth to Stanley and what advice would you have for other women who are thinking about having a baby, but still want to continue to be on the track?

Gwen Jorgensen: 

Yeah. Take your time and listen to your body and be kind to yourself. Your body just went through a very beautiful process of giving birth, which is just incredible that we can do that. And for me, I wanted to be back running, but it just was so far fetched that I couldn't even attempt it.

 I remember carrying around this donut, I was basically bedridden. And if I ever wanted to sit down, I had to bring this donut, sit on the donut, like for weeks. And so for me, it wasn't even a thought, but I think after you give birth, a lot of doctors I'm kind of the standard out there is, oh, after six weeks you can get back into things.

And I think it's very similar to when you're recovering from an injury and they say, you have four weeks and then you can start training again. It's not that anything magical happens on that fourth week that you're suddenly healed. And it's this continuum of your body's healing.

And I think as an athlete, we know our bodies and you need to listen to your body. Don't listen to some arbitrary number of you'll be healed and be able to do something by X date because that's not how bodies work with injury or coming back from, from giving birth. And so for me, I remember at six weeks I was like, all right, I can try a run.

And I remember I like ran for maybe three steps and came back and I was like, Nope, not running today. and it just took longer for me to come back and our bodies are smart. As an athlete you know What feels right and what doesn't, if you actually let yourself listen to your body. So I'd say, just be kind to yourself, listen to your body and know that some arbitrary date isn't the day that you should start working out at if your body isn't ready.

Stef Strack: 

Absolutely love it. Good lesson across everything, whether you're having babies or not listening to your body. So let's talk a little bit about age, because really a lot of runners, male and female peak later in life. And in their thirties sometimes even forties in marathon sports.

So when you're thinking about incorporating your life and having kids and being a professional, how do you look at that journey and now that you know, you're 35, you've had a kid you're still competing. What perspective do you wish you would've had maybe in college about your journey and your life as a pro athlete and wanting to have a family. If you could take a step back what would you say is your philosophy knowing that runners do peak later. But that sometimes conflicts with, when it's easier for women to have babies.

Gwen Jorgensen: 

Yeah. I mean your childbearing years and your running years are kind of the same. Even if you do peak later in running and it's something that I think times have changed a lot. If you just look at the last Olympics, how many mothers there were that were also Olympians and performing at their best, performing better than maybe they had four years ago before they even had a child.

And I think seeing that is just proof itself. And when I was in college, I didn't think that that was the case. And there were definitely less mothers back then. There were some that were athletes, but I think times are changing and women are proving that you can do both. Sponsorships are also changing as well, where you're able to stay sponsored when you are pregnant.

I had sponsors who were incredible, who paid me throughout my pregnancies. I didn't have one sponsor that dropped me. And so I think that's really important and key as well. But yeah I remember talking to my husband, I was like, I'm a planner. And I remember being like, we have to get married before the Olympics, because after Rio, we're going to have babies and I'm going to be done and that's going to be that.

And I remember in the Rio race, the woman who came second in the triathlon, she had had a baby. She won four years ago, had a baby, came back and got second at the Rio Olympics where I won. And I just thought, oh man, maybe I can have a baby and come back and still do sport. And that for me was the realization that I maybe could do both.

And I want to have more kids now. I just talked about how I'm traumatized from having kids, but I do want to have more we've also talked about adoption, but I do want to try to have one more naturally, and I feel like I'm 35 and from 35 year and advanced maternal age but yeah, I think that there's options out there too. If you want to have a family and I think it's important to know that you can have a child come back to sport and be great. You can also look into freezing eggs or doing something like that.

And there are many options out there now just with science and everything.

Stef Strack:

 I would say you don't have to choose. I think that's the point is that now it's being proven out by a lot of amazing women, even in Tokyo. So, three months after giving birth, you were able to start training again and you announced your transition, from triathlon to marathon.

So even though running is a component of triathlon, the two are still very different sports. So why did you feel like you needed to make this change? Why not stay in the sport of triathlon?

Gwen Jorgensen: 

Yeah. It's interesting. Cause I'm someone who doesn't like change. I like routine, but triathlon was a sport that chose me. I didn't choose it. I didn't love it growing up. Every time I rode my bike, I was definitely scared. I was really fearful on the bike of crashing So I had to overcome that fear every day and triathlon and as well, I didn't enjoy swimming anymore.

So getting in the cold water every day was just something I hated. And so for me to continue to do a sport that I didn't enjoy yes, I enjoyed winning, but I didn't enjoy the actual sport. At that time was just something that didn't excite me. And on top of that, I'm somebody who's really motivated by challenges.

And I felt like I accomplished everything in the sport of triathlon that I wanted to accomplish. And so for me, nothing really was motivating me to do the same thing again. And I knew I hadn't reached my potential and running because my running kept improving throughout my triathlon career.

And I also just loved running. So for me it was a new challenge and something that got me excited and motivated as an athlete. It's really difficult to be successful if you're not motivated. And my motivation after I won Olympic gold was not there.

Stef Strack: 

What advice do you give to girls if they're feeling unmotivated or they're feeling burnt out by their sport?

Gwen Jorgensen: 

A few things. I think it's great to just take three-day breaks. So I, I felt burnt out quite a few times in triathlon and we were living in some amazing places, Australia and Spain, and when we were in Spain and, I'd feel burnt out and we'd just take three days and we'd drive to Paris or fly somewhere and just take three days totally away from sport, somewhere new, go on a vacation.

Not think about sport, don't do sport. And for me, that really rejuvenated me. And I think three days you're not gonna lose any fitness. And that's something obviously you'd need to talk to your coach about, but that for me really helped me as well. Just remembering my goals.

When you're training this hard and when you're at a high level and in college, you're being pulled in different directions even It's just important to remember your goals. And so I think just writing down and looking at what your goals are, can help on those days. And then something as well, that really motivated me was just all the people that invested in me.

Even in college, we had massage therapists, we had coaches, we had doctors like PTs and all those people wanted to see us successful and the team as well, you were helping out the team at that point. And that's something that, for me, motivated me on those days when I didn't have a lot of motivation.

Stef Strack:

 Let's talk about goal setting because I really think it's so important. I've always been one to write down goals. It's also why we have a digital goal journal on the platform, because I think it's so important. But how do you set ambitious yet realistic goals when you're coming into a new sport like you are right now?

Gwen Jorgensen: 

Yeah. So for me, I like to set really ambitious goals of what I want, and I'm not afraid to say them out loud or say what I want to do. And I think that's because I'm so comfortable not caring what other people think, which is very difficult, but if you can master it, you will be so happy in life. And so for me, I want to win gold in the marathon in the Olympics.

And that is so audacious. And I said that I wanted to do that. Tokyo. And I failed to do that. I didn't even go to the trials in the marathon. And for me, I think it's really important when you set goals to have these big goals that maybe are out of reach, but that you want. And I think it's important to share them with the people that you're on your journey with so that they can help you and guide you along the way.

 Your coach ,your nutritionist, your mental skills coach or psychologist, it's really important to share with your loved ones around you, what you're trying to accomplish. And then it's also important to set little goals along the way. And if you get to a point where you realize maybe you're not going to hit that big goal, don't be afraid to change that goal.

It's not a big deal. I think that's super important to know. We don't know what's going to happen as we train and it's important to set your standards high. I think an aim for something. That you would love to do, but also have check-ins along the way and have not only yearly goals, but monthly goals of what you're trying to accomplish.

And those goals should be, process-based not outcome-based. And, and they should be like, are you hitting these targets? And if you're hitting these targets, you can continue to your goals. It's interesting. Right? Cause you want to have one that static, but they also need to be able to move and change along with who you are and what's going on with your body and training.

And I think once you can master that, I think you'll really flourished within your goals.

Stef Strack: 

Such a great advice. And you're entering this really cool new phase of moving in front of the Bowerman track club to basically a more individual approach to training with one coach Bobby McKee for the marathon. But as part of that move, you decided to leave Portland, Oregon, and go to Boulder, Colorado.

So, two moves. And I'm sure, probably there's other things that I don't know about that are transitioning for you too. So what excites you the most about these changes and what are you nervous the most about?

Gwen Jorgensen: 

Well I don't like change. So just like getting into a new routine is the thing that probably is the biggest challenge for me. And, and just with this move, I think it's been the most challenging. I've made a lot of challenge changes over my life. Just with sport, like triathlon, and then I moved to Australia and then we were in Spain and then joined the bowerman track club.

And then we moved here and this one was probably the most challenging because I've had my son, who's now four years old and can comprehend what's going on. And he says, I miss my Portland home. I miss this about Portland and that's been really hard and hard to explain, like, why are we moving?

And then I feel selfish cause we're moving for me. But also my husband and I think that this place actually when we decided to move to Boulder, Bobby McGee is here, but we had originally said, we're not going to move to Boulder because we wanted to move somewhere where we could see ourselves long-term cause we do want our son Stanley to be settled before he starts kindergarten and we visited a bunch of places and this was actually the place that we enjoyed most and thought that he could flourish.

So anyway, that was probably the biggest challenge with this change, but I'm super excited about it. I trained with the Bowerman track club and having the females there and that team atmosphere was something that really elevated me. I dropped a minute in my 5k PR and was able to just flow.

 I've always enjoyed being in an atmosphere where there's runners, who are better than me to push me so I could see that's what the world's standard is. And that's where I need to be. If I want to be the best in the world transitioning to Bobbie, we're gonna have people that I train with, but it's just with the marathon.

It's a little different in the marathon. You almost need to learn to do solo miles and you need to kind of have that mentality of pushing yourself. You're just out there for so long. It's a different mental state and as well, Bobby, he's a mental skills coach as well, which is something that's really vital right now, for me in the marathon.

It's just working on my mental game and getting through those hurdles when you are pushing and you're two hours into a race and you still have our many miles to go. And yeah, being a mother and moving, I think was a huge challenge, but, I've had a lot of changes. And for me, the hardest thing is just getting into a routine.

But after a month we get into a routine and something I've really learned over my career, as well as everywhere you go make it a home. So we're renting right now, but we bring what we need to bring we'll buy what we need to buy in order to make it feel like this is our home. Even if we are only staying there for 20 days and then moving somewhere else.

Stef Strack: 

I love it. I'm excited to see what you uncover with even more of a focus on your mental performance side. It sounds like it's always been part of your journey. You saw a psychologist when you're in high school, you've seen sports psychologists throughout your career, but now it's almost like you're taking it to a whole new level.

And so I wanted to dive in just a little bit to not the why, because I believe I understand the why behind it, but marathon being a sport where you are a by yourself a lot, and you're in your head. So, what is the importance of mental skills and why do you think in marathon training specifically, you wanted to really tune that.

Gwen Jorgensen: 

Yeah. Mental skills in sport is just vital. It's vital to performance. It's vital to mental health as well. I think it just helps us be more mentally stable. The sport is hard and you're pushing your body to its limit, but you're also pushing your mind to its limit and that can lead to mental fatigue.

And I think learning tools and tricks can really help you be successful. And for me focus more on that, and the marathon is something that we change every year and what worked for me last year, mentally might not work for me this year. And that's something I've learned over and over again of this mental trick has worked and now it doesn't anymore.

And we need to figure out something new. So it's always evolving. I feel like it's like training, right? Like you can't just do the exact same training every single year, year after year, and expect to get better. You need to alter some things a little bit, or maybe get a little bit faster or do hills or something, you know, some sort of addition, if you want to keep improving, I think you need to keep working on it.

And so yeah, it's super exciting. Bobby McGee not only is amazing physiology and knows how to write training, but he also has this mental skills coach that helps me. And we're out on training sessions and he can tell that I'm trying to force it and he'll say you know, don't force it.

Just think about your form. It'll come. If you can just super relax into it. And things like that, little mental cues when I'm out there on a two and a half hour long run is what's vital for me, you need to practice those mental skills in training to have them in racing and having him there and being able to repeat those kinds of engraves them in my head so that when I get to a race, I can do it on my own and have that mentality.

Stef Strack: 

Yeah, So let's unpack a little bit of some of the things you're working on with him. Are you working on it when you're not on the track? Is there a visualization and breathing and stuff you're working on not on the track? And then when you're on the track, is there a specific things that you're doing that these younger girls can maybe pick up and start doing, even though they don't have Bobby McGee?

Gwen Jorgensen: 

Yeah, I think rehearsing it and training is super vital and little things of when it starts to hurt in training, imagine that you're in a race. And what would you do in that moment? And, even in training, sometimes I like to feel like I'm owning it and feeling like, oh, it could pounce at any time and you don't need to do that because you want to do what the training is, but you want to be able to feel like maybe you're in a race and having that mental ability to be able to practice that in training.

For me, I talked about this a little bit early on, but I really am somebody who does well with process-based cues in my running. So just when I'm hurting, bringing it back to like, what's the form that I want to work on. Or even imagining in my head, like picturing somebody who has perfect form and just how they run. That's something that helps me as well when I'm stressed.

Stef Strack: 

So when you're in a race and you're really far along in the race, you got in your last five miles and you're really hurting, and it's brutal, what do you do mentally to keep yourself in it?

Gwen Jorgensen: 

It depends on what race it is, in a marathon, we have aid stations, every 5k. And so for me, I tried to break it up into those 5k chunks. Like just make it to the next 5k. And then you have your fluids and it's a reset and they're like, I only need to make it another 5k. So can do that on the track as well, where you just break it.

So in a 5k, break it by mile or break it by K and just focus on getting to that. And the more tired you get the smaller chunk you need to break it into. So, okay, just hold on for another a hundred meters or just hold on for another five steps. Because a lot of times when we're struggling mentally, you will overcome that in a race.

And if you've done it enough you know what I'm talking about. You will hurt so bad, but if you continue, the hurt, ebbs and flows, and it will go away and you'll feel better at a certain point in the race. And so being able to, to just focus on making it through a little bit more, eventually, you'll be able to overcome that and be further along in the race and you'll realize, oh my gosh, I'm going so fast.

And then you'll get adrenaline and then it'll feel easy. So it's just, it's interesting how that works with the mental games, but I'd say by breaking it down and instead of saying, oh my goodness, I have a mile and a half to go say, oh, just make it another a hundred meters and breaking it that way can, can really trick your brain into feeling like you're able to overcome that.

Stef Strack: 

It's so interesting because you have to have that mental toughness in a sport, like running a marathon just like you described, but then how do you take that same sort of approach, if you're not feeling right as an athlete off the track, and the answer is not always pushed through the pain, deal with it, that's not always the answer.

Sometimes the answer is, pull back. Maybe I need a break, you know, pull back. Maybe I need a couple of days off. So how do you distinguish between the two when you're in the race in the moment and you're really working hard on what you just described, getting to the next thing, working through the pain. But then, things are real right now with mental health. It's tough. It's a challenging couple of years with COVID and with everything that's come out with the other athletes speaking up, like Naomi and Simone. And I feel like right now it's a moment where a lot of girls might be sitting there confused about how they're feeling...

Gwen Jorgensen: 

Yes. And feeling like they should just push through and it'll get better, but that's not how it is with mental instability or when you're depressed, that's just not how it goes. I think it's important during those times to reach out to somebody and if you can't afford something, reach out to a friend or a loved one and it's just really important during those times to do take a mental break.

And I think, take a mental health day. That's something that I've heard throughout my life. And I think it's super important to, to listen to that and even, I just noticed my son who's four years old and he'll have days when he's just not happy. He wakes up on the wrong side of the bed, it's a phrase but, it happens to us all, even at a young age, you wake up and you're just in a bad mood.

And so I think it's important to recognize that to realize that. And not push through if you're super depressed or having a bad time, taking a day off of running, if that's going to help your mental state is way more important than what you're going to gain from running.

And I think it's realizing those balances and realizing what will make you feel better. And sometimes going for a run will make you feel better. But yeah, I think it's just important during those times to reach out.

Stef Strack: That's right. Ask for help, find a community that has those resources. We have those resources, you can go to sessions for free. Sometimes our experts offer them for free on the platform, and so I think that's just really encouraging and really inspiring to hear from you Gwen, because you've had such success and your message is really clear here today.

 It's okay to take time off and it's super important to also as an athlete, treat your mental performance, just like your physical performance and understand that you're going to have to work at it, but also understand you're going to train that mental side of your game differently every year, every season, depending on where you're at.

So just so many great lessons you've shared with us today. You're so inspiring. Thank you so much for spending so much time with us, and we're excited to see what this new chapter is going to bring for you. I'd like to finish with two questions we ask all of our guests. The first one is what is one piece of advice you'd love to give to all the girls out there in sport to help them conquer the changes in their lives.

Gwen Jorgensen: 

I think I've touched on this quite a bit, but it's focused on the process, not the outcome. And I think it's super important. Even if you start writing goals down, I think you'll find that a lot of times you'll write outcome based goals; places, times finishings and it's important, even if it's like, oh, if you're struggling with keeping weight on and you're saying, oh, I want to eat a certain amount.

Like that's an outcome-based goal. And I think it's important to focus on the process and have that mental change and shift. You can't control what others do, and you can only control what you're doing. So focus on your process and doing your best daily. And I think that can lead to not only better performance, but a happier state

Stef Strack: 

And you've touched on this a little bit earlier today in our conversation that a lot of great things are changing in the sports industry, especially with sponsors, they're supporting women when they want to have babies, they're changing contracts paying them more, there's some really positive things happening, but what is one thing that you'd like to see change for the future of women's?

Gwen Jorgensen: 

I really want a ton more research done on females. If you look at research done just about even periodization and training or anything, most of the studies are done on males because females our hormones change depending on where we are in our cycle. And the reality is that training is different for females than males and as well as there's not much research on pregnancy and training.

And I want to see more research. I think that women are going to flourish and continue to improve greatly because we are lacking the research of how we can do better. And that research is out there with the males. And I think women are only gonna continue to get better if we can continue to push for more female focused research studies.

Stef Strack: 

Well, I love it. You basically just described the reason why behind the Voice in Sport Foundation. So if you haven't checked it out, go to voiceinsportfoundation.org. The entire focus of that company is to supercharge sports science and research on the female athletic body because you're right. Most of the research is done on male athletes.

And because that we just have a lack of knowledge, a lack of understanding and it's time to supercharge that. So if you know any brands out there that want to contribute to the 5 0 1 C3 you can donate and we're kicking off our first research study which will be announced soon. So it's really exciting.

And thank you so much for joining us today, Gwen.

Gwen Jorgensen:

 Yes. I look forward to hearing about all the studies that you guys do. Thank you for having me.

Stef Strack: 

This week's episode was produced and edited by VIS creator, Zosia Bulhak, a track and cross country runner from the University of Houston. Gwen's journey, all the experience and love for the sport that she brings to it and now watching her take on the marathon is just so inspiring. As athletes, we sometimes struggle balancing both mental and physical health with performance.

Our competitive side can sometimes drive us to overtrain and burn out. But Gwen is such a great example of how to build up one's mental performance skills so that our minds can keep up with our bodies. Whether you are struggling with body image as a collegiate athlete or facing a big, scary change.

Gwen reminds us that we can only control what we are doing. Our bodies are beautiful because they are different. And if we give them enough fuel, they will become their fastest, strongest, and best version. So thankful that Gwen shared her story with us today. We are excited to see all the incredible things she will achieve in the sport and beyond in the future, you can follow Gwen on Instagram at Gwen Jorgensen.

Please subscribe to the voice in sport podcasts. Give us a rating and review on apple podcasts and send this episode to a friend that you think might enjoy the conversation. You can follow us on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok @voiceinsport. If you're interested in joining our community, sign up for a free account at voiceandsport.com/join to get started.

When you join Voice in Sport, you gain access to our exclusive content and podcasts, mentorship sessions from professional athletes and access to the top experts in sports, psychology and nutrition. You might also want to check out other episodes featuring former pro volleyball player and entrepreneur Gabby Reece in episode number 58, “Tackling Transitions with Confidence”.

See you next week on the Voice in Sport podcast.

Gwen Jorgensen, professional marathoner and Gold Medalist in the triathlon at the 2016 Rio Olympics, as well as 17-time ITU World Triathlon Series Winner, shares her journey in sports.