Listen to Your Body – Natascha Schmitt
Natasche Schmitt has been at the highest of highs and the lowest of lows. Read through her interview to see how she has made it out with a fresh perspective on listening to your body and a killer goal to look forward too.
Why did you choose triathlon? What do you love most about this sport? What has been your fondest moment?
Since I was ten, I participated in a competitive sport. At 6 years old I encountered my love for running and focused more and more on track and field training. Gradually I became more successful. As a result in me becoming more hungry for titles and glory. After multiple injuries setting me back and I was unable to run. So I had to switch to cycling and swimming. The switch to triathlon was obvious after that.
Spontaneously I won my first triathlon race. That’s how I ended up at triathlon. I noticed that I really do like the switch between the three endurance disciplines and that it’s a good alternative for my body vs. the one-sided running training. Nowadays if I have a problem with a certain part of my body, I can easily and guilt-free just focus on the two other disciplines.
My biggest success came in 2016. I took part in the marathon of Frankfurt on Main, my home town, and finished 4th place. I was leading the race for more than 5 hours. I had goosebumps the entire race. I mean I’ve been dreaming of this moment but didn’t expect it at this point in time. Exactly at this moment, I know why all the hours of work and renunciation were totally worth it.
How do you manage to stay competitive and perform at the highest level over such a long time period?
Professional sports is always a balancing act. Hitting the right loading that makes you faster but at the same time is tolerable for your body is challenging. The feeling of your own body is the most important indication for an athlete. You have to listen to it. In the beginning years of my career, I disregarded some of those signs and ended up getting injured. Nowadays I’m more strict and stop training when I feel injury pain. My experience taught me to value recovery and injury prevention more. Therefore I do more strength and conditioning training to prepare my body better for the high loading.
Do you think you have changed as an athlete over the years?
Yes, definitely. You learn to recover quicker and to not be as dogged in competitions. In the first years, I had a closed mind, there was just me and the sport. Nothing else. I missed out on so many things to totally focus on training and competition day. When my peers were out and about, having a good time, I was already in bed to get as much recovery as possible. But I have to say that I haven’t lost anything in those years. I loved the sport and this kind of lifestyle. I felt the fire in me and I wanted to find out how far I could get my body. These days triathlon is still important to me, although I try to spend more time with friends and family. Often I try to combine a session with a visit by my friends or family. If there’s no other way I pass on the session to get some quality time. In the past few years, I realized how short life can be and so I want to spend as much time as possible with my peeps.
At a younger age, I was super nervous before a race and put a lot of pressure on myself. Now I ease into races, I’m more relaxed and I learned how to handle my nervousness. In times of injuries my world was breaking down and I saw my career go down the stream. Now I see it as a new chance to exterminate certain weaknesses and to put new stimulus with an alternative training concept. An injury is a sign that something is out of balance and I have to work on it to overcome it.
What advice would give a young triathlete?
Training and sport itself are fun. You meet great people and you make experiences, that will leave their mark on you for the rest of your life. Listen to your body and give it the time it needs to recover sometimes. Don’t put pressure on yourself, but try to ease into training and competitions and never lose the fun of it. Share your moments with friends and family, they are your biggest support in good and bad times.
I can imagine that the strategy is super important for a triathlete. Can you only reach that cause of experience and is that the reason why you are able to compete on the highest level permanently?
Yeah that’s true. In the beginning, you try out a lot, you ask experienced athletes or you read stuff and give it a go yourself. Surely you make mistakes, but that’s the only way to learn. Nowadays I know what my body is capable of and what it needs to be efficient. I can still improve minor details, but the main strategy for the race is fixed.
In 2016 you took part in 6 Ironman races. How do you recover between the races and when does the preparation for the next one start?
In pre-season, I train 6 to 7 months without a race. In this period of time, I build up the base. Daily I train two or three times with a duration of up to 6 hours, weekly about 25 hours. All these hours enable me to take part in those many races, without getting tired. After a race, I really try to listen to my body to find out how many days of recovery are needed. Once or twice a week I get a massage and I get off my feet on a daily base. On top of that foam rolling and stretching are part of my routine after a session.
Every year you travel thousands of kilometres through Germany and the whole world to take part in different races. How do you manage to be far apart from home? Do you miss your family and friends?
The past few years I did four training camps a year. That is a long time to be away from home. At sometimes, my partner or my friends accompany me, so that the time goes by quicker. Generally, my partner and my parents join me on race day, so that I have the best support, I could ask for. Between camps, I try to spend as much time as possible with friends and family to recharge my battery. Nowadays I train more at home, cause I don’t like to be apart for that long. I recognized that I feel better by staying close to home and prepare for a competition. So this time I only gonna go on two camps. My partner joined the first camp in February and the second one in April friends will come with me.
Do you have time to discover the city or country after a competition or do you travel back home right after?
If the race is further away I try to spend at least one additional day to do some sightseeing with friends or family. Before the race, I don’t have any capacity for something like that. I’m already too focused. But while checking out the circuit before the race I usually get to see some beautiful parts of the countryside.
Did you encounter any setbacks or obstacles in your career so far? How did you overcome them? Have you ever thought about quitting? If so, what made your mind change?
Yes, I had a few setbacks in the last couple of years. After my best race in 2016 in Frankfurt I struggled quite a bit with injuries and setbacks. I didn’t want to admit it and pulled through training. I always fought my way back, but I could never deliver in the race, the pain was holding me back. At some point, I reached the limit and my body fully broke down. It felt like I was a weekly visitor at the doctors and therapists, but nothing ever worked. I couldn’t sit on the couch or in the car without having strong pain in my glutes. The doctors were clueless. I took a break and literally didn’t do anything but concernedly the pain got worse. After a while, I started to train again but the pain came back immediately. In this period I thought about quitting and questioned why I am still doing that to myself. I invested so much money, time and nerves. It came to the point where I thought I mentally was causing the pain. But an MRI scan can’t lie. Without my family and friends, I would have quit and given up all my dreams.
After a few races, I finished the season early and took a break. But even in that break, the pain in my foot didn’t get any better. So I followed up the symptoms and it ended in me having surgery three months ago. I had to learn to walk and run again. The worst was during that period was to depend on other people and to not be able to do the stuff that has been a natural course of action. I’ve always seen the surgery as a fresh start, to finally train without pain again. Right now I’m in physical rehab and I’m happy about every little step forward. I don’t put any pressure on me and I don’t have a fixed date for when I have to be back. I try to give my foot the time it needs. My foot will decide when I’ll be able to race again. I do have a rough plan in my mind, but if that fits reality depends on my foot. One big goal makes me keep going. I want to take part in the Ironman world cup in Hawaii one more time. Therefore I’ll do everything I can, but I won’t force it, that’s for sure.
Photos: Marcel Hilger, Jan Schohaus