Let me just start this by saying, on the record:
I’m a fan.
Things bug me all the time but not to the point where I’m still thinking about them days later. Or feel compelled to write about them.
Over the summer, I discovered the Jillian Michaels Podcast. I was commuting four hours a day to a remote job and I fell in love with Jillian. I found her funny, informative, and inspiring. I adjusted a number of my training and nutrition practices as a result of her segments. Many of the calls resonated with me and I really responded to her approach of dealing with the underlying causes of behavior and pushing through emotional barriers.
On a few shows, there were fleeting mentions of her intention to participate in the Nautica Malibu Triathlon. Janice, her producer and an avid swimmer, periodically gave Jillian suggestions about swimming but to my knowledge, there wasn’t an episode or segment devoted to her triathlon training.
I was a few episodes behind and recently caught the 10/7 (my birfday!) episode in which Jillian addresses the outcome of the triathlon a month prior. Here are some of the things she said about her preparation:
“To be honest with you, not only do I not know how to freestyle, it, it freaks me out ’cause like, the breathing thing, like I get water in my ears, and I get it in my mouth, like I can’t freestyle swim. I just don’t know how to do it.”
She opted to breaststroke. Fair enough. She’s spoken of a five year old shoulder injury sustained while horseback riding so it’s possible that freestyle might not be her stroke. Lots of first time triathletes breast stroke. When I first heard the segment, I gave her the benefit of the doubt because I like her, though it really sounds like she didn’t make any attempt to learn to overcome the whole “water entering your orifices while you’re submerged” thing.
“And everyone kept saying “get in the ocean” and I was like, “No way. It’s the Pacific. It’s freeeezing. And there are currents.” And everybody was like “Dude, but if you don’t get in the ocean, like, you’re gonna freak out.” And I freeeeaked ouuuuut.”
This is where I started to get pissed. YOUR TRI IS IN THE PACIFIC. IF YOU’RE NOT WILLING TO TRAIN IN IT BECAUSE IT’S UNCOMFORTABLE, HOW DO YOU THINK IT WILL FEEL TO RACE IN IT? This is also the first dangerous and reckless choice Jillian made with seemingly no sense of future consequences.
“So I showed up and first of all, no one had toooold me that I needed a certain kind of wetsuit! So I had bought this little surfing suit! Like this short wetsuit that surfers wear at the surf shop!”
I can’t. I just cannot.
She goes on to describe how Lucy Danzinger (editor at Self Magazine and triathlete) was like, YOU CAN’T WEAR THAT and raced her over to the X-Terra booth to get her into a proper suit. Predictably, she feels claustrophobic in the suit and freaks out even more. This is a totally natural and common response to being in a full wetsuit for the first time. Hence why the first time shouldn’t be like four seconds before the gun goes off.
I really LOVE the “no one told me” remark. For a woman whose entire fitness empire is centered around empowerment, not making excuses, and personal accountability this is really disappointing. Among the myriad things Jillian didn’t take the time to learn about triathlon, she doesn’t seem to realize that triathlon doesn’t come with a tutor who shows up at your house and tells you everything you need to know. A Google search of “How to Race Triathlon” comes up with several articles that would have helped her to avoid every, single mishap. And don’t even try to give me the “I’m a busy working mom” excuse. If you’re going to participate in a race with other people, it’s your ethical responsibility to yourself, your family, and your fellow competitors to do it safely with at least basic education.
“And we’re at Zuma beach and I’m like, “are there any tips about this whole current situation?”
Too little, too late, girl. Her swim was (in her words) a total disaster. She had a completely typical first open water swimming experience and no part of me judges her for that. Panic in a wetsuit, confusion at its buoyancy (breast stroke is super-weird in a wetsuit! I totally relate!) , struggle with the current…all of those responses are completely normal. And they suck! And yes, there are lots and lots of tips for dealing with these scenarios.
“So E-Boost wrapped my bike. They took my whole bike apart [for promotional reasons]…..so, I was a little nervous about it because first of all, the bike is a very expensive bike. Okay? [Discussion of Jillian's year of biking experience and confidence about the bike leg.] So my breaks were not put on right. But wait, it gets better. So I get on the bike and something’s dragging and I’m like “what is that?” So my breaks were put on and, like, the front break is dragging on the wheel and then I went to shift gears and my front derailleur was just completely not working. So I can choose the bottom seven gears or the top seven gears…“
No. You can choose not to put your LIFE and the LIVES OF OTHERS at risk by riding a malfunctioning bike.
This is beyond.
It is not E-Boost’s fault. It’s not the bike mechanic’s fault. If your bike has been disassembled and reassembled, it is your responsibility to ride it and check to make sure it’s safely functioning before you ride it around others. It was at this point that I felt genuine anger.
Jillian made it through the bike with actually a really respectable time. She was disappointed that it was slower than the bike leg of a tri relay she did last year but she still averaged 16.4 MPH. For a first tri and equipment problems, this is great! Had she not been so reckless and thoughtless, I would just feel sympathetic that she didn’t meet her goal of 52 minutes (21.74mph). Hmm.
“So now, you know I hate running and I’m a terrible runner so I did not practice – by the way, who’s got time to train for these things?! Who’s out there training?! Like, who’s training for this?! I gotta work! I got kids!”
I gotta stop for a moment. Her tone in this section was SO bewildered that I almost crashed into the car in front of me as I listened. Who has time to train for this? TRIATHLETES! TRIATHLETES TRAIN FOR THIS. MOMS. PEOPLE WITH JOBS. PEOPLE WHO RESPECT THEMSELVES AND THE SPORT OF TRIATHLON. THOSE PEOPLE. PEOPLE WHO DO NOT HAVE PARTNERS. PEOPLE WHO DO EVENTS SEVEN TIMES LONGER THAN THE ONE YOU DID. THAT IS WHO HAS TIME.
I just had a stroke. Moving on.
“So like, I can run four miles. And I can bike 18 miles. But I’ve never run after biking.“
Of course not. Who’s got time for all that? Moving on.
“I have no way of knowing what’s four miles.”
You’re a millionaire. Buy a Garmin. Moving on.
“Anything endurance is not for me. I can do a one-armed pull-up. I can do a one-armed push-up. Once. Twice. I can run at 14 miles per hour. Once.”
I really wondered at this point why on earth she decided to participate in the tri. Until I choked when she said the 14 mph part. And the “once.” What does that even mean? Does it mean that this woman I once respected is actually completely full of shit? I Googled “treadmill 14mph” and it didn’t even give me any relevant responses. You know why? Because 12mph is a FIVE MINUTE MILE. Making 14mph a four minute mile. She’s a strong chick but Kenyan….or a spaceship? NOT SO MUCH.
So, she got through the run at an 11:47 pace. I am absolutely the last person to diss someone’s pace, especially in their first triathlon. It is NOT EASY and any time is a respectable time if it’s the result of preparation and heart. Maybe it took her a lot of heart to finish in that time. Only she knows that. What I know is that she claims absurd sprint paces whenever running comes up on the podcast. They don’t align with her performance and besides having to pee, she didn’t describe any physical problems. I call BS.
So, okay. To take a page out of Jillian’s trainer playbook, let’s ask why this happened? Why did a fitness celebrity participate in a well-publicized athletic event and actively choose not to train or educate herself on the sport? Arrogance? Stupidity? Complete lack of respect for the sport? Nope (welp, kinda…). If Jillian was on the phone with a caller describing this debacle, she’d identify it in an instant:
She threw the game. Again, it was a well-publicized event. She’s a famous, wealthy trainer with every resource at her disposal and she opted not to use any of them. I don’t doubt she felt tremendous pressure to perform and impress. For some, this type of pressure is motivating. For others, it’s debilitating. She claimed to be really proud of completing the event, citing the fact that she’s not a natural athlete. Apparently people told her she should be ashamed of her time and that it was “abysmal.” Actually, her times were perfectly respectable and those people are assholes. BUT, I think Jillian’s personal sense of pride and accomplishment is undeserved because in an essential sense she didn’t truly *participate*. She survived because she’s fit but what did she truly accomplish? And what kind of message did her cavalier and almost disdainful attitude about training send to the people who look to her for inspiration?
When I began writing this, I felt conflicted and bummed. A woman I respect for her strength and direct confrontation of bullshit acted hypocritically. She put herself and athletes around her in danger which is absolutely unconscionable. As I continued to write and re-listen, I felt angry. Angry at her for disrespecting herself. Angry at her for sounding condescending towards the people who take triathlon seriously. Angry that not once in her description of her triathlon experience did she give props to people who devote themselves to this amazing sport. Eventually, I began to feel a bit sad for Jillian because she robbed herself of a potentially transforming experience. The kind of experience she unquestionably values.
Triathlon gives people the opportunity to grow. To challenge their self-perception. To set audacious goals and enjoy the pride of completion. Jillian may not be a natural endurance athlete or have any desire to become one but I think she would agree that if you’re gonna play…