Jillian Michaels, Triathlete

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…


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23 thoughts on “Jillian Michaels, Triathlete

  1. John says:

    Thank you for writing this! You’re spot-on with everything you said. I cannot abide “celebrities” who think they can do anything, with a blatant disregard for others, just because of who they are. Practice what you preach, people!

  2. JustaThought says:

    I agree with pretty much everything you wrote here. She definitely came off as hypocritical.

    In her defense, she kind of got—pressured is a strong word but yeah…pressured into participating.

    She was on CNN with Sanjay Gupta and, at the end of the interview, he asked her to join him in the triathlon (…on national tv). What was she gonna say? Im really busy with my kids and my company and my previously booked speaking engagements. Sooooo…yeah, can’t do it Sanjay! She would’ve been lambasted for “making excuses” to not participate.

    On one of her podcasts, early in the summer I think, she told Janice that she wanted to say no because of how busy she was but she didn’t want to let Sanjay down… Messed up thing is, she did it to support him and he ended up not even doing it.

    • earthedangel says:

      That’s interesting. I feel like she had two choices after saying yes on t.v.:
      1. Privately back out AT ANY POINT up to the event, citing the (I believe, valid) reasons why. If Sanjay Gupta were an honorable and/or empathetic person, he would keep her silence. Considering he didn’t end up participating, that…doesn’t bode well for HIS commitment either.
      2. MAKE TIME. Cancel other engagements, ask for help, etc.
      It does suck that she was pressured to do something so huge. Gupta shouldn’t have done that, imo.

  3. Yes! Who has time? People who make time and make sacrifices! It’s not easy, but we do it anyway!

    • Shauna says:

      Her tone when she said that was HILARIOUS. She was literally AGHAST at the idea that anyone trains for what she did. Imagine her horror if she looked at a training plan for an IM!

  4. earthedangel says:

    I think you really made excellent points, and I can imagine how insulting it must feel to have a fitness celebrity proclaim that “no one” has time to train for a triathlon after you just did EXACTLY THAT while having your own life. Yes, being a mom is exhausting and time-consuming, but…c’mon. You’re Jillian Michaels. You can’t hire a babysitter for this HUGE event you should KNOW to train for? Sheesh. If you don’t think you have time to train, perhaps you shouldn’t have committed to it!
    My thought when she made the 14 mph “once” remark was that perhaps she can do a sprint at that pace? Like if she’s doing intervals, that’s her top speed?
    Personally, I think her times WERE abysmal. For her. I think you’re exactly right when you say that she “survived” it because she’s fit in general, but didn’t respect the effort it takes to excel. Imagine promising to take someone’s place in a basketball game a few months from now, and sure you’ve thrown some balls around before, so you’ll be fine! No need to check on the rules for this league or basketball in general; you know how to make baskets! You wear cleats on a basketball court, right?

  5. earthedangel says:

    On the other hand, your analysis of this makes me admire you like 10,000 times more because it seems like you did everything correct that Jillian didn’t, and you coming from a place of less fitness than her! Hmmm…maybe it just boiled down to arrogance on her part.

    • Shauna says:

      It sounds like she was put in a tough position by Dr. Gupta but I don’t think her quietly dropping out of the tri would have been any kind of story. When I say “well-publicized” it’s still only interesting to a small group of athletes.

      Thanks for the compliment. I totally admit that I’m on the other end of the spectrum. I’m a researcher by nature and I need ALLLLLLL the information before I embark on something. There’s no need to read 20 books and countless articles about the sport but like I said in the article, even the most preliminary google search would have revealed things like “buy a swimming wetsuit”, “do a brick or two”, “freestyle is efficient”, and “test your bike.’

  6. clair says:

    “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.” Yes! And I hope Jillian didn’t just give all her followers the excuse they needed to half ass a race and put themselves (and the rest of us) in danger.

    • Shauna says:

      She’s already spoken several times on the podcast about how she listens to music through headphones while she’s riding her road bike. Not not not not good.

      • Dee says:

        i am pretty sure she noted that she only has one earbud in and at a lower volume. I think a lot of people do that, I know I have!

  7. JustaThought says:

    One more thought on this (and I swear I’m not fangirling for Jillian Michaels):

    I work in PR / Brand Management here in Atlanta and when I listened to this podcast, I heard it coming from a place of “oh, let me defend myself here” as a former Biggest Loser trainer was “interviewed” by TMZ about Jillian’s tri performance and she said she would have “killed herself if she’d done that poorly” and other not so classy things. That 30-45 second rib made it’s way all over the nets, was picked up by HuffingPost and ALL the other big boys.

    The small amount of bad commentary on her performance—which had started dying down—was given new life. So where she would probably have said, “you know, I didn’t prepare. I didn’t practice what I preach about action without information…and didn’t perform well” she was left, in my opinion, to have to defend her performance. She’s no longer a person; she’s a brand now. If I were handling her, I would’ve had her do exactly what she did…

    Ironically, no one would have really even known her performance was a “disaster” if she hadn’t told TMZ (by way of talking to them while talking to her biz partner on the phone).

    NONE of this makes anything you wrote less right, Shauna and I respect you for writing it. I just have a soft spot for JM because she’s one execs have been trying to take down for YEARS. And there’s no one better for women IMO, in the fitness arena, than her.

    • Shauna says:

      I don’t disagree with you at all, actually. She’s a fighter and does amazing work. She has a brand to protect and I’m not an expert in that area at all.

      I chose not to mention any of the TMZ videos because they were all after the fact and my interest/horror was more about her preparation. Cara’s video was TACKAY and Jillian’s sarcastic response was (while not so gracious) totally understandable.

      I really respected and admired her which is why the whole thing was so interesting and distressing to me.

  8. evilmoxie says:

    This whole thing is simply mind boggling. How can someone who works in the fitness industry not realize that a competitive endurance trial like a triathlon requires (at least) the most basic preparation so she can avoid injury? Has she gotten so accustomed to her handlers preparing everything for her that she’s forgone common sense?

  9. MG says:

    Wow. I actually find it bewildering that she would not prepare for this event, particularly given who she is in the fitness community. I also made the leap that she would want to be competitive.

    As I read your post it made me wonder if this was not only self-sabotage but perhaps a way for her to present herself as “just like you and me,” despite not being much like you or me because we would prepare ourselves better for this kind of challenge.

    Anyway, thanks for the thought-provoking post!

    • Shauna says:

      What an interesting insight! She was certainly relateable in the sense that her times weren’t elite. But you’re right, even the “average joe/josephine triathlete” trains. 😀

  10. Cathryn says:

    This is really interesting. I love Jillian too (although I would always pick Dolvett!) and I heard a little about the poor tri. I suspect she knows how badly she prepared and thus performed and is defending herself by trying to be funny/witty about it. I suspect it’s really bugging her.But one of the things I/we all love about her is the straight-talking. I’d respect her so much more if she simply said she prepared badly, these were the mistakes she made, this is what she learned. It could have been such a great opportunity to teach others.

  11. Tatianna says:

    Listen I totally respect the way you analyzed the situation with JM and she should have been prepared. However, remember she is a person just like you and me, and neither JM, you or me are perfect.
    There are times when we should prepare for things in our lives and we don’t because of reasons that we cant disclose to people. Sometimes we go through struggles in our lives that no one has any knowledge of. You are only aware of what she said on her podcast so its the only thing you can critic. Perhaps she didn’t care or perhaps she did? You would never know because you are not close to her as her partner, friend or family is.

    So don’t judge her because you don’t know the whole reason behind her actions; because no one can judge you for your irresponsible actions especially when we don’t know what they are. You have done things that you are not proud of too i’m sure you would not share it to the audience that you left this post for on JM.

    I am looking at it from an emotional perspective. Unless you are Jillian Michaels, you could not possible get what she was going through prior to the weeks of the triathlon, or why she chose to do what she did. That’s her business. You would utilize your time more constructively by focusing on your own life. If you don’t like what she did, so what!

    How many things have you all done that people don’t like? How many times have people looked up to you and you disappointed them? Well its the same thing, so get over it.


  12. Roo Snow says:

    I think her podcast makes it clear she doesn’t like or train for endurance. She freely admits she trains to be healthy and look good not so she can kick ass in a race. I’ve done many triathlons, long and short, in the UK and what I love about them is that all types of people can compete and everyone is so supportive whether you are in the top 10 or the last one over the line. I think it’s a shame that this doesn’t seem to be the case over in the US judging by some people’s comments above. She wasn’t competing professionally so why should you expect a professional performance on her first go. All triathletes I know have at least one race that was a complete disaster and they normally make for a great story afterwards that you can laugh at. She’s able to laugh at herself and still want to come back and give it another go. I say good on her and anybody else who has a try at triathlons!

    • Shauna says:

      I absolutely agree that anyone who wants to try triathlon should proudly do so. Everyone makes mistakes! Jillian seemed to flaunt the fact that she didn’t train, didn’t take the process seriously, and didn’t do any research into participating safely in the sport. As a leader in the fitness industry, this is problematic.

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