Chelsea Sodaro was a professional distance runner and national champion before turning pro as a triathlete.
Since then, Chelsea has enjoyed a rapid rise and made a huge impression on the world of swim-bike-run; winning an ITU World Cup event and two IM 70.3 races, in Indian Wells and Santa Rosa respectively.
We caught up with Chelsea prior to her brilliant 4th place finish at the 70.3 World Championships in Nice and discussed her transition to triathlon, her work with 'Recovery Coach' Matt Dixon and why she uses Precision Hydration...
You forged an impressive reputation as a runner, so who or what inspired your transition into triathlon?
After being injured for most of the 2016 running season, I had a really disappointing performance at the U.S. Olympic Trials in the 10k. I was so far off the mark and got injured again only a week or two after that race.
My husband is a good cyclist and I started sitting on his wheel. I was following triathlon purely as a fan, and my husband said, "you should try that! I think you could be good". I literally laughed out loud. But then I got obsessed with the idea and joined a masters group!
You've certainly made an impression on the sport in a very short space of time, but what has been the hardest part of transitioning from racing one discipline to three?
Definitely the swim initially. I put in a lot of time in the water, really focusing on my stroke, but I struggled quite a bit with open water race dynamics. It's been an adjustment as I learn how to handle the volume of pro triathlon training.
As a runner you can only run so much - maybe 10-14 hours a week of actual running. While I feel healthier overall during triathlon training, I've had to adapt to the systematic fatigue of training 25+ hours per week.
So, have you continued to work hard on your running or is that a discipline you feel like you've got 'nailed down' thanks to your background?
Running is hard regardless of your pace. I certainly don't run as many miles as I used to when I was training for the track. My volume is way down, but most of the running I do is quality and race-specific. I continue to work on my form and mechanics.
So there's less of a focus in the total volume of work, but there's still a big focus on running really well. I don't think I'll ever feel like I have my run 'nailed down'. There are always ways to get better and I want to keep on getting faster.
The improvement has been there for all to see. Have you enjoyed effectively starting fresh in a 'new' sport?
I've enjoyed getting to be a beginner again. I feel like I get a 're-do' of sorts. I'm taking this second chance at pro athletics as an opportunity to do things my way.
I think I've made my team a real priority on this journey. Rather than being as inwardly obsessive as I have been in the past, I have prioritized my husband and really been with him for as much of the year as possible.
I was really deliberate about choosing to work with my coach, Matt Dixon. He has helped me create an environment on a day-to-day basis where I find a lot of joy in the process of chasing improvement.
Did Matt’s reputation as the ‘Recovery Coach’ play a part in your decision to join his ranks?
I think it's kind of funny that Matt has earned that title. Our training is really, really hard! Matt has asked me to do a lot of things in training where I didn't know if I'd be able to get it done!
I decided to work with Matt because I think he's very smart and he has a great plan for my development and progression over the next few years.
I also love the community that he's created here in the Bay Area. Purple Patch has really built me up and empowered me as an athlete and a person.
What has been the biggest change in your training regime, both in terms of volume and the focus of your sessions, since working with Matt?
The hard days are really hard, and the easy days revolve around recovery. I think that this has helped me to really show up on the days that count. I'm also emotionally in a better place with this type of schedule, so I can push myself more when that's called for.
With your schedule in mind, what does a typical race day look like for you?
The first thing I do when I wake up on race morning is to meditate for 5-10 minutes. I use the Headspace App. I find that it helps get my mind in a really positive space.
For breakfast, I have oatmeal and some scrambled eggs on the side. And coffee!
I always write out my routine the day before the race so I can be pretty programmed with it. There are so many details that go into setting up your bike and nutrition, and getting on the wetsuit or swim skin!
I'm not superstitious, but I like to plan ahead of time so I'm not stressed.
And let's talk about your hydration, how did you first hear about PH?
I heard Andy Blow on the Purple Patch Podcast, and then Matt introduced me to Andy when he was visiting San Francisco a few months back.
I'd been having some stomach issues in racing and training, and Matt thought my problems could be related to hydration. Andy has been a huge help with administering a Sweat Test and then guiding me through a hydration plan that suits my needs.
I start sipping on 500ml of water mixed with a packet of PH 1500 when I wake up in the morning. I consume two bottles of the PH 1000 (mixed in with about 500ml of water) on the bike and then aim to get in another 500ml of water with a couple of the SweatSalt capsules. During the run, I get in water at most aid stations and aim to take in 3-4 salt capsules.
And how do you currently approach nutrition on race day?
I rely on Vifit gels during race day. My favorite is the Peach Passion fruit!
I always make sure to take my gels with water, and I find that 'sipping' on them during the run is easier on my stomach than taking the whole gel down in one go.
You mentioned earlier about your struggles with injury during your running, how did you cope with the frustrations of missing races and training?
Oh gosh! It's tough and always challenging when you can't do what you love. I try to control the things that I can. I always come out the other side stronger, so I remind myself of that. I use the opportunity to work on my weaknesses.
I work really closely with Dr. Mike Lord - an awesome chiropractor here in San Francisco. He's been helping me to work on some weaknesses. I also work with a strength coach, Charlie Reid.
We've found that I need to get a lot stronger, especially in my quads. I'm still working to develop all of the biking and swimming muscles!
I also have great medical support from Team BMC-Vifit. Dr. Roel Parys and Maarten Thysen have been huge assets to me this year.
Excellent, you seem to be reaping the rewards with your results in IM 70.3 racing. What inspired your decision to move from short-course, where you enjoyed plenty of success, to IM 70.3 racing?
I was really struggling with my overall happiness. When I was 23 I had no problem travelling all of the time. But I'm at a place in my life where I want my husband, our relationship and community to be a priority.
I think that I realized that was more important to me than my Olympic dream. I won my first ITU World Cup in June 2018 and I felt this emptiness. My family wasn't there at the finish line and this moment that should have felt so joyous just felt incomplete.
I decided to move to 70.3 shortly after that.
You’ve won 70.3 races in Indian Wells and Santa Rosa already. Does that success, and the increased expectation of being a medal contender at every race, come with increased pressure?
That's really flattering but doesn't change much for me at this point. I head into races with the goal of executing my best race.
I realize that's not a very juicy answer, but it's the truth. I think all of the usual players will be there, but I don't give a whole lot of thought to the other athletes.
Finally, what are your ambitions for the next few years? Any thoughts on moving up to full IRONMAN?
I'm on a journey of personal improvement. I want to find out what my body and mind are capable of doing in triathlon. I absolutely want to move up to the full IM distance.
Last year I had the opportunity to train with my good friend and main training partner Sarah Piampiano in Kona during her prep for the World Championships. I loved it, which surprised me honestly. I can't wait to go back there one day to race it myself. I'll wait for Matt to let me know when I'm ready to move up.