Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Sue Aquila

In Our Corner – Sue Aquila

We’re kicking off our athlete profile section by talking to Sue Aquila, an Endurance Corner team member from Bloomington, Indiana.

Sue balances her ironman training while raising a daughter and running a successful business in the greater Bloomington community that she built from the ground up.

In April she’ll race the Boston marathon and she’s gearing up for her second trip to Ironman Wisconsin, her priority event for the year.

Endurance Corner: How and when did you get involved in endurance sport?
Sue Aquila: Although I ran off and on since college, I started running seriously in 2003 because I decided I didn’t want to be a workaholic and I wanted to make sure I was leading a healthy life. I picked a local half marathon, the Indianapolis Mini-Marathon as my focus. I remember I was trying to break two hours and I didn’t quite get it. It’s such a difference now – my current speed compared to then – which is kind of funny. It’s a great reminder of where I came from only a few years ago.

I also really like racing, so endurance events gave me the opportunity to get out there and race.

EC: How did you get into triathlon?
SA: I was part of a local running group, the Bad Attitude Racing Club, and in 2006, one of the members of the group said, “instead of running all the time, why don’t you try triathlon?” So, I did.

EC: What made you want to do ironman?
SA: You know, I think it’s the same as a lot of people. How many of us watched Wide World of Sports on ABC? I always thought it would be the pinnacle to do something like that. So that’s how it happened. I started small and built up to the ironman, and also like a lot of people, I thought I would just do one and be done with it. Then I thought, “Well, I think I have some more work to do here.”

EC: You’ve got a unique story about your business; can you share how you got started?
SA: I graduated from St. Lawrence University in upstate New York and then attended graduate school at Indiana University here in Bloomington. My degree was Sport Management, the focus of which was to prepare you for being an athletic director; so it was mostly business classes. But that’s not what I ended up doing. Like everyone else, I came to Bloomington and decided I wanted to try and stay.

To make a long story short, there were no good bagel shops here. I had always wanted to start my own business, even as far back as high school when I used to read business books – that’s how much of a geek I am. I read an article about how the bagel business was taking off and since one of my talents is baking, I started looking into it. I was fortunate to have an older, experienced friend who helped me get everything rolling.

I opened Bloomington Bagel Company in 1996 and it was successful right from the beginning. On the third day we were open, I blew out the third year of my very conservative business plan. Since then we’ve grown to three stores as well as wholesale distribution.

At this point, I’m not really looking to expand much further. I have a great team and I have a good balance. Whenever people ask me about starting a business, I always tell them to start by designing a life and what they want that life to look like, then figure out how to generate income. I’ve chosen a life that I want and I’m having a very good time.

EC: Indiana gets its share of bad weather in the winter. Do you have any tips for making it through?
SA: We have this group of people who get together every Sunday. We call it the “Pain Cave Crew.” We all do our different workouts on the trainer and then we head out on a transition run together.

EC: I know you have some experience with big training weeks, can you tell us a little about one of your personal camps?
SA: Last year I had committed to Triple T and I picked mid-March to get a jumpstart on my training. I ended up doing almost 24 hours of cycling, six hours of swimming and close to three hours of running.

EC: How did you set it up within your life? Did you "shut down" everything else or lay it over your regular schedule? Did you travel?
SA: Bloomington was recently named one of the top-20 triathlon communities in the country by Triathlete magazine. It’s a terrific area for cycling, running and swimming, so I didn’t need to travel. I didn't shut down everything else in my life, but I did tweak my schedule a bit around family and work commitments. I have a lot of success with splitting up my workouts in big weeks so that I have time to recover, refuel, refresh and then hit the next workout solidly. Most importantly, the weather cooperated. There was a cold day or two but overall it was great. I am wimp when it comes to cold weather cycling.

EC: What benefits did you feel you got out of that particular big training week?
SA: I learned that I can train for a very long time and that I have the capacity for lots of training without getting injured. I think it really helped my base and to prepare for the year. I had just started working with Gordo and I think it helped us to both understand where we were going together. Unfortunately, due to a death in the family, my training the last few weeks before Triple T was disrupted. I ended up "participating" rather than racing. Having said that, my A race in October was really a culmination of all of the training hours last year. I don't think I would have had the performance I had at Longhorn without it. Every day is a building block!

EC: Why did you choose to become an Endurance Corner team member?
SA: It’s sort of a long answer. I attended a triathlon camp in 2007 and was part of a training program that I feel was geared to what I call the “Microwave Generation.” Those are the people who think, “I only have a limited number of hours, I’m going to work this hard, and I’m going to get this result.” And there’s nothing wrong with that approach, but it just didn’t feel right for me.

I realized there was a piece missing from my training: that deep, strong, steady-state endurance. I just knew that was the difference between getting faster and not getting faster.

At the same time, I also knew Gordo from his blog. The thing I really enjoyed initially was how he tied the business perspective with triathlon. I also really found a strong connection with Gordo’s philosophy, “There is no easy way.” So here was someone that believed in the strong steady work and I really responded to that.

Gordo also embraces technology, which works great for me. I love how he can be in Colorado or halfway around the world and I see no difference in our relationship. We do everything through TrainingPeaks, e-mail, direct messaging and Twitter and that works great for me. Occasionally we do phone calls, but it’s usually Gordo that has to pin me down for that – that just goes to show how much he prioritizes reaching out. I’ve been surprised about the level of personal attention Gordo gives us.

And he’s not just a triathlon robot. He’s human. He has a family. He has a sense of humor. He’s got a wide range of experience well beyond sport. And he really comes across like he genuinely cares about each team member’s success – whatever that means for the individual.

EC: Is there anything about the program or the team itself that stands out for you?
SA: Beyond the steady work approach, I also really enjoy things like the virtual camps. It’s cool how so many of us can come together on the forum, track our progress and work toward a common goal.

Another thing I’ve found is that if you go through the forum, there’s not a lot of ego there. You look and there are some amazing athletes in the group, but no one is bragging. Everyone does the work, but no one’s pushing each other to blow up. Maybe it’s the refuge for the non-glamorous triathlete; the person who wants to do well but leaves all the pretenses behind.

You can follow Sue’s progress on her blog:

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