Hosts Marjaana Rakai and Paul Warloski, joined by Professor Paul Laursen, discuss the multifaceted journey of endurance sports from the viewpoint of everyday athletes. They share personal narratives, with Marjaana detailing her transition from Olympic hopeful to enthusiastic triathlete and Paul recounting his shift from a results-centric approach to enjoying the training process, despite health challenges. Professor Laursen provides expert insights, emphasizing the crucial balance between health and fitness and advocating for a holistic training approach. Key themes include the importance of mental adaptability, the need to listen to one’s body to prevent overtraining, and the value of a personalized and health-focused approach to athletic training.
Marjaana Rakai (00:01.358)
Hello, I'm Marjaana Rakai. As an age group athlete, the journey is both rewarding and challenging. We don't always see the path in front of us, but looking back, we can always connect the dots.
Today we share our personal experiences and lessons learned while navigating the world of endurance sports through the lens of two everyday athletes, Paul and myself. Joining us is also Professor Paul Laursen, a seasoned expert in athletic training and in exercise physiology. Having led Olympic level athletes to age group athletes like ourselves, he'll share his thoughts on the drawbacks of the no pain, no gain philosophy.
We’ll provide valuable insights into training smarter for better results and preventing injury and overtraining. So essentially, how did we get here? Here's our cohost, cyclist and coach, Paul Warloski.
Paul Warloski (00:56.135)
Well, thanks Marjaana. And I have been a lifelong mid-pack kind of cyclist and athlete. I've had asthma all my life and now I'm recovering from some heart surgery. I've always been really focused on results and with some age and maybe a little bit of wisdom, I'm learning to just enjoy the process of training and racing.
I look at it like… I have a lot of family in the Netherlands and I have spent a lot of time in Amsterdam visiting museums. Oftentimes, I have done my training like I am traveling to a museum, just getting there and looking at the museum and getting all I can out of the Van Gogh Museum or whatever it might be. Instead of stopping along the way and looking at some of the cool shops and talking to some of the people, along the way. And that's kind of how I want to do my training in racing. So I'm using Athletica now to train and do what I can, race some gravel, maybe do some cyclocross racing next season. I've always been able to train pretty well and my nutrition was pretty good. My mental state though, that cardinal direction has always been a little skewed towards results only. And so that's something that I'm working on. Marjaana, what about you?
Marjaana Rakai (02:18.382)
Well, my story goes quite a ways back. I was growing up in North Finland. I was a cross-country skier and track and field athlete. And...closing in to the senior ages, I got injured and quit. I had big hopes for going to the Salt Lake Olympics in 2002, but because of the injuries and all, I gave up and moved to Norway, cross-country skiing mecca of the world. Ever since, I've kind of carried the chip on my shoulder of what could have been. And I never kind of dealt with the grief that comes with when you let go of your dreams. I'm sure a lot of people can relate to that.
And then jumping forward to 2015, I had three kids in three and a half years. I was exhausted. deeply into sleep deprivation, but something told me to sign up for this Olympic distance triathlon. I had seen triathletes train at Leblon Beach while we lived in Rio de Janeiro and
it looked so much fun to just like run into the ocean, go for a swim, come back out and run down the Leblon and Ipanema beach while I was pushing a stroller to stay awake. It just like ignited something in me. So 2015, I did my first Olympic distance triathlon and it was the best three hours of my life. It was so much fun to like to be there doing something just by myself and not being needed. So that was super refreshing as a mom of three little ones. And yeah, it just totally ignited my passion for triathlon.
And then… I was struggling with my mindset that I could never ever like do longer distance than Olympic because it was you know 1.5k swim then 40k or 30k it's 40k pole right 40k bike and then a 10k run because I told myself that I can never run a marathon because, you know, the excuse list, I'm too big, I'll get injured, marathon is just way too long for me.
But then I started, you know, questioning myself. And it was all the process that goes into it. I basically just flipped the coin. It was a mindset thing. And I started questioning myself. Okay. Well, maybe I can do that. If I start training and, you know, putting some consistency into it. Um, so I ran my first marathon in 2018 in between moving from, uh, BC to Dubai. No training, but I did it to show myself that I could. And I. followed that road to show myself that I can do things that I thought I couldn't.
And then 2019 I did my first full Ironman, because why not, and the whole time I was thinking, this is the best thing ever. Like I'm doing swim bike run, having so much fun. It was typical West Norwegian weather, rainy, thunder, and I had so much fun. But, and here's the but, I wanted more of it and I wanted to go faster. And that was kind of my Achilles heel to what was coming next.
I wanted to do another one so I had to start training for it without recovering from the first one. And two months in the training I got injured so I got plantar fasciitis. And instead of like looking at the reasons why I got injured I started training harder.
So swim and bike, I was starting doing a lot more high intensity training. And then just blindly just training, training. That led into all kinds of health issues, but I was completely blinded by my passion and my goals that I didn't care. I had a coach who always said health comes first.
But I didn't believe in it. I just wanted to race in Kona, the World Championships, and that was all that mattered. And then, and this is why I say 2021, the best thing that happened to me was to get ill in 2021 because that led to me actually, you know, taking those blinders off and looking at my own health because I was not well.
And, um, I was diagnosed with overtraining, uh, dysfunctional HPA access, um, and had to take six months off from training. So I went from Ironman training to running very easy, three times a week for 30 minutes. That was hard. That was mentally, it was super, super hard.
So that's what I did for six months and then I found Professor Paul Larson who gently guided me back to health and back to doing what I really love to do, it's this triathlon.
Paul Warloski (08:53.763)
So Marjaana, what are some things or what are one or two things that you have learned along the way and how does that help your daily training now?
Marjaana Rakai (09:06.354)
Oh, I am much more likely to go for a walk or do some yoga and listening to my body. Maybe I would say, I don't know if this is the old athlete talking, but sometimes maybe even a little too early jump in the walking wagon. Maybe I could do a little bit more, but… typically I send a text to Paul and ask what he thinks I should do that day. But I'm a lot better at listening to the warning signals that I get.
Paul Laursen (09:47.182)
Yes you are.
Marjaana Rakai (09:49.107)
Paul Warloski (09:49.311)
So both of our paths have evolved and while we may have lost our North Star coordinates at some points, the paths have led us to where we are today, sharing our experiences and knowledge with others who might be in the same boat. But let's hear from Professor Paul Larson, who is a coach and an avid athlete himself with 18 Ironmans under his belt. Paul, how has your athletic career evolved throughout the years?
Paul Laursen (10:18.06)
Yes, thanks, Marjaana and Paul. I guess, you know, we all start, we all have to start somewhere and I'm no different there. I started following my dad around when he was trying to quit smoking. I was a little kid and he used marathon training to quit smoking. And so from an early age, I started running and that was, and I found I had a knack for it.
On and on it kind of went until I was in my 20s and I was competing at a pretty high level and it was one of the best in my region here in British Columbia. And I wanted to become a professional. I wanted to do what Simon Whitfield did for Canada in terms of winning Olympic gold. That was my goal, but that didn't happen.
You know, this is we have to give some context. This is back in the eighties when really triathlon was really new on the scene. It's such an early sport and no one really knew how to put these three, three sports together. So, um, it was just train hard and train as much as you can. That was the only philosophy anyone really knew. So I did the same. And of course it didn't work for me, but that was, you know, what, you know, if I reflect now, um, to being,
where I'm an old man, that was my journey, and at least to today, and it will continue to be. And because I went on a crusade to learn how to put the pieces of training together, and then I guess not just training, my journey kind of continued, it's not just training, it's all the things that Marianna's really saying too here, is I learned that health is a big component of that training.
So, you know, and long story short, 20 years is 10 years in Australia, 10 years in New Zealand, you know, two Olympic cycles with the New Zealand program, you know, close to 200 publications in terms of really researching the science. With my colleague Martin Buchheit wrote a textbook, Science and Application of High Intensity Interval Training. So, believe me, I definitely… you would think that I would be totally all in for high intensity interval training and lots of it. And there probably was a time when I was, because I was seeing the results, but again, this health journey. And I have to bring in one of my mentors and that's Dr. Phil Maffetone, who really is, he also went on this big understanding of, or he taught many people that health should be first really.
He's the infamous coach of six time winner Mark Allen. And when he, I published a paper showing how much fat you actually burn at high exercise intensities. And fills the course of a hero to me. And he emails me after doing this publication, congratulating me. And we formed this great relationship thereafter. And he taught me so much about
Um, Marjaana mentioned the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis, this little region in your brain, the HPA axis, it really kind of gets out of whack and it, you know, it, it runs around, uh, it, it kind of links your, your nervous system to the hormones. And he taught me all about that. And that's what I try to teach now as well. Um, and the whole philosophy is around, um, you can be fit, but you can be unhealthy.
You can, in other words, even though you're putting out big power, you're performing incredibly, that can just change in an instant because it's just not a sustainable model. And if you, yeah, you know, we can learn that now or we can learn that later. And, you know, again, Marjaana is a testament to that. I know she knows exactly what I'm talking about. And...
And yeah, so it's like, and Paul, it sounds like you've had the same sort of experiences as well also. And myself too, right? So my personal best, those 18 Ironmans, the one, believe it or not, out of 18, my best one came when I was 43 years of age going sub 10 in the Taupo, New Zealand Ironman, which is one of the hardest ones. So sub 10 in Taupo is very good. It's a top 50 performance. And
Paul Warloski (14:57.126)
Paul Laursen (14:57.868)
Yeah, and it's, yeah, it was so, imagine like being a great athlete as a young kid, but then finally getting that Ironman right when I was 43. And again, huge credit to Dan Plews as well. Many will know he's a famous age group athlete that's currently got the world record in both Kona and overall. Following him around in the training, that helped too. But...
Marjaana Rakai (15:22.702)
I'm going to go ahead and turn it off.
Paul Laursen (15:26.056)
No doubt also is the health aspects that Dr. Phil Maffetone has taught me. And now I guess it's my life passion is to try to promote that with you two to others.
Paul Warloski (15:41.935)
Well, thanks for sharing that, Paul and Marjaana. But one question I have, I mean, it sounds like you learned a lot of different things, Paul. What's one thing that you carry with your work with Marjaana and with others? What's one thing that informs your training the most right now?
Paul Laursen (15:59.82)
that, well, I guess it's still back to what we said, but it health first. And with that is stress. Like understanding stress is the big one. And then stress comes in so many different forms. You can have a nutrition stress. Paul, you talked about some of the nutrition.
You mentioned that, but you also talked about your asthma and these sorts of things too, right? So that's, there's, the holistic practitioners would think, well, maybe you still haven't tackled that if that asthma is still sort of a problem. And there might be still something that you want to uncover that is affecting that. So it's, to me, it's a very general answer to your question, but it's...
It's trying to understand what the stressors are that are affecting the athlete that might be derailing their progress moving forward. So getting them back so that, helping them find their compass again.
Paul Warloski (17:13.599)
So health isn't just being able to exercise. It's like kind of a cornerstone of our lives. Let's dive into why prioritizing health impacts every aspect of our daily routines from work and relationships. So Marjaana, how do you think in general and maybe specific terms about your health?
Marjaana Rakai (17:37.946)
I kind of want to go back to what the prof just mentioned about understanding stress and how that can affect you as an athlete. Because like going through, like connecting my dots, I realized it wasn't just the training stress. It was also that I was sleeping poorly. I would wake up drenched, I was just sweating so much during the night time. And that leads to bad sleeps, right? And bad recovery.
But then it's also, so when we moved to Dubai 2018, that was really the first time that I had a chance to put some time into training because all my three kids went to same school. So I had that time during the day to really put in the work and I did. But I also had to function as a mom of those three little ones after 3 p.m. and their hobbies and you know run the household so that's also a stress but what a lot of people don't understand in big cities like Dubai there's some natural pollution like dust from you know it's in the desert so there's a lot of sand dust and all kinds but also like pm 2.5 which is the small particle that that get into our bloodstream. And a lot of people in Dubai who do cycling, running, triathlon, they don't connect the dots that it's the air pollution affecting. It's the stress, environmental stress that is also put in to the stress part. You know, so it's incredible. Every time I leave, I left Dubai, now we've moved.
But every time I left Dubai, I felt so much better because I wasn't breathing in that horrible pollution for hours at end. And depending on the season in Dubai, the winter season is actually a lot better for air pollution. It's more clear and less pollution. But then the summertime, when it's super hot and humid, it just sits all over the city like a blanket.
And that's horrible for your health. So now that I've connected the dots, it was just too much of stress to put in a human body. So no wonder I was getting injured. I was sick every other month. And even when we started working together with the Prath,
I would struggle with getting sick and these horrible headaches and going into Ironman Finland 20... last year, 2023, three weeks before the race we had a poll and I think I said something like I don't think I can do this race because I was struggling with such a headache.
And Paul said don't be silly. I think I said like maybe I'll just do swim and bike because I couldn't run in that heat and yeah so my training wasn't optimal but I took almost an hour off my time and qualified for Kona which I sadly had to say no to because I was already going to the 70.3 world championship so just like connecting the dots that health is everything, like you can't perform. You, I would say you can for a certain amount of time, you can perform if you're struggling with health, but at the end it will come and bite your bum for sure.
Paul Laursen (21:39.108)
If I could just extend on what you said, Marjaana, that's, you know, every time it was so it was just so consistent with, you know, every time you would remove yourself from your environment in Dubai, whether it was going to Finland, you know, and having that clean air and that kind of nature environment or coming to, you know, British Columbia. And, and again, you know, you would just light up.
And it would just like speak to your soul. And it was just like, you were a night and day athlete. And performance was also interestingly, directly correlated with the environment that you were in as well. So it did, you were a great example showing that your performance did actually link right to the health. So yes, absolutely. We are, human beings are such resilient creatures.
we can operate in these environments for certain amounts of time, but eventually, yeah, that stress just amounts and amounts and amounts and we need relief from it. So yeah, I think that's really, that's what we love to try to help people to do is to go on their own journeys, their own personal journeys in finding relief and recovery from that stress.
because the body wants to the body wants always to return to what we call in physiology homeostasis or balance. So that's, that's what we hope to help to help people facilitate in this podcast.
Marjaana Rakai (23:20.662)
Yeah, if I could expand on that, to showing how like, performance improves when your health improves, is that I took six months off from training. And then when we started working together with Paul, it was three months and I did my best half Ironman podiumed.
And I felt incredible, like absolutely incredible. While I had maybe trained a lot more, putting myself into the overtraining hole, but I felt completely trash most of the days. And it's just night and day.
feeling like I was constantly just sick and I was tired and I was cranky with family and like going to pick up the kids was just like an ordeal and um funny thing was when so I went to see an endocrinologist to try to figure out what was wrong I had got sick with. A short walk, my heart rate would jump up and I'm like, this is not right. I was so frustrated.
So I went to see an endocrinologist and a sport medicine doctor. And the endocrinologist, she ran a couple of tests. Um, maybe the prof, you can, you know, the test that they do the check, if your cortisol can jump up, I can't remember, they, they gave me this synthetic hormone that was supposed to boost my cortisol and it didn't do anything. So she's like, hmm, Googling like over-training symptoms. And I'm like, over-training, ah, that it can't happen to me. I'm just an age group athlete. Like there's no way I can put myself into the over-training train. I was thinking, cause I had, I had read about over-training and I always thought that that's just happens to like elite athletes, professional athletes. Not, you can't do it as an age group athlete. So I didn't take her word for it.
So I went to see a sport medicine doctor and she's like, yeah, I think based on these symptoms and what you're telling me, I think you're overtrained. So why don't we just, you know, take it easy for a while and see if your pretty tough because somebody was medical professional was telling me to stop training and I love training. You know, like it was really purposeful for me because now I felt like I was actually putting in the work that I had expected myself to do when I was a cross-country skier in my youth and quit. So carrying that chip on my shoulder.
I was there and sitting on the couch napping twice a day and funny story is i really wanted to see before i like went to see my sport medicine doctor again to say yes or no to this uh d training protocol that she suggested um
I wanted to see just how tired I was. So I quit coffee. I love my coffee. And I've tried quitting coffee once with the terrible headache withdrawals. So that's like the least thing. I don't wanna do that ever again, but I did because I wanted to see how tired I was and how much the tiredness I'm masking with coffee drinking.
So I was napping twice a day, no coffee. I was just like miserable. My kids were like, mom, what's wrong? What's wrong with you? I'm like, I'm not drinking coffee. I would take the coffee grinds and like sniff the coffee grinds. Oh my god. So I realized that yes, maybe there is a point to my tiredness and um...quite fitting because I call myself Tired Mom Runs. But just taking some time off and then gradually building up, I was able to do a 45 minute run. Then we added some strength training into mix, which I think was really key to preserve my muscle mass and help coming back.
And then we added some biking into it. So six months went by and my, my doctor said, like, I think you're, you're good. Um, and what was important to me was to find a coach that, um, understands human physiology and how important, uh, stress management is and putting the health on the driver's seat.
Paul Warloski (28:50.535)
And you know, and that really sparks, you know, my recent story from this year is that I had been having symptoms of ventricular tachycardia, which I didn't even know what it was. My heart was just beating out of my chest and I'd been having symptoms when I rode, when I sat around and been having a lot of symptoms and I ignored them all. Cause you know, being the stubborn athlete that we are, I was just like, yeah, this is just something, you know, it's stress or whatever it might be. But then finally there was one ride that I did with a group where I got dropped quickly and I had nothing in the tank and I barely made it up this hill. I decided that at that point after a couple other little symptoms happened that I had better get this checked out. When I went in and got the initial tests, the doctor looked at me and he said, Paul, you know, it's a good thing you're not dead.
And that was kind of a wake-up call, just that I needed to A, take this seriously, but B, also having to adjust my training and the way that I do things to accommodate whatever is going on with the heart. It's been fixed since then with an ablation, but that recovery has still been way longer than I have wanted it to be or that...
Paul Larson, what are some of your methods, both of us, both Marjaana and I have, we push a lot. What are some of your methods to keep athletes healthy while still pushing our boundaries to reach new performance levels?
Paul Laursen (30:41.356)
Mm hmm. Yeah, it's a big, big question, as you might imagine, Paul. And just before I go down there, just to further emphasize, there's a lot of athletes that will relate also to you, Paul, in terms of having that ventricular tachycardia, AFib issues. I know my dad has that as well as a lifelong athlete as well. He's in his...
late 70s now, but he deals with that on a daily basis with his writing that he still continues to. So and it's frustrating, follow the slow twitch forums and those sorts of things. And there's, you know, there's no shortage of people that are talking about that issue as well. So, but yeah, it's when you arrive and you realize that you have something that you want to address from a health standpoint.
Some of the first things we might look at in terms of key pillars would certainly be the nutrition. And, you know, there's a lot of different philosophies that are out there in the world of nutrition. And, you know, I think carbs are certainly known to be king.
But I don't really want to go too down the road. We certainly can. Like I've gone full keto. I've gone vegetarian. I've done everything under the sun, right? So in terms of my own experimentation. But at the end of the day, the very, very simple thing that you can do, that we all should be doing, right? Is eating whole foods first, right? Like here's an almond from a tree. Here's a-
Here's an apple from one of the orchards that are not too far away from me and stuff. So try to eat local and try to eat whole foods, right? And that can be whole animals if possible, if you've got farm access and that can be things that are close to organic. I'm a huge fan of organic and non-GMO foods. So that's one thing you can certainly check first. Keep in mind, if we do have, Franken foods or GMO foods, you just don't really know what molecules and whatnot are coming into the system. And these can be potentially creators of some of these issues. So that's one thing. And we can go down this in subsequent episodes and really get into the nuts and bolts of these things.
But number one, I check nutrition with individuals and I look at how balanced and how whole food that might be. Secondly, again to Marjaana's cases and whatnot, I check on stressors. I check on how are we sleeping? What is the environment that you're in? Even things like EMFs are starting to become recognized that we should be careful about the radio EMFs that are around us as well. So, you know, there's just so many various different environmental factors that we can look at. Are you exiting your, you know, your online medium? Are you getting, trying to get out in some form, getting outside with fresh air, with vitamin D on your skin, you know?
And then we can talk about breath work, for example. So we can start, you know, working on breathing through our nose, paying attention to our breath, gaining awareness of our breath because the respiratory system is directly linked to the cardiovascular and nervous system. So we can actually control our heart rate if we link in our mind with our breathing. So there's another podcast we could do in the future. Things like water immersions, float, floatation, meditation.
We can talk about this little area in the brain that scientists have discovered called the default mode network that really links all of these things and controls our monkey minds that have gotten away from us, especially in the tech world that were, and myself, I'm very much included, right? In the world of AI, et cetera. But it's really about, it comes down to balance and that homeostasis week.
This is the world we're in, but we need to be able to move back and forth between the two. And that enables this balance in us. And of course the exercise, right? And this is what we're all about with Athletica to throw a plug in there, but it's like, what is the optimal exercise training that I can do for me and in accordance with my own goals? And what type of exercise is that too, right? Is it...
How stressful is that? We don't wanna get too much of the high intensity training, but we do wanna get some. So where's the balance of that? And that's up to each individual in terms of their context. So I think those are probably the largest pillars. Apologist to review would be the exercise and the type. It'd be the nutrition, it would be the overall global stresses and that can include family, emotional, psychological sort of stuff, like what's going on at home too, right? The stress comes in so many different forms and yeah, and like it's meditation and sleep and those all go hand in hand.
Paul Warloski (36:32.687)
Well, and that seems like a great segue to talk with Marjaana. You know, this is our brand new podcast. This is our first episode and Marjaana, you created our amazing logo. Um, what's the point of this podcast? What's the point of the, of the logo and the background behind it?
Marjaana Rakai (36:51.278)
Well, I think we were thinking, or when we were talking about having the podcast was to be able to guide our everyday athletes in their quest, whatever their quest is, whatever their goal race is or goal with their exercise journey. And it has to have the health aspect in it. I think we all agree.
But yeah, so taking their everyday athlete lens and looking at training, fitness and health and within the health we have these different coordinates like sleep, nutrition, mindset, did I forget something? And really just like
No, I think you got it.
Marjaana Rakai (37:49.222)
help everyday athletes guide their and navigate their journeys.
Paul Warloski (37:56.723)
Paul, what would you add to that?
Paul Laursen (38:00.552)
I think it's really that simple. I think Marjaana nailed it. This podcast is all about the athlete. This podcast is all about the journey the athlete is on. And we hope that a lot of the stories that are coming in, athletes are gonna resonate. It's gonna resonate with them, and they're going to be able to kind of develop their own skills to be able to check themselves.
and consider, well, hmm, am I doing that practice in my own world, in my own life, right? How am I, you know, and then, because this is one of the key things that when I coach my athletes, and Marianna, you can agree or disagree with this, but I try to teach you how to develop your own feel for training. We use, you know, we use Athletica and the guidance for the plan, but my...
I mean, my teachings for you as one of my athletes, Marjaana, is to teach you that feel in terms of being able to make and adjust your training in accordance with your context, in accordance with the situation that's in front of you. And that's, you know, I think that's, I believe that's the gift that a good coach should be giving their athletes. So that's what.
we as a team, I believe we want to empower you as the listener with that same service. That's, I believe our goal. Like ultimately, yeah, you know, I'm thinking further, but it's like, this should be the whole package for you at Athletica to have a $1,500 a month coach in your pocket in terms of the training and in terms of the, you know, the teachings. I think this is...
We want to give you a level of that.
Perfect. Well, thank you for joining us today for our first episode and we will be back next week.
Look forward to it. Thanks, Paul.
Marjaana Rakai (40:04.93)