Achieving Personal Best: Gail Kattouf
"Most everything I do well now, I failed at first. I learn the most after I fail or watch someone fail. It hits me hard and I hate the feeling and learn from it well."
I met Gail Kattouf at this year's Duathlon Nationals, where she ran and rode the course as if it were a downhill, while the rest of us felt otherwise. She excels in running, duathlons, and triathlons, and among her many accomplishments, she was this years overall winner at Duathlon Nationals and last year's overall winner at the Duathlon World Championships. I was curious to read the path Gail took in becoming such a dominant athlete. Some of her times include: 2:05 Olympic distance triathlon; 4:56 mile; 1:20 half-marathon; 4:31 half-iron; and a 37 minutes 10K off the bike. Yeah, that kind of dominance!
As a youngster, Gail's high energy and exuberance dictated that she "needed to be exercised daily," and so her parents started her with early morning gymnastics before elementary school. Having a champion's outlook of making lemonade, Gail says, "I think I was born with my gift of ADHD." By 7th grade she ran her first mile in 9:56, and her second in 5:59. In 8th grade, she dropped the time to 5:36. On the track team, she did as many events as they would allow. If the team was down on points, Gail was the go to athlete. The coach would give her the word and Gail would deliver. "Our track team followed suit and we had one badass team of talent and workhorses." Having worked hard to deliver since she was a youngster, Gail brings that same work ethic to her job as a nurse, a coach for Team Kattouf with her husband Rick, and to her daily training of 12-15 hours a week.
But it isn't just hard work that informs her practice. In the sport, she is a risk taker, a scientist, and a game player. She derives great satisfaction from executing a race perfectly and doesn't think of training and racing as making sacrifices. "It is all about play. I may be nervous beforehand, but once the race is underway, it is a game. It is enjoyment, particularly when your body responds! I think because I view this sport as a game and kept it fun, I was able to take risks. I do not taper for small races and I certainly allow myself to experiment with different strategies when racing the local jocals. Sometimes my goal would be to blow it up on a certain segment, say run, bike, or swim and see how I tolerate my next leg.
"Also, my mindset is pretty simple: go as hard as you can and never give anything away. I have become quite good at controlling the things I can and not worrying about what I can’t. I also believe in myself and that gives me comfort. Even when I can’t train like I want, I still have mental fortitude that will not let me break."
Of hard work, Gail reflects, " I do not think I knew anything else. I sort of work hard at most things I do, except cooking. Nothing like learning and loving a new challenge! Figuring it out was part of the journey and seeing myself execute is very satisfying." For that extra edge, Gail still wants to impress people in her life by achieving at a high level, and motivate others who are leading an unhealthy lifestyle. However, dare to doubt her, and this is where this feisty, supportive competitor finds the energy to pedal that much faster: " "'Doubt me and I will crush you,' as my evil twin will often say (in my head)."
It's funny to think of the image Gail presented at her first Du Nationals where she placed 6th. "I didn’t know what race wheels were! I had tortoise-shell fashion glasses, and a borrowed bike with a bell. That’s before I was married and became a Kattouf." She has transformed her look to a student of the sport and now there's no need for the bell. Either she is so far in front of the field that it's the police who is escorting her through the course, or if the course has loops, the whir of her disk wheel is thunderously warning the field to move over.
With all that power and intensity in racing, Gail still has that lightness about her from years back. "I think people who do not know me think I am intense, when in fact, I see myself as relaxed, almost slack. I think people think all I do is train and race. Actually, that is not who I am. If you come to my house there is not a thread of racing anywhere other than a pair of running shoes sitting at the front door. I do not keep trophies. I did keep the championship belt my husband got for 2011 World Championships but it is not in sight! I don’t keep race shirts or medals either. Once the race is done, it is quickly forgotten."
I think what is forgotten for her is the glory. There are lessons to be learned in each race, and for her, no time to self-congratulate. "Most everything I do well at now, I failed at first. I learn the most after I fail or watch someone fail. It hits me hard and I hate the feeling and learn from it well. I tell my athletes when you are racing also be a keen observer of what people are doing well and what they could be doing better."
Gail's advice on achieving personal best:
- Time and patience. Don’t force it. Don’t over-think it. Set achievable goals. To know your limits, you have to test your limits and this is a process.
- Often people see a great achievement and impulsively want to achieve the same goal. There are no short cuts. Give yourself the opportunity to be successful. Do this by putting in the time and earning it.
- With endurance sport, developing an efficient machine can take years, staying successful and producing good results comes with training smart.