Athlete of the Month, April 2016 - Nora Okusu

Triathlete riding her bike
April 13, 2016

D3 Staff



What would you do if your favorite annual ride/race started with rain and continued raining for an entire 100K? You might have an immediate answer to that question, but as you read the story about our Athlete of the Month, we know you’ll take a fresh look at your response and reassess what’s important.

It’s a privilege to introduce you to Nora Okusu, the D3 April Athlete of the Month!

Coach Simon nominated her as a result of her performance and perseverance during the 100K Cinderella Classic Bike ride. He mentioned that despite the limited amount of training she had, Nora learned that quality matters. And that simple concept prevailed during the big ride! Coach Simon also noted that she used her head and paced the ride very well – starting easy early in the day and had the energy to finish strong! In addition, he is also impressed with how Nora is able to balance her senior engineering career responsibilities (traveling being part of that responsibility) with her training.

After reading just her first response, you’ll understand that Nora has a great life perspective. It’s a pleasure to turn the spotlight on Nora Okusu this month as she shares her training wisdom with readers.

Enjoy the Q&A:
1. You just finished a ride/race that has a different twist! The Cinderella Classic bike ride is 100K (impressive!) and it’s an all female race with support being provided by men – husbands, brothers, friends, fathers. What was that ride experience like? Did you have support from a particular person on the course? Was there a particular aid station that was better than another?

When I lived in California, I did the ride every year because it benefits many of the women’s charities in the Bay Area. 2016 is the 40th anniversary of the ride, and I started doing the ride on its 25th anniversary. The atmosphere is supportive and friendly. A lot of the 2,500 riders take the Cinderella theme to heart and glue tiaras to their bike helmets and wear tutus over their riding shorts. I have had so much fun over the years, including one year riding with a local race team of which one of the team members had just gotten married. She rode in her wedding dress and her teammates rode with bouquets of flowers duct-taped to their handlebars. And being racers, they all kept one eye on their power meters. Because it is a long-term annual event, a lot of older women participate in the ride and it is inspirational to see so many fit, confident women of all age groups on bikes.

Over the years, the ride start/finish and some of the route has been modified due to increased development in the Bay Area, and my favorite part of the ride goes through the wine-growing parts of the Livermore Valley. The ride then swings north to the foot of Mount Diablo and some years, the headwind in that section of the route has been incredible. One year, the Cinderella Classic was featured in Bicycling Magazine. I rode for a while with a very nice group of women who had made the trip from Texas based on the magazine’s recommendation. Unfortunately, we had about a 30 mph headwind for a long section of the ride that year. The Texas ladies let me know they were never coming back.

This year, it rained on us from start to finish.  You can notice the dark clouds in the photo above.  But it was not particularly windy or cold so I felt pretty comfortable. I lived in England in 2013 and got very used to cycling in the rain.

The most famous ride supporter every year is the “Lemon Drop Man”. About 10 miles past the lunch stop, he puts up signs with lines of a poem and at the top of the hill hands each of us a lemon drop.

One year I rode the last 15 miles with a woman who I thought rode very strongly and we took turns in the lead. When we reached the finish, we took off our helmets and sunglasses and I was surprised to see she was much older than I was. That year I felt heroic because I had just returned from a business trip to Japan so I did the ride on 2 hours of sleep. But my cycling partner mentioned that she felt she was riding slowly because she had hurt her back working in her garden the day before. And she said she was going home to prepare dinner for her family and then going straight to the local performing arts center because she played second violin in the symphony orchestra and had a concert the same evening as the ride. I meet a lot of incredible people during this ride.

2. You trained through the winter for this ride, in Colorado! Can you describe some of your winter training strategy? Did you run into any interesting twists and turns with the weather or did you simply stay inside?
My company frequently deploys me, so one thing that worked to my advantage is that I spent most of 2015 and early 2016 working in Atlanta, Georgia. The weather in Atlanta is great for winter training. But during my weekends home in Colorado, I did train on the bike outdoors. During the years I have lived in Colorado, I have been accumulating winter cycling gear to make riding outdoors more bearable. I hate to reveal my secrets because Coach Simon has been impressed by my winter training rides, but two years ago I purchased battery-powered heated insoles that fit inside my mountain bike boots. And with gloves that would not look out of place on Denali, now I ride outdoors in temperatures as low as 17 degrees F with a smile.

3. Did Coach Simon give you one particular workout that you were super proud of yourself for completing?
This year, Coach Simon has asked me to spend more time on basic core and functional strength exercises. It’s the kind of thing I know I should do but in the past did not put a high enough priority on the workouts to invest the time. This year I have learned that not only are the workouts more fun than I expected but I started feeling immediate benefits. It feels like more of my effort is translated into speed (cycling and running) than in the past.

4. Does this ride (and your winter training) set you up for a particular race goal this spring?

Jeff Galloway Half M with Jeff Galloway 15My main goal this year is to take advantage of a rare period of no running injuries to complete a marathon and several half marathons, so Coach Simon has been focused on getting me ready for long runs without injury. My bike training has not involved long rides but Simon has been giving me skill and interval workouts during the week.

I am pictured with Jeff Galloway in the image to the left at the December 2015 Jeff Galloway Half Marathon.

5. Your career takes you on the road quite a bit. How are you able to manage training while you travel? Please share 2-3 tips about training and traveling and maintaining the tri lifestyle.
I travel about 50-70% of the time including international travel, and I work for a company that puts a lot of emphasis on developing social connections. So in addition to the travel, there are a lot of evening dinner/drink obligations with colleagues and clients. Here are my tips:
• Flexibility: Simon gives me my workouts in advance and also lets me know which are the key workouts, so the first thing I do is move the workouts around to fit my travel schedule including making use of early morning and late evening time slots.
• Access to facilities: My administrative assistant knows to pick hotels that have 24 hour gyms.
• Nutrition: I think it’s not just having a time-crunched schedule but also sub-optimal nutrition that is detrimental to making fitness progress. And for some reason being on an expense account makes it more tempting to stray from eating healthy food. Having a training schedule has helped me make better decisions about work/stress balance and consistently better nutrition choices.

6. What is the main reason you race triathlon?

MWG Atlanta office team for KP 5K Training and racing adds an interesting dimension and interesting people to my life. I think that having better physical stamina translates into better mental stamina and patience as well, so I’m able to be a better family member, friend, and colleague.
I enjoy organizing our company teams in corporate races because it is an opportunity for people to get to know each other outside of the work context.  As an example of the ‘interesting people in my life’, in the photo above, the MWH Atlanta office team ran the Kaiser Permanente Corporate 5K.  We not only had MWH employees and children, but also our two Georgia Tech engineering interns and a colleague who works for Accenture in Pune India.

7. Your favorite race memory is … ?
Before moving to Colorado I lived in California and had a very tight group of cycling friends – we rode together every weekend and they were like brothers to me. Every year we did the Mount Diablo Challenge, which is an annual race in October from the base to the summit of Mt. Diablo for an elevation gain of 3,500 feet in 11 miles. One memorable year, I beat my male cycling buddies to the summit. I was just having one of those days, but bragging rights are forever.

8. If you could go on a training ride/run/swim with anyone … who would you ask to join you?
Hillary Clinton – I have lots of campaign advice for her.


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