trust the process

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March 21, 2024

The Road to Ironman: Michelle Franks' Story of Endurance and Triumph

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show notes

Michelle Franks shares her journey in triathlon, starting from her early sports experiences and competitive spirit. She discusses her challenges with swimming and how she overcame them. Michelle emphasizes the importance of a positive mindset and surrounding oneself with supportive people. She also highlights the impact of her coach, Brad Sang, and his personalized coaching approach. Michelle shares her future goals, including qualifying for the Boston Marathon and competing in world championships. She concludes by reflecting on how triathlon has taught her valuable life lessons.


  • Developing a competitive spirit and participating in various sports as a child can lay the foundation for success in endurance sports.
  • Overcoming challenges in swimming requires breaking down the distance into smaller, manageable segments and finding a calm mindset.
  • A positive mindset and surrounding oneself with supportive people can contribute to success in triathlon and other areas of life.
  • Personalized coaching that meets the athlete where they are and analyzes data can help athletes improve and stay on track.


00:00 Introduction and Background

00:34 Early Sports and Competitive Spirit

01:27 Involvement in Performing Arts

04:23 Overcoming Swimming Challenges

06:16 Gaining Confidence in Open Water

07:11 Dealing with Swim Anxiety

08:39 Positive Mindset and Competitive Spirit

13:45 Brad Sang's Coaching Approach

20:17 Triathlon as a Life Journey


Hi, Mike Ricci here with the D3 Multisport podcast and I'm on line today with Michelle Franks. Michelle is a two time Ironman finisher. She has multiple 70 .3 finishes and I want to welcome her on the show. How are you Michelle?

Michelle Franks (00:15.055)
I'm doing great, Mike, how are you?

Mike (00:16.59)
Awesome, so you're coming to us from Michigan, correct? Awesome, awesome. So you've been working with Brad Sang, one of our coaches for a number of years now. And tell me how you kind of got into endurance sports or even go back further and tell me if you did any sports as a kid and what kind of led you into endurance sports.

Michelle Franks (00:18.907)

Michelle Franks (00:34.043)
Yeah, absolutely. I'll start from the beginning. Anybody who knows me knows I grew up as a tomboy. In our generation, Mike, there weren't a lot of sports for young girls. So I grew up under the major influence of an older brother. My dad and I watched college football and pro football growing up. So I was that person. And I played sports with a bunch of the kids that were on the block. So.

Mike (00:36.684)
Yeah, awesome.

Mike (00:45.226)

Michelle Franks (00:59.163)
What I learned very early on, if you're the only girl playing football, tag football with the boys, they're better than you are. And if you're going to get better, you better, you better compete. So that was kind of growing up is I learned to compete from an older brother, from boys on the street, you know, little league baseball, that kind of thing. And then later on in my life and in junior high, high school, played basketball for a while, but always had a firm footing in performing arts.

So I was a baton twirler for almost 20 years and competed in that. The one thing that I think came through all of this, Mike, was it was the competition and it was always trying to get better. So endurance sports, I never ran track, I didn't do any of that. I didn't get into that until much later.

Mike (01:43.854)
Well, that's awesome. That's an incredible story. So baton twirling, that takes some serious hand -eye coordination. That's amazing. That is really amazing. So how did you end up like, you know, starting triathlon? Was it a 5K, a marathon, or how did you kind of get started?

Michelle Franks (02:00.347)
Yeah, it's a great question. Thank you. My endurance sport activity started back in 2013 and I started running 5Ks to honor my mom. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer and I watched what she went through and I wanted to honor what she was going through. So I said, if she can go through that, I can do something that makes me uncomfortable and had some friends and signed up for a 5K and it was miserable. It was a miserable 5K. I had a terrible time.

and did that for a few years. It was 2013, 14, and 15. And then in 2015, I was sitting on the couch over Thanksgiving weekend watching NBC Sports. And if you know the Ironman World Championships, the videos that they do and the human interest stories, I'm sitting there on the couch and the person I was with looks over at me and I'm sobbing. And he's like, why are you crying? And I said, I'm gonna do Ironman. And he looks at me, he's like,

Mike (02:45.646)

Michelle Franks (02:59.995)
you're not. I'm like, oh yes I am. And that was November of 2015 and you just saw all these people with so many stories. It wasn't about the pros, it was about people that had their own real story about what they were trying to overcome and accomplish. And it inspired me to learn more about the sport and I got involved with it shortly thereafter and that's how I got connected with Brad.

Mike (03:22.382)
I love it, I love it, that's amazing. I've lost track of how many people have told me they got pulled into Ironman due to the NBC Ironman. And everybody thinks that Ironman is just, Triathlon is just Ironman, right? It's only this long distance. And there are sprints and there are, and I've had people, I coached a guy way back when, like 2002 or so. And it's really funny segue this, but he was training for Lake Placid and he was probably in his 40s or so.

Michelle Franks (03:37.977)

Mike (03:50.254)
And he would do his long rides. You know, you get your hundred mile ride on your schedule and he would do 60 and he wouldn't do his 20 mile ride. He would do 12, 12 mile run, whatever, versus his 20 mile run. And after the race was over, I'm like, well, why did you, why didn't, were you able to, you know, get everything done? And he said, well, first, that was my first triathlon, which I was like, okay, that's crazy. And secondly, I traveled to Europe every week for work. He was a financial planner in New York city and he went over to Europe.

Michelle Franks (03:58.395)

Mike (04:15.822)
I'm just like, oh my God, people, the limits are just, you know, there are no limits for people. It's amazing what people can do when they really set their mind to it. And I looked at this guy that probably averaged eight hours a week and he went out and finished Lake Placid and you're like, wow, am I doing enough, right? Like, am I really doing enough seeing what this guy can do, balancing a family, a career and the whole thing. So pretty wild, pretty wild. So besides your Ironman experiences, or it could be your Ironman experience, like what was...

Michelle Franks (04:23.675)
That's right.

Mike (04:42.542)
one of your better experiences for you or something you had to go through that was tough that you were able to overcome. Like what, give me an experience in training or racing, like, you know, beyond the 5K that sounded super hard, but I'm sure after that, I had a few things.

Michelle Franks (04:55.835)
Oh, sure. You know, that was, everyone goes into those races with their own thoughts, but I will tell you, when I first started Ironman, it's very widely known I couldn't swim. I didn't know how to swim when I started. So I'm all excited. I go to the wine, like, I got this. I know how to run and I wasn't very good then and probably not very good now. And I ordered my bike. I got fit for my tri bike. And I said, this swimming thing can't be that hard until I got in the pool.

Mike (05:07.266)
Bon Appetit!

Michelle Franks (05:24.891)
and struggled to get to the other side. And for me, it was about, I wasn't going to let something that first and foremost, people were saying, stay in your lane, Michelle, you're never gonna do it. And I overcame that because I'd never thought 140 miles was a long distance until you start training for it. But the swimming piece was definitely, it was humbling.

because you want to be good at things, Mike, and when you're good at other aspects of your life and you go into something that's so naive to you, that was the biggest thing I had to overcome was number one, being able to work up the endurance to do the swim. And then, oh, by the way, you're jumping into water with 2 ,500 of your favorite friends and enemies splashing around at the same time. So in order for me to be able to do that, that was the biggest piece of it.

Mike (06:16.846)
trying to drown you.

Mike (06:21.358)
Right, right. And so, well, that's great. So anyway, so when did you feel like you were able to overcome that? And now you've been to the start line, you're like, okay, I got it. I mean, maybe you're not as fast as you want to be. Maybe you've improved a lot. You can tell me that part, but do you, are you comfortable now that you get in and you're like, all right, I got this. I've done the training. I've done enough open water swimming and you've overcome it?

Michelle Franks (06:41.083)
Yeah, that's a good question. For a period of time I did. So pre -COVID, you know, I got started in 2016, did some short course races. 2017 did my first Iron Man at Madison. 2018 did Louisville. And then I took some time off. My mom got sick again. So I didn't race from 2019 until last year and spent zero time in the water. So would I say that I have exercised those demons? No, they're back.

Mike (07:03.094)
Oh wow.

Michelle Franks (07:11.227)
If I can get through the first hundred meters in the water, I'm great because it ends up being my calm place and I'll share a story in a minute. But it's always been something that my swim coach and I have worked on. I've got a fellow here locally who I absolutely adore. He's helped me out immensely trying to determine where did that fear come from. So we kind of unpacked that, but it's back.

You know, last year I did two races. I did Ironman 70 .3 Michigan and totally panicked in the water to the point where I almost got pulled, but I finished. I'm still working on that. That's the work in progress and it is a huge fear, but I plan to get over it.

Mike (07:50.03)

Mike (07:56.174)
Good, good. You know, I think we all have things done, Pac. We all have things we're fearful of. And it's incredible that you've overcome it. You know, a lot of people that I know, like I just started coaching a guy last year, like he emailed me because he got pulled out of the water, like 200 meters in. And I'm like, well, it's not fitness, right? He's like, and I can swim two miles in the pool. I'm like, yeah, it's not the same thing. There's no lane lines. You don't know how deep it is. You don't know what's underneath you. I mean, all these things that go through your head. I mean, even as a competent swimmer, I think about things like that. And, you know,

I wish I could kind of give her to some of that stuff. I'd probably swim a little faster, but it's amazing how at some point in that water, you were able to change your mindset, right? So how did you do that? Because that's pretty incredible.

Michelle Franks (08:39.259)
Oh, no doubt, no doubt. So you get in, of course preparation means everything, but I started taking in the mindset swim buoy to buoy. And it's the one neat thing about Ironman that some of the short course races don't have or some of the non Ironman specific races don't have. And that is the buoy every hundred meters. So I broke it down and said, this isn't a race of 70 .3 or 140 .6.

This is a race of a hundred meters at a time. Swim to the next buoy, you got this. And I knew how long I had to get to each buoy before I would hit the break off. So that's what I ended up doing and it worked. And once I got comfortable, it became my happy place because I knew I wasn't going to do well and my race doesn't start until after I get out in the water. So that was the first piece of it. And the story that I'll share with you that really calmed me down about Madison, if you recall,

at least back in that day, in order to start that race, you have to swim 100 meters out and tread water out in the middle of it before you start. So I'm in the middle of a sea of wetsuits, right? Everyone's in their wetsuit and I get a tap on the shoulder. And I think a lot of us have our pre -race ritual and I've always tapped into my faith pre -race. So I'm doing my pre -race prayers and...

Mike (09:42.99)
to the start.


Michelle Franks (10:03.067)
Like, God, stay with me because I need you today. This was my first long distance try and I was there racing alone. I get a tap on the shoulder and it's this young, just gal, big as a minute. And she says, can I have a hug? And I said, of course you can. And she hugs me and she looks at me and she says, who are you racing with today? And I said, well, I'm racing alone. And she said, you're not alone now. And.

Mike (10:27.63)
Oh, that's awesome.

Michelle Franks (10:28.953)
changed the whole day, but it changed me getting in the water, whereas the day before I was having such a hard time. Mike, that just, it was like that snap of, you're not alone in this. There are a lot of people that are going through the same thing you are. Just relax, just breathe, and keep swimming forward.

Mike (10:45.966)
That is awesome. That is awesome. So I got to segue into this. Like how, where did this positive mindset come from? Cause it's, it's pretty incredible. Brad has talked to me about it. We talked about you a little bit and he just says you have this incredible positivity and where does it come from? Like, is it, you know, growing up with a older brother or?

Michelle Franks (11:03.291)
I'll tell you, I'm not sure if I've always been positive. Certainly, he's not telling you the stories of when I'm freaking out, but I've always been incredibly competitive. And I think it probably stems from that and always being the underdog and saying, you can do whatever you want to do. And I really took that, it's the Iron Man mantra, right? Anything's possible. And I think, you know, you do things by faith and not by sight. And you realize that,

Mike (11:26.126)
Yeah, everything's possible.

Michelle Franks (11:33.179)
that you can do anything that you set your mind out to if A, you don't quit, and if you can't do it, find someone who's gonna help you. So I think what, growing up, having people tell me you can't do it and knowing that I can, and then surrounding myself with people who inspire me and who, when I'm competing, that I'm competing for something more than myself.

You know, last year I dedicated my run season and part of my try season to a friend of mine, dear friend of mine who struggled with MS. And when I'm out there, number one, my training, I would send him my training workouts and he would tell me that because of that, he was able to ride up his hill and go to his PT therapy. I try to make it more than just about the sport, even though I've got that competitive gene mic that just is.

let's go get it and let's run down the next person who's got an age of my age group on their back of their calf. But I want to do it for something more than that. And if I know that by me doing this, the training, the racing, someone's following me, that I can give them inspiration to try a little bit harder and to go a little bit further, that's what I think helps me with my mindset and helps me stay positive.

Mike (12:53.518)
I love it. I love it. We are a lot of like, I'm the youngest of four and always competitive, always being told I can't do it, right? Same thing. And you're just like, I'll show you, right? So yeah, it's, you know, as I was coaching CU and I all these young kids in the team and they, you know, they would be like, well, here's what I'm not good at. I'm like, no, no, no, no. Tell me what you're good at and let's focus on that, right? Forget about the bad. Everybody has the bad. Let's get the good out of the way and get that worked on. We can fix the small things and all that stuff. So that's pretty incredible. Um,

Michelle Franks (13:01.499)
Mm -hmm.

Mike (13:23.214)
I love it. Do you find that there's specific ways Brad helps you with training or racing? I know you said you have some freak outs, like every athlete does, trust me. It doesn't matter how long you've been doing this. What does he do to help you out when you're having an issue or how does he encourage you weekly just to kind of keep you on the rails, as I like to say?

Michelle Franks (13:45.819)
Yeah, absolutely. He's been such a great mentor, coach, friend. I would also say big brother because he pushes me when I need to be pushed a little bit. You know, some of the things, number one, what he does, I think better than some of the coaches that I've had in the past is he always meets me where I am. And it's, we even talked about this today when we were chatting this afternoon, he said, don't get freaked out about any one particular workout.

because you're gonna have workouts that are really great, you're gonna have workouts that you're gonna bomb. He's always met me where I have been, and I think he and I share some of that same faith of, know that it's something bigger than you. And he helps me keep it in perspective. So when I'm having a bad day, he'll take a look at the numbers because Mike, what you folks at D3 do for us by way of analyzing data,

is unbelievable. He's able to analyze that data, Mike, and keep me on the rail because he sees something that I don't see. All I know is I may have had a bad workout. And he says, but no, Michelle, here's where you are versus last year. Here's what your tempo speeds are. So he's as much crunching the numbers for me as he is being my sports psychologist and being my big brother. He acts in all of those areas.

But I think what he does best is he understands where you are at that time. And like you said to the kids on the team that you used to coach, don't really focus on that bad stuff. We'll get to that piece of it. He always has a way of allowing you to open up to the things that you are good at and then moving back into working on the areas of.

Mike (15:40.014)
I love it. I love it. You know, I coach a woman who's pretty quick and she's had some, her fitness has fallen off for a few health issues that she's getting untracked. And of course I'm getting the email saying, Oh, my run isn't fast. I'm like, here's where you are right now. Right. And six weeks, you know, I can remember how slow that run was. Let's just keep focusing one day at a time. And then, you know, I got an email last week and the title of it was she's back. And I'm like, thank you. That's all it takes. Right. Like one good workout to turn everything around and then all your other workouts follow.

So I mean that positive mindset is awesome. And look, I think that Brad's a great guy and he really has dug into the data a little bit more than I have. I love that he's using like a WKO thing. I don't if you know he's using that to analyze bike stuff and it's really incredible to see him.

dig into this because you know, most people, you know, over a certain age, they're kind of like, yeah, I'm good. I do it. I coach the way I coach and that's it. And, but Brad's like, nope, something new. I'm going to dig in and I'm going to grab hold of it. And I'm to see what I can learn from this, which I really am impressed with him. I'm doing that because it's, you know, he's a great coach and he doesn't really need to do that, but he does it. It's like the next level of just, uh, not service, but he cares. He really honestly cares. And that's. Yeah. Yeah.

Michelle Franks (16:37.435)

Michelle Franks (16:52.059)
Oh, he does care. There's no doubt. I mean, not only has he helped his athletes, I can only speak for myself, of course, he's helped me evolve as an athlete. But in the number of years that we've been working together, he's also evolved as a coach. And his coaching is different. And perhaps that's due to evolution of both of us. But I've had such a great experience with him and he's helped me in so many aspects of not only...

racing and triathlon and running, but all of that, that transcends over into other areas of life.

Mike (17:25.934)
Right, that's awesome. Okay, well, let's see. This has been great. Do you have any big goals for this year or what's coming up in the next couple years? I'm sure you do.

Michelle Franks (17:34.843)
I do. We always set things up. Brad and I always have the race schedule done before Christmas and I get pretty dialed in. So big goals. I would say big racing goals. What I'm really looking forward to in 2024. Time of course. We're going to do some blowout races early in season. Get that ready. But in 2023, again,

Mike (17:42.156)

Michelle Franks (18:02.331)
I had a friend who inspired me to race and my goal was to qualify for the Boston Marathon. And I ran a marathon in April down in Toledo, the Glass City Marathon, qualified with a five minute cushion, Mike, and thought, I'm in, right? I'm in. And you register and you realize that there are 9 ,000 extra people that are registering and I got bumped by 29 seconds. It was devastated.

Mike (18:17.646)
Nice job.

Mike (18:27.5)
Oh my god, a second per mile.

Michelle Franks (18:30.139)
So as I said to Brad, I said, here's the deal. 2024 is my year. We did 2023. My running came along. My cycling came along. My swimming is still doing what it's doing, but we're going to make improvements there. So my goal in 2024 is to run a sub 340 and have 15 minutes of cushion to qualify for Boston again. That's going to happen. I don't care if I have to crawl across the finish line. I'm going to crawl across the finish line with a 340.

So that's my running piece. Then we're working to get back to 70 .3 distance. I did a couple races last year, they weren't my best, but my goal in 2024 is to at least go back to Michigan in the fall and run that race in 530. That's the goal, that's what I'm racing for. And...

Mike (19:00.142)
I love it. I love it.

Mike (19:21.966)
Well, awesome.

Michelle Franks (19:26.043)
I've got a buddy of mine down in Carmel, Indiana, and he said, it's your year, Michelle. It was my year last year. It's your year. Eventually, Mike, I will get to world championships, both in 70 .3. Hopefully I'll hit that this year. I don't know. I mean, there are so many great female athletes out there, but you just have to keep improving, right? So I'll do a couple of 70 .3s. I'm going to do some Olympic distance and get some speed work in there.

Mike (19:35.63)
love it.

Mike (19:45.9)

Michelle Franks (19:51.707)
and then enter back into full Ironman competition in 2025 because I enter a new age group. So I'm gonna age up. Whoever thought getting older was gonna be a positive.

Mike (20:00.202)
Love it, love it, love it. Yeah, you know, there is the rule of 10, right? So the 10 ,000 hours, 10 years, whatever it is, but you know, you can still get faster because you probably have a young athletic age and you're gonna continue to keep getting faster, which is great, right? So that's fun, that's fun. Anything else you wanna share about your journey with Trathlon? I know it's inspired you quite a bit, so.

Michelle Franks (20:17.499)
No doubt about it. Mm -hmm.

Michelle Franks (20:24.651)

You know, I really like to think that sport just transcends to so many other areas. And my journey in triathlon has been so rewarding for me because it's really been a manifestation of what my life has been. It doesn't go on a straight line. I mean, you have adversity, you learn to get over it. You go through hard times and you fail.

And you feel grateful for it. Those aren't failures, they're lessons. And that, if anything from the Ironman journey and the triathlon journey has taught me is it is okay to be uncomfortable doing things you're uncomfortable with. And I have this monstrous, the sticker on my computer that I look at all the time and it says, if you don't experience it in training, you won't execute it on race day. And I think there's so much to be said.

for just that is experience your day to day and understand your process and fall in love with the grind and the outcome is going to come. And that's what I've really learned. And I've also learned to surround yourself with people who love and support you and keep those people that doubt you. Just go ahead and let them doubt you and let them doubt you from afar and keep rolling.

Mike (21:49.912)
That's right. I love that. I love that. Well, thanks so much for being on. I really appreciate it. And I'm sure we'll talk again. And good luck with the marathon goal this year. I know you're going to hit it. And that world championship is just a matter of time, I think. You just got to keep clicking off the miles, and you'll get it. All right. Thank you so much.

Michelle Franks (22:02.683)

You got it. Mike, I appreciate you and everything all of you guys have done. Much appreciated.

Mike (22:10.254)
Oh, you bet, of course. Love to see all the success.

Coach Mike Ricci is the Founder and Head Coach for D3 Multisport.  His coaching style is ‘process-focused’ vs. ‘results-focused.’ When working with an athlete, their understanding of how and why they are improving is always going to take precedence over any race result. Yes, there is an end goal, but in over 2 decades of coaching, experience has shown him that if you do the right work, and for the right reasons, the results will follow.

Coach Mike is a USAT Level III Elite Certified Coach, Ironman University Certified Coach, and Training Peaks Level II Certified Coach. He was honored as the USAT Coach of the Year.

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