Name: Marni Sumbal MS, RD, LD/N
Location: Greenville, South Carolina (new resident since May!)
What does being a Girl Gone Strong mean to you?
I believe that women should embrace their inner strength. Girl Gone Strong represents women who are confident, who love their body, who set goals and to want to work hard for them and to accept challenges with strength to overcome them. I absolutely love being a female athlete and seeing how amazing the human body can be through physical activity. For me, being strong is more than having strong muscles to lift weights or having the endurance to complete an Ironman distance triathlon.
Strength is something I carry with me on a daily basis because life is hard, it changes all the time and it is never consistent.
You can’t live life as an athlete without being strong.
What’s your athletic background?
I swam in High School, growing up in Lexington, KY. I finished my competitive swimming career at Transylvania University in Lexington and earned a BA in exercise science with a minor in psychology. I also jumped into cross country running at Transy my senior year just to change things up and to keep me from getting burnt out from swimming. I really enjoyed running and my longest distance running was 6 miles when I graduated college in 2004. Although I always loved exercise and kept my body active through spin classes, teaching water aerobics and personal training, I really missed having a team and having goals and training for them.
When I moved to Ft. Lauderdale for graduate school to earn my MS in Exercise Physiology from Florida Atlantic University on the Davie campus, I found myself quickly introduced into triathlons and marathon running as everyone was doing it. I had competed in 2 short distance triathlons on a hybrid bicycle while living in KY and continued to enjoy training for and racing in triathlons while earning my Master degree from 2004-2006.
I decided to challenge myself by training for a marathon in January 2005 and really enjoyed seeing what my body was capable of with each workout. I created my own training plan and educated myself on fueling for endurance running and come race day, I had the most amazing experience running 26.2 miles for the first time! I ran 3:38 which qualified me for the Boston Marathon. I wasn’t trying to Boston qualify as I was just determined to finish this amazing physical feat with my body and mind. After the marathon, I was instantly hooked into endurance sports for I felt that my body was designed to go the long haul (plus, having some education/knowledge in the area through my degrees and CISSN certification helped me out a lot as a “newbie” endurance athlete).
In 2006, I completed my first Boston Marathon (2nd marathon), my first half IM (Disney half ironman) and my first Ironman (IMFL). I trained really hard for my first Ironman (at 23 years old) and with my parents and boyfriend (now husband, Karel) by my side cheering me on on race day, I completed my first 140.6 mile event (2.4 mile swim, 112 mile bike and 26.2 mile run) in 11 hours and 47 seconds. I won my age group (18-24) and qualified for the 2007 Ironman World Championship. Since 2006, I competed in many triathlons but the Ironman distance still remains my favorite distance to train for and to race in.
I have completed 8 Ironman triathlons, including 3 Ironman World Championships in Kona, Hawaii. I recently finished Ironman Austria in 10:17 which is a personal best time. I am currently training for Ironman Wisconsin on September 7th. I share this amazing lifestyle with my Trimarni athletes who I coach and help with sport nutrition/fueling/daily nutrition and also with my husband who caught the tri bug 2 years ago after racing as a Cat 1 cyclist for many years. He has completed 2 Ironman triathlons and has a PR of 9:22 (Ironman Austria).
How long have you been training?
I have been an athlete all my life but I have been training for triathlons since 2006, at a competitive age-group level.
How did you get introduced to triathlons?
I wanted a challenge! The swimming background worked to my advantage so I knew that if I could learn to ride a bike (after I bought one!) and run off the bike, it would be fun to put all three together!
What type of cross-training do you do? Do you find it helpful in your endurance training?
I really enjoy my multi-sport lifestyle but I do like to just exercise. When I am not swimming, biking or running, you can find me in the weight room as I really enjoy functional strength training. Also, not sure if it counts but I love to be outside and walk my dog so I am always finding fun ways to explore nature with Campy (my furry BFF). Because I train and race on my tri bike, I enjoy riding my road bike on group rides as it is a great time to socialize and get in a good workout.
What does a sample workout look like for you?
To help me race strong in a triathlon, I do a lot of bricks where I bike and then immediately run off the bike. Most of my longer workouts occur on the weekend. For example:
4-5 hour ride which would include at least 4000 feet of climbing. Because we (I typically ride with my husband) ride on hilly terrain, we let the course dictate our intervals and our effort.
If we were riding on flat terrain, we would do a main set within the long ride such as 3 or 4 x 20 min efforts at Ironman or half ironman watts (we train with power meters with zones established from testing) w/ 2-4 min EZ spin in between.
Off the bike, I would run 30-60 minutes. Typically I run 1 mile or 8-10 minutes and then walk 30-60 second. I am a firm believer in walking to help postpone fatigue and to reduce muscle/tissue breakdown so I also walk in my races. I may throw in a few ½ – 1 mile faster efforts w/ 60-90 sec walks depending on where I am in my training schedule.
45-60 min spin on the bike to loosen my legs, followed by a long run of 13-16 miles (or 90 minutes – 2 hours). Here I would include 6-8 miles of Ironman effort/pace w/ 30-60 sec walk breaks to simulate aid stations.
What’s your favorite exercise or movement?
I love to swim, it’s my happy place. But I really love to ride my bike and I love to climb hills and mountains! In the gym, you can find me doing a lot of hip/glute and core work.
What’s your favorite event to compete in?
The Ironman distance triathlon. My favorite race venues include Ironman Austria in Klagenfurt Austria and the Ironman World Championship in Kona Hawaii. My husband and I love to travel for races and we call them our “race-cations”
Top 5 songs on your training playlist:
My play list includes whatever is on iheart radio. My favorite station is Evolution 101.7 (techno music).
Top 3 things you must have with you at the gym/in your gym bag:
Garmin 910XT, compression socks (110% Play Harder) and my INFINIT nutrition sport drink.
Do you prefer to train alone or with a training partner? Why?
I enjoy both. When it comes to dialing in my race day pacing, I feel I need to train alone so I can listen to my body and my own efforts to develop the best pacing plan for race day. However, when I train with my husband or others who are stronger than me, it challenges me to the top of my comfort zone and plus, it’s a lot of fun to “suffer” with others who enjoy the good-hurt with you.
Most hilarious pick-up line you’ve heard at the gym:
Nice compression socks, do you play soccer?
Most embarrassing gym moment:
It’s no fun when your swim suit rips in the butt during a workout and you don’t realize it until you are in the locker room.
Oh, I have a lot! I would say my favorite ingredients are tempeh, mushrooms, leeks and basmati rice so if I put them all together in some type of dish, I have one happy tummy. But, for those who know me well, I yum pretty loud over good pizza.
Favorite way to treat yourself:
Sleeping in! But first I thank my body for giving me a great workout and then I get lots of kisses from my dog Campy.
“If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.”
Well-built Triathlete by Matt Dixon (what I am reading now)
What inspires and motivates you?
The Trimarni coaching and nutrition athletes that I work with. Every athlete has his/her own story and reason for participating in triathlons/running events. Most of them are not professionals so I know they balance a lot in life (ex. families, work, traveling, etc.) to train 8+ hours a week for an event for 6+ months alongside many other responsibilities. They are truly inspiring and make me a better person because they make no excuses and they know how to get the workouts done but also have fun in their own personal journey.
What does a typical day look like for you?
5:30-6:30am – wake up, walk Campy around the block, feed our furry crew (2 cats too) and have a pre workout snack (i.e. Wasa crackers or rice cake w/ PB, maple syrup, banana slices, cinnamon) and water/coffee. Answer emails and start my to-do’s for the day for my business, Trimarni Coaching and Nutrition (which sometimes pushes back my workout).
7-9am – Workout
9:30am – Eat (typically whey protein mixed with milk or just a glass of milk and then a real meal).
9:30-? (could be 4,5,6 or 7…or later) – since I am my own boss, you won’t find me ever not busy. I am usually on the computer or having phone calls (or Facetime sessions) with athletes or writing articles for magazines or online. I love my job because it keeps me really busy but I always have a really long list of to-do’s.
What’s the coolest “side effect” you’ve noticed from your training?
I believe in training smart which involves focusing on quality workouts as oppose to quantity or “junk” miles. I’ve noticed that by training hard but less weekly volume over the past few years (or compared to other endurance triathletes) my body is getting faster and stronger. This only happens if I focus on recovering just as hard as I train. By focusing on good sleep, stress management and a healthy, balanced diet (which is fun for me as a Registered Dietitian who focuses on sport nutrition and fueling the athlete’s body) I am able to improve my fitness without burning myself out from high volume
Next training goal:
I want to qualify for the 2015 Ironman World Championship which will be my 10th Ironman (after IMWI in 3 weeks) and 4th time competing in the Ironman World Championship. It’s my dream to compete there with my husband and for both of us to race on the big island together. We are both racing IMWI together.
Three words that best describe you:
Happy, caring, ambitious.
How has training changed your life?
I have met a lot of inspiring, motivating and incredible people through triathlons and running. It is a wonderful community of hard working individuals.
Most of all, I have really developed a healthy relationship with my body and food. I thank my body daily for what it allows me to do.
I really enjoy taking care of it with a wholesome plant strong diet (I am a 22-year lacto-ovo vegetarian). I do not see triathlons as my life but instead, just part of my lifestyle. Training makes me happy and I love pushing my limits.
What do you want to say to other women who might be nervous to start working out?
The hardest part of any new endeavor is getting started. And with any new change in your lifestyle, may come with a lot of opinions and methods for training. I recommend developing a team with at least a coach and sport RD who can help you from making common mistakes that others have made. A coach can help guide you to your personal goals and help reduce the risk for burnout, injury or illness.
When it comes to working out, anyone can start so the important part is finding a way that you see/feel improvements with the least amount of training stress. Because most people who start something will have some type of motivation and excitement to begin, you want to make sure this doesn’t go away.
You never want a training plan to be so hard that it keeps you from enjoying the journey but too easy that it doesn’t challenge you.
Start small and do not worry what other people are doing and be patient.
Lastly, set goals for yourself and allow time to progress to reach those goals.
If you’re inspired by Marni, read on to learn more about—and join!—our community of strong, supportive women…