Whether you’re looking to complete your first or tenth triathlon, HOKA athlete Sika Henry and Certified Personal Trainer Valerie Tyler have got you covered.
HOKA: What is your favorite HOKA shoe and why?
Sika: The Rocket X is my favorite HOKA shoe. It’s lightweight, fast, and provides enough cushion that I can get a ton of miles out of them. They are great across every distance — from 5K to marathon — and super easy to get my feet in during transition from bike to run.
Valerie: HOKA’s Rincon 3 Running Shoe because it’s soft, flexible, light yet cushiony. It’s designed for speed training on the track or longer distance running with great durability.
HOKA: How would you describe what you do?
Sika: I have a degree in Economics from Tufts University, and a background in finance. I have been an analyst at Ferguson Enterprises (an $18.4 billion dollar company with more than 1,400 locations) for 13 years. I am responsible for gathering and interpreting customer metrics to help support strategic decisions.
Valerie: I consider myself a lifetime ‘athlete’ which means my lifestyle is all about staying healthy and fit. My journey has been mostly focused on competitive training for extreme sports that involve endurance like marathons and triathlon —- having completed over 35 marathons and over 25 triathlons after the age of 50. My first Ironman at age of 67, and placed 2nd in Age Group…qualifying for Kona. Currently, I am retired from corporate life and am a personal trainer.
HOKA: When did you first become interested in triathlons? What was the impetus for this?
Sika: Growing up swimming and being a collegiate track and field athlete always made me a bit curious about the sport of triathlon. It wasn’t until 2013, while I was going through a really bad breakup, that I decided to register for a sprint triathlon as a distraction. I signed up on a whim and only had 2 weeks to prepare.
Valerie: I was solely focused on running marathons for years and a fellow athlete recommended that I should cross-train and compete in triathlons. I was always seeking the next challenge, so I joined a Women’s Triathlon Club. Cross-training was healthier for the body, did not overuse the same muscle groups, and stimulated more mental variety.
HOKA: Have you always been an athlete? What does it mean for you to now officially be a part of the HOKA athlete family?
Sika: I don’t remember life without sports! My parents always had me involved in something, from gymnastics to basketball. I was a member of various summer youth sports leagues growing up, and eventually swam all four years of high school before transitioning to track and field in college; I was a walk-on High Jumper / Sprinter at Tufts University, where I became an NCAA All-American.
It is an honor to be a HOKA athlete. I respect and value the company’s focus on equity, inclusivity, and diversity. I was very outspoken years ago when I stated that I wanted to be the first African American Woman to qualify for a pro card in triathlon. I also made it clear how important representation was to me. HOKA has supported me from day one. I’m incredibly grateful to officially be part of the family as a sponsored athlete.
HOKA: When and where was your first triathlon like? When and where was it?
Sika: The 2013 Tidewater Triathlon, a local sprint triathlon in Hampton, VA. I signed up two weeks before the race and didn’t own any equipment. I bought a speedo, goggles, helmet and a mountain bike from Dick’s Sporting Goods. I had no idea what I was doing, came in close to last place, and enjoyed every minute of it. I immediately signed up for another one after I crossed the finish line.
Valerie: It was the Danskin Women’s Triathlon in Pleasant Prairie, Wisconsin. I remember freaking out when I couldn’t touch down, and a swim angel swam over and handed me a floater. Then when I looked back and the next wave was starting, I didn’t want to get run over, so I just put my head into the water and started chanting 1,2,3 to breathe bilaterally with a rhythm just like I trained for. After about 20 strokes, I looked up and I was on track. I could see shore in the distance, and I stayed focused. Actually, I had a great race overall, because my bike and run were both solid.
HOKA: If I remember correctly, you got into triathlons a little later in life. What advice do you have for folks who want to get into triathlons later in life or have children?
Valerie: I did. I started triathlons at the age of 53 and it’s been a 17-year adventure. Age is not a factor if you have always stayed in shape and been relatively active. You just must raise your game!
When you have family and job commitments, your focus, schedule, and discipline have to be right on. That means that you train to train and not train to just exercise, you set training plans and goals, and you set boundaries. You also need a backup support person —- a spouse, a babysitter, a parent, or someone who can watch the kids either am or pm.
HOKA: As for training, how long does it take you to train? And what does your typical training routine look like?
Sika: I typically train twice a day every day. My volume ranges from 15 to 20 hours a week. Coach Jonny writes all of my workouts and uploads them to TrainingPeaks weekly. I do my long rides (3-5 hours) with a short run off the bike on Saturdays, and long runs (12+ miles) with an easy hour spin on Sundays. During the week I swim at my local community pool, ride my indoor trainer, and have one key speed session on the road where I run 8-10 miles. Since I work a full-time corporate job I train on my lunch break and immediately after work.
Valerie: Typically, you start with a baseline that is approximately ¼ of the distance you are training for (Sprint, Olympic, Half Ironman, Full Ironman) and build from that base over 3-4 months depending on your prior conditioning. For example, a sprint triathlon covers a 750-800 yard swim, a 12-mile bike, and a 3-mile run distance. Sound simple but try a ‘brick’ which means combine two of these activities back-to-back with no break to simulate the race. Each week you add small increments, like another 5-10 minutes overall in each sport. It’s important to find a committed training partner at your level to keep you accountable!
HOKA: Do you train with music? If so, what is your favorite type of music to train with?
Sika: Yes! Especially when I ride indoors. I listen to a lot of 90s R&B: TLC, Aaliyah, Usher, Lauryn Hill, Jodeci.
Valerie: Yes, I even have earsets that work underwater. I like something with a good, solid, rhythmic beat.
HOKA: Is there any specific cross training that you do?
Sika: Training for three disciplines is pretty time consuming so it’s hard to do additional forms of cross training. I do, however, incorporate strength training and stretching into my routine to help with injury prevention.
Valerie: In addition, add in some Yoga and Strength Training for endurance, core strength, and flexibility to prevent injuries. Take one day a week off for muscle recovery and complete rest.
HOKA: A lot of folks forget how important recovery is. What is your go-to recovery routine? Why is it so important to do all these things?
Sika: I think most athletes fear taking a day off. However, letting yourself recover from training decreases the chance of developing an injury because it allows the body time to heal. Making sure you take it easy on recovery days, stretching after workouts, and using recovery tools, helps the body heal which leads to improved performance. My foam roller and Speed Hound compression boots are my go-to recovery tools.
Valerie: I would say ‘ice baths’, but since I’m so adverse to cold water I just use ice packs on my muscles and use recovery boots. I also stretch, and I rest for a couple of days. A lot of lactose acid is released in your muscles during a race because you are working harder than you ever worked before. Taking time to recover and hydrate is taking time to take care of your body. Isn’t that why we do what we do…..to take care of our body?
HOKA: What are a few things you say to yourself when the training gets hard? How do you stay Motivated?
Sika: For years, the goal of qualifying for my pro card got me through any and every workout. When things would get hard I’d tell myself “you need to push through if you want a shot at qualifying.” That one, singular goal kept me from quitting after a horrific cycling accident and motivated me to keep training through the pandemic. Something else I tell myself often when I’m struggling is, “If this was easy everyone would do it.” Acknowledging and embracing how difficult a workout or race is can actually be a source of motivation in and of itself.
When I think about quitting in a race I remember how incredible it feels to cross the finish line. I try to focus on that feeling when things get difficult.
Valerie: I tell myself that I am an ATHLETE and there’s nothing I can’t do, I just maybe have to do it longer. I don’t set boundaries and limits, I set finishing goals. When I trained for the Ironman, and the distances kept getting longer, I just paced myself and listened to my body. We are not professionals trying to win money or necessarily be on the podium with a medal, so train the best you can, and just go out there and DO YOU! I find that I like to chase down the person in front of me, and that becomes a game. That strategy makes me more competitive and improves my overall performance. So, I speed up and pass the person in front of me and I get to the finish line faster.
HOKA: What advice do you have folks who would love to complete a triathlon but are maybe too nervous or scared?
Sika: You are capable of more than you realize. After I came in close to last at my first triathlon, I never thought in a million years that I’d cross the finish line at the IRONMAN World Championships in Hawaii or that I’d eventually qualify for my pro card. But that’s the beauty in trying something new. You never know where it will lead. One race can open a door to endless experiences and opportunities.
Valerie: Odds are that the biggest fear is open water swimming if you are not a swimmer. Land sports like biking or running are less stressful in general, and you can pace yourself. Our training group practices body contact, so you don’t freak out when you get touched. When all else fails, rely on what you know you can do! Stay alert, stay focused, and stay on course. My coach’s weekly rant is ‘GET Comfortable Being Uncomfortable’, and it worked for me. Crossing the finish line at a triathlon makes you feel like anything is possible in life! The high is tremendous and who doesn’t smile at the finish line?
Valerie is featured rocking the Rincon 3.
Sika is featured rocking the Carbon X 2.
Valerie is featured rocking the Rincon 3.