[00:00:00] If an athletes injured they’re going to need more attention than somebody who’s healthy and everything’s firing on all cylinders and things are going well. Athletes have a really fantastic knack of remembering their bad workouts and not their good ones. And so if an athlete has a bad workout or two bad workouts, then we thought to go back to the drawing board and say, “Well, but this is why you keep a log, so that you can go back and look at all these fantastic workouts you had.” And just because you didn’t have a good day doesn’t mean that you’re not fit. Let’s not shake your confidence.
[00:00:45] This episode of the Smart Athlete Podcast is brought to you by Solpri. If you’re active at all, whether you’re running or simply out walking for the day, you’ve probably experienced one of the number one problems that active people have, and that’s chafing. Solpri’s all-new, all-natural, anti-chafe balm solves that problem while feeding your skin the vital nutrients it needs to be healthy. If you’d like to stop chafing once and for all and treat your body right, go to Solpri.com to check out the anti-chafe balm today. That’s S-O-L-P-R-I dot com.
Jesse: [00:01:22] Welcome to the Smart Athlete Podcast. I’m your host Jesse Funk. My guest today is a former pro triathlete and she’s got a laundry list of accomplishments to her name. So we’re only going to hit just a few of the highlights, but you can learn more about all that on her website. We’ll mention here in a minute. She has her PhD in epidemiology, placed fourth in the Sydney Olympics, fifth in Kona in the same year.
As she tells me, the only person to have ever done both races in the same calendar year. She won the 2008 70.3 Ironman World Championship. She’s the author of The Champion’s Mindset: An Athlete’s Guide to Mental Toughness. She has a research foundation, the Canna Research Foundation, with Cannabis Research. And in regards to epidemiology, she’s a founder of Race Ready Coaching. You can find her at RaceReadyCoaching.com. Welcome to the show, Joanna Zeiger.
Joanna: [00:02:16] Thanks so much for having me, Jesse.
Jesse: [00:02:17] Yeah, thanks for coming on, Joanna. I have to confess that pretty much my show is pretty chill. Most of the time was just like kind of like what we were doing before we got recording and just hanging out, having a conversation. But unbeknownst to you, I was like, I want to stir up some drama. Unfortunately, I didn’t get there, but I texted a mutual friend of ours. Once I saw you were on my calendar, I text Barb Lindquist and I said, Barb, I need some inside scoops. Like, give me give me the dirt. You know, do you have, like, a beef with Joanna? Like, like, give me something where we can create a little drama.
[00:02:54] She just laughed at me, said, let me think about it, and then never got back to me. So apparently there’s no there’s no secrets to share or confront you about. I’m sure you guys are both like knowing Barb and knowing most pros, just great people and the whole community seems like really good people. So it’s more just me kind of jokingly asking for secrets or anything, but I wanted to share that with you because I was I was trying to find some tidbit that I couldn’t find anywhere else. And Barb, unfortunately, didn’t supply me with anything terribly useful.
Joanna: [00:03:28] Oh, I’m so happy she kept our secret. I paid her off. Big time for that. You signed an NDA and all that. No, I’m kidding. Barb was a great competitor and she really raised the sport during the time that she was competing. And with her swim bike combo, she really pushed the envelope and made the rest of us work a lot harder so that we could stay up with her.
Jesse: [00:03:53] Well, I think —
Joanna: [00:03:54] Or at least I have to look too much at her backside.
Jesse: [00:03:58] Yeah. I mean, you know, even now, she’ll get in the pool, like, once a year. I don’t know how common it is everywhere else. I think from her swimming background, she does what she refers to as a birthday set, which you probably know, but for the listeners. So whatever your age is, that year you get in the pool and you do 100 meter repeats for that age. So like I turned 33 this year, so I would have 3300 meter repeats and you try to do them as fast as possible. She’ll she’ll tell me and the other people kind of in the group of where I met her about, like, you know, to get in and do her do her set.
[00:04:38] And she’s still like so much faster than I could ever possibly hope to be, even though she’s been retired for a number of years. And it seems like you’re probably that way to some degree as well with some of the disciplines from triathlon.
Joanna: [00:04:53] I was for a long time. I have not been in the pool in a very long time. I have a number of health issues that prevent me from achieving what I probably could achieve had I not had these health issues. Since I retired from triathlon. And I did qualify for the Olympic trials of the marathon twice and had a very good masters running career and competed as a semi-pro as a masters.
[00:05:23] But right now I’m dealing with a lot of issues and it’s making exercise very difficult for me. So I can’t run, I don’t swim. And right now my best friend is my Peloton bike and that is how I am getting most of my exercise between riding the peloton and going on walks.
Jesse: [00:05:43] If you don’t mind me asking. I’m always kind of curious about the transition from pro to non pro, and then obviously you continue to compete post transition and as you mentioned, making the Olympic trials a couple of times. What is there a mindset shift there? What is it if there is one? How does that transition feel to you? Do you still feel like I compete I want to compete like the same kind of like mental space? Or is it more relaxed where you’re like, I’m not as worried about how things go?
Joanna: [00:06:21] Well, when I was writing, seriously, I mean, I really cared because I had goals. And that was I was still setting PRs and the half marathon in the marathon well into my forties. And so I had very concrete goals that I wanted to achieve, and that was the 2012 and 2016 Olympic trials. And I was training pretty hard, but not to the level I was training as a triathlete because I had other responsibilities that that also took my time.
[00:06:54] Now I don’t compete at all because of these issues I’m having and I’m not going to lie I missed it. I don’t want to be competing at the level I was. I don’t want to put in those kinds of hours. I don’t want myself that hard, mentally or physically. I’ve been there and I’ve done that and I have a very fulfilling life as a coach and as a researcher, and I will always be an athlete at heart. And because of that, always have that kind of competitive spirit.
[00:07:22] And I just said to my husband the other day, like, I just I miss racing and I don’t know what racing would mean if I got back to it. I just I miss the atmosphere of being around like minded people who are all sort of out there for whatever reason they’re out there, but they’re out there competing together on the same course. Everybody’s goal is different, but they’re all out there doing it together, and I miss that.
Jesse: [00:07:48] I — with the caveat that I never raced at the level that you and Barb did, I didn’t even quite make it to the professional level, but I too have moved away from triathlon and back in favor of running largely for time reasons. And I was talking to my wife about the kind of local races this weekend, and I just went, you know, I do kind of miss it. There’s just there’s just something about being out. Like even if you as you mentioned, like I have this kind of feeling like, you know, I don’t know that I want to hurt that much or put it in the as many hours as it takes to be as good as I’d like to be.
[00:08:25] But there’s something there that it seems like it’s hard to get anywhere else, even if you only see those people occasionally, or in my case, you know, only at a race a couple of times a year. There’s something I think electric maybe is a little overused, but still relevant here, that it’s like it’s like a hole that you can’t quite fill with any other activity.
Joanna: [00:08:55] Yeah. You know, I think that you forge friendships and triathlons that are very different. And I found that in running to that, I made some very close friendships because we’re spending a lot of time with certain people, and especially if you’re training for longer distance. You know, when I was training for marathons and you’re going out for 20 mile runs or you’re doing very hard interval sessions, or when I was doing Ironman and you’re doing five and six hour bike rides, it’s a long time to be out there with other people.
[00:09:26] So you end up having very deep conversations and you get to know somebody on a level that you wouldn’t otherwise because of the amount of time and the mutual suffering, but also the mutual goals. And, you know, they’re just it’s just such a different interaction than you would have if you were just to go out to dinner with somebody.
Jesse: [00:09:47] Sometimes it makes me wonder and — that I agree with you. The idea of like shared suffering kind of brings us together, which always brings you back to the military a little bit. You know, like military people seem to be their own family. It’s like that shared, shared suffering of that experience, even if it’s just like going through basic. So that I wonder like. Is that? Is that the best way to make cohesive friendships? It’s a lifestyle that I’ve been through, so I’m like, is there a better way? Is that the only way? You know, like —
Joanna: [00:10:21] But it’s still fun. I mean, ironically enough, I spoke to one of my former coaches yesterday, Troy Jacobs, when I lived in Baltimore. He coached me and we we hadn’t spoken in ages and we were kind of reminiscing about the good old days. And even though we put in a lot of hard work and that there was shared suffering, we both said it was so much fun.
Like we missed those good old days. Not that we want to go back to it, but we look upon them very fondly and that, you know, a lot of those rides, even though they were hard, we had fun on them and those swim workouts, they were hard, but we had fun and we’d go to the track and we’d work our butts off and it would be very difficult, but it was still fun.
[00:11:04] And so yes, there’s shared suffering, but if there isn’t fun behind it, then it’s not worth it because it is so hard and so much work. And that’s why I always say to people, train hard and have fun. But the fun part is something that people miss. And I can’t emphasize that enough. I mean, I write about it in my book. I make sure that my athletes, yes, you have goals, but are you having fun? Because when I was writing my book, I interviewed athletes.
[00:11:31] I listened to tons of podcasts. I read tons of interviews of world champions and Olympic champions. And one of the common themes I found was that fun, like they enjoyed it. And once the enjoyment went away, their performances diminished. And so even though you’re suffering, there has to be fun at the base of suffering.
Jesse: [00:11:52] No, I couldn’t agree more, and that is with many of the guests I’ve spoken with. That is a very common theme from like the amateurs I talked to all the way through your level and the Olympic level, it –the people that stick with it and then that I end up talking to definitely find enjoyment within their.
[00:12:14] And I know that a lot of people who haven’t experienced that go look look at. Say endurance athletes in particular go. How could that be fun? And you go, it’s just my thing. Like, I don’t know that I analyze it deeply enough to go look at a base, like there’s something genetically inside my head because this is why it’s fun. Just go like. Some people like music, some people like art. Some people like smoking cigars. Those aren’t necessarily my things. I like doing this, so I do it.
[00:12:51] It does make me wonder, though, kind of a similar theme and this is something Barb has mentioned in a guest, unfortunately forgotten who it was. It’ll come to me. But mentioning about even at the pro level. Living like training around life, not making life about training. Would you agree with that or disagree with that?
Joanna: [00:13:20] I think it varies on the person. I think that some people. They adapt their life to their training and everything is about the training, whereas other people fit the training into their life. To me — I mean, when you’re a professional, you know, that is your life, your livelihood. And even though I was in graduate school and then I was coaching and then I was working at CU Boulder. And I had other jobs outside of triathlon. And triathlon was still my my main job, if you will. And so everything would fit in around that, because that was my livelihood.
[00:14:06] Now, it’s not my livelihood. So every, you know, my training fits in to everything else I’m doing and I fit it in where I can. I used to be very regimented, like, I have to do it at this time. I’ve got to get this done at this time, whether because it was scheduled, like I was going to a master’s workout or a track workout, or I knew that I had to get it done by X time because I had a meeting.
[00:14:30] Whereas now it’s like I just schedule everything. And then when I have a block of time, I’ll squeeze my training in. I call it training. I’m not really training so much these days, but I’ll squeeze in some exercise because to me, movement is medicine and I need it both mentally and physically, even though it’s not to the level at which I desire or which I know I am capable, it’s still better than doing nothing.
Jesse: [00:14:54] Yeah. You kind of touched upon something I wanted to ask you about because I just noticed the timeline, and that was you were racing professionally while finishing your PhD. Two things which many people might find difficult on their own. But then you were combining them. Do you do you recall that period well? Can you talk to me about kind of what that looked like and maybe the stress of life try to do those simultaneously?
Joanna: [00:15:23] So I started my PhD in ’95, I think, or ’96. And I was an amateur at the time. I started in 95 and I was an amateur at the time. And then in 1997 I was the amateur athlete of the year. I placed top ten overall in Kona. I think I was ninth as an amateur, and at that time everybody went off together. There was like no pro wave. It was just the gun went off and all 15 and it was 1500 people and all 1500 people just went off together.
[00:15:56] So you really had a good idea, like it wasn’t a separate race. Like we were all racing together. And I also won my age group at Nationals for short course, so I kind of felt like I had maxed out what I could do as an amateur that year. And so I was confronted with this very difficult decision, Well, do I go pro and see how I can compete against people who are better than me and step it up a level? But I’m in graduate school and I don’t have the same flexibility to go to training camps and to travel around the world to races. Or do I stay in amateur and I know what that path brings because that’s the path I’ve been down.
[00:16:37] And eventually, I decided to turn pro in ’98 was my first year as a professional because I decided, you know what, if it doesn’t work out, I don’t have I’m not signing my name and blood that I’m going to be pro forever if it doesn’t work out and I can’t find the time or I’m not successful or it’s too stressful or my academic work suffers. I could always go back to being an amateur, so I decided to bite the bullet and get my pro card.
[00:17:02] At that time, I did not know that triathlon was an Olympic sport. I was really focused on Ironman. I got a tutorial very quickly on the ITU and how things worked, which is evolved over time. I mean, we’re talking a lot of years ago, and so there’s been a major evolution in how people qualify for the Olympics. And but the ITU is still around, although now they’re called world triathlon. But it was a very good decision. But it was not an easy one. And I remember writing my dissertation while I was in Sydney at the Olympics.
Jesse: [00:17:45] So sitting in the Olympic Village, presumably writing your dissertation.
Joanna: [00:17:49] Well, this is before we were so triathlon was the first sport of the women’s triathlon was the first medal sport of the games. It was the first time that triathlon was contested in the Olympics. So we got there a few weeks early and we stayed in a town called Wollongong. The Olympic Village wasn’t officially open yet and there really wasn’t anywhere to train for triathlon near the village anyway.
[00:18:13] So we went to a place that was more amenable to the kind of training that we needed, and there were other teams there. There were some track and field countries that had track and field athletes that stayed there. I think there were some other triathletes and but there’s a lot of downtime because we’re tapering. And even though I knew I had the Hawaii Ironman upcoming and my taper did not look quite the same as my other teammates, my taper was bigger.
[00:18:40] I mean, I did more volume during my taper, but that would be normal for me anyway. I was always kind of a higher volume type athlete, but there was still a lot of downtime and there’s only so many, there’s only so much that you can watch the torch go across Australia and that was what was on TV. You could either watch the torch march its way across Australia or watch the US open tennis.
[00:19:02] So I watched every game of the US Open and I watched the torch, but that still left me with a lot of time. So I decided, well, I might as well be productive. And I wrote my thesis.
Jesse: [00:19:15] I mean it seems like a good use of a down time if you’ve got it and did that. I guess I don’t know your particular mental space leading up to a race, presumably pretty solid given you wrote a book on it, but did that help take your mind off of it or keep you like keep the nerves down as you’re like, oh, just focus on the thesis leading up to the games.
Joanna: [00:19:39] I don’t know if that was my intent per se, but it did have that effect. I have always done I’ve always done better having a few things going on. I mean, even today I don’t do just one thing. I coach, I do research, I consult, I’ve got my hands in many different things and for me, I just operate better that way. And I think that’s why I was able to do what I did when I was in Sydney, because that’s just what I was used to doing and that’s just how my, my brain and body work the best. That’s how I can get the most out of myself is by having a few things to focus on rather than just being uber focused on just one thing.
Jesse: [00:20:21] So I think since you do coach. One thing I want to ask about is with the athletes that you work with, how much time do you spend with them? Obviously, you’re going to be prescribing workouts and the typical thing you think about from coaches, but obviously you have an emphasis on mental toughness. How much time do you spend with them kind of working through negative self-talk and all the different things that you need to get in order to operate at at the highest level that somebody can operate at?
Joanna: [00:20:58] You know, I don’t think he can put I can’t really put a time on that because it really varies from athlete to athlete and what their specific needs are, where they are in their season, where they are health wise, you know, if an athlete’s injured, they’re going to need more attention than somebody who’s healthy and everything’s firing on all cylinders and things are going well. Athletes have a really fantastic knack of remembering their bad workouts and not their good ones.
[00:21:27] And so if an athlete has a bad workout or two bad workouts, then we got to go back to the drawing board and say, “Well, but this is why you keep a log, so that you can go back and look at all these fantastic workouts you had.” And just because you didn’t have a good day doesn’t mean that you’re not fit and it’s not shake your confidence and no one workout should make your confidence or break your confidence anyway. Right? It’s the conglomeration of everything that you’ve done leading up to whatever your race is.
[00:21:57] And so the amount of time I spend on mental toughness varies on where somebody is in their season, how their training is going, what type of race they’re taking on. If they’re doing a 5k, they’re not going to have the same kind of level of of nervousness they would if they were doing a marathon or an Ironman.
[00:22:18] So much of it is situational, but what I try to do is instill habits and coping mechanisms that they can take with them so that they can help themselves, and so that if they are doing a workout that gets very difficult, that if the negative talk creeps in because it does, we all have negative self-talk. That’s not the problem.
[00:22:42] The problem is when you let that negative self-talk spiral and then all of a sudden it affects your self-confidence and your ego and your self-esteem and all these other things. And so it’s being able to recognize that you’re having the negative self-talk and then being able to rewrite that script into something more positive on the fly. And so that you can a lot of times salvage about workout or just understand, “Hey, today is not my day. That’s okay. I’m still getting something out of it. It’s just not the times I want to hit.”
Jesse: [00:23:18] You know, you mentioned that it really is dependent on the person. So that’s probably the answer to this. But I have to ask anyway, is there any kind of like, I guess I’ll say methodology, but like is there any “standard” steps you go through with anybody to to work on this stuff? Or is it really just a matter of like, let’s let’s dig into what specifically you’re working on and then kind of untangling that by itself?
Joanna: [00:23:46] Well, I, I did a study on mental toughness in athletes many years ago. It’s called the Sisu study. Sisu is the Finnish word for grit. And when after I did the study. Well, actually, I did the study after I wrote my book. And in my book, in the epilog, I kind of proposed a champion mindset and what I call the fledging fledgling athlete mindset. And I hypothesize what that might look like.
[00:24:15] And one morning I woke up and said, Gee, wouldn’t it be interesting to actually study this and see if these things are true? You know, are there different, you know? Can you separate out mental toughness in people and athletes? And so I embarked on this study and did find that, yes, you can separate out mental toughness, that it sort of fell into three groups.
[00:24:38] We found that in general, people either had high mental toughness. So we looked at eight domains of mental toughness. When people look at mental toughness, they always think of it as this thing of go hard or go home or, you know, go till you drop. Or, you know, if it doesn’t hurt, you haven’t done it right. And over the years I have come and I’ve had coaches that have espoused that.
[00:25:02] But over the years I’ve learned that that is not mental toughness. Mental toughness is multidimensional and has so many things that go underneath of it. It’s like an umbrella term. And so we took eight of those domains that fit under that umbrella of mental toughness and studied it in athletes. And on average, athletes either were high in these domains, they were somewhere in the middle or they were low. So that doesn’t mean that you could be high in some or low in others, but on average, that’s what we found. So we found we call it high mental toughness, moderate mental toughness and low mental toughness.
[00:25:35] And for lack of a better terminology, I don’t like to put a value judgment on it. I mean, if somebody is low mental toughness, it doesn’t mean that they’re a bad person or a bad athlete or anything. It’s just that they need to work on their mental skills. And so I wanted to figure out, well, how does somebody determine what their level of mental toughness is? So I created the Sisu quiz and I will send you the link that you can put in the show notes so that people can take it.
Jesse: [00:26:05] Yes, if you want to take it, it’s if you’re on YouTube, go down to the description, if you’re on another platform, wherever the description is on your particular podcast platform.
Joanna: [00:26:16] Right. So people can click on this link. They will take this quiz. It will tell them their overall level of mental toughness and then will tell them which of the specific domains they are high, medium or low. And so that’s where I always start with athletes, is by giving them this quiz so that we get a baseline measure of, well, where are your deficits and where are you good? And working from there?
[00:26:41] And in trying to turn those deficits into positives and making sure that the positive stay positive, one of the things that I find with so many athletes that stands in their way is perfectionism. And that goes along with a lot of the things that I have found with the quiz results, that athletes have this desire to be perfect and there is no such thing. You cannot be perfect. We’re human beings, we are prone to mistakes and we have to accept that.
[00:27:12] And once we can accept that, we’re not going to be perfect. It makes the whole notion of mental skills training and working on these things much easier, especially things like building self-confidence and the negative self-talk. If you’re expecting perfectionism from yourself and then you make a mistake, well, you’re going to go into the spiral of negative self-talk, whereas if you don’t expect it in the first place, and you know that I’m going to try my hardest, but I am going to make mistakes here and there. It’s not going to shatter confidence in the same way.
Jesse: [00:27:45] Is the tendency towards perfectionism, do you think or find that that’s triathletes in particular, or is it more broadly applicable than that? Because I know that I would say if I want to make a blanket statement, obviously nothing is 100% applicable that triathletes are the group is full of type-A personalities. So is it accurate to say that that’s who we are or because I haven’t really done much outside of endurance sports, what would it apply more broadly than?
Joanna: [00:28:20] It applies very broadly. I’ve actually worked with a lot of adolescents and they’re not triathletes. I’ve worked with people from all different sports. And perfectionism is pervasive in sports in general, probably pervasive just in general. I think that if you were to look at academics, there are a lot of people who are perfectionists with their academics. We happen to be focusing on sports. And so, yes, I’ve seen it in kids as young as 11. I’ve seen it in all different sports, winter sports, track and field, hockey, you name it, I’ve seen it.
[00:28:57] So it’s — and a lot of people will blame parents, especially when you’re working with adolescents. But I’ve spoken to the parents of all of these kids before I speak to the kids. And it’s you know, people would like to put the blame on the parents, but a lot of times it’s coming most of the time it’s coming from the kids themselves in their desire to achieve whatever it is they want to achieve.
[00:29:19] And that if they can’t achieve that, then they feel very badly about themselves. And if it’s not rectified at a young age, then they take that with them into adulthood. And so it’s something that cannot be addressed to young because if it’s not addressed at a young age, then it just follows you throughout the rest of your life.
Jesse: [00:29:41] So if I want to see what your approach is, so I’m going to take a shot at it and then I’d like you to correct me. So if I was trying to address perfectionism, I would try to like I come from a math background. So that’s where I kind of go and I would talk about like if so if we take the assumption that like there is no such thing as perfection, which I think you mentioned, and then even if somebody can’t agree to that, we can just say, okay, let’s suggest this is true.
[00:30:14] How do you get better? Like you can try, but once you accept it, like perfect is not going to happen. You go, okay, how do we compound things? And it’s like compound interest. Like you get as good a score as you can get and like, that’s good enough because it’s going to add up over time where like if you focus on perfection, you’re spending all your time so you can get a 99% out of 100, you spend all your time focusing on that 1%. You’re missing out on all these other big chunks of like room that you could improve on other things because all your time spent focusing here, am I on track with how you would address perfection or how do you tackle it?
Joanna: [00:30:56] I kind of tackle it by the fact that we’re human beings, we’re not robots, and even robots make mistakes. Our computers aren’t perfect, they crash or they do things to us that completely enrage us. And that’s a computer. And so if computers can’t be perfect and robots aren’t perfect, then humans aren’t going to be perfect.
[00:31:16] And I like to give examples from the sporting world, whether you’re talking about somebody like Serena Williams doesn’t win every match. Even in her heyday, Michael Jordan didn’t make every single shot. You look at the struggles of somebody like Naomi Osaka or Simone Biles. You look at NBA players who are being paid millions of dollars and they stand on the free throw line. They are unimpeded. They practice this over and over and over again, yet they don’t have 100% on their free throw stats. They miss a lot. Some of them have very poor numbers on that.
[00:31:50] And so these are people that are getting paid to do what they do. They are the absolute best in their sport, but they’re imperfect. So if they aren’t perfect, you’re not going to be perfect either. And that’s okay. If you’re a neurosurgeon, you need to be as close to perfect as possible. If you’re a heart surgeon, you need to be perfect, you know. But even these people make mistakes sometimes and they try to limit it. And that’s why they try and bring in machines to alleviate the potential for mistakes.
[00:32:18] But mistakes happen in every single field and in everything we do, and we want to limit that. You know, I’m not saying that you need to be complacent or lazy or just throw your hands up and say, okay, well, I can’t be perfect, so I’m just not going to try or I’m not going to do anything.
[00:32:33] I’m not saying that at all. I’m saying that you have to try your hardest to get the most out of yourself, understand what your limitations are, but also know that not everything is going to go the way you want. You’re going to have bad races, you’re going to have bad workouts. You might even have bad weeks. You may go through a period of time where work is just so busy or family life is so busy that you can’t put in the kind of training that you know you need to achieve your goals.
[00:32:57] And that’s okay. That’s just how life oscillates and it’s being able to recognize that. And then changing the script that you have in your head around perfectionism and what you tell yourself when you make a mistake. And I’m a big believer in writing things down because it’s hard to remember. So what I like to do is have people know, people have often recurring negative thoughts. And so I have them write down what is the negative thought and what would you like to substitute it with that is more positive.
[00:33:30] And so they have a negative thought on one column and the positive thought another column, and then I want them to practice that in their training over and over and over again so that it becomes second nature, so that when those negative thoughts creep in, they automatically know this is the positive thought that I want to use to combat a negative thought.
Jesse: [00:33:49] That seems to make sense. I unfortunately don’t have a very great transition from where we are to where I’d want to go. But I do want to ask you about the cannabis research that you’re doing why you’re doing it, what you’re doing. I know nationally it’s obviously pervasive isn’t the right word, but there’s a growing plurality of people who would prefer to use medicinally or recreationally, and there’s a lot more awareness around it, more research being done. So can you tell me about what you’re doing why you’re doing it, that kind of thing?
Joanna: [00:34:30] Sure. So it’s kind of interesting how I always talk about everybody has their cannabis origin story.
Jesse: [00:34:39] Okay.
Joanna: [00:34:40] I have an origin story. I spent eight years studying drug use and drug abuse at the Institute for Behavioral Genetics at CU Boulder. And I studied drug use and abuse in in adolescence and young adults. And so and we were studying also things like conduct disorder. And certainly this is not a group of people that you want using drugs of any kind because of developing brain and other sorts of things.
[00:35:11] And at that time, the gateway theory was very pervasive, meaning that if you used something like and I like to joke that when you’re looking at the negative aspects of it, you call it marijuana research. But when you’re trying to look at it in a more unbiased or medical way, it’s cannabis research because at CU Boulder I did marijuana research. And so the gateway theory is what everybody talked about, that if you use marijuana, it’s going to lead to the use of heavier drugs. And that has been disproven since then.
[00:35:41] But that was sort of what everybody thought at the time. And I was also a professional athlete. And at the time that I was competing, cannabis was not legal in any form. That has changed. CBD is legal, it’s not tested for, and THC is what is called a threshold drug, meaning that you’re allowed to have it in your system up to a certain level, and if it’s over that level, then you will have a dope positive. It is never allowed in competition, so you can use it out of competition. And in competition has its own definition. I think it’s like some number of hours before you race and some, I don’t know, some number of hours after. I don’t remember the exact legal definition —
Jesse: [00:36:19] Right. The WADA changes things from time to time. So.
Joanna: [00:36:23] Yeah. And they even just recently raised that threshold. So, so I had a very negative attitude toward cannabis for a long time because of my history. I had a bike accident in 2009. It left me with severe chronic pain. And in addition to that, I also have a very rare genetic disease that I was diagnosed with in 2018 but manifested symptoms. Now I am realizing my whole life but became very serious in my forties. For whatever reason. I don’t know if my accident triggered it to be worse or if it’s hormonal or if it was just inevitable, or if it’s a combination of all those things.
[00:37:05] But because of these things, I have a lot of pain and they kept throwing things at me that I did not like and they did not help. And I couldn’t sleep and I was having trouble eating and I was nauseous and I still experience these things. And I became desperate. And my husband kept saying to me, “Why don’t you try cannabis? It’s legal here medically. You have a medically qualifying condition, you have neuropathic pain.” I was too ashamed to go to a doctor and get a card. Like, I was just like, No, I can’t do that. I don’t want anyone to know I’m using cannabis.
[00:37:41] In 2014, it became legal here, recreationally lifted one barrier, and that one barrier was enough for me to go to a dispensary and say, “Well, these are my problems. Can you help me?” They gave me a whole bunch of products to try. I got way too high. They didn’t tell me that I needed to cut patch into pieces and oh my gosh, I was so high. It was ridiculous. But I slept.
[00:38:05] And so that was a goal of mine was to sleep. So I’m a scientist. A lot of people who take too much and get too high or immediately turned off and they never use it again. Well, for me, I was like, okay, I took too much. I’ve got to find the right dose for myself. That was not the right dose. So I started doing some self experimentation and then I started talking to other people. I’m like, “Well, I want to know what.” I went to the literature first and I’m like, Oh my gosh, there’s like nothing in the literature about medical cannabis or very little.
[00:38:34] It was just it was very depressing how little there was. It’s all the same kind of stuff about the developing brain and, you know, cannabis use disorder. And then when I looked at athletes and cannabis use, it was the same thing cannabis use disorder or I’m using it in it. Is it an ergo genic aid? Nobody knows. And it’s looking at use in adolescents, but nobody was really looking at it in the context of athletes like us who are just going out in your everyday run of the mill community based athlete who is a professional, who’s running 5Ks.
[00:39:07] And so I decided to study my first study with cannabis was in athletes. Well, my first study not doing marijuana research but doing cannabis research was looking at cannabis use in athletes because anecdotally I’d heard so much about athletes using cannabis and reading, particularly in the ultra world, but just hearing all sorts of stories about athletes using it and companies starting to market to athletes, but having absolutely no idea about the epidemiology of it.
[00:39:39] And so I decided, well, I’m an epidemiologist, I’m an athlete, I have the ability to do this. And so I ran this study. It was very interesting. We had very interesting results. We published three papers. I spoke at many conferences, and because of the success of that study, I decided that I would make this my kind of focus moving forward. And so I started a company, a nonprofit called Canna Research Foundation, and have done multiple studies since then.
[00:40:09] And we collaborate with other individuals, other research groups, universities trying to unravel the mysteries of cannabis so that people can use it safely and effectively. Cannabis is not without its adverse effects. You can take too much of it. I don’t like to use the word overdose because when you think about overdose, you think about opioids and then you think about death. With cannabis, as far as I know, there’s still no documented deaths from taking too much cannabis.
[00:40:38] You might not feel good, you might have a bad high, but eventually it wears off and you’re back to your self. But it needs to be used judiciously, smartly, because there can be a great benefit, but there can also be some harms. And that’s what we’re trying to figure out is how do you balance those things out and does that change depending upon what you’re treating?
Jesse: [00:41:01] You said a lot of things that we could probably go down rabbit holes on. I, at least at this point, don’t have a cannabis story to share, unfortunately, so I can’t relate on that level. But one of the things you mentioned was I think please correct me if I’m getting the story wrong or misremembering.
[00:41:21] I think you mentioned your husband saying, you know, it’s it’s legal. Like you you have the condition that would qualify you to get your medical card and your brain was still just like “No from that conditioning about like this is bad or whatever” and then kind of coming to a place where you were willing to try it and then also just the scientific place that your brain went where, you know, that didn’t work. Like, let’s figure it out. But just like, I don’t know, I have a question here, but just I think the brain is interesting, which is why I majored in psychology.
Joanna: [00:42:03] I majored in psychology as well.
Jesse: [00:42:04] Yeah. So it’s just like thinking about how our brains work and so, like. That first part where you’re conditioned to go like marijuana bad and then it becomes legal and you can use it. Your brain still just hasn’t caught up to what maybe some of the medical literature might be saying or indicating at that point, there’s still that personal bias.
[00:42:33] And then you have to, like figure out how to like rework your own thought patterns on this subject to get yourself into a new place. Again, I don’t know the question, but just the experience, like hearing you talk about it I think is interesting. Figuring out mean it’s the same thing, not the same thing, but a similar thing. Like do we go through in athletics, right? Like there’s these mental barriers we put up sometimes and we have to figure out how to work our way around them to move forward towards our goal. In your case, trying to live life more pain free or like not being so debilitated by pain.
Joanna: [00:43:13] Right. And it was a very iterative process, one that is I mean, I’m still refining it to this day as new products come to market. I try them and they either work or they don’t work. Some days I need more cannabis than others. I don’t have a strict regimen of what I do.
[00:43:32] I use it based on how I’m feeling. And so if I’m having a particularly bad day, I might need more than if I’m having a good day where I might need very little, but I always need a sleep. I can’t. I mean, my sleep is very disrupted because of pain. And now I have long-covid in addition to all the other medical maladies that I have. And so my sleep is just very difficult for me.
Jesse: [00:43:58] Yeah.
Joanna: [00:44:00] And cannabis very much help me for that as I know for a lot of people.
Jesse: [00:44:05] Yeah. That’s one of the things I’ve heard for sure. Joanna as we’re starting to run down on time. The thing I do, which is for each season of the show, I come with come up with a single question that I ask every single guest for that season. So you’ve got different kinds of these. So I’m hoping you’ve got a good answer. But my, my question this year is, how do you celebrate your wins?
Joanna: [00:44:35] How do I celebrate my wins? I appreciate them. I just, you know, I had a — I’ll give you an example. I had a paper published in a journal recently. And when it was accepted, I was and it’s not the first paper I’ve ever had accepted, but I’m no less excited today than I was when I first had a paper accepted. And so wins don’t come along. They are hard to come by. I have to work very hard to have a win and so I appreciate every win that comes my way. I savor it and I appreciate the work that went into it.
[00:45:14] And when you talk about wins, wins build confidence. And so wins can be big or they can be small. And one of the things I talked about, my athletes going back to the whole mental toughness thing is I have them keep track of daily wins and wins don’t have to be big. You know, if wins can be small, it could be you know, I didn’t want to go do this workout today because I was tired, but I went and did it and I actually ended up having a good workout.
[00:45:39] Well, write that down. That’s a win and savor that moment so that at the end of the week, you can look at your list of wins and say, wow, look at all these great things I did. I want to walk this week. I’m having a good week. My confidence is good because of that and it doesn’t always have to be sports related. It could be anything. You know, I — it could be family related. You know, it could be when I when I work with kids, I’m like, you know, do you help your siblings with your homework or whatever?
[00:46:05] You try and give people some ideas of where those wins can come from because people are so focused on sport, they think, all my wins have to come from sport. And I’m like, But life is bigger than sport. And so I think that wins are important and they have to be recognized. And if you’re somebody that can’t appreciate your wins, write them down so that you can see them and go back and look at them and see how much you’ve accomplished when you may have thought that you haven’t.
Jesse: [00:46:32] I think that, like writing things down is such a crucial step that a lot of us miss. I don’t know. Now I’m thinking about starting practice and specifically running Wednesday on one of the things I have on my desk here. One of the things I’ve done this year, because there’s so many days I felt like I’m so busy and I didn’t get anything done. I just feel empty at the end of the day and like, what did I even do? I have this. I know it’s hard to see, but I have this calendar, it’s a weekly calendar. And I just write.
[00:47:00] I write down what I did that day, what did I accomplish? Which are kind of wins in some sense, but it’s like just the act of writing it down. I can go like, oh, like my whole day was full. Like I got so many things done. Like, I feel so much more satisfied at the end of the day being like, No, it’s all full because before I have like a to do list, I check it off, it disappears. I’ll forget that I even did it versus like I’m adding it here.
[00:47:27] And I think maybe I need a different planner, but maybe I start writing down the wins in particular for days along with some of the stuff and just, you know, I don’t even like go back and look at the previous weeks, but I think there’s definitely something to that of the physicality of putting it down so that you can go back to it. But something solidifies it, at least for me, through that, that action.
Joanna: [00:47:55] Yeah, I agree. It’s just like what I was saying with people with their logs that they remember their bad workouts but not their good ones. It’s the same thing with the wins. You remember the crap, but you hardly remember the good things. And yes, our days are really busy and it’s hard to remember what you’ve accomplished because you feel like, well, I wasted my time today or I was did busy work or I did XYZ.
[00:48:18] But then when you sit down and say, “But I accomplished this and I accomplished this and I accomplished this”, it’s like, “Wow, I actually did have a good day today. I had three wins.” That’s a pretty darn good day. And you’re right. I mean, writing them down solidifies it. Even if you never go back to look at it, you know that it’s there for you if you do want to go back and look at it.
Jesse: [00:48:37] Yeah. Joanna, where can people find you? Get in touch with you, all that kind of stuff.
Joanna: [00:48:43] They can just send out the bat signal with a big JZ, just light up the sky with that and I’ll come with with my cape and everything. No, I — You can find me on my website joannazeiger.com or racereadycoaching.com or you can find the CannaResearchFoundation.org. I’m on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram so you can find me in any of those places at JoannaZeiger and then Facebook joanna.z.shenk. It’s hard to miss me. Got this curly head of hair that you can see coming a million miles away. And by the way, this was all straight before I started using cannabis. Kidding. Totally kidding.
Jesse: [00:49:30] Joanna, thanks for hanging out with me today.
Joanna: [00:49:32] It’s been a pleasure. Thank you.