By Lauren Updyke | Follow her @Basetrifitness

In a sport where speed, strength, and mental fortitude all create winners there is little space for mental weakness. Or is there?

I have been a triathlete since my early twenties. I founded a coaching company in 2010, and continue in my quest to qualify for Kona. I have done this while suffering from Dysthymic Disorder, Major Depression, and having successfully dealt with Bulimia Nervosa. (Dysthymia is a low-grade depression that patients can have for long periods of time. Bulimia Nervosa is an eating disorder characterized by periods of binging and purging.)

As I learned to navigate these challenges with my doctors and therapists, I discovered triathlon. The Triathlon Training Program at DePaul University’s Campus Recreation Center gave me hope and focus. The training schedule forced me to drag myself out of bed from a paralyzing fatigue. It required little mental energy. The structure of the workouts provided peace—a place where my mind could be quiet. The group of DePaul triathletes also helped me to accept my flaws, challenge my fears, and manage my health as best I could.

I have grown into a more competitive athlete and have experienced the reality that there is some truth to lighter being faster. I understand that my personal body type is not the traditional “successful” form and I accept that; everyone has different strengths. I choose to focus on my assets and work as hard as I can in training. I am also very lucky to have loved ones and a coach who are aware of my past and provide honest feedback when needed.

As a coach it is important to recognize that there is a balance between what I call perceived race weight and performance race weight. Perceived race weight is the image of something unattainable. It is not based on an individual athlete’s build and natural body weight. Performance race weight is appropriate based on the athlete’s build. I also characterize it as when an athlete feels good, performs well, and balances their eating habits with their training regimen without anxiety. Some athletes are challenged to maintain a healthy weight and mindset. Here are some signs that an athlete may be struggling:

  • Obsessive behaviors relating to food, such as severely restricting caloric intake
  • Consuming large amounts of food in one sitting (binging)
  • Frequent or recent trips to the bathroom immediately after eating
  • Consumption of laxatives, diuretics, or diet pills
  • Excessive exercise, hard to detect especially in Ironman training. One sign is ‘hidden’ exercise not typically reported to the coach
  • Performing the majority of their workouts with little to no fuel sources
  • Withdrawal from social situations

Coaches are in a unique position where their influence can create excellence or encourage damaging behaviors. There is a line where healthy becomes unhealthy. If you suspect that an athlete is experiencing body image concerns or displaying eating disorder symptoms speak to the athlete candidly but respectfully.

I am blessed that triathlon has been beneficial for me. Not everyone will have the same experience. Others may use the constant training and exercise to mask an illness, trading one obsession for another. For me there is more good than bad from triathlon. I continue to struggle with depression and share my story to give others hope that you can still live a fulfilling, inspired life and heal despite this challenging illness. Perhaps there is space in this sport for those struggling mentally and emotionally.


Lauren Updyke is the head coach and owner of BASE Tri Fit based in Columbus, Ohio. With more than 10 years in the fitness and wellness industry, Lauren coaches her athletes with balanced, appropriate and specific endurance programs. She is a six-time Ironman finisher and two-time Ironman 70.3 World Championship finisher. Outside of triathlon, she volunteers at the Center for Balanced Living, an eating disorder clinic in Worthington, Ohio. She is a wife to her Ironman husband, an enthusiastic step mom to twin boys, and raises awareness for safe cycling. She also races and raises money for The Eleonore Rocks Foundation. For more information on Coach Lauren visit www.basetrifitness.com.