When future iron-distance triathlete and multisport coach Terri Schneider laced up her first running shoes at age 10, her mom was worried. She’d heard running might damage young female parts.
Schneider didn’t care about such things at that moment. She didn’t know what a uterus was at that age, and her first cross-country meet was enough to hook her on endurance sports forever. Running tapped a part of her like nothing else ever had.
“The thing I remember very distinctly was that pushing my body was different than every other aspect of my life as a kid,” said the California-based Schneider, 57. “I accessed a part of my mind that I didn’t have access to unless I was pushing my body to my limit.”
From professional triathlete to coach to adventure racer, ultra-marathoner and mountain climber, Schneider has been her own test subject. Her life-long experiment has been to see just how far a body and mind in sync can go.
“You really get that the body can take a lot of abuse and the mind will follow. I wanted to see how that could play out,” Schneider said. “How far can I take it is a question that has always been really interesting to me. It felt like a natural thing to do. I didn’t feel like I was pushing it. It felt quite logical. It feels quite grounded.”
Schneider ran her first marathon at 17. She earned her bachelor’s degree in exercise physiology and was introduced to the new sport of triathlon about the same time. She competed in the pro field in the IRONMAN World Championships at Kona, Hawaii, eight times and finished as high as third. She won Escape from Alcatraz in 1990.
Schneider became one of the first-ever triathlon coaches when other athletes started asking questions about how she trained. She’s written several books, including her autobiography, “Dirty Inspirations,” published last year. Her most recent books include, “The Triathlon Training Handbook,” “The Runner’s Workout Handbook,” and “The Swimmer’s Workout Handbook.” A cycling workout handbook book is next.
Schneider has a master’s degree in sports psychology and authored, “The Triathlete’s Guide to Mental Training.” She has always wondered how much people are willing to suffer to achieve their goals and why. How much wear and tear can a body take? How much mental challenge can an athlete withstand? Why are some people content to learn just one sport while others like her want to learn new skills so they can go farther and faster. She calls it being “always the beginner.”
“Not knowing was interesting to me,” Schneider said. “I never thought, ‘I can’t do this.’ It was always, ‘I could do this. What do I have to do to make it happen?’ It was sort of like climbing a ladder. I took a step up a ladder rung and said, I did that, and now I will take the next one.”
From triathlon, she moved to long-distance running. Her ultramarathon career includes several appearances in the Western States 100-Mile Endurance Run. She placed second in the open women category in the seven-day Racing the Planet across the Gobi Desert in China and earned a first in the open woman category and fourth overall at a seven-day Racing the Planet across the Sahara Desert in Egypt.
Adventure racing in remote spots of the globe was a “quantum leap forward” because of the new skills she needed to learn, she said. The sport requires teams to cover long distances on foot, over water and on bikes through some of the roughest places on earth. Competitions took her to Fiji, New Zealand, Malaysia, Tibet and Nepal, China and Morocco as well as places in North America.
Mountain biking took her to the three-day LaRuta de Los Conquistadores, which is billed as the “Toughest Mountain Bike Race on the Planet.” She rode in the Amazon jungle in Ecuador and took an eight-day bike adventure through remote central Mexico.
With mountain climbing, she’s reached summits from California to Russia, Mexico, Tanzania and Argentina.
She’s visited about 70 countries in all. Along the way, she formed a special relationship with the people and country of Bhutan, where she helped organize an annual marathon. She hopes to organize a triathlon there, too.
The uninitiated may think endurance athletes are all about suffering. But, Schneider said enduring intense muscle soreness and exhausting mental fatigue are not ends in themselves. Pain isn’t to be loved or feared. It is just data to be filtered through her years of experience and decades of academic study to see if she has more to give, she said.
“Enduring tough stuff isn’t bad, it isn’t good, and most of the time it isn’t graceful,” Schneider said. “It just means you are choosing to participate in experiences that are deeply personal and self-revealing, and what that looks like to everyone else is irrelevant.
“Just choosing to remain in the game is a big deal in a world that can constantly fill you with fear and doubt. Simply continuing to toe the line makes a huge statement about yourself.”
Scott Richardson is a USAT Level 1 certified coach and founder of Beyond Normal Fitness in Normal, Ill.