Episode 138 - Transforming Body and Mind: Chris Kenon’s journey into Triathlon

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Embarking on a journey towards triathlon is not just about physical endurance; it's about mental fortitude and personal transformation. Join me as we dive into the inspiring story of Chris Kenon, a triathlete from North Carolina, USA, as she shares her remarkable journey from a complete novice to a seasoned competitor.



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Episode Transcription

Episode 138: Transforming Body and Mind: Chris Kenon’s journey into Triathlon

Welcome to the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast. The show designed to serve you up evidence-based sports nutrition advice from the experts. Hi, I'm your host Taryn, Accredited Practicing Dietitian, Advanced Sports Dietitian and founder of Dietitian Approved. Listen as I break down the latest evidence to give you practical, easy-to-digest strategies to train hard, recover faster and perform at your best. You have so much potential, and I want to help you unlock that with the power of nutrition. Let's get into it.

[00:00:42] Taryn: Joining me today on the podcast is one of our Triathlon Nutrition Academy athletes, Chris Kennan, who comes to us all the way from North Carolina in the USA. She's got the best accent ever. Welcome Chris,

[00:00:55] Chris: Thanks for having me on the show, Taryn. I appreciate it.

[00:00:58] Taryn: chucking you in the deep end, hopefully that's okay.

[00:01:00] Chris: Yeah, let's go for it.

[00:01:02] Taryn: So Chris came to join the Academy program back in July, 2023. So she's been through phase one and she's been through phase two and she's in the middle of phase three right now. And what I wanted her to share with you is, how she came into the sport and her journey. Cause it's pretty cool.

kick us off, Chris. How did you find the wonderful world of triathlon?

[00:01:25] Chris: Oh gosh. I got kind of dragged into it to be honest.

I literally just got done with a run and finished at a local brewery that had one of our favorite food trucks at it. There was a group of girls there that I knew that was with another girl that I didn't know.

And she was like, oh, I know you. I follow you on social media. I've you should do a triathlon. And I was like, no girl, I don't know how to do a triathlon. I'm just a runner. And she was like, that's okay. What we'll do is we'll find a swimmer. I'll be a biker and you can do the run.We can do a relay for 70. 3. And we did Ironman North Carolina in October of 2017. And once we got finished she said, okay, now it's time for you to do the 70. 3 all by myself. And I just brushed her off and said, I can't swim. I don't have a bike. I'm not doing that. I'm good. funny story is you fast forward into January, 2018. I signed up for Ironman, North Carolina. Didn't know how to swim, didn't own a bike and just did it. And then the next day I was like, what did I do? So I immediately uh, went into panic mode I don't know how to swim, , who's going to help me learn how to swim. And, um, I literally watched YouTube to figure out how to freestyle swim. I joined the Y and I was like, okay, so when they turn to the right on their stroke, I noticed they're also bringing their face out of the water and then I would go to the pool and try to mimic that and it was terrible.

[00:03:00] Taryn: So you learned to swim as an adult by watching YouTube.

[00:03:04] Chris: that's right.

[00:03:05] Taryn: That is craziness. And that was only like four or five years ago.

[00:03:09] Chris: I think I actually joined the gym in February. So by February, I had started to try and swim.  I signed up for a sprint and this was in May. So I had, what, three months of swimming underneath me. I bought a 100 bike. From a lady that I knew she's like 5'3 and I'm 5'8 and I bought her bike.

But I mean, it worked. It was a 10 year old bike. I bought it for a hundred bucks and, here comes May and I signed up for this sprint and I was the fourth to last person out of the water. I ended up backpedaling the whole swim because I was panicking. I'd only had one open water swim before then.

And I finished, but it was not the best experience for me. It took me about a month to decide to get back into the water again. I was like, oh my God.

I wasn't very happy, but that's how I got started. Luckily Ironman North Carolina that year got canceled. Due to one of the major hurricanes that we had everyone down in in our area got flooded out So I say thankfully because it allowed me more time to train and kind of get a little bit better And I deferred it to the next year and I ended up doing my first half in May of 2018 and I kind of caught the bug after that

[00:04:27] Taryn: It's really easy to catch, isn't it?

[00:04:29] Chris: It is I love it,

[00:04:30] Taryn: do you feel like you're a long course athlete? You tend to do, 6 distances. You've dabbled in a little bit of short course. Do you prefer the longer over the shorter?

[00:04:41] Chris: that's a great question. I love the longer because of the mental challenge. Like, it's hard. And I'm not as good as it, as I am in the short distance. I'm actually pretty good in short distance. And it's surprising because I was not an athlete as a kid. And I wasn't an athlete as a young adult.

So those, fast twitch muscles are something that I never thought I had until I would come out. And participate and for three years in a row, I qualified for nationals. I just never went because I always signed up for a long Ironman. And it just conflicted, but I love the long course. I don't know why. It's crazy.

[00:05:17] Taryn: Just good mental toughness and achieving something at the end of it too, which you probably just love. You'd be like, yes, I did that. I couldn't swim seven years ago and I just did an Ironman.

So you've had a massive body transformation. It's not something I usually like highlight or talk about. It's definitely not a, like a big push in the academy program. I love to teach athletes how to fuel and eat properly.

And body composition is a nice by product of that, but your body composition transformation, like what started that or what drove you to make a shift in how you ate and how you exercised and how did you go about doing that?

[00:05:55] Chris: just going to be really honest. It was vanity. I was obese. I was, medically obese. I weighed 240 pounds and people say, oh, you're tall. But, 240 pounds is still, I was overweight. I was obese. And with that comes a lot of self esteem issues and self worth and I had met a guy and I started dating a guy and he was like an Under Armour model I was in shock that someone the way his physique was and how he looked would be even interested in someone that looked the way I did.

And so, my goal was to feel better when I was around him. So, I wanted to weigh less than him. That was a small He was very built. He played college football. He was very muscular, but he weighed 220 pounds. It was solid muscle. And I weighed 240. So, my goal was like, the next time I see him, because we were geographically separated.

He was in Chicago and I was in Phoenix. Arizona, and we saw each other every three months, and my goal was, in three months, I just want to weigh less than him. That's it. So, I had to make some, obviously, some big changes for that to happen, and one of it was obviously moving my body, and I started with walking, and that's how I became a runner.

And just constantly pushing bar, like, okay, this is easy, so, let's try to go a little faster, let's try a little faster. It's Try to Live Faster. Until I was, running six days a week, four miles a day, and lost 90 pounds. But then there's the nutrition side of that. I couldn't have kept eating the way I was eating.

I'm from the South, so I drank a ton of sweet tea. And I didn't drink water, I drank Coke. And so, if you think about just in sweet tea and Coke all day long, how much I was consuming, and back then all I knew about was calories. So that's what I looked at. I was like, gosh, you know, I'm taking in all these calories.

So I went to Diet Coke, which I know wasn't healthy now, but then it made sense. I just used common sense and I started eating salads and sandwiches versus french fries and burgers. And I just made common sense changes. Over nine months, I lost 90 pounds, and it was a huge transformation for me.

[00:08:15] Taryn: yeah, I've seen the images like kind of the before and after and yeah, it's, it's huge and so I didn't realize it was only over nine months. big shifts. How did you mentally, was it just Matt vanity? Like you said, and it was just for this guy. Is there anything more underlying to that?

That you're like, I've got to sort my life out.

[00:08:32] Chris: Oh man.

[00:08:33] Taryn: Sorry to ask the deep questions.

[00:08:35] Chris: no, it's good. No. So honestly, I was really young back then and, and this is goes into a different story, but I mean, at that point I was 20, Three or four, I can't remember. Anyway, I was very young, but I had three kids and I was broke. I was poor and had three kids. And so, for me, it was vanity and I wanted to feel better about myself, but I really wanted to feel better about myself standing next to someone that looked the way they looked.

At that point, I was still very young, both in age and mentally immature, to know any difference about getting my life together. I didn't understand how unhealthy I was. I just didn't understand that at that time. Because that was my lifestyle, and that's, that's what I lived around. So for me, it was just wanting to look and feel better about myself.

[00:09:27] Taryn: Yeah. Good on you. And so what's the shift then from getting more active, eating better. Now you're doing triathlon, which is a whole other ball game when it comes to nutrition. What are some of the things that you've been implementing and learning as part of the Academy program to support tri training?

[00:09:46] Chris: Oh, yes. So, you have said it several times, and Some of our power hour meetings is that carbohydrates are not the devil. Well, prior to you, they've always been the devil, but I've also known that they are what we need to fuel what we do. Uh, Especially long course cause I've had enough instances and experience where I've bumped without having enough carbohydrates.

Not just on the ride or during the run, but from days before. that's what I've learned is that I need to stop looking at carbohydrates in that manner and understand that they are actually good for me and what I'm doing. Also, I've learned that I need to eat more fruit and vegetables and not just more but a variety.

 I'm an age grouper, working age grouper. So I have very little time to prep and I've always been one of those like, okay, chicken and broccoli, chicken and broccoli, chicken and broccoli and beer for carbs. Um, and now I understand, first of all my age has a lot to do with what I need as far as more protein.

Learning that I need variety because I'm one of those people that was taking a ton of vitamins and if I just ate more fruits and vegetables I could probably get away with less vitamins and you should see my cabinet now, I hardly had any vitamins.

[00:11:17] Taryn: You have to start a spreadsheet with how much money you're saving, not taking all the things that you did before. It's one of my metrics that I love to shift in people is saving the money on just useless shit you don't need.

[00:11:29] Chris: I was ODing every day on vitamins, no, no joke. 

[00:11:36] Taryn: how have you managed to shift your mindset then around that? Because I know a lot of people come to triathlon from a dieting culture or a dieting mindset, just running or just gym where we are restricting carbohydrate, we're restricting calories because the majority of the population does want to get a bit leaner.

How have you found that mentally shifting, going, okay, carbs are bad. I'm just going to reduce those, none on my plate whatsoever, maybe some with beer to then going, okay, I need to put carbohydrate on my plate and understand how much to have on different types of training days. And particularly in that recovery window, how what strategies have you got to not freak out with that?

[00:12:15] Chris: Yeah, so I'm using a lot of the worksheets that you've provided and kind of using those to write down my meal plans and track what I'm taking in. But when I'm going to grocery shop and I'm looking at nutritional facts on the back, I have to remind myself, I do, I can't help but look at the calories.

It's years and years and years of just. So, but I mentally reminded myself, no, you need to look at all of the other things that are more important, especially for what you're doing. And then writing down and planning out my meals is really important. But with the periodization, because I have done full Ironman to a half Ironman in one month and then completely did nothing.

And so, I understand that my body still needs carbs, but I'm also retraining my mind to shift and say, okay, you don't need no carbs, you just need less carbs

and I'm training my brain every day, reminding myself because if I don't take these baby steps every day to say, stop thinking that way, think this way, I'm, I'm just trying to train myself to create new habits.

It's in what I'm learning, because I'm learning good stuff, and I want to make sure that it's something that becomes my new habit for the rest of my life, and so it, it does. It takes a lot of retraining my brain and my habits to do that, but I'm working on it through journaling and reading the labels and applying it to what I'm doing in my training.  

[00:13:47] Taryn: I think consistency is key. Particularly if you've come from that background, it is a huge mindset shift to think differently about the way that we eat because we're not eating for punishment. We're not eating to starve ourselves or, you know, to drop 90 pounds in nine months. We're eating to fuel training and it is totally different to the general population.

We need to think so much differently. That's why I call nutrition the fourth leg always, because we need to, figure out how to swim and which arm to put and what to breathe. I can't believe you learned how to swim on YouTube. You're amazing. You're more amazing than I knew you were. And then, ride a bike and then run, which you had, but then we need to, okay, go - All right. Nutrition is the next piece of that puzzle. And the sooner you can layer that in, the more benefit and more advantage you'll get out of it.

[00:14:34] Chris: I'm very thankful that I took this course because I knew that that was what I was missing this whole time. So, I'm so thankful that I took the leap and did this.

[00:14:44] Taryn: Yes, I'm excited to have you in the program. You're fun.

So if you haven't guessed it already, Chris is a bit of a mongrel trainer. I know that might be a very Australian term, but you have a very strong mindset and I love that about you.

So how do you like to train? How do you like to set up your weeks? Do you have a coach to do it yourself? Like, how do you actually piece together training for you?

[00:15:11] Chris: Yeah, so I do have a coach because I like someone to hold me accountable. I think I have enough experience now that if I wanted to coach myself I probably could, but I prefer someone to hold me accountable and I have had a coach that is more of a cheerleader and soft spoken and encouraging. And then I had a coach that, for lack of better terms, would put his foot in my ass when I don't do what I need to do.

And that works better for me because that is the way that I am. Like, I will do that to myself. I call it more like a drill sergeant type training. Because that's just what motivates me. That's what I need. I don't need someone to be nice to me. I need someone to Tell me I messed up when I messed up and that's kind of where that motto it's run biotch run.

When things get tough, when you're out there on the marathon portion of a full Ironman and you want to quit, everybody thinks about it. Everybody's like, this sucks. My body hurts. I could just stop if I wanted to.

I literally have those conversations with myself. You signed up for this. You wanted to do this.

[00:16:20] Taryn: You did this to yourself.

[00:16:21] Chris: yeah, you know, suck it up and let's get going and finish what you started. Stop being a punk. that's funny cause I was run training with a group, my run club one.

Which I don't do too much anymore because I'm really competitive. So I, if I'm going to follow the plan, I don't need to go run with my run club.

But it's like, don't get on a treadmill next to me. I'm going to make sure I go faster than you on the treadmill. I'm gonna win. I'm gonna win this race.

It's like we were doing our last bit. I think we were marathon training and we were almost finished and I was done. I was literally done. She was a few feet in front of me and I picked it up and let's do what a kick like you think of When you're sprinting you'll kick at the end.

And so I kicked and said out loud Mom, bitch Random said it to me like that, . And the girl turned around and looked at me 'cause she thought I was talking to her. And I was like, no, I'm sorry. I was, that was me trying to motivate myself to finish this hard workout . And ever since then, she will, remind me of that day.

It was pretty fun. but it is, it's very much a mental kick myself in the butt. , I don't know any other way, frankly.

[00:17:37] Taryn: Well, whatever works, right? Like you understand deeply what motivates you and what type of person you need to coach you and to keep you accountable, which I think is great because a lot of people don't necessarily have that. And I think, no matter who you are and where you are, it is about finding those people to have in your corner that are going to be your cheerleader and support you, but also when you're questioning yourself and you're second guessing things and you just need a kick in the ass, like you want that person in your corner as well.

[00:18:06] Chris: Yep, absolutely.

[00:18:08] Taryn: So you don't train so much with others at the moment. You more so do your own training so that you get exactly what you need out of your sessions.

[00:18:16] Chris: Just on the running, I think I'm a cyclist now. It's my favorite of the three and I never, never thought I would. I thought I was a good runner until I started cycling and I'm actually a better cyclist. But

[00:18:27] Taryn: you learn to ride a bike on YouTube as well?

[00:18:30] Chris: No no, so, I am one of those, if I'm in, I'm all the way in.

So I bought the clip on, I bought all of it right away and just said, if you're going to do this, you're going to do it.

[00:18:40] Taryn: All or none, all or none,

[00:18:42] Chris: that's right. I'm a hundred percent in. So, I started riding with a local cycling club and, I will say cycling is still very male. And, you know, I'm a new girl that shows up and so all the boys got to show me how tough they are.

And I didn't like that because, I didn't like not being good at something. So it actually motivated me to be better and come back and kind of like kick their butt. So, I kept showing up and I was encouraged by a friend of mine to, um, keep showing up, keep showing up. And honestly, they have made me faster.

Writing in a group. And pulling pelotons and then recovering and my handling skills and just really learning how to ride a bike has made me the cyclist that I am today. So I will say that that is the one thing that I prefer to do with people. Swimming is kind of hard to do with people because you're just down there looking at the blue line by yourself all day.

But I prefer to run on my own because it's my time to kind of get my head space and go through. Some things that I need to go through, but cycling is absolutely something that I love to do in a group and I recommend everyone do it. If you're a triathlete and you want to be better on the bike, go ride in a group.

[00:19:58] Taryn: Yeah. And ride with people that are better than you because it makes you step up. And even if you get dropped for the first few times, like always push yourself. I used to do that too. I think we get along because I'm very much like you, like not competitive at all, but I always used to ride with the boys and be okay with getting dropped, but it made you so much better because you're being pushed and constantly challenged.

But you know, I also have three brothers, so I'm used to that my whole life.

[00:20:25] Chris: Yep. That's awesome. That's exactly right.

[00:20:28] Taryn: Yes. I love how competitive you are. Just love it. like you have this inner mongrel. I'm not sure if you know what that means, but it's just like, you've got like this beast inside that you just need to unleash and I love the drill sergeant way that you talk to yourself to get yourself through something that is hard.

Like we have to have these mental games with ourselves. Cause there's always going to be a point in a race where you're in a hole and you're feeling like, why the hell did I do this? But you've got some awesome strategies to get yourself out of that and get you to the finish line.

[00:20:57] Chris: Yeah. Thank you.

[00:20:58] Taryn: So it's 2024. What are the big plans, the big goals for Chris Cannon this year and beyond?

[00:21:07] Chris: Okay, so Lake Placid, full Ironman. I'm going to come back and do this race as much as I can until I get it right. This will be my third time in a row doing Lake Placid. last year I, had a problem on the run. And then the year before, I personally wanted to finish with a friend, so I held back on the run.

But, uh, this year is going to be my year. Three times a charm. I'm going to go back, it's 25th year anniversary, and I'm going to do what I want to do. I'm going to make it, I'm going to make it a good one.

[00:21:38] Taryn: you'll have your nutrition plan fully dialed in for that too, which you've never had before. So it's going to be epic.

[00:21:45] Chris: I'm really excited about it. I'll be finishing up. right in time. So I'll have everything I need in my arsenal as far as nutrition is concerned for this race. So I'm really excited about that.

[00:21:56] Taryn: me too.

[00:21:57] Chris: yeah. But before that I have, Western Massachusetts. It's a new half Ironman in the United States, and I'm still not a great swimmer so I try to pick swims that Have a little current to help me along. I'm still like in the 10th, the bottom 10 percent of the swim and that's fine. I just survived the swim and then crushed holes on the bike.

 I have some races coming up I'm looking forward to. I always start, every year in April, I do one. And this is how I met your fellow, Nutrition Academy, student, Erin. Is at a local, uh, yep, she's awesome. She's my battle buddy. We've done a few races together, but I met her at Pinehurst and we do that every year.

And, I try to make that my season opener race, so. Hopefully I'll see her there, too.

[00:22:41] Taryn: Yes, I'm looking forward to the competitive vibes that you both bring.

[00:22:45] Chris: oh yeah. She kicks my butt on the swim. We're about the same on the bike. And then I try to run her down and catch up on that darn run. It's hilarious.

[00:22:55] Taryn: We'll have to get you linked up with Brenton from Effortless Swimming, give you some pointers for your swims that you can at least sit on Erin's toes and piss her off.

[00:23:04] Chris: That would be great. I would love it. I would love it.

[00:23:07] Taryn: Oh, I'm looking forward to seeing what this year brings for you. You know, you're going to have a lot of nutrition knowledge under your belt that you've never had before. And I'm so excited to see that because you have got that like inner drive. And I know that when you put your mind to something, you're going to do it to the best of your ability.

[00:23:23] Chris: That's right. I'm excited. I can't wait.

[00:23:25] Taryn: thank you. so much for sharing your story with us. I know that when I put a call out, people were really interested in hearing from age groupers, like how they train, how they eat and coming from where you have to where you are now. It's a huge big journey that, you know, it's going to take time to build a lot of those habits and consistency, but I'm so excited to see where it leads you in the next sort of five to 10 years.

[00:23:49] Chris: Yeah, me too. Absolutely. Thanks for having me on, Taryn. I appreciate it.

[00:23:54] Taryn: You're welcome. And when you want to start your own podcast, let me know. I'll give you a leg up. I'll help you out.

[00:23:59] Chris: Oh, that'd be great. That's awesome.

[00:24:02] Taryn: Thanks, Chris.


Thanks for joining me for this episode of the Triathlon Nutrition Academy podcast. I would love to hear from you. If you have any questions or want to share with me what you've learned, email me at [email protected]. You can also spread the word by leaving me a review and taking a screenshot of you listening to the show. Don't forget to tag me on social media, @dietitian.approved, so I can give you a shout out, too. If you want to learn more about what we do, head to dietitianapproved.com. And if you want to learn more about the Triathlon Nutrition Academy program, head to dietitianapproved.com/academy. Thanks for joining me and I look forward to helping you smashed in the fourth leg - nutrition!

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