Heather McAlinn: Fighting MS Through Fitness (Part 2 of 2)

Trench Sports - Heather McAlinn

Last time we left off with Heather she was explaining to us how being diagnosed with MS has changed her training.  If you missed it, click here to read Part 1 and get caught up.

Heather, when competing in a 70 mile Triathlon how does your mentality change from mile 1 to mile 20 to mile 65?

“Mile 1 - I mentally tell myself, “Okay, you are going to be doing this all day. Don’t go hard in the beginning. Appreciate the ability to participate in this race and

Trench Sports - Heather McAlinn

...stay positive, stay strong. I’ve got this.”

I need to stay hydrated and check my nutrition. I’m going to listen to my body.

Mile 20 - At this point, I ask myself a lot of questions. “Am I drinking enough water? How many miles to the next bathroom stop (just in case)? I better eat a protein bar or get some gel soon. Can I push a little more right now or will this hinder me later during the race? What time is it? A minute 30 seconds went by since the last time I checked! I need to quit looking at my garmin so much!

Mile 65 - Have I really been going this long? I am almost there. My toes feel so numb! I better take a swig of whatever they have at the next water station. I can picture the finish line in my head. Don’t get too excited, just take it step by step. I’ll get there. These body cramps suck! If I stop, they will feel worse. Keep moving forward! Look how far you made it! I was in labor for 19 hours when I had my daughter!

I know I can do this!”

Do you ever feel like quitting? 

“Yes, and anyone who tells you anything different is lying haha. Endurance racing is about climbing over the mental “wall” to get to the other side.

This is where truly believing in yourself and your ability comes into focus.

A good amount of self-efficacy is paramount. I think about people who inspire me to get over the ‘wall’.”

Do you listen to music while competing, if so what?

“I never listen to music during a race or training outdoors. I listen to music when I workout on the treadmill or on the bike trainer.  I like alternative music, old school rap, or top 40. It is a good variety. Some favorites are from Nirvana, Metallica, Disturbed, Eminem, Will Smith, LL Cool J, P!nk, Florence and the Machine, Lady Gaga, and Bruno Mars.”

What areas do you feel are your strengths?

Trench Sports - Heather McAlinn

“Honestly, martial arts and kickboxing.

I am pretty flexible and various punching and kicking techniques always came natural to me. Also running is a strength. I consider myself a recreational runner. I fall under the “age grouper” category. I usually can score a medal in my age group for a quick 5k.

For long races, I go right into “Forrest Gump mode”.

I just keep moving, control my breathing, and think positive to get through it successfully.”

What areas would you like to improve?

“Swimming. I have short arms so It’s a challenge for me to get a long horizontal reach in the water. The idea is to make your body as long as you can in the water when you swim freestyle. I am making modifications to my stroke and catch during swim drills to improve in this area. I seem to have pretty good endurance, just need speed and efficiency.”

How do you prepare for a race, what type of training and workout routines do you do?

Trench Sports - Heather McAlinn

“I strength train 3x a week

on machines and do plyometric exercises. I don’t use free weights right now. My right hand opens up unexpectedly at times and I’ve dropped things. I do a lot of freestyle swimming, cycling, and running. For cross training workouts, I use the stair climber and go a few boxing rounds. I workout between 11-15 hours a week training for the full Ironman.”

Do you have a nutrition plan?

“I eat lots of veggies.

The more color on my plate, the better.

I try to eat every few hours. I am always hungry. I also eat a lot of salmon, chicken, and turkey. I eat fig newtons on the bike, clif bars, and gatorade gels. I drink mostly water, occasionally gatorade.”

Do you have a morning/daily routine or ritual that you do everyday?

Trench Sports - Heather McAlinn

“I get up around 4:30am,

make sure I hydrate and eat, get to the gym by 5:00 am and workout. Then I go to work. I do brick training on the weekends”

Are there other athletes that inspire you?

“Katie Ledecky, an awesome swimmer, has an amazing work ethic and strong mental focus. Heather Jackson, former teacher turned triathlete. Always makes the podium. I learn a lot about technique and form by watching her on the bike and run during races. 
Laila Ali, I find her fascinating. She acquired some mad skills from her Dad and helped pave the way for women in the sport of boxing.”

Who are some of the biggest influences in your life and how have they impacted you?

“My Mom...

I lost her to cancer when I was 25. She taught me how to be strong. She was my rock. I miss her every single day.

What achievements are you most proud of?

“My daughter. I often joke that she is the one thing in life I got right!”

What is something that people would be surprised to know about you?

“I can make an awesome pizza and a hell of a Chicken Sorrento!  I worked in various Italian restaurant/pizza places in Pennsylvania and New Jersey in my early 20’s. I paid my way through college with these jobs. The relationships I made in the restaurant industry were invaluable. I worked with some amazing people and we still manage to stay connected.

I also played pool on a womens league for the APA (American Poolplayers Association).”

What is the next big goal for you?

Trench Sports - Heather McAlinn

"Motivating others.

I plan to continue with exercise instruction part time. At my current job, I am working towards completion of an Effective Coaching Pathways program.  Additionally, I would like to continue education in Tang Soo Do. 

Is there anyone person, or group of people, you want to inspire?

“Those who are sick with MS and going through daily struggles similar to mine or even worse. If I can give one person out there hope, it is worth it. I want to set a good example for my daughter. I hope to inspire her to live her best life and not let anything hold her back. Follow passions. Also, inspiring the fitness community to not let setbacks hold you back.

If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you.

Keep moving forward. Progress not perfection.”

Is there a message you would like to get out to the world?

“Live each day like it’s your last. Tell people you love them. Listen to others. Give! Never forget where you came from. Don’t let challenges stop you from living your life and reaching goals. Believe in yourself. If it wasn’t for bad days, we wouldn’t appreciate the good ones.”

If you could do anything in life and know that you WOULD FAIL at it what would you do?  In other words, what do you love to do so much that you wouldn’t care that you would fail at it and you would do it anyway?

“Dancing! I don’t dance very well. I dance like no one is watching. I am pretty sure I will continue to fail and do this anyway haha!”

Trench Sports - Heather McAlinn

Heather is currently raising money for the National Stem Cell Foundation through the Ironman Foundation.  She is determined to help others by raising money for stem cell research, donate below.

So if you have read this entire article and still can’t find the motivation to get off the couch and pursue your own personal best then maybe you should reach out to Heather yourself.  She is an inspiration to all.

Trench Sports - Heather McAlinn

Connect with Heather

Instagram: @heather_kickstart_fitness

Heather McAlinn - Ironman Foundation
Donate to Heather's cause now.  Click here for the Ironman Foundation's page to raise money for the National Stem Cell Research Foundation.

Heather's Sponsors

Heather McAlinn - TriDot

Heather McAlinn - Just Strong