Athlete Spotlight: Jeff Fine


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Jeff Fine, 39, was born in Boston and currently lives in Chicago with his dog Wrigley. The busy advertising executive started running in 2009, ran his first marathon in 2009, completed his first triathlon in 2011, and since has done three 70.3’s and two IRONMAN races (Wisconsin, 2014 and Louisville, 2015). He began training individually with Coach Amanda this year after working with her years prior through the Chicago Endurance Sports program. 


Jeff and Wrigley


Tell us about your athletic background prior to running/triathlon and how you got involved in the sport.

I was far from athletic growing up and didn’t play sports in high school or college. I started running 6 years ago to get in shape and stay in shape. My first race ever was a 5K New Years Resolution Run. Throughout 2009, I started running and was constantly running faster and farther. I still remember the first time I ran double digits – the Solder Field 10 Mile. The Chicago marathon in 2009 was my first marathon (I have run 7), the first time I considered myself a “runner”, and I was hooked.

The next year (2010) I got injured (like most runners) and started swimming as a way to cross train and stay in shape while injured. I enjoyed swimming, even though I wasn’t particularly good at it. In 2011, my friend Wendy was training for the Chicago Triathlon and she convinced me to do an open water swim with her. I rented a wetsuit and we swam 2 miles my first time in Lake Michigan. (Yes, my friends make me do crazy things). That afternoon, I bought my first bike ever (a road bike) and did my first triathlon about two months later.


Which is the strongest/favorite of the three sports? Which is the most challenging?

My strongest of the sports is swimming. When I first met Coach Amanda in 2013, she made some minor corrections to my stroke that made a huge difference in my efficiency. Since I started working one-on-one with her this year, we have been focusing on form and that has again led to some more huge improvements. I spent much of the off season lifting, and all of my strength gains are directly transferable to increased power in my stroke. I joke with my trainer “big shoulders for Big Shoulders" (an open water swim race I am doing in September). One of my favorite things to do in Chicago in the summer is to head to Lake Michigan early in the morning and swim as the sun is rising. The water is usually calm at sunrise – it is peaceful, quiet and absolutely beautiful.

My weakest is biking. I didn’t own my first bike [ever!] until 2011, so by virtue of being so new to that discipline, it is my weakest. Living in the city makes biking difficult – I have to drive 45 minutes to the suburbs to safely ride outside. I spend a lot of time on the trainer for the sake of safety and convenience. That being said, all of the time riding indoors has unquestionably made me a stronger cyclist.


Describe one race that stands out in your mind as a favorite, most challenging, or most memorable

My first IRONMAN – IRONMAN Wisconsin (2014) was the best day of my life. Period. I had spent almost nine months training for the single day and it was all worth it to cross that finish line. I loved every moment of the 140.6 mile journey; looking at my race pictures, I am smiling in every single one. I had made so many sacrifices in my life for training – weekends away from home for training, not going out so I could wake up at 4 am, late night swims, early morning trainer rides, drives to Madison. To experience the last .2 mile run of an IRONMAN, it becomes unquestionably worth it.

As we enter April, the endurance world focuses its attention on the iconic Boston Marathon. I feel incredibly fortunate to have run that race three times, including 2013 [the year of the bombings]. We move on, but we can never forget that day. As someone who has run on those hallowed streets and as someone born and raised in Boston - I’d be remiss for not acknowledging its special place in my heart.



What is it like working with Coach Amanda?

It has been great working with Coach Amanda! I’ve seen significant gains in my swimming and moderate gains in my biking and running in just the two months since we started working together. The workouts are challenging, but they are also fun (well, most of them!) and varied. An important goal for me this year is to rebuild after my last IRONMAN and start to prepare for my next one in 2017 – so giving my body a bit of a break from the over-the-top training required for a full, but also focusing heavily on strength training this year. She’s also great about incorporating “life” into training and being realistic. It is important to have goals in your training and working with your coach to put together a training plan that can meet those goals.


With Coach Amanda at the start of IM Wisconsin in 2014


How do you fit training in with life and work? Any tips for others?

Morning workouts are the easiest way – nothing else on my calendar at 5:30 am! A morning workout is less likely to be derailed by work, happy hour, or questionable lunch decisions. I will do as much as I can the night before (pull out clothes, set the coffee maker, inflate my tires, etc) to make the morning as easy as possible.

Flexibility and consistency are the key with long course triathlon training – thunderstorm the morning you have an open water swim planned – do a pool swim or trainer ride planned later in the week. It is no one single workout – it’s the cumulative build of hundreds of hours of training.
A short workout is better than no workout! Fit in workouts where you can – 30 minutes of weights at lunch, running my commute home – are easy ways to sneak in workouts without detracting from my work or personal time.

It’s important to be honest with yourself (and your coach!) about what’s realistic – if you know you are going to be out of town, move your rest day around or ask your coach to build it into your schedule. Better to skip an easy session than miss your big brick workout for the week.
Easy days are just that – EASY. Not every workout is supposed to kill you – sometimes an easy run or easy ride is just that – easy.

Take care of your body and listen to your body – I am a MUCH smarter athlete than I was seven years ago. I know the early signs of injury and when to take it easy (or to know when I’m tired and just need to train through it). And recovery is when the gains are made.


What are your goals for the 2016 race season?

My “A” Race for the Year is Steelhead 70.3 in August. I had an awful race there last year and am looking for some huge redemption and a big PR. I will also be racing Vineman 70.3 in Sonoma – and maybe having some fun in Wine Country too! I will also be doing Big Shoulders 3.1 mile Open Water Swim – my longest open water swim race ever.

This year is also about building the foundation for my 3rd Ironman in 2017. I am keeping this season short so I can take a little time off in the fall before I start ramping up in December.
This year, I am making a huge commitment to strength training. In the past, I have felt burned out [or injured] during the huge Ironman builds because my body was not strong enough to support that volume of training. I spent the off season with my trainer Ashleigh focusing on building core and leg strength (kettlebells and deadlifts!!) and continuing that into the season.
Coach Amanda has included strength as the fourth discipline in my training plan to keep me healthy and build power for the other three disciplines. I’ve made some huge strength gains in the last 6 months and am looking forward to them paying off this summer. Strong in the winter = PRs in the summer!


What have you learned through the sport?

First and foremost, so many of many of my closest friends in Chicago have come through triathlons and running. Secondly, as epitomized by my two IRONMAN races, you can do anything you put your mind too. With hard work and dedication, anything is possible. Finally – living healthy is a lifestyle I hope to support for decades to come. Healthy living is also balance. As my friends know, I do love my desserts - and there is certainly room on my plate for that cookie and a glass of wine alongside my chicken and sweet potatoes.

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