Secret Lives of Triathletes: Mike Nickel and Logan Turner


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Triathletes are encouraged to explore different activities in their off season. For athletes Mike Nickel and Logan Turner, that means the sport of Curling. Mike and Logan train with Coach Amanda Leibovitz; Coach Amanda and each of the Team MPI coaches design training to fit with the individual sports, activities, and "Secret Lives" of each athlete. 

Mike, Coach Amanda, and Logan


Tell me a bit about your involvement in triathlon - when you began and some of the highlights of that sport for you.

Mike: I got into triathlon after Logan signed up for a super-sprint. At first I thought she was crazy for even attempting that. Once I saw how much she enjoyed training for it, I had to try it too (are you seeing the pattern here?). Since then I've done a lot of Sprint and Olympic races, in addition to four half-Ironman races and one full-Ironman.

Logan: I can't remember where I got the idea exactly, but I must have seen an ad somewhere for the Fleet Feet SuperSprint in Chicago. We were just settling in to married life in 2007 and I was looking for some way to stay active in the summer. Something about the challenge of a triathlon seemed really exciting. It was a way to push myself that wasn't just lacing up and going for a run. I had a bike, I liked to swim and run, so why not?

There have been tons of ups and downs over the years. I have experienced crushing self-doubt and exhilarating satisfaction. The sport is so nuanced in that you can improve across any and all of the four disciplines, and it kept me coming back for more. It also became something Mike and I did together, which has given us a mutual outlet for stress and a way to cheer for and push each other to grow.


What were your sports growing up?

Mike: I played the usual kids team sports growing up (soccer, baseball, basketball, etc.), but I wasn't particularly good at any of them. I also swam on a local swim team and studied taekwondo. I found much more success with the individual sports which surely played into my later love of triathlon.

Logan: I was a dancer for most of my life, and so discipline and hard work were a daily focus from the time I was 6 years old. I learned that effort begets results. Time at the barre is what forms the foundation for good performances. When I was in high school I was on the dance team and the synchronized swimming team, but hated running or swimming laps. I didn't really know how to be in a pool without holding my breath and flipping upside down. Until I moved to Chicago I don't think I had ridden a bike or run a mile in more than a decade. Three years later I was running fairly regularly (after a couple trials of getting through Couch to 5K), but that was the only base for our triathlon experiment!


How did you get involved in the sport of curling?

Mike: We started curling in 2014. We were sitting around watching the Olympics, and decided that we needed to try it for ourselves. We looked up our local curling club, tried it, and were immediately hooked. Actually, she tried it, and was so excited about it that I also signed up for a league before I ever got on the ice; then I was immediately hooked. In addition to regular leagues at the Chicago Curling Club, we also go to out of town tournaments, known as bonspiels. We usually go to 3 or 4 bonspiels each season at various clubs. I actually spent a recent weekend at a bonspiel in Racine Wisconsin. Having done IM 70.3 Racine twice, it was rather fun having my winter and summer sports collide.

Logan: I went to the last Learn 2 Curl of the season at the Chicago Curling Club and signed us both up. We arranged for a lesson and then snagged two spots in the Monday night league. The season runs October-April every year, with leagues playing 7 days a week in 3 sessions (October-December; January-March; March-April). We typically play anywhere from 2-4 leagues each session. We are...committed. :)


Curling seems to tap into a different physical and mental skill set than triathlon with the precision required. Is that the case? Does switching up sports for half a year keep everything fresh?

Mike: Triathlon being more of a gross motor sport, and curling being more about fine motor precision, they definitely tap into different physical skills, but there is some overlap both physically and mentally. Delivering stones requires a strong core muscles (hips especially) to generate power in the delivery and to sustain that deep lunge. A strong core goes a long way in all disciplines of triathlon. Sweeping, on the other hand is a wholly unique movement pattern. You use similar muscles to swimming, but in a very different way. Sweeping is max-effort work for 15-25 seconds at a time, and by the end of a game that can feel like an eternity. Like digging deep on a tough climb, you often have to tell your body to just shut up and perform.

Staying mentally focused in the moment is also critical in both sports. Being able to "let go" of a bad shot, and not allow it affect your next next one is critical. Just as missed shots are going to happen in curling, not every race is going to go exactly according to plan. Whether it's getting kicked in the face in the swim or flatting on the bike, something will inevitably go wrong in a race.

By focusing on the process and being present in the moment, we can re-focus our efforts and move forward successfully. As something of a side-note here, the mental side is so important in curling, that most elite, world-class teams don't work with a coach, but rather a sports psychologist. They are constantly working on their mental game, and that's often the difference that separates the champions from everyone else.

Logan: I do think curling is more mentally challenging and engaging. In triathlons, I'm certainly always thinking and analyzing, but I tend to be more focused on body awareness. In curling, my mind is focused on the game and what the rocks and the ice are doing. It's all externally focused, which is a nice change of pace. The thing I love about curling is that for those 2 hours I don't think of anything else but the game. On the flip side, I love running and swimming because I'm alone with my thoughts. So the two sports complement each other well!


That sounds like a very busy schedule. Do you keep up with aspects of triathlon training during your curling season?

Mike: I absolutely train for triathlon during the curling season. This year, I have IM 70.3 Florida on my calendar in April, which is right at the end of the curling season. Training through curling season can get pretty crazy at times. Between curling at night and training in the morning (not to mention general adult-ing), it can sometimes feel like I'm burning the proverbial candle from both ends. Managing my schedule, and being able to build fitness during the curling season, all played into my decision to hire a coach in the first place. Together, Coach Amanda and I figure out how to make it all work.

Logan: It is a tough balancing act, for two reasons. First, curling leads to late nights. We're either going straight from work and not getting home until 10pm, or stopping home for a bit and playing the late draw which means not getting home until after midnight. The other reason is that curling relies on camaraderie in the form of broomstacking, where we buy each other post-game drinks. It definitely can throw a wrench in your diet and sleep schedule, and it makes it hard to squeeze in workouts.


What equipment is involved in curling? Are people just as fanatical about their curling equipment as say, triathletes are about their bikes?

Mike: Great question! No, we're not as fanatical about our curling equipment. We have much less invested in our curling equipment than we do our bikes. The equipment's relatively straightforward. It's just shoes and brooms. In order to to slide smoothly on the ice, curling shoes have a thick teflon "slider" on one shoe, and extra soft, grippy rubber on the other one. When not delivering, we keep a removable rubber "gripper" on our slide shoe. We also use a special broom (which is really more like a fancy carbon-fiber swiffer than a broom). While most just hold a broom for balance, some people use a stabilizer to lean on and help with balance during the delivery. Having a stabilizer is totally optional. Also optional: amazing pants (if you don't know what I mean, google it. They're glorious). [Editor's's really worth seeing what he means by glorious curling pants]

Logan: I will say that some people can be very particular about curling equipment, but the costs are not as large. Some people use multiple brooms or will customize broom heads and shoes to their liking. But no one is really spending thousands of dollars on equipment like in triathlon. We do spend a lot on dues, travel and bonspiel fees (and beer), however.


Any interesting parallels or contrasts between triathlon and curling? Does your tri training help you with curling?

Mike: I'm sure there is some carryover with general fitness, but curling demands a lot from small, stabilizer muscles - muscles that are often neglected during the triathlon season. The first few games of the year always hurt. Until the muscles have some time to develop, soreness is fully expected. The good news is that muscles that we spend all winter developing certainly help us at the start of the summer!

Logan: I agree with Mike!


What are your goals for both curling and triathlon in the coming year?

Mike: My curling goals are largely the same as my triathlon goals. I'm not going to the Olympics in either sport. I'm just out to have fun, keep active, and get better. There's always something to improve. Whether it's something huge--like taking an hour or two off of my Ironman time, or tiny--like improving the way I let go of a curling stone, there's always something to work on. Self-improvement is always a goal in whatever I'm doing.

Logan: My goals for curling are to improve my skills. I'm always looking to get better at judging rock weight both in my delivery and as a sweeper. My goals for triathlon are to improve my run performance and nutrition strategy to PR at the 70.3 distance.


Anything else you'd like to share?

Mike: There are curling clubs all over the country (I grew up a few miles from one and never knew). I'd encourage anyone who's interested to look it up, and go out and give it a try! It's a crazy sport that can be frustrating and humbling, but ultimately it's tons of fun.

Logan: I think that covers it!

We are tired too, just reading about all that Logan and Mike do! 


All the best to Mike and Logan in their curling and triathlon seasons!

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