How Aylette Overcame Injuries, Grew Strong, and Started Winning Gold Medals

“See! Even runners should be strength training!”

I couldn’t help but think this when speaking to Aylette. Now granted, I’ve been on the record countless times promoting Team Strength Training.

However, Aylette is living proof of the benefit of growing strong. There was a time when Aylette would constantly hurt herself while running, where “anything I was doing was leading to injuries and I felt frustrated and really sad about it.”

I know how Aylette feels.

Getting hurt sucks, and it’s depressing to have to take a break from the exercise you love because your body just can’t take it anymore.

It was during such a recovery period that Aylette decided to get more focused instruction. She hoped to find a out of her “train, get injured, recover, repeat” cycle that she was trapped in.

Aylette is a long time Nerd Fitness reader, past Camp NF attendee, and even came to my book tour stop back in 2016!

I’m very honored she has been able to find tremendous success as part of our 1-on-1 Online Coaching Program –  her coach Staci worked hard to build a strength training routine to help Aylette become “antifragile.”

She has been with the program for the past 18 months and these days Aylette is back to running and crushing it.

She just ran a half marathon in less than two hours.

Right before that, she came in 1st place for her division in a sprint triathlon.

The best part? No injuries to speak of.

But you don’t need to hear all about this from me. Let’s bring in Aylette!

HOW AYLETTE GREW STRONG, EARNED GOLD MEDALS, AND LEVELLED UP HER LIFE

STEVE: Hey Aylette! Thanks so much for taking the time to do this interview with us – it’s great to chat with you again!

What I think is great about your story is how you overcame a pattern of injuries by deliberately deciding to grow stronger. Can you tell us a little about that?

AYLETTE: I’ve always loved working out. For a while, I bounced between going to my local CrossFit gym and running on the weekends.

But I kept getting injured.

It seems like I’d hurt myself one way or another, recover, get back to it…then I’d get hurt again.

This happened over and over and over.

I was losing motivation on what workouts to do. I kept getting injured and was feeling stressed out that I couldn’t do the things I wanted to do.

STEVE: Yikes! Yeah, getting hurt is never fun. I’ve had to slow down my training in the past to deal injuries too, so I know how disheartening it can be.

What made you pull the trigger on NF Coaching?

AYLETTE: I had recently injured myself running (again, ugh) and was also starting to feel pain in my elbow, making CrossFit difficult.

I was really bummed about having to take a break from running and I was on the verge of just quitting CrossFit. When I saw the coaching opportunity announced, I jumped on it.

I love to work out – at that moment I just wanted someone to tell me what to do. I felt like anything I was doing was leading me to injuries and I felt frustrated and really sad about it. It’s just not like me to flounder.

I wanted to set goals and achieve them.

I’ve always liked signing up for a race then training to beat my time. Or training to hit a new weightlifting PR (personal record). These random injuries prevented me from doing so and I didn’t know what to do anymore.

STEVE: I’m honored you decided to reach out to us for help. You’ve been working with Staci, our Head Female Trainer, and an overall badass powerlifter.

What did your recovery process look like?

AYLETTE: Well I had taken a year off of running to deal with my injury.

However,  instead of sitting around waiting to heal, Staci and I created a plan to start powerlifting.

Which is actually what my physical therapist advised I do. To develop muscle and strength to spur healing and also prevent injury in the future.

This was a big mindset shift for me.

My default position would have been to completely rest and assume I can’t do anything. Instead, Coach Staci looked at the recommendations from my physical therapist and created a workout for me.

For example, the sports doctor told me I needed to strengthen my gluteus medius and I mentioned that to Staci and she added that into my routine as well. This was super helpful. I personally feel this helped my recovery process.

STEVE: That’s amazing! It really is important to stay active in any way you can after an injury, plus growing strong is always a smart move. I’m glad you took the advice of your PT and created and executed a plan with Staci.

What was your workout strategy like? What did Staci have you start doing?

AYLETTE: Initially we started strength training at the gym down the street.

I liked using the barbells there for deadlifts and squats.

However, time management is an issue for me.

I was balancing dating, my dog, living alone, a full-time job, cooking, working out – all the things.

It was so hard. Staci gave me so many great tips that have helped majorly. I’m at a great place with balancing things and can stick to the workout schedule.

For example, Staci took inventory of my surroundings and advised I start working out from my building’s gym.

We decided getting dressed in a coat, boots, and then walking to the gym in the morning is a little too much. I live in Chicago, so you just can’t walk out the door unprepared. In the winter, you’ll freeze!

There is a gym in my building with dumbbells and basic machines and we’ve been using those for strength training. It sounds silly but I just never thought about utilizing the space. I just always preferred barbells.

But now I’ll do Bulgarian split squats, goblet squats, dumbbell Romanian deadlifts, dumbbell bench press, hip thrusts, lat pulldowns, all sorts of things. I never really used dumbbells this much before – now I have a new appreciation for them.

Even better, I don’t have to leave my building! I much prefer this compared to the extra 30 min to walk to and from the gym, get out of my winter gear, etc.

It’s so important to communicate with my coach – they seem to always have a solution!

STEVE: I hear ya! As someone who also has an online coach, I’ve also learned to over communicate so they can help you with the problems you don’t even realize you have.

Staci has shared with me that you are back to running, which is super awesome to hear! How’s it going hitting the pavement again?

AYLETTE: Yes! I am back to running.

When I started NF Coaching it was more about strength training and hitting PRs with deadlifts, squats, and the bench press.

Which was so much fun!  

Then last summer (2018), I realized I missed triathlons and running and talked to Coach Staci about that. So we switched up my goals.

I actually joined a triathlon training group – CES (Chicago Endurance Sports) and met with them twice a week because I was also looking for the social aspect. It’s fun being around people with similar goals!

Staci made a plan around the days I met with them so I was able to do both NF Coaching and run/bike/swim with them twice a week!

I will admit I met someone towards the end of last year that also loves to race. Together we ended up signing up for a lot of races in 2019. It’s even more fun when you have someone to share these things with!

Here are some highlights of progression over the past year:

  • May 2017 – 3.5 mile race: 29:33 (8:26 min/mile). Right before I started coaching. Then the next day my hip/glutes were in so much pain and this was when I stopped running, quit CrossFit and joined NF Coaching.
  • Summer 2018 – My happy running pace was a 10:00 min/mile – sometimes I ran around a 9:30 pace.
  • November 2018 – 10K race: 56:35 (9:06 min/mile), but this was tough. Just the improvements I’ve made from November to today are unreal.
  • March 2019 – 8K race: 41:50 (8:25 min/mile). Huge difference from November after focusing more on running.
  • May 2019 – Same 3.5 mile race from 2017: 27:50 (7:57 min/mile!!). Not only that, I jumped right back into my workout routines because I feel so GREAT!
  • May 2019 Sprint Triathlon – 1:36 – I placed 1st in my division! I’ve done a few sprint triathlons but I’ve never felt this prepared for one!
  • June 2019 San Diego Half Marathon – 1:56:54!!! (8:56 min/mile). New PR. It was also filled with hills. I finished in the top 10% of females. Unbelievable!

Most importantly, what has kept me progressing is all the consistent strength training. It’s given me such an incredible baseline for running and all sports. The PRs I’m able to reach are amazing.

Best of all, I’ve been injury free!

I’m doing races and just need a few days to rest off some sore legs and I’m ready to go again. That’s it! So often I see runners feeling pain or injuring something (I’ve been there as well) and I’m so happy that all the work I did the past year has gotten me to where I am now.

I’m doing all this stuff and I feel so GREAT.

STEVE: That’s incredible Aylette! I’m so happy that you’re back to doing what you love. Even more importantly, you’re not hurting yourself while doing it.

Plus, it’s pretty sweet to come in 1st place during a race. Great work.

Alright, let’s switch gears a little here. Do you follow any kind of nutrition strategy? What are you eating to fuel your running?

Aylette: Nutrition is definitely still ongoing for me, but the main thing here is awareness. I’m much more aware of what I’m eating and how it affects me.

I need breakfast. If I don’t I’m not happy and I’ll eat worse throughout the day.

Staci gave me a simple idea of leaving yogurt, fruit, and granola at work. If I’m ever running behind in the morning, I can have that instead of eating the random snacks at the office which don’t fill me up and make me feel worse.

Sometimes I’ll count my calories out of curiosity of where I’m at. I like numbers and enjoy getting into the details of eating a certain amount of protein, etc. I did this more often when my goals were around powerlifting, but right now I just don’t feel like making the time for it.

However, I am more aware of how much protein I’m getting per meal because I know what a portion of 30g looks like.

I’ve learned now to aim for a good protein source with each meal, starting with breakfast. I’m also more conscious of portion sizes in general.

Staci gave me some great recipes that are quick, easy, and nutritious – quick is key for me because I’d rather not spend too much time cooking.

All of these little things have definitely added up! I didn’t fully realize I lost 10lbs until I noticed some summer dresses fit looser. I’ve been enjoying what I’m doing so much and just focusing on little things nutrition-wise that here I am. 🙂

STEVE: I’m proud of you Aylette. That’s exactly what we tell people here at Nerd Fitness: focus on the process and the results will come. If you do the reverse and focus on the results, you might get impatient and you forget about the process itself!

What’s a typical day for you like now? Workouts, diet strategy, and so on. Give us the details!

AYLETTE: I easily wake up every morning to work out. It’s a part of my routine like brushing my teeth.

I love starting my morning this way. Often I’ll wake up at 4:30-5:00 to get in my workouts, get ready for work, walk my dog, etc. After work, I’ll take my dog on a long walk and go to sleep early.

The difference now is that I’m more consistent with working out – I rest Monday mornings and “sleep in” until 6:00am at the latest.

The rest of the week I’m up early. Weekends I’ll still wake up fairly early too.

It feels great to get a good workout in at the start of the day, as it puts me in a great mood overall.

I’ve also learned to say no to more social activities or only do them when they don’t interfere too much with my training.

I’ve experimented a lot with workout times and workout days and what works best on what day. It’s all trial and error.

I’ve tried working out after leaving the job office and also late at night and neither of those strategies are for me. Monday mornings are the morning I’m most likely to skip a workout so that day has become my rest day.

All this took time to figure out. But it’s important to adjust to what works best for you.

I eat Greek yogurt with fruit or granola for breakfast or protein pancakes. Lately, I’m all about these protein pancakes after a good workout.

Lunch and dinner vary: it’s usually based around chicken or salmon (because I like both):

  • Salmon, veggies, potatoes
  • Chicken, rice, veggies
  • Salad with chicken or salmon

Because of all the cardio I’m doing I’ve also been eating pasta as well – but I make sure to keep the portions under control.

I’m more aware of what I need. I need carbs – I do a lot of cardio. Also, protein. I really try to get in a good amount of protein each meal.

Still, there’s lots to work on – I love pizza 🙂 But I’m not stressing about it when I eat it or other things.

STEVE: Good for you Aylette. I too love pizza, and like you, I’m so diligent most the time that I eat it guilt free when I do.

What’s been the most important change you’ve made since joining NF Coaching?

AYLETTE: My close friend said what she noticed I’m no longer pushing myself so hard that I end up sick or injured. I’ve learned to listen to my body and do what’s best for me now.

I’ve signed up for many races this year, BUT I have such an excellent baseline after strength training consistently with Staci and gradually increasing my cardio training.

This year is going so well because the previous year we prepped my body to be able to do all these races. Previous me would have signed up for all the things and then worn myself out and as usual end up in physical therapy again.

It’s being able to dream big, but being patient to get there.

STEVE: Slows consistency pays off every time. You are living proof of this, my friend.

Okay, real talk: NF Coaching isn’t cheap. You’ve been a client for a year and a half. What makes you stick with it and keep investing in yourself?

AYLETTE: I have nothing but good things to say about the program.

This actually isn’t my first time with a trainer. I lived in Italy for six years and found a personal trainer while I was there. He was awesome and the price was also very reasonable. But today, I live in Chicago, and the personal trainers are beyond my price range for what I’m looking for.

It’s different for everyone.

I do not need someone to get me to a gym. I was looking for someone to make a plan for me and help me get to my goals. This sort of online setup works really well for me. I’ve even sent Staci weightlifting videos of myself when I have any questions, then she gives me tips from there. This whole coaching process is so excellent.

I also LOVE the flexibility.

Looking back I’ve changed my goals a lot. In the beginning it was more about strength training. Which was so much fun!

Then last summer I realized I missed triathlons and running and talked to Staci about that. So we switched goals.

I love my workouts and I’m never bored. I just feel happier overall because I’m doing things I really enjoy doing.

Also, I feel incredibly confident in my ability to try any sort of sport. I feel really strong and prepared to do anything.

I went on an incredible hike for over 14 miles (a very difficult one) and the next day did another long hike no problem (in Yosemite). I went snowboarding and felt fine the next day to workout more. Overall I just feel so awesome!

This year I’m going to Glacier National Park and I plan on doing a week filled with long difficult hikes but I know my body is prepared for it. So excited!

STEVE: Staci told me you were “crushing it” and in talking with you I can see that so clearly. Keep up the momentum Aylette!

Do you have any advice for someone who might be just starting their fitness journey or someone who has yet to decide to make a change?

AYLETTE: I do:

Find what you like!

If you don’t like running, don’t do it.

Same with nutrition. If you can’t eat the same thing every day, don’t. It’s supposed to be a lifestyle change – not a quick change to lose 20lbs as fast as possible.

Small changes will add up. Dedicating two years to make a change that will last a lifetime is so much more valuable than quick changes, with quick results, that only lasts for a short period of time.

Also, everyone starts somewhere. When I first starting running a long time ago I would “run” with a friend. We met a few times a week and I will never forget our excitement when we ran around a city block without stopping. Haha. A city block!

Since then I’ve run a marathon.

Our first goal was to run 5K and to run without stopping- it took over 40 minutes but we did it. Then my friend signed up to do a triathlon – so I joined too. I didn’t even own a bike and I definitely couldn’t swim. I borrowed her husband’s mountain bike and “swam” whatever way I could. It was so much fun!

You don’t need fancy equipment to do your first triathlon, you don’t need an expensive gym to strength train, and you don’t have to eat only chicken and broccoli to lose weight. Dream big, be patient, and let your coach guide you to get you there. 🙂

STEVE: Solid advice: pick goals, do things you like, and be patient.

Alright Aylette, I ask everyone and you’re not getting out of it: what makes you a nerd?

AYLETTE: Video games! Zelda specifically!

I’m a huge Zelda fan ever since A Link to the Past for Super Nintendo. I have still yet to beat Breath of the Wild, but it’s a great game!

I attended a Zelda escape room in Chicago with a friend I met at Camp NF 🙂

STEVE: Okay, we should end on that note, because if I start talking about Breath of the Wild we’ll be here all day.

Aylette, thank you so much for taking the time to speak with us! I wish you all the best in the days and races ahead!

THE 5 KEYS TO AYLETTE’S NEW FOUND STRENGTH AND LEVEL UP SUCCESS

It sucks to have to give up your favorite activity because you get hurt.

It’s happened to me once upon a time.

It happened to Aylette too: she kept getting hurt while running.

Now sometimes, you have to move forward from your injury knowing things will have to be different.

However, other times, there are things you can do to keep progressing.

Aylette discovered she fell into this latter group: there were things she could do to continue her passion.

In speaking with her, I discovered that Aylette had 5 key habits that helped her move forward. 5 key traits that allowed her to keep running, literally.

#1) AYLETTE ASKED FOR HELP

In 2017, Aylette was frustrated:

  • She had just hurt herself yet again from running.
  • She started to experience pain from CrossFit, so that didn’t seem like a sustainable option either.

Disheartened, she was “losing motivation on what workouts to do.”

Luckily, right around this time she saw that Staci was accepting clients as part of NF Coaching. So Aylette signed up!

That’s not the only help Aylette sought. She also went to a physical therapist, to set up a recovery plan.

This is smart.

When we get injured, it’s so easy to assume that nothing can be done about it.

“I’m hurt and that’s just the way it is.”

This isn’t always the case. Oftentimes recovery plans can be created and executed. You just have to talk to the right experts.

  • Aylette’s physical therapist advised what muscles she should focus on strengthening.
  • Aylette’s coach then created a plan to follow through on that advice.

Together these professionals let Aylette know there was something she could do to help break her injury and recovery pattern: she could strength train.

Just because you can’t see a way forward, doesn’t mean one doesn’t exist. If you’re frustrated that your progress and training is stalling, or even reversing, think about asking for some outside assistance. There very well may be some options and solutions, like powerlifting, you haven’t thought of.

Speaking of strength training…

#2) AYLETTE GOT STRONG

One of the best ways to help prevent injury is to grow strong. It’s a point I really strike home in the article “Becoming Antifragile.”

When you pick up heavy weights, you force your body to adapt. Your bones, nervous system, joints, and muscles all need to grow stronger to handle what’s tossed at them.

If you do this consistently, you’re more likely to resist injury because your body has toughened up. Things that might have hurt you in the past no longer will, because you have become “antifragile.”

This is exactly what Aylette did.

Instead of continuing to run, Aylette took a break and dedicated her time to grow stronger.

She would complete:

If you find yourself getting hurt constantly, think about what you can do differently. Maybe injury doesn’t have to be a natural consequence of running. Maybe some time dedicated to lifting weights will help you pursue your love of endurance sports.

No matter what you enjoy doing in life, being strong will help. It’s the reason strength training is my number 1 recommendation for people trying to get fit.

#3) AYLETTE WAS WILLING TO EXPERIMENT

One of the things I truly love about Aylette’s story was her willingness to experiment. She wouldn’t get stuck in the same routine but instead was open to try new things:

  • Aylette worked out in her building’s gym. Time is limited and we are all super busy. Previously, Alyette would go to her gym down the street, sometimes in the morning and sometimes in the evening. But it was hit or miss. Only when she started working out in her building first thing in the morning did everything click.
  • Aylette decided Monday should be a day of rest. Having a set training schedule is key for consistency. Aylette tried different days until she got it right. Monday’s just never worked out (cue Garfield quote), so she decided that instead of fighting her natural instinct, she would rest Mondays and start her training on Tuesday.
  • Aylette tried counting calories. When Aylette was focused on reaching personal records for power lifts, she focused extensively on her diet and counted calories. This is smart because one of the keys to growing proper muscle is eating correctly. But when Aylette’s prioritized shifted, she stopped logging all her food. However, the time spent counting her calories brought awareness of the meals she was eating, knowledge she still has to this day.

It’s okay to try new things. It’s also okay to stop activities and try something else.

Not everything you experiment with has to stick, like working out in the evenings in the gym. But somethings just might, like deciding Monday is an ideal day for rest.

Plus, some activities like learning to count calories will provide benefits to you whether you decide to continue the practice or not. You’ll know roughly how many calories a piece of chicken has just by looking at it.

Try new things. They all don’t have to stick. But you may be surprised what does.

#4) AYLETTE WENT BACK TO HER PASSION

I’m thrilled that Aylette is back to running. It’s clearly something she loves doing.

It was important for Aylette to take some time off, create a plan to grow strong, then execute that plan.

However, it was also important for Aylette to experiment with her passion, to see if strength training helped her ability to run.

It did.

Today Aylette is crushing races, marathons, and hikes. She’s excited for the future, because she is doing something she truly loves.

Plus, establishing goals and setting personal records provides a fire that motivates her to train and to persevere. When it’s early and sleeping in seems so tempting, Aylette is determined to head to the gym and train because she knows there is a race ahead. She needs to be strong for it.

Find things you love to do. Things that will make excited to raise your heart rate. This is how you make your exercise a lifestyle, not something you’re doing temporarily to get in shape.

If you want to be doing an activity years from now, you need to enjoy it today.

I talk about this in our short video “days and years, not weeks and months”:

To achieve permanent results, we need to make permanent habits.  

If you love running, go running!

If you love doing yoga, do yoga!

If you love strength training, strength train! (Actually, do this one anyway.)

#5) AYLETTE FOUND A SUPPORT NETWORK


I often tell people that if you don’t have to go it alone, don’t go it alone.

A group of people supporting you and encouraging you is invaluable. Or as Aylette put it, “It’s fun being around people with similar goals!”

Aylette found a support network in a number of ways:

  • Aylette hired her Yoda. Aylette sought advice and guidance from a physical therapist and an online coach.
  • Aylette joined a triathlon training group. CES (Chicago Endurance Sports) provides Aylette with a sense of community around activities she loves.
  • Aylette has running buddies. Aylette has a friend she runs with, and the person she is dating is also a runner.

There is such a thing as “positive peer pressure!

We often associate peer pressure with negative things: ditching school, drinking, etc.

However, depending on your social group, the influence they have on you can be positive:

“There’s an upcoming half marathon in October. You in?”

“We missed you in class last night. Everything okay?”

“I’m going to spend Sunday batch cooking meals for the week. Want to come over?”

The right group of people around you can steer you into healthy behaviors.

On the flip side, a group of friends can also pressure you into staying out late or just having “one more drink.”

Choose your support network wisely.

HOW TO GET RESULTS LIKE AYLETTE

You don’t have to be a runner to learn from Aylette.

I’m on the record stating I don’t care much for endurance cardio, yet even I can learn a thing or two from this running Rebel.

No matter where you are on your fitness journey, I would encourage you to think about what made Aylette successful:

  • Ask for help. Often times success comes down to asking an expert for advice. Someone who has been where you are and knows how to proceed.
  • Get strong. A strong nerd is a healthy nerd. Even for heavy endurance activities, strength training can be the key to preventing and overcoming injuries.
  • Be open to experimentation. Do you always seem to skip the gym in the evenings and instead head straight home? That’s okay! Maybe you’re like Aylette and you’re a morning person. Try switching it up!
  • Follow your passion. If you love running, keep running! If you don’t, then don’t do it! Finding activities you love is the key to making new habits stick.
  • Create a support network. Friends, family members, and coaches can all be important in your fitness journey. People to offer advice and encouragement when times get tough (and times will get tough). If you don’t have to go it alone, don’t go it alone.

If you related to Aylette’s story, perhaps with injuries to overcome or endurance goals to reach, consider asking for help.

Depending on your situation, I’d love for you to check out our 1-on-1 NF Coaching Program and decide if it’s something you’d like to learn more about.

If you’re trying to work around old injuries, searching for a new way of eating, or want help developing a strength training practice, we know exactly how to get you there. You can learn more by clicking on the big box below and scheduling a free call with our team!

No matter what you decide, if you’re in a pattern that you just can’t seem to break, try something different (#3. Experimentation).

You never know what lies behind a door until you open it. Who knows what you may discover?

Maybe your preferred sport doesn’t have to lead to injuries.

Maybe there’s an expert who has seen this a thousand times before.

Maybe there’s a solution, like dumbbells in the basement, that you’re literally standing on top of.

I’m glad you’re here reading this today. You found your way to our strange corner of the internet and you’re part of the Rebellion (#5. Support Network).

We’ll continue to be here for you tomorrow, next month, and years from now. And who knows, perhaps Aylette’s story will inspire you and it’ll be your story we share here next.

Nothing would make me happier.

For the Rebellion!

-Steve

PS: I want to give a special shoutout to Coach Staci, who helped Aylette return to her passion of running so she could start earning gold medals. Staci has guided and inspired hundreds if not thousands of Rebels and we are very lucky to have her on Team Nerd Fitness.

If you want to see if we can help you level up your life, check out our 1-on-1 Coaching program. We’d love to talk to you, no matter what you end up deciding.

PPS: A quick throw-back to my Roaring 20’s themed Swing Dancing Class/Book tour stop where I met Aylette! And yes, I tied that bow tie myself, thank you very much.

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