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Racing for Herself and Inspiring Others in Endurance Sports – Phaedra Culley

Racing for Herself Phaedra Culley How It All Started for Run Tri Bike Magazine
Phaedra Culley
Year started: 2016
Next race: January 14th / Rock n Roll AZ 10k / Phoenix, AZ
Favorite gear:

Hoka Shoes & Snake & Pig goggles

In a world that often pushes us to conform to societal norms and expectations, Phaedra Culley is a shining example of someone who is racing for herself. Phaedra races to her own rhythm, inspired not by external pressures, but by her own health journey and the desire to motivate others to embrace endurance sports. Named after a Nancy Sinatra song, Phaedra’s story is a testament to the power of determination and the pursuit of wellness, regardless of age or circumstances.

Family and Loss: The Catalyst for Change

Phaedra’s journey into the world of endurance sports began in 2016, at the age of 46, a time when most people might be contemplating slowing down. Her husband had been invited by his brother to participate in triathlons, and she had friends who were already engaged in these races. Fearing the potential loss of her husband to the sport, Phaedra decided to join in on the adventure, turning triathlons into a family affair.

However, her decision to embrace endurance sports was not solely about family bonding. Two years before her foray into triathlons, Phaedra experienced a personal loss that spurred her into action. Her mother passed away at the age of 65, following in the footsteps of her grandmother who had also passed away at a young age. Faced with this family history of early mortality, Phaedra was determined to take control of her own health.

Starting Over As A Master: Phaedra’s Super Sprint Triathlon

At the age of 46, with a fairly sedentary lifestyle and three children to care for, Phaedra’s body bore the scars of past overtraining. Nonetheless, she chose to start with a super sprint triathlon, a decision that she describes as naive. She did not have an idea of what it would take to complete the event but she moved forward anyway. Vividly recalling ‘dying’ at 25 meters in the pool during her training but when she looked up training plans, they started with an easy 4×50 warmup. So, she just went for it, starting small, and eventually found comfort in the water. There were many moments when she wondered what she had gotten herself into. This was especially when confronted with the complexities of swim pacing. As Phaedra tells us, ‘I had no clue what these words were when I started.’ Throw in the fact that her first race was completed on an old mountain bike and you can see how triathlon seemed daunting.

Swim training was an entirely foreign concept, and she had no clue about the drills that seasoned athletes utilized. As a result, Phaedra found herself in physical therapy to address the challenges she faced. Despite the pre-race jitters and the inevitable post-race question of “why did I do this,” Phaedra’s determination led her to sign up for the next event in September, only months after her first super sprint triathlon in April.


The ‘Fair-Weather Athlete’: Phaedra’s Approach to Racing

Phaedra humorously labels herself a “fair-weather athlete,” acknowledging that she doesn’t possess the unwavering dedication required to race a 70.3-mile triathlon. However, she revels in the thrill of sprint triathlons, finding them both fun and challenging. These events help to keep her consistently active, which is most important.

Now in her 50s, Phaedra is not easily influenced by the relentless pursuit of doing more or grinding it out. Her goals are simple but powerful: to finish races and not finish last. These objectives serve as motivating forces, compelling her to keep pushing herself to achieve them. By prioritizing these goals Phaedra proves that racing for herself takes the top podium spot. Her race schedule typically consists of 2-3 sprint triathlons each year, along with a few 5ks and 10ks.Β 

Overcoming Life’s Obstacles: Phaedra’s Resilience

Phaedra’s ability to overcome obstacles is not limited to the triathlon course. As a child, her step-dad was her role model and provided stability to her life after her mother remarried. Despite this she persevered, becoming a teacher despite the low pay and long hours which provided the same type of stability she received from her step-dad for her family.

In the world of endurance sports since 2016, Phaedra has encountered her fair share of injuries. However, she draws on the lessons she learned from teaching – the value of persistence and consistency – to motivate her to continue training instead of lounging on the couch with a cup of coffee. Today, she stands stronger and healthier than in her earlier years. This is an example of the power of endurance sports.

Advice for Beginners: Phaedra’s Words of Wisdom

For those starting their endurance sports journey, she offers valuable advice: prioritize strength training and mobility exercises. Many of her injuries were a result of weak muscles and rushing back into training without proper preparation. These two components are essential to getting started in triathlon if you are over 50. She emphasizes that expensive gear is not a prerequisite. Instead, she encourages beginners to borrow equipment and ensure they enjoy the sport before making significant investments.

Phaedra also believes that races should be more accessible. She fondly remembers her first triathlon, which cost her only $60. She hopes that race organizers can offer more affordable events, making endurance sports accessible to a wider audience.

Phaedra Culley’s Endurance Sports Legacy: Racing For Herself

Phaedra Culley’s story is a reminder that endurance sports are not limited by age, past experiences, or societal pressures. Racing for herself, she continues to inspire others to take control of their health and well-being. Her journey serves as a testament to the transformative power of endurance sports. The importance of pursuing one’s passion regardless of external expectations is her guiding light.

Phaedra emphasizes that endurance sports are hard but she participates for a number of reasons. Signing up for races, keeps her in motion. Beyond that she uses social media to stay inspired. If that weren’t enough, Phaedra has joined a club to stay encouraged to continue to pursue her dreams. Endurance sports are hard but by showing up consistently, you give yourself a chance to push through. 25 meters in a pool one day is an Olympic distance triathlon the next. A 1 mile bike ride at the start will become a 2 hour ride. Keep showing up for yourself and prove to yourself that you can do it.

So, the next time you contemplate trying something new, remember Phaedra’s story. Allow her story to be the inspiration you need to take that first step towards a healthier and more fulfilling life.

As an example of being an inspiration, Phaedra is inspiring herself. She has registered for the 2024 Mesa Half-Marathon. Phaedra will be racing for herself after being inspired by herself. Follow her lead and get started. You never know what your capable of unless you start.