Jessica Baxter is a TriDot Coach, IRONMAN Certified Coach, Metabolic Efficiency Level 1 Training Specialist, and six-time IRONMAN. Having completed over 100 races of various lengths, including two 100-mile ultras, she is founder of Baxter Performance, which specializes in metabolic efficiency and optimizing nutrition for optimal health. She is also on the board of directors for Real Life Angels and Competing For Hope and is a three-time race director of Race for the Halo. A resident of Houston, Texas, she and her husband, Keith, have two boys, Austin and Ashton.
Have you always been an athletic person?
As far back as I can remember I’ve always been involved in something athletic. Even in first grade I competed in roller skating competitions. Later on, I had a big love for gymnastics and I was successful in that. I was also on the volleyball team.
There was a span in my late high school years when I wasn’t involved in a whole lot because I was more career based and looking for who I was and what I wanted to do in life. In my mid-twenties I got into weight training. It wasn’t until after my second child that I started running. Up until that point, I hated running. It was so hard.
How did you get involved in triathlon?
I had a girlfriend who was doing sprint triathlons and I was standing from afar admiring her. She’d go to races by herself. She had so much courage. They terrified me. I didn’t know how to swim.
She tried to talk me into doing some with her and we found a race near Austin. It was for women only and was called the Sweet and Twisted Tri. It was a sprint distance. They served Mimosas and cupcakes at the end! My motto became “I tri for cupcakes!”
That was August 2010. I competed on a mountain bike and I had just learned to swim the month before. It was terrifying. I did a lot of flipping over on my back and doggy paddling. I was probably the second-to-last person to finish the swim. But in the end, I was very proud.
What made you continue triathlon after your first race?
I didn’t do another sprint until early the next year and didn’t want to continue on in the distances, but my friend who encouraged me for my first sprint was training for her first half Ironman. I told her I had no desire to do that but I’d be happy to join her in her training. She’s sneaky. I think she purposefully does things like that because she thinks I’ll flip the switch and eventually do it. After months of training, she asked me if I’d like to enter the race with her since I’d already trained for it! I signed up and was hooked on the half distance.
How did you move up to the full Ironman?
I told myself many times that the half distance was where I drew the line. I would never race a full. Then my friend who coaxed me into the first sprint and half invited me and some other girlfriends over for a thank-you dinner for helping her complete her first half. Everyone sitting around the table was excited about training for a full Ironman the next year. It was very inspiring, but I wasn’t going to sign up for it.
In a way, I felt a little left out, like they were on this big adventure and I was going to be left out of it. So my mind started to wonder and ponder. I talked to my husband about it and he said, “You better do it. Absolutely!” I said, “What?! You’re not supposed to be on their side. You’re supposed to talk me out of this!” When it was time to sign up for the race, I had the registration page up on my computer for hours and my husband kept coming in and asking if I had signed up yet. Finally, I pulled the trigger and did it.
What’s the next race you’re training for?
Actually, I was recently selected by IRONMAN’s Women For Tri to represent them at this year’s IRONMAN World Championships in Kona. It’s a tremendous honor! In addition to training for and racing the full distance, I’ll be raising $40,000 for this fantastic non-profit foundation, whose mission is to create awareness and involvement for women in triathlon, provide support to local tri clubs through grants, and offer collegiate triathlon scholarships for female student/athletes. You can Click Here to visit my fundraising site and learn more about my motivations, progress, and overall journey. This will be a huge challenge for me.
You sound like a person who likes to stay busy.
Oh, my goodness, very much so. I’m very involved in many things but I try to put all of myself in each one. I segment out each part of my day, then put myself fully into each part. My mornings are focused on clients and middays are focused on kids. Of course, I’m attentive to my kids all throughout the day. Afternoons are my training time. Evenings are family. And late evenings are clients again. There’s always something going on. I’m so busy, but it’s good.
Do you have any role models, athletic or otherwise?
I really don’t have one athlete that motivates me. I truly find motivation in every single person I talk to who does tri. It doesn’t have to be a pro or elite. It can be an age-grouper. It could be the person who finishes last in a race. I have a friend who finished last in a race and she was a great motivating force in my life. Every single person has a story, if I take the time to listen to it. That’s my inspiration and what motivates me.
What is your greatest tool in overcoming the mental challenges of triathlon?
The finish line. I’ve done a couple of 100-mile runs and they were much harder than any Ironman. So I pull from those. And I think about the most painful experiences I’ve had – physical, emotional, or whatever – and I pull from those. And in the moment of pain, I tell myself, I’ve been through worse than this. I can handle this. Just keep moving. Go one aid station at a time, one light pole, one pedal stroke. Just keep moving because you’ll get to the finish line. It might not be pretty like you planned, but it’s going to happen. And there’s nothing that’s going to stop you.
Sometimes I have to sing to myself or talk to the person next to me while I’m running. Occasionally I listen to music or to the cheers of the crowd – anything to try and get my mind off of it. A lot of times I make ugly faces in the pain. I just grit and grind and get through it. The only mantra I have is, “You’ve going to finish.”
Do you consider yourself a spiritual person?
Very much so, absolutely! I took a course from a girl during my first Ironman and she talked about nature a lot. It’s about mentally grounding yourself when you’re in pain. She called upon nature a lot. I really pull from that. Like when I’m in the water, instead of panicking and freaking out, I focus on the water as nature, and that the water as alive, and that it’s there to protect me. So instead of me fighting it, I let it hold me and grasp me and I go with it.
When I’m out on my bike, I thank God and thank the surroundings around me for allowing me to be out there and a part of it. Most people don’t have the privilege of seeing the world in the way I do.
Whenever I’m not doing this, I feel disconnected. I don’t feel as centered, like I’m not focusing on the internal side of me as much as I should. This sport forces me to center myself and learn something new about myself – to be more spiritual and one with the world and the people around me.
Check in tomorrow for the second part of Jessica’s interview.