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There’s More Than One Way To Skin A Cat (9 Questions for TJ Tollakson)

February 22nd, 2012

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TJ Tollakson wins 2011 Ironman Lake Placid
TJ Tollakson wins 2011 Ironman Lake Placid

“There’s more than one way to skin a cat.”  I know that this means there are several possible ways of achieving something, but I’ve always wondered about the origin of this idiom.  I can’t imagine that there are more than two or three actual ways to skin a cat, which is quite a few less than several. And besides, as everyone knows – a cat has nine lives.  Therefore, even if there are several ways to skin a cat, chances are decent that our feline friend may come out of the process okay.  With this in mind – sort of – and in honor of skinless cats everywhere – I’ve come up with nine questions for some of my athlete friends, that illustrate there are plenty of ways to achieve success in sport and in life.  I hope that their answers help you find your own way.

I was introduced to TJ Tollakson early in his professional triathlon career, and was immediately impressed by his attention to detail and work ethic.  Therefore the success he’s had as a triathlete comes as no surprise to me.  What continues to impress me, though, is how he funnels his passion as an athlete into his business pursuits.  To say that TJ is an innovator is stating the obvious.  Just look at the nut-cups he used as arm rests on his “homemade” aero-bars.  I look forward to watching TJ continue to grow as a competitor and businessman.

TJ Tollakson

1. Triathletes are often considered Jacks-of-all-trades, but a master of none. What are your thoughts on this perception? Triathletes are Jacks-of-all-trades or renaissance athletes, much like decathletes.  Triathletes are not specialized in one sport so we are really not world class in any event but rather, compete at a high level all around. Outside of swimming, biking, and running, most triathletes are hopelessly un-athletic, but there are some exceptions.

2. With regard to training: quantity or quality? Quality always trumps Quantity when it comes to training.  But let me clarify that there is a baseline amount of training necessary (quantity) to compete at the highest level.  But once that threshold is met, the gains come from the quality.

3. Do you strength train? If yes, why and what is your basic routine? If no, why not? I don’t lift weights, but I do a lot of core work, stretching, and basic body strengthening. I love pull-ups, and sit-ups, but also do all sorts of weird balance and strengthening exercises. If I lift weight I tend to put on too much muscle, so I avoid heavy weights and stick to small ankle and hand weights.

4. What type of diet do you follow? I am one of the more normal athletes when it comes to diet. I don’t believe in this gluten free, dairy free, vegetarian or vegan bull shit. I eat a well-balanced diet and time my meals according to my training and my day. I live by the motto, eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a poor college student with a maxed out credit card (and that doesn’t mean easy mac). I love eating my dinner from my Vitamix blender. I make a massive shake out of spinach, parsley, celery, carrots, strawberries, bananas, blueberries, peanut butter, whole milk, Greek Yogurt, protein powder, and whatever else I am feeling in the mood to throw inside. I also believe in the idea of eating a high fat diet. I drink whole milk, eat lots of peanut butter, and just consume a lot of fats. I try to stick to 40-30-30 breakdown of carbs-protein-fat.

5. How do you balance triathlon and the rest of your life? Balance is always the key to life. You have to create some type of balance to achieve success. I balance my time as a triathlete with running my company, Ruster Sports, www.rustersports.com (where bikes fly for free!), and also by spending time with my wife and our dog. Family is super important to me so I try to make an effort to keep my priorities in line and make sure I am giving back to my family. I have really enjoyed the process of watching Ruster Sports grow these past few years. I love owning my own company and being the boss. I have a passion for innovation and feel a responsibility for creating job growth in my area. Most age group triathletes, work a full-time job and train as a hobby. I train full-time and own a company as a hobby.

6. What do you love most in life? Well, let’s start at the top with my wife, Ashley! She is a lawyer in Des Moines, Iowa, and is also an elite marathon runner. Technically that would be the answer to “who do I love the most” but I will stick with it!

7. What is your dream job? I’m living my dream job right now. When I retire from triathlon, I plan on running a few more businesses full-time. I plan to own about 40 companies in several different industries.

8. What is the most inspirational sporting moment you have witnessed or experienced? I watched my wife, Ashley, race the Des Moines Half Marathon this past October. She was having a tough race and had been dealing with a hamstring injury. I saw her give up mentally in the race and drop back to a comfortable 4th place. With a mile to go she was still in 4th place about a minute out of second (first place was totally out of reach). I watched her fight back at the end of the race and she put herself in a position to battle for second. She had a go for a finish line sprint and pulled into second place. The girl who had been in second responded with a counter attack, and Ash dug deep to give it one more go and crossed the line in second place. This was the most inspirational sporting event for me, because it is such a powerful lesson: The race is never over until you cross the finish line, and no matter how much you have left physically, you need to make sure you are getting 100% out of whatever you have left.

9. Finally, and most importantly: How do you like your coffee, and how much coffee do you drink on a daily basis? I haven’t had a cup of coffee in probably 3 years, but the last cup was definitely black! I am caffeine free for the most part. I use caffeine at most once a week for a key training session, and then of course on race day. I prefer Red Bull to coffee ... it gives you wings!

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