Time Management Mastery: Interview with Alexis Barnes

Coach Laura: To start off, tell me your story. Tell me a little bit about who you are and what you want people to know about you.

Alexis: I fell into triathlon totally by accident. When I lived in Hartford, I worked nights as a copy editor for the newspaper up there, so my hours were 6pm-1am. And then I used to work at Starbucks early in the morning and this guy used to come in after his runs every morning and we got to talking one day and he told me about how he does triathlons and I should watch it on NBC. I think the timing was right around when they air Kona on TV. That year I watched was the first year the Hoyt’s had participated. And I thought, “OK if this dad can do this pushing his son …” I know how to swim, I didn’t have a bike at the time, but I can figure this out. 

And then life intervened. I moved to another newspaper in Connecticut and then I moved to New York and I don’t know, one day I just decided you know what I’m going to get a bike and I’m going to figure this out. But living in New York, I was absolutely terrified to ride my bike outside and I would literally only ride my bike on race day. In my very first race, I came out of the water in 2nd, and then I disappeared on the bike. About two hours later my husband was getting worried. I had gotten lost. We were in New Jersey and I had stopped at this farm to ask them if they knew where the park was and I actually ended up getting a ride back to the race venue because I didn’t pay attention to cones or anything.

L: So you DNF’d your first triathlon?

A: Yeah, somewhat. I went ahead and finished the run anyway. 

But it really wasn’t until we moved to San Diego about 10 years later that I started getting into this. My career in communications at that time was causing me to commute six hours a day while trying to fit triathlon in. And then my son had his activities, so it was a lot. I didn’t really start working towards any goals until probably 2-3 years ago.

L: One of the reasons I’m interviewing you today is because Julie is always so impressed with how you fit everything into your schedule. It sounds like your life has kind of always been a little chaotic and at some point you just decided to fit triathlon in and make it work.

A: I think in the beginning it was just something I was interested in. I love to swim, and when we lived in New York, I had set a goal of running all five of the half marathons in each borough (which would qualify me for the NYC marathon). So I was thinking if I can do those two, then I can add the bike in. And it was just fun. There were no real goals at that point. I had no coach, it was just something to do, and I liked the atmosphere. 

But you know, the more you get into it, the more you want out of it. And it came to a point where my husband said “Look, if you want to do this, there’s no pussyfooting. You either go all in and we will support you and we will make this work or it’s just going to be something you do on the weekends, but you kind of need to decide.” 

I was tired of people yelling “on your left” when I was on the bike, and I made the decision to commit because I wanted to be one of those people yelling “on your left.” It helped me focus everything, including my schedule. I was able to say “I’ve decided I want to make this a priority so I’m going to work to fit this into my schedule.” And I’m very lucky that I have a very supportive family who is willing to pick up the pieces and does not mind that the house is a mess.

L: I want to talk about your time. How many hours do you work right now?

A: (Holds up her pager) Well, right now I’m on call. Here’s my pager so it’s 24 hours a day.

L: How do you and Julie work together to fit training in? Give me a rough outline of a day in the life.

A: This morning the pager went off at about 3am. Reporters were wanting to know about an accident. They’re getting ready for 4am, 6am newscasts so the pager is going off with them wanting to know what the status is. So it’s 3am, I stagger down the stairs, I handle that. Thankfully we have a bedroom downstairs so I just crash for another 2 hours. Then I got up, did my bike workout that I had for today which was an hour. Then my meetings start around 7am. Today I went straight through from 7:00am – 11:30am. Our son, like everybody else right now, is doing home-schooling so I check in with him around 11:30 to make sure he has lunch squared away. Then I try to fit in some writing that I need to do. This afternoon after we’re done, (we’re on a 12:30-1:30 interview) I have a 2:00, a 4:00 and a 5:00. So hopefully that’s the end of the meetings for today. On weekends it’s up in the air. It really depends on what’s going on. 

Julie is awesome. Last week my schedule totally changed on Tuesday. So I sent her a quick email saying hey, my schedule is changing, this is what’s going on. Is there any way we can move my workouts around so I can still get them done? And she was absolutely good with that. There are obviously days when I just can’t get it done and don’t want to get it done.

L: Do you miss a lot of workouts though? I get the feeling you don’t.

A: No, my family will tell you that I’m kind of grumpy if I miss a workout. It’s a combination of being grumpy and I also feel like I can’t miss it if I don’t have a legit excuse. Because then what do you write in Training Peaks? “I didn’t want to do it?” I don’t know how to write that to Julie.

L: As a kid, were you motivated to do a lot, to fit a lot into your life, and to set goals?

A: I grew up swimming and my biggest competitor was Jenny Queen and my goal every time I got in the pool was to beat Jenny. I didn’t care about any other competitor, it was you get in the pool and you beat Jenny. As long as you beat Jenny, everything is good. So yeah I’ve kinda always been like that.

L: So you’ve always been competitive.

A: Always.

L: OK let’s talk about your family. You said that you started off doing triathlon casually, just dipping your toe in the water, but not really committing. Then your husband stepped in and asked you to make a decision. It sounds like maybe he knew it would be good for you or almost wanted to push you into it? 

A: He and Julie will often go behind my back. When we moved into our house, he went behind my back with Julie to figure out which treadmill would be the best fit for this gym that he was building and to make sure that it got set up. And then he was asking Julie, “OK if she’s focusing on strength now, what are the weights and what things does she need for that?” And then all the Amazon packages just start showing up: here’s your new kettlebell, here’s your new trap bar. So I know without his support and without my son’s support, there’s no way that I would be able to do this at the level that I want.

L: How does your son support you?

A: He’s a basketball player. He has practices four nights a week then on the weekends, we’ll travel for tournaments. So he knows that if he has practice for an hour and a half, I might take that hour and a half to do my run, I might be a little late in picking him up or getting back to the car because I want to finish the run. So he understands that. He’ll be the one to say “Hey mom, did you do your workout today? Do you have ab work?” or “What are you doing for weights?” And sometimes he’ll come join me.

L: How old is he?

A: He’ll tell you that he’s a teenager but he won’t be a teenager till July. He’s 12 now, and he’s taller than me.

L: But you can still pick him up, right?

A: Yes! Only because of the strength workouts that you and Julie have been giving me.

L: Let’s talk about time management. One of the stories that is sticking out to me from Julie is from when we were doing the Core Challenge. She said that you would literally roll out of bed and get the core work done right then because that’s when you knew you had time. 

(Alexis is laughing.)

What stands out to me is you have this way of being present enough to know that you have time right in the moment that you have it. You knew you had time in that 10 second interval between when you exited your bed and before doing the next thing. How do you manage to keep everything in focus between work, family, and triathlon?

A: I have calendars all over the place. I have two phones with calendars. Everything is mapped out for my personal schedule. We have a big family calendar that has every single one of my workouts, my son’s basketball tournaments, every appointment whether it’s doctor or ortho or whatever. Everything is on this big calendar. And it really is plug and play. Like you said, if I know I have core work, it’s easy for me to roll out of bed and get it done because then I know it’s done.

There have been times, and my co-workers can tell you because I have not been on mute, when I’ve been on Zoom meetings doing trainer rides. You know, if it’s one of those meetings where I just need to listen and I don’t need to take notes, I’m going to use that hour to get my trainer ride in because I know the rest of the day is spoken for.

L: Do you do a lot of preparation or advanced planning or is it more of adjusting to things on the fly?

A: I wish I could do more of that but my weeks are so different. Julie will ask, “can you put in your week?” And I’ll say “OK this is what it is right now at this moment in time.” She and I have really good communication in terms of you can give me a maximum of an hour or 90 minutes a day and I can get that done. You can put in other things, but know that those might not get done, given my time. So it’s about me prioritizing the time, and then working with Julie to prioritize which workouts need to get done.

L: Do you ever get to a point where you feel out of balance in terms of your emotional availability to each thing: work, triathlon family? How does that feel and how do you know when you’re out of balance?

A: My husband will tell you it’s when I get snappy. It’s my mood. I’m not as nice. I’m also not as open. At that point I tend to shut down and withdraw. I don’t want to talk to anybody. My emails get really short and I get snippy. So I know when that starts happening, sometimes I really need to take a step back. 

We actually have a program going on at work, where I’ve been learning to meditate, which I’m finding helps, because I can do it at any moment. I feel like my shoulders get attached to my ears so when I start feeling my shoulders go up, I’m learning to say “OK now is the time.” Even if it’s just five minutes or 60 seconds, I can take that time, recognize what’s going on, and try to relax so that we can move on.

L: Let’s sidebar into this a little bit. I think people have a hard time starting a meditation practice because they sit there, close their eyes, and think “OK I’m supposed to not think about anything.” And then to-do lists and everything else starts bubbling up. So tell me how you meditate because I think a common assumption is that it just means emptying your mind, but there are other choices that you can make in a meditation that give you what you need out of it.

A: Sure, so I love yoga. And one of the things with yoga is breathwork. That helps me get into it. I really focus on deep breaths, in-and-out breathing and really just trying to connect: “Are your shoulders still tight? Are you breathing? Ok, breathe a little deeper, bring your shoulders down.”  It’s just bringing awareness to my body. “What am I feeling? How am I feeling?” That helps me let go of all those other thoughts.

L: Do you use any other strategies besides meditation to take more time out?

A: Yeah I’m totally new to hiking and I fell in love with it when we went to Arizona in November. And now, with pools being difficult to get into here, that’s really my other form of meditation. The earlier the better, when the sun is rising and the trails are empty, it brings me energy and calm. 

L: There’s something very meditative about just putting one foot in front of the other. What about vacations? Or rest weeks? Do you ever take extended time off work?

A: You sound like my boss who is forcing me to take a week off at the end of March because I’m over my vacation limit. 

L: So you have a hard time giving that to yourself?

A: Yeah I have a hard time and I work so closely with my CEO. I literally sit outside her door and do all of her writing and presentations and speeches and all that stuff. It’s really hard for me to give that up and turn it over to someone else.

L: Why?

A: I think because I’ve been doing it so long and she and I have such a close relationship and it’s hard for other people to kind of understand the working relationship. She doesn’t work regular hours. She’s in the office regular hours but she’s sending me stuff at 8:00, 9:00 at night. And we work on the weekends together, so it’s not a normal schedule but it’s one that I’ve adjusted to and I can make it work.

L: Do you think that you have a hard time giving up control or trusting somebody else?

A: Yeah that too. Both of those. 

L: Just curious.

A: And I think for me there’s also a fear … I’ve been doing it for so long and I know I’m good at it but if I let somebody else do it, will they come in and be better at it? So yeah it’s a combination of all of that.

L: Well have you ever taken a week off where somebody else has had to step in? And how did that go?

A: I did! I took two weeks off. But now I have to think… that was probably three years ago when we went to Africa. Yeah, the world did not fall apart and I was welcomed back so yeah, it does work.

L: Did the other person do a better job than you?

A: Um, they were competent and it worked out. I think she was happy that I was back. 

L: You said you’re worried about other people coming in and doing a better job than you. But what is it about you that makes you the best at what you do?

A: Oh god, um, I don’t know. I think it’s really just that I can capture the voice of whoever I work with. I’m very attuned to speech patterns and listening to people and how they speak, and the words that they use and how they engage with people. Which is why I think a lot of the time people think I’m shy because I don’t say a lot, because I sit in the back and I really just observe how people interact, and again, word choices word patterns. My son will tell you “I know you secretly edit all of our conversations in your head.” And I’m like “Yeah I probably do.” So I think it’s just that attention.

L: I can definitely relate to that. I’m always observing, which is why I love working with Julie and Alison so much. Julie is such a natural leader and Alison is this master organizer. And then I get to just observe, so that I can write and try to make sense of what our collective experience is. It’s important to have people in your life that do what they do well, so that you can do what you do. I wanted you to just recognize what your skills are because I think they’re pretty impressive.

A: Thank you. 

L: OK so obviously we have to talk about strength. How did this strength journey start?

A: When I lived in NY many moons ago, I hadn’t done anything since maybe my last high school swim meet. I was spending my weekends touring the bakeries and donut shops and decided maybe we need to look into joining a gym. So I did the free trainer session when you first sign up, and the trainer explained that cardio will help you but you need to build strength as well if you want to see better results. So I did it, and it worked for what I was looking for, but mostly I was intrigued. Then we ended up with this home gym and now I don’t have an excuse. There is no “I don’t know what I’m doing,” or “I feel embarrassed working out in the gym and I don’t want to ask anybody.” So my husband was kind enough to deal with my attitude and walk me through some basic strength moves, and once I got those down then it was a matter of “OK I like this, this is working and I want to get stronger.” I know it’s going to translate into a faster run. The bike is my weakest, most hated discipline, and I just struggle with generating power on the bike. So how do I do that knowing that I can’t spend hours and hours on the bike?

L: Speaking of the bike, we just had our team time trials. Tell me about how the bike leg went, and how much you had been doing leading up to it.

A: Oh I had been doing very little. I do the Thursday morning group rides for an hour, then maybe one other bike per week if I have time, but yeah not a lot. I was not looking forward to it. I hate time trials, I hate FTP tests. The anxiety that it induces is enough that when I get on the bike, there’s a mental block and I just can’t do it because I’m so convinced that I’m going to fail and I’m going to suck. It’s literally led to straight up meltdowns where I’m crying on my bike.

L: (Knowingly nodding). Yep, I think that’s a pretty common experience. Please continue.

A: That’s good to know though because I really thought that I was the only one who looked at that stuff and had meltdowns.

L: I actually think that if you’re not crying at least somewhat regularly during your triathlon experience, you’re not doing it right. So you’re nailing it.

A: OK, good!

L: OK let’s back up though. Tell me what you had been doing for strength heading into this time trial. I know you just hit a new squat max, right?

A: Yeah, squats, deadlifts, whatever else you and Julie come up with, monster walks, bridges, you name it. And my goal is always to try to beat whatever I listed the last week. It doesn’t always happen but that’s always my goal. 

So looking at the time trial, I was like, “OK I’m not going to do this, I need to come up with an excuse.” I was literally plotting weeks ahead, “What can I come up with? Can I plan a trip so that I don’t have to do this?”

L: I did plan a trip! That’s how much I also dislike FTP tests. I was in Hawaii during the time trials so I didn’t even do them.

A: I should have gone with you … but I couldn’t think of anything so I showed up and I was just going to go for it. And once I got there, I think I was just so happy to see other people and be out there with my teammates and I thought, “OK we’re just going to go out here and have fun, be with teammates and with people we like being around.” So in the warmup I was a little discouraged. I wasn’t pushing the power that I thought I would be able to push and that self-doubt started to creep in. Then we got to the sign where Julie said to hit go. I hit go and I don’t know what happened. A switch went off, I put my head down and it was just “Go. Pedal. Go. Don’t think about anything. Just ride.” And when we finished and I got back and looked at my data, I was texting my husband and I was like, “Holy shit I just beat my FTP! I’ve never ridden that high!” I was screaming. Meanwhile, my husband was like, “what’s FTP?” I had been stuck at the same FTP for two years, maybe three years, and it’s been a constant source of frustration. So coming out of that time trial, I knew I wasn’t as fast as some people, but for me it was a breakthrough. And I’m not going to lie, there are mornings now where I’m like, “Huh, I got muscles in my legs! I have a little definition there.”

L: Hell yeah, I love that. A long endurance event is a war of attrition. It’s about whose body breaks down the least over time. And if you’re strong and you have muscle, your body is going to break down significantly less than everybody else’s. It’s an automatic advantage.

A: Well there’s that and my son and I are in a guns contest. So every morning we check and I still have bigger guns. He’s taller but I still have bigger guns.

L: Do you notice anything else in your life that’s affected by being strong? Do you see yourself differently? 

A: In some ways I think it’s given me a little bit more body confidence. I feel less hung up on weight because I have muscle and I’m strong. These are my legs now, this is my back, I’m strong. I can squat more than the guy sitting over there. So there’s a certain level of confidence.

L: It’s harder to be at odds with your body when it can do so many cool things, right? We all struggle a little bit with body image, but when you’re strong and when your body is so capable, it’s harder to to hold onto the negativity. 

A: I can do diamond push ups now. With my feet up on a bench. So…

L: That’s what I’m saying.

OK to wrap this up, I think we’re all driven by something unique, so is there something in your life, in 2021, that you feel like you’re here for?

A: That’s a good question. I think for me right now as it relates to work and covid, and even just my community, because of the access to information that I have in terms of vaccines, I’m really involved in my local community and helping people navigate the vaccine process. Especially for some of the older people, it’s difficult. They’re not on their computers every day and don’t know how to navigate the online system. It’s been really rewarding helping people get through that.

L: What about for yourself? I think we all get really hung up on what we do instead of who we are, right?

A: Yep.

L: So who is Alexis and why is that important for the world and for yourself right now?

A: I think the biggest thing for me right now, goes back to being an observer. At least in my group of friends, I’m the one people come to when they need to talk because I can just listen and offer advice without judgement. And then I’m a daughter, I’m a mom, I’m a basketball mom, which is different. I support my husband in whatever he’s got going on. On a personal level I think of myself as a vintage athlete. I’ve been in the game for a minute, whether it’s been with swimming or triathlon. That’s also a huge part of my identity and I don’t know what I would do without that.

L: I like the term vintage athlete. There’s a style that goes along with that, rather than saying “I’m old” or “I’ve been doing it for a while.” That’s a great place to wrap this up unless there’s anything else you want to add.

A: No, just thank you a lot. Really, thank you to you and Julie for helping me reach some of these goals.

NYX Endurance

Our mission is to develop an endurance community that empowers each member towards both individual and collective potential. At NYX Endurance, we believe in the relentless pursuit of better. We believe there is no success without suffering. There is no progress without perseverance. There is no light without darkness. #embracethedarkness