SWEAT WITH SWAGGER
Ultra-marathoner, cycling coach, and fitness trainer, Robin Arzon, believes ordinary people can be superheroes. She believes that exercise has magical powers. And she believes that you should never sacrifice fashion to get fit.
“Most likely to be the Oprah of fitness.” It's what you'd expect to see scribbled in the margins of Robin Arzon's High School yearbook. But Robin was more bookworm than boot camp. She would rather paint and create, sketch and write than sweat. By the time high school rolled around, Robin just assumed she wasn't meant to do sports or be an athlete. She looked around at her high school peers who ran, played sports and did gymnastics, with admiration—at times wishing she could be like them—but couldn't envision herself among them. “That's not me. I can't do that,” she told herself.
Fast forward to her current status as the Ambassador of Sweat and Robin's telling herself a very different story: DO EPIC SH*T.
IT'S UNCOMFORTABLE TO CHANGE, EVEN IF THE CHANGE WE WANT TO CREATE IS POSITIVE.
Robin walks her talk; in 2013 she ran five marathons in five days. In addition to being an ultramarathoner, she’s a cycling instructor, personal trainer, and running coach. This year she transitions into triathlon competition. We sat down with Robin to talk about how she changed her story from I can't to I do, and how she’s made encouraging others to do the same her mission in life.
Originally from Philadelphia, and now residing in New York, Robin is simultaneously East-Coast intense and relaxed. We met in Los Angeles on the set where she was filming the 60 Day Bike Challenge, and Robin's personality was as bright as the wardrobe she wore on this rare rainy day.
You once wrote “Your life is your message to the world. Make it juicy as f*ck.” That’s certainly an intense and energetic statement. Do you ever get criticized for being so colorful in your self-expression?
If someone comes at me for my personality, I just shut it down. [Laughs] I tell the haters to lighten up. You can't go through life editing yourself to be accepted. You just have to do your own thing—be juicy, you know? That's the point.
You used to be a lawyer but now you're known for being a sassy, outspoken fitness guru who puts the F-bomb into fitness. Those are really different worlds. How did you decide to give up one for the other?
I was a litigator. A corporate lawyer. I was very outspoken, got really good cases, and I was good at it. But at some point I started counting the minutes before I could get out of the office for my next run. I realized then that I loved running, and cycling, and sweating more than I loved the challenge of litigation.
But both are challenging. Being a lawyer is challenging mentally and intellectually and being an ultramarathoner is challenging physically, right?
Actually, I think so much of any athletic undertaking is more mental challenge. The stories we tell ourselves about what we're doing affect our performance. I never really thought I could be a runner, for example. That was other people, it's not MY thing. But at some point I realized I have a choice. I get to decide what my thing is.
So, the thing you decided on was to just up and go do a 10k race without any preparation or training?
Yeah! In hindsight, it wasn't the smartest way to go about it, but once I told myself I could do it—that I was going to do it—I just had to do it.
This year you're branching out to compete in your first triathlon. Are you approaching that the same way or are you preparing differently, and do you think your work as a spin instructor will help you?
Oh definitely. I am working with a coach to train for this. The bike and run training are coming together really well, but I struggle with swimming. It's like…breathing underwater or rather; being underwater makes it so hard to breathe. And I have really strong lungs! I have great lung capacity and I'm super fit and I can run for days without stopping, but every time I go to the pool to swim it's so hard and uncomfortable and it makes me a little anxious. It's really humbling. But that's good.
AT SOME POINT I REALIZED I HAVE A CHOICE. I GET TO DECIDE WHAT MY THING IS.
You're constantly seeking out new challenges and ways of pushing yourself. In fact, you seem to thrive on being uncomfortable. Is that true?
Definitely. I think…a lot of people become complacent and don't challenge themselves and it's a kind of cultural malaise that we just accept. It's like we become okay with just being okay, instead of challenging ourselves to try to be better than just okay. It's uncomfortable to change, even if the change we want to create is positive. And I don't want to romanticize pain and say “suffering is glory” and all that. F*ck all that. I'm just saying to be better than just okay is going to require some effort and some discomfort, but eventually it gets easier. You can't change your story without challenging the stories you've been telling yourself.
Where do you get your inspiration? Who are your strongest influences?
My family. I come from a strong lineage of powerful women. Every single female in my family rocks in their own rebellious way. My mom is a big influence, of course. But even my little sister… She's off in India working for an NGO to create real change for people in communities there. We're very different people. She's much wiser than me.
You're very outgoing, intense, train a lot, and have very public work. That makes for a very full schedule with a lot of energy going out into the world. How do you maintain balance and recharge?
Well, if I’m honest right now there isn't much balance. Besides teaching, coaching and training, I’m also writing my first book, and working on some ideas for an apparel line. I’m working on building a “Sweat with Swagger” empire that blends fashion and fitness. I also edit my online magazine—a passion project—called UNDO ORDINARY. I love writing about my passions. It feeds my creative soul, so even though it’s energy going out, it’s also energy coming back to me. [Pause] It's funny…I've never been a solitary kind of person, but right now, solitude is a refuge. Quiet moments recharge me.
Do you do anything like meditation or yoga in those quiet moments?
I'd be a f*ckin’ nutcase if I didn't meditate. A few years ago a friend of mine taught me a form of meditation that was really helpful during a stressful time. So now I meditate 20 minutes every morning, and every night.
You once said that you think ordinary people can be superheroes. What did you mean by that?
I believe ordinary people can be heroic in some way. Heroes don't have to be out there, someone else. Every professional athlete started out as a beginner and has told themselves “I can't” at one time or another. But whether you can or can't is a choice. You have to be your own hero. Telling yourself you can't do something is a bad habit—a negative mental habit— and it's not easy to unravel. I have friends who are Olympic athletes—the best of the best in the world—who sit there in moments of self-doubt, telling themselves “I'm a total fcking fraud.” So, I think it's important to remember we're all battling the same sht inside.
YOU HAVE TO BE YOUR OWN HERO.
If you are your own superhero, what's your super power?
Delusional thinking! [Pause] Well, it can be good and bad. Either way, the stories we tell ourselves influence us for better or worse. For me it's about owning that inner voice. If it's telling me I can't do something, I want to prove it wrong. Sometimes I have to engage a sort of willful delusion to push back against that negative self-image.
Any advice for women who are trying to balance busy lives and multiple responsibilities with wanting to work out and be more fit and healthy?
Even though it might seem like adding one more thing to a crowded to-do list, I think signing up for some kind of event is really important. It can be a catalyst to get you over the hump of resistance. Once you sign up for an event there's accountability. Whether it's that you paid money, or it's a matter of pride…people are more likely to complete something they've officially committed to. Also, sharing the news with others—telling the world about your goals—because the moment you tell your best friend or your mom or Facebook about it, that goal becomes more real. Even if you don't think you're competitive, having a goal is important to help you stay focused and on track. No matter how hard or uncomfortable the training is, every small step, every run, every workout is a win.