FIT6: Triathlete Olivia Harlow

FIT6: Triathlete Olivia Harlow

(Cover photo credit: Emily Harger)

Every week, the Louisville Women’s Sports Network highlights a local woman by asking her six questions about her health and fitness routine. This week’s guest is Olivia “Liv” Harlow. If there is a woman you’d like us to feature, email suggestions to

Credit Emily Harger2

(Credit: Emily Harger)

Tell Us a Little About Yourself

I work as a freelance writer and photographer, as well as a part-time communications specialist and team member at an athletics retail store. I graduated from Assumption High School in 2010 where I ran cross country and track. I participated in a wide array of extracurricular activities as a kid, ranging from Irish dancing to horseback riding; cycling to swimming; ballet to harp; art classes to tennis. Before entering high school, I had to curate my interests and decided to prioritize running. I’d been running since I was five years old. I was the fastest girl my age at Christian Academy in middle school, so it seemed like a no-brainer for me to make running my focus. That said, the sport became my life, to a bit of an unhealthy degree. It became my identity.

In college, I started training for a full IRONMAN, trying to make my athletic repertoire more well-rounded, but bumped up my training too much too soon, leaving me with a stress fracture that I struggled with on and off for a year and a half. During this time, I leaned into cycling and swimming to keep me in shape. It’s strange how God has a plan to use those “bad” moments to cause something unimaginably great. When I first discovered I had a stress fracture, I was devastated. I still tried to run, wailing in tears and limping just moments after takeoff. But eventually, I started to find blessing in this hiatus from running, falling more in love with biking and swimming than ever before.

Today, I’m a 70.3 triathlete. I’ve been incredibly blessed to regain my strength and to find balance again. The greatest thing that my transition to triathlons has taught me is balance: to never place my whole being into one activity. I enjoy playing my harp, hiking, camping, crafting, painting, reading, writing, and more. I’ve come to find comfort in living a well-rounded, passionate lifestyle once again!

My ultimate goal is to live a purpose-filled life, with meaning, in which I can give back to the world around me. I’ve traveled to many far-flung places where I’ve witnessed heartbreaking poverty and injustice. Yet, the people in some of these disadvantaged places are the happiest folk I’ve ever come in contact with, and I’ve felt the most alive spending time with them. I don’t want to “change the world”, but I do want to give my time and energy to people who are so often overlooked. Sometimes it’s not about making a difference in the world, but more so making a difference in even just one person’s life. There are communities around the globe that Westerners don’t even know exist, that they’re too scared to travel to, that they judge based merely off of misconceptions and an unwillingness to expand their comfort zone. I want hopeless people to find hope. I want them to know that they are not alone, that they are not invisible, that they are loved.  That’s my biggest dream.

Six Questions About Your Fitness & Health

1) What is your weekly training/exercise routine?

Credit Jaime Smialek, Our Ampersand Photography2

(Credit: Jaime Smialek, Our Ampersand Photography)

Hmm, it varies. To many people’s surprise, I kind of just make up my own “plan” as I go. I normally try to get at least one track/speed workout in a week, one long-distance run (at least 8 miles), a couple of swims, and at least one long bike ride. Other than that, I kind of just mix up workouts according to how I feel. I lift little weights and do a specific ab routine at least three times a week as well. Those short, twenty minutes of intense lifting and core help immensely!

Getting brick workouts (a bike ride immediately followed by a run) is vital in triathlon training so that you can work on decreasing your transition times, but more so that you can build those muscles that truly do feel like “bricks” during the transition from cycle to run.

2) How do you prepare for a workout?

I don’t stretch nearly enough nor drink enough water. Oddly enough, I normally feast before exercising (some people choose to eat afterwards, but I personally can’t go without food prior to a big workout).When I work out nowadays, I might walk in the door after a long day of work, throw on some running shoes and just go. Or, I might need some time to build up momentum. Depending on the day, I might lounge around, read a book, and wait until I’m feeling more motivated; or opt to take the day off altogether. I think listening to your body is so important! I used to put way too much pressure on myself to work out at the same time every day and make sure that I was doing X workout on this day and Y workout on that day. I’ve come to realize that doing what you feel, when you feel like it, is the best plan.

Before a big race, I try my best to get a good night’s sleep, drink loads of H2O, and gobble up copious amounts of carbs and veggies.

3) What do you eat, drink or do for quick energy?

I’m smoothie-obsessed. Throw a banana, a handful of blueberries, a scoop of peanut butter, and some kale with coconut and water into a blender: BOOM, so good! I love INVIGOR8 too! Throw a couple of scoops of that in with a couple of bananas and peanut butter.

4) What is your daily nutritional meal plan when training?

My diet fluctuates. For about half of the week I’m a hippie-dippie, all natural, veg-head. I load up on smoothies, salads, sushi, and granola. But the other half of the week? Bring on the pizza, pasta, burritos and burgers. My friends and family all say that I eat like an obese man. And it’s totally accurate. I eat A LOT. I truly cannot fathom a life without cheese, milkshakes and bread. That said, I generally consume only non-processed or local foods.

One day might look like this:

Breakfast: Eggs with spinach and mushrooms
Lunch: Blueberry and banana smoothie
Snack: Tuna salad and an apple
Dinner: Salmon, broccoli, salad, bread
Dessert: Yogurt with berries

While the next day might look like this:

Breakfast: Oatmeal with peanut butter and bananas
Snack: Donut holes
Lunch: Massive turkey sandwich with fruit salad and chocolate chip cookie
Dinner: 6 pieces of pizza, salad, half a loaf of bread
Dessert: 2 scoops ice cream and a chocolate bar

Provided by Olivia Harlow

(Provided by Olivia Harlow)

5) What do you snack on between meals when training?

Smoothies, apples dipped in peanut butter, granola bars, chips and guacamole, eggs with cheese. During races or long workouts, I enjoy the multi-pack of Jelly Belly Sports Beans and chocolate-flavored GU Energy Gels.

6) What are your fitness & health goals?

I hope to one day qualify for and compete in the World Championship IRONMAN in Kona, Hawaii. That’s kind of a long shot, but a girl can dream! I [would like] to qualify for Team USA.

My main goal when it comes to health and fitness is just to feel good from the inside-out. I hope to treat my body like a sanctuary, feeding myself what my body needs and craves. All in all, I want to still be able to do the things I love to do when I’m old and gray. Although I love competition and would love to be a top athlete, my main intent is to just enjoy what I do. At the end of the day, I’d rather go for a slow run that brings me joy than run fast and feel miserable. I’d rather cross the finish line of a triathlon with a poor time and smile on my face than with a new PR, cramps, and injuries.

Another goal I have is to help young girls feel empowered through sports. I’d love to be an assistant track or cross country coach, helping lift girls up and see their inner strength. Too many young women give in to the toxic mentality that they aren’t good enough. Not only do I want to help instill in them a sense of confidence as athletes, but I want them to love their body, their soul, and their unique spirit.

Women are constantly berated with unrealistic beauty standards, and I want to help girls to take pride in their curves, their cellulite, their inevitable flaws. I want them to find beauty in their imperfections! I’ve struggled immensely with body image and continue to feel insecure some days, but I hope that through opening conversation on this topic, I can help others to see their own radiance. Girls need to learn this from a young age, and I can only hope that my athleticism and self-assurance will inspire them to stay true to love themselves for who they are.