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Q&A: SHEEX Co-Founder Michelle Brooke-Marciniak on Exercise and Sleep

Michelle Brooke-Marciniak led theUniversity of Tennessee Lady Vols to the 1996 NCAA title before an illustrious career as a point guard in the WNBA. Around here, however, we know Michelle as one of our visionary co-founders. She works tirelessly to engineer and perfect the best sleep of your life. We sat down with Michelle to discuss her love of fitness and the ways she prioritizes sleep to achieve her ambitious physical goals.

When it comes to fitness (and sleep) are you a morning person or a night person?

I am a morning person when it comes to fitness but with a busy daily schedule, sometimes I have to block off my calendar at any time of the day to get my workout in.  The earlier I get up, the happier I am. Sleep-wise, I go to bed early.

What is your number one fitness tip for people who aren’t currently active?

Just get started.  The hardest part is getting that first month under your belt (consistency!) so your fitness starts to become a habit.  Once that habit begins to form, you will be less likely to quit or skip a workout. The second key is having the discipline and focus to get through some discomfort as you get started.  The pain means you and your body are working! SHEEX founder Michelle at podium during event

We understand you’re training for the IRONMAN Florida. What inspired motivated you to take on this endeavor?

In October 2017, I did a fundraising endurance cycling ride for the first time in my life, where I rode 1,098 miles —– about 100 miles per day in 11 days —– in honor of my college basketball coach, Pat Summitt, who died of Alzheimer’s.  It’s a task I never thought I would have been able to complete. Not only did I complete it, I got stronger as the days clicked by. Before that ride, I never would have considered myself an endurance athlete. Although I wasnot properly trained for the ride, I completed it out of pure will and my body adjusted along the way.  It made me think about what other things I could do in my life that I thought were impossible, but Iet that thought lay dormant and got back to the grind of being an entrepreneur. Several times in my life, I considered becoming a triathlete and hopped on a bike, dove in a pool, and logged many miles on the running trail only to always have to stop as a result of overtraining or not knowing how to train for the sport of Triathlon. I always had the mindset of “I am an elite athlete, so I should be able to do this…Right??” WRONG! I could not have been more wrong with that answer.

What motivates you to become an Ironman (IronWOman!)?  

Everyone has different talents in life.  Mine happens to be physical, just like any performer.  I have the ability to push myself beyond what I think I am capable of.  The constant voice in my head tells me to do more, be better. Being an athlete for me is like being a musician, an artist, a photographer, etc. where the mind and body effortlessly connect to the soul in a form of an athletic expression.  It is where I find peace. It is where I get centered. Triathlon, for me, is another physical challenge that makes me feel alive. For years, while leading SHEEX as a Co-CEO, and particularly post my father’s death, I found myself wrought with anxiety. I could feel myself out of balance, but I didn’t know what to do about it.  So, in May of 2018, I was having a conversation with a friend, Jet, while traveling to an airport when I was asked, “Michelle, in years to come, what does life look like for you after having been an entrepreneur?” Much to my surprise and without hesitation, I blurted out, “I would work out three times per day, I would become a triathlete.” Jet raised his eyebrows and said a long “REALLLLLLYYYY?” I replied, “Yes, I’ve loved training, and nothing would make me happier than working towards a physical goal again as I once did with basketball.”  Conversation over, I took a flight and had some great airplane time to think. Something had been working on me for a while, I must admit. For months prior to that conversation with Jet, a recurring thought kept pinging me at all times during the day and in the middle of the night. It was, “This is your life; this is your life; this is your life.” That same thought would bubble up at all times throughout my day. I never knew what it meant, but it was a voice that came back to me on the airplane that day. The desperate search to figure out the meaning behind “this is your life” finally turned into my own catchphrase, “What are you waiting for?” And finally, it all clicked.   “What are your waiting for, Michelle?” Meaning, you don’t have to wait another minute to become a triathlete TODAY. So, I decided that day I was going to hire a professional coach and start living out my dream of one day becoming an IronWOman. I am heading into my fifth month of training and I have never been happier than in this phase of my life.  My anxiety is at a minimum for the first time in years.  I am a better spouse, a better boss, a better friend, and mentally sharper than I have ever been.  My mood is happy. I aim for 7 to 9 hours of sleep per night. I am fitter, and I am eating well and fueling my body to workout instead of working out, so I can fuel my body.  Big difference! My calendar is tighter as I have to be super disciplined with my time to fit everything in one day, but I’ve trimmed out the fat (so to speak!) and am much more productive as a result. My coach, by the way, is world renowned tri-coach Matt Dixon, Founder of Purple Patch Fitness. Matt trains triathletes of all ages and all levels of experience, including all the way up to professionals, and I am one of his least experienced!  It’s okay though, I realize that I have a lifetime of “endurance athlete learning curve” to catch up on and Matt is patient with me. He sends me my weekly workouts through Training Peaks and I send him all of my numbers, results, and feedback from my prescribed workouts. It is fun for me to sit down and plan my week, and also record my progress even if it’s baby steps. Having a coach is invaluable.  If I run a parallel in my head and think of my basketball career, I quickly realize that I was coached MY ENTIRE CAREER as a basketball player. I am not sure what made me think I could literally ‘train myself’ for one of the biggest physical challenges in the world. With age comes wisdom and I am glad I figured that one out!

What does your training schedule look like?

It‚Äôs every day. ¬†Sometimes a 1-hour workout and sometimes a 4 to 5-hour session. My coach mixes up every work out, so I never do the same workout more than a few times. ¬†It‚Äôs swimming, cycling and running. Two sports per day a few days of the week and single sport days when I am pressed for time or traveling. It‚Äôs typically early in the morning but it is all dependent on my work and travel schedule, so it gets tricky because I travel a lot. While training, I have completed the NJ State Triathlon, which is (Olympic distance) as well as the Boulder Half Ironman (which is half the distances of a full Ironman). Boulder was my first Half IM ever! ¬†And wow, how humbling it was. ☺ I finished it though, and now I have a baseline to work from. Looks like It looks like I will improve from this point forward.

How do these rigorous training periods impact the amount of sleep you need nightly?

I am a big proponent of SLEEP! ¬†And not just because I own a sleep company. ☺ I need 7 hours of sleep per night AT MINIMUM and there are times my body calls for more. ¬†With my current training schedule, my body is calling for 8 or 9 hours of sleep per night. I am just over two months out from my Full Ironman in Panama City on November 3, 2018, so the workouts are getting longer, and my body needs full recovery through ample sleep. SHEEX founder Michelle with SHEEX original performance products

How, if at all, does sleep help in recovery?

This answer is going to sound blunt, but you CAN’T function if you don’t sleep.  If you want to be all-in every day of your life you need the proper amount of sleep for your body and mind.  Sleep recovery is vital to everyone’s performance and is the key stress neutralizer. I have never been one to brag about getting “just a few hours” of sleep, as many people do.  If anything I am very selfish about my sleep and recovery.

What are your favorite fitness products or tools? Do you use a FitBit or other kind of trackers?

I am a Garmin girl all day long. I have a TACX indoor trainer for my road bike and use the ZWIFT app to ride indoors. I have a Garmin bike computer and a Garmin heart rate wristwatch. I use Training Peaks to communicate with my coach. Training Peaks is service in which my coach builds my workouts and sends them to me as a weekly workout schedule, so I can plan my training. The Training Peaks program and my Garmin devices are critical to my training. Tracking my progress through data and analytics is extremely motivating. There is nothing like beating your own personal records!

How do you motivate yourself if/when you don’t want to train or exercise?

It doesn’t happen often, but I go back to the original thought of why I am training and where I am trying to get to physically, mentally and emotionally. I also take the stress (if there is any) out of the workout with a thought like, “it’s only an hour out of your day.” And finally, there is not a better feeling than a post-workout feeling of accomplishment, so when all else fails I say, “toughen up Michelle, and just get it done!” That’s the truth.

What’s your favorite SHEEX product(s) for people who love to exercise?

I am biased because we invented SHEEX with our first product — Original Performance Sheets — so that is my favorite and will always be my favorite.  All of our SHEEX products feel amazing but “OP,” as we call it, will always be my go to. These SHEEX truly give you the feeling of sleeping on a silky cloud with a gentle cool breeze lulling you to sleep. In my opinion, there is simply nothing better to sleep in on the planet than SHEEX Original Performance sheets. For even more information on the history of SHEEX and our founders' journey, find out about our past 10 years in business here.