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Secrets of the Fittest Woman in the World

Get-Fit Guy sat down with Katrín Davíðsdóttir, author of Dottir: My Journey to Becoming a Two-Time CrossFit Games Champion, to dig into the mindset of the Fittest Woman in the World. 

By
Brock Armstrong,
Episode #455
Photo of Katrin holding her book

At age 26, Katrín Davíðsdóttir is an Icelandic CrossFit athlete who's best known for her gritty appearances at the CrossFit Games. She is the women's champion of the 2015 and 2016 CrossFit Games, making her one of two women who can claim the title of two-time Fittest Woman on Earth. So when it comes to picking the brain of someone who knows how to win, Katrín is the obvious choice. I just had to invite her on the podcast.

Her book, Dottir: My Journey to Becoming a Two-Time CrossFit Games Champion hit the bookshelves (physical and virtual) in August 2019 and, in all honesty, I was blown away by it. I started reading the book out of sheer curiosity but I kept reading it out of compulsion. Like watching the CrossFit games themselves, I needed to find one what happened next! This isn't just a book about CrossFit it is a book about mental and physical strength, goal setting, struggle, mindset, motivation, heartbreak and compassion.

In our conversation, I asked Katrín to elaborate on these topics:

  • Why they call her the Sled Dog
  • How she stays so highly motivated, not only in competition but in her everyday training
  • How planning for disaster helps her succeed
  • What lessons she can share with us mere mortals who are just beginning our fitness journey.

The Interview with Katrín

Below is a transcript of the conversation. But, as always, I encourage you to listen to the audio podcast version of the interview by pressing the play button at the top of this page. 

We began the conversation discussing how odd it is having written a memoir when you are still active in the sport.

Katrín: Now, when people I meet have read the book, they might know something about me that I haven't told them and they always wonder if they should say that they know it. Should they ask me about it? And I am always like, "Don't worry about it."

Brock: Yes. It's like the way that social media has taken us to a certain level of knowing things about each other's lives without actually having talked to them.

Katrín: And you might not even have met a person and you feel like you just completely know them.

Brock: Yeah. I feel like I know you because I read the book and you do reveal a lot of very personal details. And, I have to admit, when I started reading the book, I did it because it passed across my desk, and I like CrossFit, and you're a formidable athlete, of course. So, I read it really out of curiosity. But then I got totally sucked in! Because it really is such a powerful story. And you're so honest in it too. Was that hard for you?

Katrín: Yeah, I think it's always hard to be vulnerable. You're exposing yourself. But that was the only way that I was ever going to do this book. And it's been such a long process. From, like, 2015 when the opportunity first came. It was so crazy. I was like, "I don't know who writes books. It's other people, it's grown-up people, it's people who know how to write books." But it never really occurred to me that it could be me until [I was inspired by] other people's stories and journeys and things that they've gone through. [They] are probably the things that have helped me the most. And if there's anything I can ever resonate with in anybody else's story, or if someone can do something, I believe "so can I." So, that was kind of like the first thing that was like, you know what? I want to share my story.

Ultimately, it just came down to telling my story. And this is my journey. So far.

And then it was really hard. It's really hard to decide. What do I want to put in there? What do I want my message to be? And ultimately, it just came down to telling my story. And this is my journey. So far. And I wanted to be open and honest. And there are things in there that, you know, I'm not necessarily proud of. Or, you know, thoughts or actions. But I tried to always learn from them and hopefully someone can learn from that and not have to go through it themselves. But yeah, ultimately it was the only way that I was going to do it. And of course it is nerve-wracking, but I'm very proud of it.

Brock: You should be. As I said, I got sucked right in and I didn't want it to end, too. Then all of a sudden it was over. I was thinking—wait, but there's ...

Katrín: I didn't know how to end! And my story doesn't have an ending.

Brock: Exactly. Yeah. You're nowhere near the end of your career.

Katrín: Yes, I'm not done. And I was like, there shouldn't be an ending to the book. I needed it to be like a dot dot dot.

Brock: Yes. I fully expect there to be a part two.

But before we get to get too far—I've seen in a few different places that you refer to yourself as "sled dog."

Katrín: Uh-huh.

Brock: And that didn't come up in the book. I'm curious, why do you refer to yourself as that?

Katrín: It's actually my coach, Ben Bergeron, who came up with that first. Ever since I was a kid, I just loved doing work and conditioning. And you know, if I wasn't in gymnastics, I would make up my own conditioning sets. When I was in summer vacation and when I started CrossFit, I always wanted more—I wanted more events, I wanted more workouts in a day. I just wanted to spend all my time in the gym. And you know, there's only so much you can train that's going to benefit you because you have to recover. And once you've done so much, there comes a point where you're actually just working against yourself. I just love the work so much and it makes me feel so happy and so accomplished at the end of the day. So whenever I was at training camps, I was always the one would finish whatever Ben had put up on the board for us.

He said that sled dogs love doing the work. And they just put their head down and they do the work and when they're tied up, they're howling.

And I was always begging him for more. And you know, some days I'd ask and ask more and he'd be like, "You know what? Okay." And he'd always see how happy he made me. And then some days I wanted to do something more and he'd just say no, because it's not the right thing to do today, and I'd get so upset. It actually put me in a worse mood and then I'd be upset about not getting to do more work or more workouts. And so he started calling me the sled dog. He said that sled dogs love doing the work. And they just put their head down and they do the work and when they're tied up, they're howling. They're so unhappy. Because they want to be running and they want to be doing the work. And he said that's what sled dogs do. So they started calling me the sled dog.

Brock: I love it. And I love that the idea that you have this drive, that you believe in doing the work and you're dedicated to doing the work. And I think that sort of mindset is something that I think a lot of people kind of miss in their, not necessarily even just in their athletic career, but in their every day to day life. They look at work as being oppressive. Rather than "I get to do the work," they think "I have to do the work."

Katrín: That's a huge part of how I want to live my life and that is we get to do the things that we do. We don't have to do anything. You can choose what you want to do. You get to do the things that you do. And I think that's a good, like, change in perspective of things, like, you know, you have to drive your kids to practice. No, like, you have kids and you get to drive them to practice. Like they get to do the sport that they love. You know, it's always like it's the same situation and whatever we're doing, but it's just a change in perspective. And the same - like if you're tired and you don't want to be doing your lift, it's like don't think about it as, "oh, I have to go smash later tonight." It's like, no, I get to go smash later today! And I have this opportunity to go smash and get better at it today.

Brock: And do you think that that's a big part of how you stay motivated to not only perform in competition but also just in everyday training, just showing up at the gym every day?

Katrín: Yeah, I think is. I think it's that kind of changing of perspective and changing thought patterns is something that I think can easily shift your mood and shift what you're thinking instead of being tired and thinking that I have to do this. Like, change it into "you get to do this" and about why you're doing something—and that you're going to get better at it. Then you can start getting excited about it.

[When you're] tired and thinking, 'I have to do this,' change it into you get to do this. Then you can start getting excited about it.

Brock: That's awesome. I completely buy that. And I'm going to write that on a sticky note and hang it in my office here so I remember to do that 'cause it really is powerful. Do you have any other sort of, not necessarily tricks, 'cause I don't want to call that a trick, but any techniques you have to stay motivated?

Katrín: I think it's something that has derailed me in the past in that I think it's just a hard way to live. But I think most of us do this to some extent ... is compare yourself to others, and you're always thinking what someone else is doing or you see, like, on Instagram everyone's posting their highlights. Like, if they hit a great lift today, like they're gonna post it and suddenly we're like, oh my gosh, like, she hit this number and why am I not there? Or, you know, I'm working on my muscle ups a lot and I keep thinking, you know how she's so good at these muscle-ups? Like, I'm not even nearly there. Instead, like, try and shift that and try and think about, like, how good can I get? Like "How good can my muscle ups get today?" And if I work on them today, they're going to get better. So be happy with all the steps that you're taking forward instead of looking ahead and seeing how many steps you feel like are left.

So I think it's really just like be here, be now, and focus on what you can do to make yourself better. And once you're in that kind of mindset, like, you can have ... there are all these little wins every single day, and if you take those wins, like, you're going to keep stepping forward every day. Little tiny, like, not even one percent better every day, like a teeny bit percent better. Every day is great because at the end of the year, like, at the end of the year or a couple of years or a couple of months, like, it's gonna add up to a lot of things even though you don't see it on the day-to-day.

Be here, be now, and focus on what you can do to make yourself better.

Brock: I feel like things such as Instagram and Twitter and Facebook (and stuff) even contribute more to that comparison thing.

Katrín: Yeah, absolutely. I can't imagine being a teenager today. Yeah.

Brock: Now your coach ... you mentioned Ben Bergeron in the book. He really plays this role of a mentor and almost like a zen master. He's got some really great ways to keep you grounded. And one of them was that he made you, and sort of turned your mind around, to plan for what you're going to do when it all goes wrong. Sort of planning for disaster. Can you fill the listeners in on how that works for you?

Katrín: The funny story is that something that I have to learn—and something like visualization I used to do that when I was a gymnast—but I used to visualize the perfect routine. I used to visualize myself, you know, getting up on the beam and doing the perfect routine. I used to do that before a competition and then the same when I started CrossFit, it just transferred over. And you think about how do I want this workout to go? And then—that's not life.

You know, like okay, let's say it might go really well and great, but there are so many things that could possibly go wrong. So when they did go wrong, I didn't have a plan because my plan was for it to go perfectly. So it would always catch me off guard, and it either takes you longer to react well to it or it takes you longer to, like, adjust what's happening. And it didn't go as well.

When [things] did go wrong, I didn't have a plan because my plan was for it to go perfectly.

So I remember this one time before regionals, Ben said, "All right, what's our plan?" And then he goes, okay, what if this happens? And I couldn't figure out why he was saying that. Like, no, like, we have a plan. And he's like, no, but what about if this happened? What are you then going to do? And I was kind of upset with him because I felt like he was being so negative. I was like, why are you saying this? I'm already nervous. Why are you making me think about that? It could go wrong. And then, sure enough, things do go wrong. And I did not react very well and I didn't make the games. And after that, like, I started working so much more with him and I started working on my mindset and I started reading sports psychology books.

At the same time that I started working with them and he kind of helped me every day—like, what should I be focusing on? And those that are like "you should be focusing on things that you can control" and "if they're outside of your control you shouldn't be focusing on them because that's just wasted energy." So, therefore, the next year's games before the 2015 games, he said, "Tell me everything that could go wrong at the games." Like, everything. And we sat down and we wrote a list, a whiteboard, and we wrote down 101 things that could go wrong. And it was anything from getting a no-rep from a judge, or forgetting my goggles on the way to the venue, or the shark attack, or having a headache, or a tear in my hands, or like, anything that. My shoelace coming undone.

After we wrote down everything that could go wrong and then we went back to number one and we were like, all right, can we control this? Let's say it's your shoelaces. My shoelace came undone. Can we control it? Absolutely. All right, what should we do? Like what can we do to prevent that? I'm going to double tie my shoelaces, and let's say they still come undone, what am I going to do? If it happens while I am running, I probably should stop, stay calm, and that will help me tie them faster. But the number one thing would always to be like, can I prevent it? You know? And the same with the hand tear, it's like, all right, how are we gonna prevent that? All right. We're going to remember using our grips all the time. Or getting a no-rep. You can't get that rep back and you can't fight with your judge. It's way better to, number two, try and do a better rep. And if you can't understand why I'd be having a no-rep, then you stop and you ask your judge, "All right, what can I do to do better?" And then you'd carry on.

So, it's all these little things that, when they go wrong, because it always is going to go wrong, then you have a plan B and a plan C and a plan D and you're so quick at just going to the next plan. But it's almost as if nothing has gone wrong because you were already expecting it.

Brock: It's that calmness that really defines it, isn't it? Like, that the ability to stay calm and in the moment, not waste a bunch of energy freaking out.

Katrín: I always like when people ask me what the differences between me in 2014, of not making the gains and kind of like freaking out on the competition floor, or 2015 winning the CrossFit games. The thing that I want to describe it is that it was like someone took a windshield wiper and cleaned my brain out. It was just so much more clear and calm and it was just a huge game-changer.

It was like someone took a windshield wiper and cleaned my brain out. It was just so much more clear and calm and it was just a huge game-changer.

Brock: Now, I know a lot of the listeners out there are going to be wanting to get some actionable things that they can take away. And you've given us a few really good nuggets here, but can you give some advice to somebody who may be just starting their fitness journey and they may be struggling to either get to the gym or stay motivated, or maybe they're recovering from injury or something like that?

Katrín: I think the number one thing is to find something that you enjoy. And it's not going to be the same for everyone. I think CrossFit is for most people, and I think most people really do enjoy it because you get to show up at a certain time, you know all your, your so many friends there, you're always in a big group of people, so you have someone to go through the suffering of the workout wit. Or you have someone to high five when you accomplish something. And someone to back you and keep you going, if the workout is hard. And you have a coach, which is like something.

The number one thing is to find something that you enjoy. And it's not going to be the same for everyone.

For me, when I joined a gym, I never knew what I wanted to do and I would always show up and be like, all right, what should I do today? And kind of just walking around playing a guessing game, But at CrossFit, you have someone that gives you a program and it's going to be so diverse every single day. So we're always doing new things and you're always challenging yourself. But I've also seen that it's not for everyone. And some people like dancing and some people like spending more time outside and doing running or biking. And I think it's just getting to find something that you really enjoy.

Then I think it's, it's finding workout partners and having someone to go on the journey with and then doing what's right for you. You know, I think about my mom, it took her so long to get started because number one, she was always like, I can't do what you do. And I was like, you don't have to do what I do. You know, you don't have to do muscle-ups or pull-ups or the same way,  as it's your workout. So if there are pull-ups, you can do banded pull-ups, and if there are muscle-ups, you can change the movement. Or if it's a barbell, you can lower the weight. So, just make it for you, focus on doing your best and have fun with it. I think that's, that's the biggest thing.

Brock: That is fantastic. I love that message. Now, it has been great to have you on and I hate to let you go already. But can you let everybody know where they can find you? I know you've got a great online presence, really wonderful motivational videos and stuff. So where can they find you?

Katrín: Thank you. I'm mostly on Instagram. I've tried out Facebook and Twitter and all of that, but it's a lot. So Instagram is the one where you can find all of my stuff and it's just my first and middle name. It's @KatrinTanja

Brock: I'll make sure to put that in the show notes so people can just click it and find you really easily. And your book is available—well, everywhere pretty much, isn't it?

Katrin: Yeah! It's on Amazon and it's in bookstores and on audible, which I am super happy with that. I decided to read it myself. I both had a lot of fun with it and it's in my voice and I kind of got to relive it all again. So I'm super excited about that too.

Brock: I am too. That's perfect for people who listen to podcasts, tend to love audiobooks. So that's perfect for this audience.

Katrín: Yeah. And the audiobook is kind of funny, though, because my dad is English and he can't stand my accent. So, when I speak to my dad, I actually speak with a British accent. I don't know if you'll know that, but the audio version drives him crazy. So he's told me that he not listening to that and he's just going to use the book. But for the rest of the listeners, they can make their own decision.

Brock: Come on, Dad!

Well thank you again, Katrín, for coming on the Get-Fit Guy podcast. I really appreciate it and I encourage all of the listeners out there to pick up the book. I'm not just blowing smoke; I really enjoyed it and devoured it. In fact, I'm one of those slow readers usually, but I finished it in about three days.

Katrín: Uh-huh. It's so funny 'cause it's my book, and it's just my life, and my family, and whatever I've gone through. So I wonder "Is this interesting to other people or entertaining?" And so I'm really excited to hear that. Yeah.

Brock: You did a wonderful job and I really enjoyed your relationship with all your family and stuff too. Not just the competition stuff—although that was the sort of edge-of-your-seat kind of things. I won't spoil it for everybody. Go ahead and pick up the book. I'll put a link in the show notes and thank you once again.

Katrín: Thank you so much for having me on.

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