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Ottawa lawyer finds her stride to juggle work and competition

Thursday, April 16, 2015 @ 8:00 PM | By Geoff Kirbyson


Julie Paquette might be the only lawyer to have escaped from Alcatraz.

Her crime? Five years ago, the Ottawa-based commercial real estate lawyer at Norton Rose Fulbright Canada and avid runner was looking to test her physical limits and came across the “Escape From Alcatraz” triathlon that started at the infamous prison, located on Alcatraz Island in San Francisco Bay, and required participants to swim more than two kilometres to land, followed by a bike and a run.

“It’s supposed to mimic that you’re escaping from Alcatraz,” she says.

There is no formal data detailing how many fleeing prisoners, upon reaching land, hopped on a bike for 29 km and then ran for another 13 km, but you get the point.

Paquette quickly got the bug for extreme challenges that culminated in February with a victory in the Women’s Ultraman Florida Race in Orlando, Fla.

The three-day race is a truly grueling affair. The first day consists of a 10-km swim followed by a 145-km bike ride. The next day features a 275-km bike ride, and Sunday’s finale tops off with a double marathon. That’s right, you run 26.2 miles and you’re only halfway done that day’s requirement.

Her combined time of 29 hours and 33 minutes was two hours faster than the second-place female finisher. She was also 11th overall out of 40 total participants, all of whom had to apply to compete in the race.

“I’m motivated to see how far I can go and find out what my limits are. That brought me to try the Ultraman,” she says.

There’s a cutoff of 12 hours each day. If you come in within 15 minutes of the deadline, you can still participate — but not officially finish — but any time after that results in disqualification.

A full Ironman race, by comparison, is a 3.8-km swim followed by 180 km on the bike and a full marathon, all of which has to be completed within 17 hours.

She says while both competitions are challenging, there are some not so subtle differences.

“When you do an Ironman, you drive yourself into the ground. The next day, you don’t have to get up and do it again,” she says.

Such an extreme competition obviously takes a physical toll but there’s an emotional battle going on, too.

“One racer told me, ‘it’s 90 per cent mental and the other 10 per cent is in your head,’” she says with a laugh. “To be frank, I had a wonderful experience with this race. It wasn’t as difficult as I anticipated. I never got discouraged or tired. I never started thinking about wanting to get to the finish line until the 44-mile mark.”

With such a full training schedule, coupled with her law practice — and oh yes, she’s a wife and mother — Paquette says the one thing she neglects is sleep.

She often gets up at 4:30 a.m. to get in her morning training before taking the kids to school and going to work. She even gets up early on the weekends — which are her heavy training days — but she doesn’t miss too much face time with her teenagers, who usually get up around noon, right around when she’s cooling down.

“I also neglect some chores at home,” she admits. “Our house doesn’t have many decorations. We moved in two years ago and it’s not all unpacked.”

Paquette admits she has become creative just to manage her life. Some days, she’ll run the 26 km to work.

“It becomes a lifestyle. It’s almost automatic. You figure out how you fit it all in. When people say ‘if there’s a will, there’s a way,’ that’s absolutely true. Let go of a TV show and go for a run. It’s all about compromises,” she says.

While her schedule might seem insane to some, she says it takes only three weeks of doing something regularly for it to become a habit. For those 21 days, it’s tough, but it gets much easier after that.

“Then it becomes part of your life. You can book an appointment with your life,” she says.

There are crossover benefits from both of her pursuits. For example, her determination to reach the finish line, no matter how distant it may be, comes in handy at the office.

“You fall down, you get up, you keep going, you don’t quit,” she says.

The organizational skills involved in pursuing her training are also transferable, helping her interact with clients, deal with stress and handle her workload.

“The training is medication for stress. It’s natural,” she says.

“Multitasking and how to fit in more than one thing at a time — I picked that up from work before anywhere else.”

And even though the non-stop training and recovering would strike most people as exhausting, Paquette says it’s just the opposite.

“It has a positive impact on my job. It’s invigorating, it’s energizing,” she says.

Eating well and an abundance of fresh air while running and biking are also great for her mental health. And because she has a tight schedule to keep, she makes sure to be efficient with her time.

“When I sit down to work, I’m productive. I know I’ve got things to get done because I have other commitments, to my kids or another workout,” she says.

Paquette is quick to note that even though she trained like crazy for the Ultraman last year, she also had one of her best years as a lawyer from the point of view of billable hours and business development.

Of course, most of her athletic endeavours wouldn’t be possible without the support of her fellow partners at the firm and her family. Her husband, Charles Sincennes, is part of her invaluable crew when she competes, along with her dad Yves and her sister Susie.

“The crew can make or break you. They are instrumental in your success,” she says.