You may know Robin Arzon as Head Instructor at Peloton, where she pushes members to go beyond their limitations at home or in studio cycling sessions — or you may know her as a 26-time marathoner and ultramarathoner who wrote a New York Times best-seller called Shut Up and Run. But what you may not know is that she’s also a survivor.
In 2002, Arzon was entering her senior year at New York University and working as a paralegal when she was held hostage at a bar in Manhattan’s East Village neighborhood. In the aftermath of the attack, she realized that the path she was on was not going to help her heal. “That is when I became acutely aware of agency, powerlessness, and narrative,” she tells Arianna Huffington on the Thrive Global Podcast. “The bigger moments were actually the quiet times after that incident. I think trauma survivors remember the trauma, but it’s the aftermath that oftentimes we’re dealing with silently, and that was the hardest thing.”
Arzon says she simply wasn’t prepared to deal with what happened that night. “I was never taught and I was never able to unpack how to deal with trauma, so my coping mechanism was to physically run it out,” she explains. Running was a way that she was able to take back her power.
Looking back, Arzon shares that she now understands just how large of a capacity we have for strength and resilience. “In telling this story over the years, people are often like, ‘Wow, I could never do that.’ And my response is, ‘Yes, you can, because we are so much stronger than we think we are, and our backbones are incredibly resilient.’” Surviving this experience actually sparked Arzon’s successful career as the Vice President of Fitness Programming and Head Instructor at Peloton. “That’s why I fell in love with endurance sports — because I’m able to pull out that resiliency in a much less panic-inducing environment,” she tells Huffington. “We have already made it through 100 percent of our bad days, and knowing that should fill us all with such a confidence that we will be able to face anything straight in the eye. There’s freedom in knowing that every day I can make one better choice that will set me up for a legacy that I’m proud of.”
When asked about the feat she accomplished of running five marathons in five days, Arzon’s response was insightful: “I’ve always identified with turning pain into power. There’s something about the alchemy of using pain and having that be the rocket fuel for something else that is, I think, the path of the endurance athlete.” As she completed her races, Arzon says that her family was the motivator: “I always say that when we don’t rise to the level with which the world and our loved ones see that we can rise to, we’re disrespecting them. In the days that I didn’t feel like running, I felt like I was disrespecting my family, and people who believed in me, and people who donated, and even random people on social media who are like, ‘You can do it.’”
In August of this year, Arzon made a video on her Instagram about wanting to have kids and her fertility journey. Speaking about it now, she says that she wanted to destigmatize open conversations surrounding fertility. “I always knew I wanted to be a mother, but now with the physicality of my job, we realized that’s going to have to be a really intentional decision, because I will not be able to work in the same capacity,” she tells Huffington. “I felt a responsibility to be public with this conversation because I don’t have anything to be ashamed of, and nor should any woman. If I’m proselytizing and encouraging folks to step into their power, why would I hide in the shadow of something that I think should make people’s backbones a little bit straighter?”
While she may still be a few years away from starting a family, she is still keeping busy leading cycling classes at Peloton, which can have more than 10,000 riders participating at once. She explains that preparing for a class is not unlike preparing for a Broadway performance. “We have an instructor room and I will do box breathing — inhale for four, hold for four, exhale for four. I need that for my nervous system before, and especially after an intense class,” she explains. “My nervous system feels like it’s being chased by a bear. And I have to remind myself that no, you’re not actually in the woods being chased by a bear.”
As hard as Arzon works and pushes us to give her all, she also recognizes the importance of recovery. “You can only work out, and you can only train, and you can only succeed as hard as you recover,” she says. She created a “Zen Den” in her home to be her sanctuary, with a plant wall, a small desk, books, and cushions for meditation. “Taking the 15, 20, 30 minutes for yourself — you’re more to everyone else because you can fill your own cup,” she adds. “It’s not selfish to take away 20 minutes — it is actually selfless because you will be so much more to everyone else in your life because you have fulfilled your own little moment of awe.”
Check out the rest of The Thrive Global Podcasts, sponsored by Crest 3D White and in partnership with iHeartRadio, here. To find out more, listen to the full conversation on iHeartRadio, here. You can also listen to the Thrive Global podcast internationally for free on iTunes.