Pay It Forward 2016 Contest!

I am excited to announce I will be doing Pay It Forward for 2016 again! I have thoroughly enjoyed working with the past winners: Dan M, Cathy B, Courtney, Alisa D and Jeff Vanis.

2016 will be my 6th year Paying it Forward with a new athlete.

If you are interested, I encourage you to apply. Here are the details:

1.) Applicants can apply via email to: from December 1st – December 15th at 11:59pm CST. Feel free to be as creative as you want in the email application.

2.) For the Pay it Forward Athlete, I am looking for athletes that have overcome any type of hardship – This can include , but not limited to: illnesses, financial or personal issues. This is also open to athletes who may not have any hardships but just have not been able to put together a solid year (s) of training due to inconsistency, lack of motivation, lack of focus/structure and need something new and challenging.

3.) You CAN re-apply if you applied before!

4.) You need to have at least one “A” race in 2015. Can be any significant race, but we need to have goals for 2015. All levels of athletes are welcome!

5.) The coaching will start in January, 2016 and last until the end of your “A” race or 12/31/16, whichever one is first.

6.) You will have to blog about your experience and be an active member of social media (FB ,Twitter and Instagram if you have it).

I encourage you all to apply.  If you have any questions, please feel free to reply to this blog or send me an email. I will announce the winner between 12/15 and Christmas, 2015.

Looking forward to another great year of paying it forward to our great sport!

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ITU Worlds Double & Managing the Slide

This past weekend at the ITU Triathlon World Championships in Chicago. Just like at Nationals in August, I raced both the Sprint and Olympic Distances at Worlds too. The only difference was that the Sprint was first on Thursday and the Olympic was ~ 48 hours later on Saturday. I was really interested to see how that would feel and go for me. I had never pulled that combination off before. At Nationals I did the Olympic on Saturday and gutted through the Sprint on Sunday. I was worried doing it the opposite order would be even more challenging.

Ironically, I felt like a million bucks for my Olympic Race and had one of those days were I just felt great all around. It was about 100% different than I felt for the Sprint 2 days prior where I was super tired. My goal was to go Top 10 at both, but I also knew that would be an aggressive goal, with how stacked USAT Nationals was last year with everyone wanting to race in the USA for Worlds.

I ended up 8th in the Sprint and 7th in the Olympic. I had very specific goals for the races and paces I knew I had to hit in order to be in the mix. I knew I had to have a better swim than at Nationals in the Olympic. At Nationals I had a sub par swim for me and came out of the water in 9th. I vowed that would never happen again, so I killed myself in the Sprint and OLY races in the cold, choppy Lake Michigan (loved it) and came out of the water in ~5th in both races – Mission accomplished. I was breathing HARD and took off like a rocket and had full blown clean water for both races.

Coming out of the water in the Top 5 sets you up nicely at Worlds and I knew the movement would be minimal in the Top 10. At Worlds it is not like anyone will really out bike or out run anyone by 2-3+ minutes up in the top 10 – so the swim matters – big time. In my opinion at this short course World level, it is all about the swim – as long as you are a strong rider and runner you can hold your position.

I also knew I had to run a 42 minute 10k or faster to be in the Top 10 or about 6:40s pace. Chicago is flat and that suits me well. Choppy water – cold and windy. Honestly, the conditions were everything I dream about. I knew this and made sure I capitalized on my strengths.

I ended up running a 42 min 10k and not one girl passed me on the run. I held my spot and held tough. The course was long at 6.7-6.9 miles, so our 10k times are long, but I was okay with that as I was running well and enjoying the moment.

2015 ends my 40-44 age group racing. I age up to 45 in January. I am excited to age up and be the youngest again in the age group. Racing at 44 is very different than 40. And, remaining fast after 40 is a major balancing act of many, many things. I thought I would talk about racing fast after 40 – way more interesting than another full blown race report.

Racing “Fast” after 40:


Since I have been racing Triathlon since my early 20s, I don’t PR anymore. I may PR my Ironman (just did that at 41) but I will not getting any bests in my run races or shorter triathlons and honestly, I don’t even think about times anymore. For example, last time I raced at Worlds was 2008 Vancouver. I was 9th there but ran a 39:xx 10k at the age of 37. Now, at the age of 44, I ran a 42 minute 10k on an easier course. A 2003 study by Stephen Baird stated: Ten-kilometer race performance decreased at a rate of about 0.5% per year, or a tad under two seconds per mile per year after the age of 40. I do not go into any race saying, “I need to PR.” I just try to manage the slide. I go to race the competition. I can feel the times decreasing a bit, but I am realistic and focus on other goals when I race. (Of course there are 40+ athletes that still PR, they just are late comers to the sport).

Specificity and Focus:

I don’t pretend I can do all distances well in the same season. Some athletes can, but I don’t enjoy the mix at all. I like the focus and specificity of training for short course OR long course and keeping things focused and specific. One of the major differences in my 40s versus 20s and 30s is my family and work life. When you are in your 40s, you are at the height of your careers and (usually) have kids in middle school and high school. The weekend and night commitments are plentiful and the time shifts from the little kids and toddlers to hanging on to every last few seconds we have the kids at home. So, I do not mess around. My motto for this year in training was, “Just enough.” I was going to do “just enough” to meet my goals. That doesn’t mean the bare minimum, it just means I was going to keep it all in perspective. I did not want to miss much with my kids. I just don’t spread myself too thin. Trust me, I am on the edge many days and weeks – but now I realize when I am and I yank things back. Last week I drove to Cross Country workouts instead of walking over with the kids – I did everything to stay off my legs to ensure I was fresh for Worlds.


As I have been aging through my 40s, I have noticed that my tolerance to speed training has diminished – this is really more applicable to running right now than swimming and cycling, where I don’t feel quite that tolerance waning yet. I work hard to defend my speed but not too hard that I mess something up. This season there were a few workouts where I was on the line and even over that line. I was on the track – forgetting I was 44 and running like I was 30. I have a love affair with the track and I can still get around the track almost as quickly as 10 years ago, but the difference is I will pay for it for days. Another area of major change for me in running is my stride length. In your 40s, your stride rate has nearly decreased by 40%! I spend a ton of time working on my turnover, snap and rebound. One of the first things I noticed was that I did not have the snap as I once did → That recoil and bounce. Now, I do a ton of my longer runs on crushed limestone. I mix up the terrains and keep my body adapting and different terrains, but in my 40s, the softer surfaces really help me recover better. The running is the biggest change in my 40s. My easy runs used to be 7:00 min miles – 10-15 years ago – now that is considered a tempo pace for me and very far from “easy” for me.


This will probably not apply to a ton of 40+ athletes, but for me, it is a game changer. I do not train with a Garmin or pace on my watch. I just cannot. I know what it is like to run X pace, so there is no issues with effort. However, I think it is an athlete’s kiss of death when they age to spend too much time worrying that their warm up pace is now an 8:00-9 min mile and Masters athletes can get into a horrible cycle of over-pushing the effort or pace because they are not content with their paces. I cannot tell you how many days (early mornings especially) where I start out and I bet you I am barely running a 9 minute mile. I cannot warm up quickly and it just takes longer. I hate the watch screaming 9:00 min miles to me – so I just keep it simple. Easy for me these days is definitely 8-9 min miles. Hard is hard and I do not need a watch to tell me how to suffer. I do; however, use power on the bike, because that is a little easier to manage and my watts have decreased over the years, but not as dramatically. But, I do not live and die with it – Ironically, it did not work for my Oly on Saturday at Worlds.

Sleep Quality/Hormones:

One of the major changes now is my sleep quality. As you move through your 40s as a female your hormones are changing and your body is adapting to reduced levels of various hormones. I have found that my PMS is horribly worse. My bad hormone days are worse than ever. I have an APP on my phone called “Period Tracker” and I can manage all my symptoms on it. Physically & mentally it keeps me on target with my bad days, nights I will have a hard time sleeping and when I will have my most horrible fatigue days (and I am prepared for that in my workouts). I am still like clockwork – so I am able to manage these hormone symptoms, but as I creep into my mid 40s and late 40s, I know this will change and it is something that is worth keeping a careful eye on. With the hormone changes comes a reduced sleep quality. I just do not sleep as well as I once did. I really like to sleep and prefer 7-9 hours and I usually get it. But, hormones make some nights really tough and as I get older, I just get more sensitive to noise and I am a huge worrier – so my worry keeps me up some nights (teenagers and building a house will do that).


Seems to be a hot button in our sport, but something I don’t tend to over-think. I have always eaten everything. I eat meat, carbs, you name it, I eat it (except fried food). Back in the day, I would restrict chocolate and M&Ms and things I absolutely love. At the time, it was worth it. But, at 44 – I do not care that much to give up things I love. This is a lifestyle for me and if I gave up my favorite things every year, well, then my entire life is not eating what I love? No, thanks. When I race short course, weight does matter. I know what weight I need to be in order to run well and not get sick or do anything stupid. Every year I am able to get to this weight that I like by just moving a bit more in my daily life – Not training more or eating way less….just summertime things like mowing the grass, walking to places, coaching Cross Country, etc. Also, I eat for fuel. I do not binge or starve myself. I am super consistent year after year and my body knows what is coming and it is the same every year. The key to my consistent weight – even at age 44, when it just does not want to move as easily – is consistency. I have never ever done a cleanse. I have never tried a fad diet. I eat food for fuel and recovery. Plain and simple. Don’t over-think food. Have some chocolate, beer, whatever your vice is and it will prevent major peaks and valleys in your diet, weight and personality.


I cannot write about being racing fast after 40 without talking about Recovery. I think what is so key here is to make sure you are working with someone that understands this. The biggest kiss of death I see with Masters athletes who are doing group programs/workouts with the focus on the fast 30 year old single male. Make sure you are following a training plan that is specific for you as a Masters athlete. The key difference here I find is I need more recovery at the tippy top end of training. I can still do all the hard workouts but I need more recovery time in between the intervals OR days. I rarely do hard days back to back. For Ironman I do, but that is different training than short course prep. If I run the track on Tuesday, I am not doing a bike TT on Wednesday. Could I do that? Oh sure….but then I build a hole that is hard to climb out of. And, my goal is repeatability and consistency day to day.


One of the best things about aging is experience. I have this calm about me now. I can flip the “switch” and be “ON” and race on a dime now. I am still just as hungry as I was 20 years ago to race and meet my goals, but now I have a ton more confidence. I understand what I need to do in every race. There are no more surprises. If they cancel the swim? No biggie, roll with it. 30 mph winds? Bring it on. Starting in the last wave of 2000+ athletes? Okay, whatever. I have this utter calmness about me now. I have raced over 200 triathlons and am able to keep each race in perspective. I know what races need me to be plugged in and 100% rested for. I know what works regarding my nutrition. I do not eat anything ever on my bike or runs that I would not train on (long course sometimes, yes, but not short course). I eat my pre-race breakfast before every workout I do when I can. If I get up at 5am to run, I always eat race food (just small portions) and I never just get up and go. I also tend to not over-think anything. I never go into a Triathlon saying, “I need to go 2:15 to be in the top 10.” Deep down inside, trust me, I know what I need to do, but anything can happen. I just stay as connected to the girls up front as I can and the times will take care of itself. If I swim a 20 min 1.5 k or 22 minutes – does it matter if I come out in the top 1-5? Absolutely not. This saves me and keeps me fresh year after year. If I over-thought all of that and worried that I swam “slow” or whatever, it is really just a matter of perspective. What you need to focus on is where did you finish or swim compared to the girls/guys in the AG? That is the reality of racing and keeping it real. Because, as you get older, these times will slide & you cannot fight that slide, it is too exhausting.

Strength and Flexibility:

It goes without saying that this is critical. Every Monday I go to Pilates. I have been doing that for a couple of years consistently now. I need it. I tend not to do a good job of stretching well myself. This is critical in staying injury free. I also get a massage as much as I can. One of the hot areas of aging athletes are lower legs: Achilles, calves…many Masters athletes have issues with these areas because, as we age, these tendons and ligaments just do not recover and have as much elasticity as before and when we push and push, these areas of our bodies take the most stress. Another area that I noticed is the groin and adductor/Hip area. Same theory here, putting the same stress on these areas year after year but these areas getting weaker as we age. If you don’t do the preventative care as a Masters athlete then you are just inches away from an injury. These areas have grown increasingly tight on me and unless I strengthen and work on these areas they get progressively worse.

Statistical analysis has shown that much of the decrease in race performance with age can be explained by decreases in oxygen uptake, upper and lower body strength, flexibility, and muscular (explosive) power. At 44, almost 45, I am the athlete in front of the freight train running as hard as I can to outrun being hit from behind.

Thank yous:

Time for some R&R now! As I wrap up my 2015 season I want to thank:

Elizabeth – we have worked together in various capacities for ~14 years. Thanks for all you do to help me stay competitive and healthy every year – We make a great team!  I am grateful for our coaching relationship and most importantly our friendship.

Jerome – I love you. You are the best partner for me and thanks for supporting me for all these years.  Even when I know you enjoy beer more than your bike now.

Chris V and Element – I love my Pink TREK and your support this season has been nothing short of amazing.

Dave Walters – I would never be the athlete I am now without you. You are an amazing coach, friend and mentor.

PSIMET – Thanks Rob & Leah for the awesome race wheels and support of the Triathlete in your “real riders” group.  Hopefully I have not embarrassed you too much yet.

Ian and Roka – Best wetsuit I have ever worn. Thanks for all your support.

Nathalie Banfield – BEST Massage therapist ever.

416 Pilates and Meghan – Thank you! 😉

12038609_10153625772894568_2396094807794463488_oMaking sure no one out-sprinted me in the finishing chute at Worlds!


  1. loved the report and master athlete changes. At 53, totally agree.
    You did forget TRX strength/core training equally important! ☺️

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The Double at USAT Nationals

This season I have been focusing on short course racing and I have really enjoyed the simplicity and intensity of it. I honestly like it more than Ironman training and racing. I decided 2015 was going to be the year of short course and local racing. Aside from an early season San Juan 70.3, where I ended up spectating the race instead of racing, all my other races this season have been within driving distance and over in ~ 2 hours or less!

We sold our house and moved in late April. 15 years of being in one house and I like “stuff.” I had bags of letters from my childhood friends, old boyfriends and well….just a lot of junk. It took Jerome weeks to clear out the basement of all our bikes, triathlon junk and crap. I cannot believe the amount of crap we accumulated all these years. We went through nearly 100 x 100 gallon bags+! I was so tired – like deep bone tired. I have only been that tired the first few months after the twins were born. We then moved successfully into a rental townhouse. Prince and Princess live upstairs and Jerome and I are re-living our college glory downstairs. My bike is in the closet-size entry way on the computrainer.

In April we also broke ground on our house and we are currently under roof, hardie board is going on and we are in the midst of designing and picking out the kitchen stuff and bathroom stuff now. Building a house has been fun. It is a little financially stressful – and there are A LOT of decisions. And a lot of phone calls. You almost can barely think every time the Builder calls and asks “Did you want a can light in X spot?” BUT, honestly, it is re-freshing and Jerome and I have embraced the process and having fun with it – we have waited and worked hard to build our “dream house.”

So, due to wanting to be PRESENT for this process as well as the feeling that my kids are leaving us soon…I decided not to ride my bike long this year. The longest I have ridden since my JHC Camp in March has been 2 hours and 37 minutes. It has been blissful.

Along the theme of short course races this year, I decided to make USAT Nationals Olympic and Sprint and Worlds Sprint and Olympic (in Chicago) my “A” races this year. I am lucky that Nationals was in Milwaukee, a mere 1:45 from my house. Again, within my “driving range” rule. I had a sub par Olympic race last year but a great Sprint race there. My goal was to get myself on the Podium for both races this year (Top 10 for OLY and Top 5 for Sprint).

I love Nationals because I love super competitive races. And, honestly, I like competitive races where the girls are my age. I am motivated by the fierce competition in my 40-44 age group. The girls are fast and getting faster – it is something that has changed dramatically over the years!

Last year I did a poor job at simplifying my life the week leading into Nationals and I arrived a wee bit tired. This year, I was adamant on not letting that happen again. All the small details really matter at a race like Nationals. Aside from some personal stress that is just normal life, I did a good job compartmentalizing life, work and racing. I was nervous all week. I was a little on edge but worked hard at staying positive and visualizing being strong and fast on race day.

I roomed with Chris Wickard again. We shared a room last year and we get along swimmingly. Not only are we friends, but I have been coaching Chris for 4+ years and I was excited to spend some quality “spooning” time with her. Honestly, she is easy and let’s Miss Daisy watch HGTV (the way I unwind) at night. :) And, she let me use her Recovery boots – Wow, am I missing out!

Saturday arrived and I woke up after 8+ hours of sleeping and ready to GO. I was still super nervous but confident in my preparation. I arrived healthy and hungry to race; two things that I don’t take for granted.

Our wave was late – 9:18am start time. This year we lined up on the wall and had to hold the sea wall that was high with one hand. I did think this was fair since last year we kept inching up and inching up in the water. I started next to my athlete and eventual winner of the 40-44 age group, Megan James. I know how she swims and knew she’d be the first out of the water, so I was just going to try to keep the gap as small as possible. I was looking for Elizabeth too, but did not see her at the start unfortunately.

Gun went off and we shot off the wall like a cannon! I went hard – got a good line – never touched anyone, never had anyone near me and I tried to find Megan the whole time. She was in a pack of 3-5 swimmers and I was just trying to keep that gap as small as possible. I consider myself a strong swimmer and my goal was to be in the top 5-6 out of the water. I felt awful. Just flat and could not get going – my stroke was good; I felt smooth. But, I had no top end. Weird. I have been swimming solo so much this summer (as my Masters team is on break) and I know that bit me in the ass – just not enough hard swimming that I just cannot replicate unless I am chasing feet in the pool. Anyway, I had a sub-par swim for me and came out of the water in 9th-10th. I had a little, “OH SHIT” moment, but just pressed on and passed 1-2 girls in T1.

One of the things with Nationals is that one just does not make up time on others easily. Everyone is fast that is around you – so if you think “I will just catch her on the bike” – that does not really happen.

I felt good on the bike. Really good. I came out of T1 with Elizabeth – and I was riding right behind her (legally) for the first 5-6 miles and then we came through a bumpy part and my bottle ejected. Ugh! And, I had to stop, get off my bike and turn around and get the bottle. Huge bummer because I lost Elizabeth, but I had no choice. I needed my nutrition (or the run would be awful) and I did not want to get a penalty. The marshals were all over us.

I was riding well and felt great. Last year I felt like I was on the bike forever (that is when you know you are off a bit). This weekend I felt good. I was pushing strong, felt smooth and on top of the pedals. I knew that I was capable of riding a 1:05 on this course and that was my goal. I passed three girls right away on the bike. That motivated me because now I was in 6th-7th place. The bottle drop cost me 45-60”, but it was the right decision. Just shitty luck. Two girls came by me drafting and that was really too bad. I was so mad. One of the girls thankfully got a drafting penalty. But the other one did not. Otherwise, the ride was clean from the other girls I saw, which is nice.

I got off the bike in 6th place or so.

I felt great on the run. I had my legs, I was taking salt and drinking and carried a hand held so I did not have to stop at the crowded aide stations. The first part of the run is an out and back and the race is so tight, so you can see it all unfold. I could see Megan in first place and Elizabeth making ground on 2nd, 3rd, so that was exciting. I was working hard to close the gap on the few girls in front of me. We were all kind of running the same pace ~ 6:50s. No one was running 6:30s, so every time I assessed the time gaps, they were about the same. I kept pushing and pushing. I was talking to myself, “Jenny you are in the TOP 10, keep digging, get top 5…get top 5.” I ran out of room and finished in 7th. I was happy with my finish and had met my goal. While my race was far from perfect, it was a solid effort for me and I was on the podium with one of my athletes, Megan and my dear friend, Elizabeth!

After the Olympic race we sat around and tried to force food down our throats to recover. Luckily, I had a VIP pass from my result from last year, so Megan, Chris Wickard, Elizabeth and I were living it up in the VIP tent. So nice.

I had a nice group of athletes racing over the weekend, so I set up a get together at a local brewery after the race to put some food down in order to recover so we can race again in the morning. I was a zombie and unsure how I was going to pull that double off again. After the JHC get-together, Chris and I rode our bikes down to T1 again to re-check in for the Sprint race. Then off to the Awards ceremony. Then shoved more food in our throats and off to bed.

Up again on Sunday morning to do it again! I actually did not feel too bad. We headed back down to the race start and I walk SO slowly, I think Chris felt like she was cattle prodding me all the time. I just like to “stroll.” We set up in the transition area, talk to some of my friends and athletes and then make our way to the VIP tent to hang out until the race starts.

I was a little relieved that the Sprint wave was a little smaller, I felt like I could breathe a bit more with less commotion and bodies around.

I knew I had to swim harder than Saturday – and ironically, last year I felt like crap in the water after racing Saturday. But, I actually did not feel too bad on Sunday. My breathing was much more labored than usual, but I went out hard, had no contact again and made my way to the front. I was right off the back of the 1-3 girls and just trying to hang on. I was swimming way better today. Heather Westerman (eventual winner) was off the front and out-swam us by nearly 2 minutes in a SPRINT! She is a super swimmer. And we were hauling ass!

I cannot over-emphasis here how important the swim is in short course racing. For example, Megan James (who won 40-44 Oly) and Heather (who won 40-44 Sprint) BOTH out swam their competition by 90”-2 minutes. At the Nationals level, that is a ton of time and really, really hard to make up. They both had the fastest swims of their days and went on to win their age groups. Unless someone 40-44 is running a 38 min 10k (rare) – these gaps are hard to break.

I came out of the water in about 4th place. Heather W, Becky Paige in front of me. I went for it – I accidentally went too far down on my rack for my bike (had a stupid moment thinking I was racing the Oly again)….but grabbed my bike and off I went. I felt a little flat on the bike – but that was to be expected. My watts were lower, so I never looked at them again. The best part of racing at a race like Nationals is how many girls there are near you! It’s like I can feel their breathing on my neck.

And, I love racing people, not the clock. In a short course, competitive race like Nationals that is my favorite part – knowing where I am at – chasing girls and holding girls off – I did not even start my watch, look at my watts or computer the entire day. It just didn’t matter – I was in the moment, racing the girls.

My goal → DO NOT GET PASSED. I hammered, I was flat, but it was just mind over matter. No one passed me on the bike – I passed no one. Ran into T2, threw my bike in and was off on the run. No visor (I love running w a visor), no socks (of course – but my feet were a hot mess after Saturday’s race – bloody, cut up, pretty bad). But, I was in 4th and every second mattered. I could see people all over the place. I just had to go go go.

I started the run and felt great! I felt way better even than Saturday’s 10k, where I thought I felt good! I could see Becky ahead of me by about 20-30” so I just focused on her. I was running well. I knew that if I could keep running my pace I would be able to hold this position. I could see one girl at the turn around that was charging hard. A little too hard.

I was breathing like a freight train and even was having that little “throw up” in my mouth as I tried to manage the effort and pain. Ironically I never felt my feet. I gave it my all. In the end I finished ~ 20” behind Becky (she did the Double too) and 5” behind Ceclia Dubey (Duathlon National Champ) and in 5th. I gave it my all. I visualized the hard track workouts I have been doing as we closed in on the final 1 mile of the race – just trying to get to the finish line as fast as I could.

I did it! I was 5th and was over the moon. I was able to hit both my goals at Nationals. While I was slower both days, I did not care. The day was different, the courses are never exactly the same, I was there to race the girls, not the clock. And, at 44 (nearly 45) in the 40-44 age group, I was happy to still be in the mix.

The Awards ceremony on Sunday was just as special as Saturday’s. Some of these athletes – and many very young ones at the Sprint – are just so fast and amazing. It is a very inspiring collection of athletes of all ages. And, you know, all the hard work, detail management, that it takes to get there you can finally say, “It was worth it.” And, Becky Paige was 1st in the Double and I was 2nd in the Double (yes, there are awards for fastest combined Oly and Sprint times. She beat me by 80” or something like that). That was fun!

Chris Wickard won the 45-49 AG and to be there and share that with her was special as well. Chris has had some minor (or major) niggles this year so this win for her was extra meaningful.

Every day we question our sanity of why we do this sport. The time, the money, the sacrifice, the early mornings, the preventative work on our bodies…but when I drove away from Milwaukee I was once again reminded how great this sport is. How great the people are in it and how much I love the competitive arena, the outstanding performances by so many and the overall camaraderie that a National Championship event holds.

Thanks to everyone for their support and most importantly, thanks to the girls in the 40-44 age group who pushed me both days to my limit; ultimately that is what I crave and why I do this sport.

Next up: ITU Worlds in Chicago

Sprint Finish USAT Nats 2015



  1. Yea! So happy to read this and congratulations! What great results!!!!!!

  2. Incredible effort and racing by you as always Jen! Especially after such a busy spring and summer = impressive!!

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Re-Defining Hard

Coming off another JHC Camp in Tucson this past week, I was reminded again of some of the key areas I try to work on with athletes : Re-defining hard and Suffering.

There were lots of tears at camp, but also lots of breakthroughs. Tucson’s climate is not easy for the athletes that have been hibernating all winter in their basements. Further, everyone in their basement is winning their own workouts all alone in a climate-controlled and fuel controlled environment. There is nothing wrong with this at all – hell, this is how most of us train all winter. But, at camp, my job is to show athletes that we race in shitty conditions and on not so perfect days. Tucson had record heat this camp. It was 94F on Sunday. This is hot for many northerners!

Camp is not complicated. I keep it very simple, very precise and VERY hard.

We ride a lot. We run a lot and we swim a little bit. I would love to swim more, but really these athletes need to ride outside and work on bike handling skills, shifting up hills, climbing Lemmon multiple times and how to stack day after day of big workouts and how to finish camp feeling tired but also accomplished.

The biggest thing that I want the campers to walk away with from camp is this: Re-defining what their definition of HARD is.

Some athletes excel at this. Many elite AG and PRO racers got this. They can suffer when the workout says, “RUN UNTIL YOU PUKE.” In fact, some elite AG and Pros will retire purely for this reason: THEY are done suffering. And, once you are done suffering (at that level), you need to walk away. This is what happened to Jerome. He finally just said, “I just do not want to hurt anymore.” Got it. Understand. Getting out of bed EVERY day to test yourself, rip yourself apart (when the workout calls for it) and re-defining hard every season can be exhausting on many levels.

However, there are many athletes that just do not understand this concept. Even when I say “HARD” in their workouts that they do alone or in their basements, even with data, it is not really hard…it is a “harder effort” sure, but not what I mean by OMG this is hard.

For example, on the 2nd last day of camp, after long days and long rides and crabby crotches, I make the athletes do Time Trials up Mt. Lemmon. The campers do anywhere from 1-3 x 5 mile repeats up the steeper part of Lemmon. I love this workout and think it really shows me what can these athletes endure : mentally and physically.

I do this ride at 1:00pm during the heat of the day and Sunday was 94F in the shade after many of them ran 9-16 miles that morning.

I remember doing these Time Trails with Spencer Smith back in the day – I would be gutted, tasting blood, near vomit at the top of these 5 miles ( he would be soft pedaling). But, they were pivotal in my understanding of what hard really was on the bike and what we are truly capable of mentally and physically. I had to be turned inside out and humbled to really “get it.” But, once that switch happened, I knew how to do it every time I was asked to ride “hard.”

I sent the group up Lemmon – tell the lead rider what the “camp record” is to mile 5, so he has someone to chase and the rest chase their own inner demons. Jerome and I start at the back and ride through the riders to encourage them. Honestly, I do it so I can really see who is working.

If I go by the athlete and he/she is not breathing or drooling over themselves OR blowing snots, they are not going hard enough. When I say “HARD,” I mean ALL out. Doesn’t matter what the HR says, the power says, I do not care. Get rid of it – just you and your head. Of course HR will be high, power low, we are on day 4 of a massive camp. But, what I want is for these athletes to really TEST themselves – throw away the limiting data. JUST SUFFER. Cry and even want to stop. Only then will they understand what they are made up and what their own personal limits are.

How do you really dig deep and go harder than you ever thought possible?

When it comes to athletic endeavors, especially endurance sports, your ability to suffer can mean the difference between a good race and a great race and continuing to improve and PR.

Part of this is confidence and the other part of it is experience. You have to hit rock bottom in training – where you are in tears, or near vomiting or sitting on the side of the road begging for mercy to really understand what your limits are. And you need to be able to do this in all three sports. Many athletes excel in one sport, but are challenged with how to transfer this to the other sport. I find many elite D1 swimmers who really have to re-define what hard is and learn what hard is in running, for example. For some it doesn’t come natural. For the ones where it does, they can rise to the challenges and put themselves out there, overcome their fears and rise above their competition.

One of my challenges of a coach is to teach people how to suffer and re-define what HARD really is. I would say that 85% of the athletes I work with can suffer more. And, teaching athletes really what hard vs easy is – is key too. Many athletes are training in that grey zone all the time – “just training” but with no specificity and no clear delineation between hard and easy. This will initially get you fit, and in the beginning you will do OK, but as the seasons go by, unless you tap into this “suffering” you will plateau and see less and less improvement.

In Carrie Cheadle’s book: On Top of Your Game she refers to this suffering:

A lot of athletes don’t realize that they haven’t pushed themselves as hard as they can go until they get to the end of the race and still have some left in the tank. Part of the reason people hold back is because many athletes find themselves “risk averse” and opt to play it safe versus risking the possibility of pushing so hard that they don’t finish where they want to. If you’re trying to figure out the balance you might try asking yourself during the race, “Can I give 1% more?” That way you’re playing with where the line is, but not necessarily pushing too far past it. The more you race and try out different strategies, the more you will learn how you operate and figure out what the best strategy is for you.

Challenge yourself this season and re-define your HARD. I promise you, you have more in you.



  1. Great post!!!

  2. Excellent post Jenny!! On point !!The last paragraph where you cite Carrie Cheadle fits me! 1% more?
    Thanks for your insights !!!

  3. Jen, I am so jealous. Sorry I came late to the party and missed out on the camp. I remember thinking you were kind of soft when we worked briefly together in 2005. Hah!!! This is so my kind of camp. Ride (until you tear the meat off the bone), Puke, Repeat! Bonus if you call me a lazy maggot. BTW, there’s no crying in triathlon. If I survive this season, I’m there next year.

  4. LOVE THIS!!!!

  5. ok Jen…..I got it!!! 😉

  6. You are so right…and this is such a lesson I need to relearn!!!! And I have spent the last year trying to relearn some of that…it is still a struggle!

  7. This is so great. This is a mental insight that I am only beginning to learn with your help. I can’t wait to grow more as an athlete and person!

  8. Another year goes by and I MISS THE CAMP. (sad face)

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Sick in San Juan

2015 marks my 20th season of racing. And, if it is one thing I have learned in these 20 years of Triathlon is that we cannot have wins without losses. Nothing improves an athlete more than losing or facing adversity. It forces self-examination, it reveals flaws and if you chose to learn something from it, it inspires something better.

I had absolutely no control to what happened to me on Friday night in San Juan. But what I had absolute control over was my attitude and the way I would handle the next 48-72 hours.

Let’s step back to my preparation for my race:

To kick off my 20th season, I wanted to do something out of my comfort zone AND something out of my comfort zone.

With that in mind, I signed up for Puerto Rico 70.3 that was slated to be on March 15th. There are a lot of reasons why this is not a good idea..I have not been on a bike (apart from a few days in Tucson) since November outside, I would be far from acclimated – and I would probably be a bit heavy coming out of Chicago’s winter. Oh yeah, and the course was hot, humid and hilly. Considering Eagleman 70.3 is my favorite half ironman, this was a stretch. I hit the enter button for this race on December 15 before our real winter hits.

I came off a bigger year in 2014. I raced a lot. I did well. I had fun. What I wanted in 2015 was simpler. I wanted to go “big” early and then race local. I wanted to be around in the summer while my kids are still around and while we are selling & building a new house.

On February 2nd we got an offer for our house after 3 years on and off the market. Jerome was in China and then next 30 days were insane. Alone, I got the house ready for a house inspection (not easy we live in an 1880s house), looked for a rental and fought our new house plans in front of the Village Board of our new town. (we won). I was privately barely holding it all together. On top of this, of course, being mom and coaching full time. AND training for a 70.3 without any reservations. I was ALL IN.

I loved the training – I worked hard, trained hard, ran hills, ate hills, I did everything right to prepare for San Juan. I was lucky enough to be in a great relationship with Element Multisport in Chicago and Chris put me on a new PINK Trek Speed Concept TT bike and Rob put me on SPARKLY PSIMET wheels. I was so excited to race.

Elizabeth and I headed to San Juan on Friday. I ate normally – did not eat anything on the plane and brought my own food for the traveling. We arrived in San Juan at 2pm on Friday, took a van to our hotel and started to put our bikes together and got ready for dinner. Easy peasy.

At dinner we joined some friends and ate in the hotel, a Hilton – I had chicken and pasta and water. Many of the athletes ate similar food. Elizabeth and I went to bed at 9pm or so and talked about our next day and plans and that was it.

I woke up at 1am thinking I was going to VOMIT all over the place. I tossed and turned to fight that urge. I felt so miserable. BUT not flu -like – it was something I had never really experienced. I got up, went to the bathroom – back to bed, repeat. I was SO tired. I felt like shit.

We got up the next morning and Elizabeth wanted to go for run. I really could not get out of bed. At this point, I am thinking, “this will pass.” And, a little bit more personal information is that I was getting my period and ALL I kept thinking of is “god this is a bad one.” I could not really get out of bed. Elizabeth ate a bar, and went outside. I laid in bed. She came back and wanted to swim – so did I. I got up, we went down to the water and my stomach was a mess. We swam 15 minutes and my body did not feel that bad but I just swam super easy. I was thinking, “oh I just need to eat and then I can do this.”

We then went to Denny’s for our big pre-race breakfast. That is when I realized the extent of my problems. I could not eat – I could not talk to Elizabeth and lost my entire personality. I had to go outside to get fresh air and I just wanted to go to bed.

We went back to the room and I went to bed. I just had to sleep. I just laid there thinking, “I can do this if I just eat.” I still had not thrown up – just the other issues but nothing violent at all.

When it was time to check our bikes in, we rode our bikes to transition and my legs felt good! But, I knew it was bad. My stomach was like a vice. I checked my bike in and was solo (and Elizabeth was at the expo fixing a flat). The moment of truth was when I was walking back to our hotel, I just could not do it. I had to stop multiple times to take a break. I was dizzy, ill and exhausted and well, sick.

I got back, went to bed and slept.

Elizabeth went down to meet with an athlete and (probably get some fresh air) and she asked if I wanted anything to eat – I said, “Pasta, salad and chicken.” She brought it to me and I wanted to eat it so bad so IN CASE I woke up a new person, I could race because I was fueled. I was able to choke down some of the salad, but the pasta and chicken was a no go. AND when I went to bed that night (Elizabeth fell asleep at 7:45pm – she’s nearly 40 now you know…) I knew that was it. Even with a miracle, I was not fueling at all and that would not work.

I did not sleep all night – and I was paranoid that I was keeping Elizabeth up, so I went into the bathroom and was texting Dr Mia and Jerome as I laid on the floor in the bathroom. Dr Mia said it was probably some food or water bourne bug (like Ecoli). I kept things VERY low key with Elizabeth all weekend because I did not want her to worry or it to effect her race, so I downplayed it all. No need to ruin two races.

Elizabeth was up on race morning at 4am and I did not feel worse – but my stomach was a disaster – like someone was stabbing me with a hot knife. I wished Elizabeth luck and told her I would be down at the swim exit.

I could not go back to sleep. In fact, when it hit me that I was not racing, I started to cry. I can easily keep perspective and absolutely realize this is just a race – but it was more the prep, the hard work, the travel, the money…..and well, I was in shape and wanted to race! And, it was all out of my control. Just bad, shitty luck.

I got up and walked to the start of the race (it was right outside our hotel) and was looking for Elizabeth. I found Joel and Ali Rutledge and wished them luck – and Ali blew me a kiss (she knew I was sick). Then, I gave Elizabeth a hug, said a few private things to her and started to cry. I did NOT want to do that – damn it! It was not about me at this time! I apologized but it was just my disappointment that overtook my emotions.

I decided to be the uber spectator and friend after that. If I cannot race, well, then, let’s cheer for everyone I knew there and I did. I was able to get around OK and sat on the roads and cheered, was able to give Elizabeth splits and who was in front, in back, worked out nicely! Elizabeth ended up getting 3rd in the AG /7th OA 6 months after baby #2. Impressive.

And, yes, there was a shooting on the course. I was worried because I never heard who was hit. Two athletes got hit by crossfire between two cars. One was hit with a bullet; one with shrapnel. Elizabeth saw some of the aftermath of this tragedy. How awful.

After the race and showers, we got some food – I finally felt OK to eat something and ironically, I just wanted to drink. I had two mojitos with Elizabeth and that made me very happy; I was finally getting my personality back.

I was able to eat 1 ½ tacos and that allowed me to turn around a bit and after the drinks and some food, I was feeling much better. Funny how quickly these things come and go – and no sooner was I feeling better when it was time to get ready to come home.

I spent a lot of time in bed these past 72 hours. And I had on a lot of mindless TV on. Poor Elizabeth is scarred for life now. I watched more hours of “Married at First Sight” than any normal person should ever watch.

The good news of this whole thing is that in 20 years, this has never happened to me. I have never gotten sick at a race and not raced. And, it is just, like I said, shitty luck. And, OF COURSE I was upset – of course, I cried privately a few times – I will not sugar coat this and say it was easy. But, perspective is everything and as I said to myself and others I talked to, “It is just a race!” And, I meant that.

Nothing improves an athlete more than facing adversity. It forces self-examination, it reveals flaws and if you chose to learn something from it, it inspires something better.


  1. I know that must have sucked after all that training! You’ll kick butt the rest of the season! xoxo

  2. Oh! I’m SO sorry that this happened Jen! That is really really awful :( . But I have to say – there is a lot of really good info in your post about overcoming adversity and learning. Not only are you a great athlete, but great coach and teacher as well. Heal & recover quick! Xxoo!!

  3. Jen I am so sorry! Sounds so much like my Kona 2013 … and I would not wish that on anyone!! Glad you are feeling better…hope to see you at a race or two this year!

  4. Jen,
    I’m so sorry this happened to you but thank you very much for sharing what you took away from it. “Nothing improves an athlete more than facing adversity. It forces self-examination, it reveals flaws and if you choose to learn something from it, it inspires something better.” So, so, true. It also makes us appreciate the times we CAN race that much more. I bet you CRUSH your next race. :)

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