"...I think it was obvious that every emotion I'd felt and personal battle I'd fought in training really bubbled to the surface."
After having more than eight minutes to make up on the marathon at last weekend’s Ironman Lake Placid, former D1 collegiate runner Jennie Hansen ran her way to a 3:05:04 marathon and her first Ironman title. The second-year pro, who was also the runner-up at Ironman Texas in May, works part time as a physical therapist in Rochester, N.Y., and is coached by Mary Eggers and Jesse Kropelnicki with QT2 Systems. Triathlete.com caught up with Hansen after her first Ironman win to find out more about Lake Placid, how she fits in her training and what other start lines we’ll see her on this season.
Triathlete.com: Congratulations on your first Ironman title! How does it feel?
Hansen: It’s pretty incredible! I know it sounds cliché to say that it’s indescribable, but it really is. In that one moment of crossing the finish line, I think it was obvious that every emotion I’d felt and personal battle I’d fought in training really bubbled to the surface. I had thought that the times I’d come in second were incredible, but I really was not prepared for what hitting the tape would feel like. I’ve never really won anything major—my wins were always small local road races or triathlons—so this was awesome. In that moment, every time I’d dragged myself to the pool at 6 a.m. in the dark, every pedal stroke I took when my quads were screaming at me to stop, and every step I’d taken really came to fruition. It wasn’t just the win though; it was the fact that I knew I’d left every ounce of my being out on that course and had truly raced like I’d wanted it. Since then, though, life has pretty much returned to normal! I was back at work and struggling to get caught up starting on Tuesday, and back into the pool the next morning. But I think I’ve still been a better mood, at least.
Triathlete.com: Had you thought you could get an Ironman victory so early in your pro career?
Hansen: Definitely not! I don’t think I would have thought I’d ever get an Ironman victory, actually. I remember when I first started talking to my coach Mary Eggers as an amateur who had yet to do a full Ironman, she told me she thought that I could become a pro, and not just a back-of-the-pack pro. I remember basically thinking, “Yeah right.” I figured that it would be like my D1 running career, when I was happy to just be able to go to meets and finish maybe in the top half of the smaller ones, and, well, ahead of anyone at the more important ones. Then, when I met with Jesse Kropelnicki a few months later, he ran some bike tests on me, discovered that I had some ridiculous aerobic capabilities, and predicted I’d be better at the whole Ironman thing than at anything else I’d done thus far. He asked me why I didn’t think that I could win, and I told him something about my best event being running, and I was never the best runner. I think he just said something along the lines of, “This isn’t running.” Well, I guess they were both right to some degree. I’m still young with tons of work to do before I could even start to be considered a true front-of-the-pack pro, but I’m incredibly blessed to have had the opportunity to win an Ironman so soon, because so few will ever have that chance. I definitely don’t intend to rest on it, though!
Triathlete.com: What were the biggest lessons you’ll take away from the day?
Hansen: I think that every race is a learning experience, no matter how it goes. I think I learned that maybe it’s not totally hopeless for my swimming. It’s not great of course, but Placid was the first race where I truly felt like I finally saw the results of the time and effort I’ve put into the pool. I gained more confidence in my biking after having the fastest bike split. I’m on a Quintana Roo this season, which fits me like a glove, and my riding has really been a revelation to me lately. I also learned that I can stay steady very late into an Ironman marathon, and I think that I learned how to truly put mind over matter.
Triathlete.com: How did you discover triathlon?
Hansen: I’ve been running competitively since I was 12, so that’s always been a part of my life. I guess triathlon started to come onto my radar in college; I had a professor who had done Lake Placid a few times (I thought he was nuts and that I’d never be able to do that), and I was often injured and on the stationary bike anyway. Still, I wasn’t a good swimmer, and I’d never been on a road bike—I was terrified of riding 20 mph on skinny wheels. The injury trend continued post-college, and I was encouraged by a worker at my gym to try one of those indoor triathlons when he was looking at some of my numbers on a stationary bike. I swam a couple of times, entered the indoor tri, and won. Still, I wasn’t convinced on the whole outdoor thing until a few months later, when I ended up with a stress fracture on my sit bone and would be out of running for three months over the summer. I was sick of cross-training simply to stay in shape and wanted a goal to work toward, so I bought a $200 Walmart road bike, jumped into the pool and confirmed that I could in fact swim 1500 meters, and signed up for my first triathlon, an Olympic-distance race, which would take place just a few weeks after I would be able to start running again. Looking back, I was entirely clueless heading in—I at least had a decent road bike by that point (which I figured out how to shift into big ring the day before the race), but I panicked early on in the swim, biked in a giant baggy race shirt, didn’t drink a thing during the ride, and hadn’t run more than 4 miles in the past 4 months. Still, I ended up in fourth, and was hooked from that point on, figuring I might have some sort of future in the sport.
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Triathlete.com: What other pros have you looked up to at this point in your career?
Hansen: It’s funny, my coach and friend and I were having this conversation after the race! I have to say that I love racing in the women’s pro field; these women have all been so kind and supportive. I think that we all respect the work that everyone’s out there doing. With that, I really look up to the women who aren’t just fast, but are balanced, humble, and just generally have positive attitudes toward training, racing and life. If I had to pick a couple out, Linsey Corbin and Meredith Kessler come to mind. I’m always impressed when I read Linsey’s blog; she always manages to place a positive spin on everything. I remember watching her just keep going in San Juan even though she was having one mechanical issue after another; she was out there cheering for the rest of us while running. It said a lot to me. And Meredith—I don’t think I’ve ever heard anyone say anything negative about her. She’s been knocked down so many times this past year, but each time just gets back up stronger than ever, never blaming anyone and continuing to rock.
Triathlete.com: How do you balance the need to get faster on the swim and bike with the desire to maintain your run form?
Hansen: The pool I swim in is open weekdays from 6–7:30 a.m., so luckily with my work schedule I can just get up and get the swimming in every weekday early. I guess I’m fortunate with my running in that I’ve been doing it for so long that I really don’t have to put huge volume or tons of effort into it to run well. My weekly mileage probably hovers around 30–40 miles per week, which really isn’t a ton. Luckily—and this has always been true, as I was always able to return to form pretty quickly after injury in college—I can run well on bike training, especially when it involves a lot of intensity. Mary and Jesse both know that I’d love to run more, but I’ve come to recognize that unless I can keep myself in a halfway decent position coming into T2, I won’t even be able to really use my run anyway. When it comes down to it, I’ve run some open PRs in the past couple of years, so whatever we’ve been doing is working across the board.
Triathlete.com: How do you balance working as a physical therapist with your long course triathlon training?
Hansen: I’m working part time now, as of this year—about 25 hours a week. I work mostly afternoons and evenings, so I’m able to get my training done in the mornings before I go in on most days—I do usually force myself to ride after work on Tuesdays. I’m on my feet throughout a good portion of the workday, so I tend to be pretty shot by the end of the day. It’s tough—I have several days a week where I’m up at 5 a.m. to put in 4–5 hours of training followed by working until 8:30 p.m. before getting up at 5 a.m. to hit up the pool again—but many people balance Ironman training with working much longer hours that I do, so I can’t complain (too much). I don’t want to sound like a martyr! While it would be nice to be a full-time pro, it’s also nice to be able to be more of a spectator on all of the discussions about financial support and prize money for the pros, and it’s nice to have a guaranteed paycheck. I was actually valedictorian of my grad school class, so I probably should put that to use as well!
Triathlete.com: Who do you do most of your training with?
Hansen: I mostly train either alone or with my husband. We go to the pool together every morning (except when he’s out of town for work) and do the same workouts, although we have to start our intervals at different times in order to avoid a dogfight every day (we’re maybe a bit competitive). We also ride together on the weekends—he’s just enough faster than me that we can both get in good workouts. Trying to keep up with him has really made me a better rider, for sure. Otherwise, I do my weekday riding and all of my running alone, which is fine with me. I mostly ride on the trainer on weekdays—we don’t have great roads for riding near us, and I think it’s a great tool for the interval work I’ve been doing this year. I also really prefer running alone (well, sometimes I have some canine company from our greyhound mix). Running is definitely my “me” time. It’s my first athletic love. I’m really happiest when running.
Triathlete.com: You are very open and honest about your training and racing on your blog—when did you start the blog, and what kind of outlet does it provide?
Hansen: I think that I started the blog in 2010 after doing my first half-iron-distance triathlon, Musselman in Geneva. I’d had an incredible experience there, so I just wanted to start the blog as more of a personal outlet to remember what I was thinking and feeling and going through at various points in my races. I wrote up some of my races, but I didn’t really publicize it in any way. When I started working with Mary Eggers about a year later, she told me that I should start a blog to help get myself out there a bit more, so I think I then linked it to my Facebook page. Since then, the response has really been tremendous—I have more people tell me that they love to read it, which is incredibly flattering. I never really thought anyone would care too much when I started blogging! I tend to be detailed, open and honest on it, which I think helps—there are just certain aspects of triathlon that anyone within the sport can relate to, and then there are the human struggles we all go through when we work toward any sort of goal. I can be a bit reserved and quiet initially in person, but I really enjoy expressing myself through writing and remembering my races, so the blog has been fantastic in that regard. I don’t really have much to hide in life. My husband keeps telling me that I need to update the website, but luckily people seem to respond more to the writing than the fancy design stuff I’m hapless at!
Triathlete.com: What are your goals for the rest of this season, and for your career?
Hansen: Well, as of [this week], I’m officially planning on racing [at Ironman] Mont-Tremblant in order to give snagging an August Kona slot a try. I’m on the bubble now, and with it being my second Ironman in three weeks, which is completely uncharted territory for me, it might be a long shot, but I want to at least see what could happen. I wasn’t expecting to even be in bubble position when the season started, but now that I’m there, I don’t have it in me to not try (even if others have tried to talk sense into me!). If I make it, great, then I’ll go and just do my best, no pressure or major expectations; if not, I’ll regroup and focus on a later fall Ironman. I’m fine with whatever happens. For the rest of my career, if not this year, then I’d really love to make it to Kona and compete to the fullest of my abilities there at some point. I have some smaller personal goals—I want to run a sub-three-hour marathon off the bike, and I’d really, really love to complete an Ironman swim in under an hour one day, just because at one point I would have told everyone they were nuts if they thought that I could do that. I feel like the bike is an area that I can continue to grow in, as well. Mostly, though, I just want to keep loving what I’m doing, improving myself as a competitor and as a person, and then I’ll see where it takes me.
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