How A Mom of Four and Full-Time Math Teacher Qualified For Kona

First-time Kona qualifier Jennifer Simmerman shares her five biggest secrets on how she went from a strong runner, to a solid triathlete, to competing in a world championship.

Photo: Jennifer Simmerman

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Jennifer Simmerman swore she’d be a “one and done” Ironman kind of person. An accomplished runner—she has a marathon PR of 3:00:09—the 38-year-old mother of four boys and full-time high school math teacher was just looking to tick a box off her long list of lifetime goals. Finishing an Ironman, singular, would be enough to do just that.

But when the race directors for the 2020 Ironman Louisville canceled the swim due to toxic algae in the water, Simmerman, of Streetsboro, Ohio, was devastated. She looked at her husband, Sam, and said, “I’m going to have to do another one.” Simply biking 112 miles and running 26.2 was not going to satisfy her dream of becoming a “true Ironman.” So she finished Louisville and eventually shifted her focus to another race—Ironman Lake Placid on July 25, 2021.

It was in the bucolic, pastoral environs of upstate New York where Simmerman’s Ironman journey took a detour—a side road that would lead her all the way to Kona. That’s because Simmerman didn’t just finish the race: She placed seventh in her age-group and earned and accepted a roll-down slot to the 2022 Ironman World Championships, a decision that changed the course of Simmerman’s life all together.

“I just didn’t know what my potential was,” she said of her mindset going into Placid, where she logged a 1:13:31 swim, 6:06:59 bike, and 4:16:30 run to finish in 11:52:29. “I was coming back from an injury and still new to the sport. Kona wasn’t on the radar.”

And now? Simmerman is all in. After a successful summer racing season (she placed fifth overall at Ironman 70.3 Ohio, finishing second in her age-group), she’s eyeing a sub-11 finish in Kona in what will be just her second full Ironman. So how does she do it? Innate athleticism certainly helps—Simmerman was a longtime soccer player before taking up distance running, where she has excelled at the local level. But prior to qualifying for IMWC at Lake Placid, she adjusted her lifestyle to factor the grueling Ironman training into her hectic day-to-day. Here are five secrets to Simmerman’s success.

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(Photo: Jennifer Simmerman)

#1. She Stuck to the Training Plan

“My husband says I’m the Ron Burgundy of Training,” Simmerman joked of the fictitious anchorman. “If it’s on my training plan, I’ll do it.” Skipping a workout is just not an option, she said, a standard she’s been able to uphold by scheduling every workout to the tee, even sitting down with her husband once a week for a planning meeting to slot in workouts around their kids’ activities.

“We’ve got four kids in five sports,” Simmerman said of her busy brood, which includes a 14-, 11-, 8-, and 4-year-old. “I have to build my training schedule around our lives and what works for all of us and I don’t deviate. If I miss the workout, there is no other time to make it up.”

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#2. She Sucked It Up

Simmerman rises between 3:20 and 4:20 a.m. nearly every morning, allowing her time to get her first workout in before her kids wake up—and before she needs to get them to school and to her own classroom by 7:15 a.m. While rising in the wee hours isn’t desirable, Simmerman said it’s the only way she can make it all work.

“Even if I don’t feel like doing it, I’m disciplined enough to stick with it. Yes, there are days when I’m like, no I can’t do it, but then I’ll tell myself, ‘Don’t be a baby, just do it,’” she said. “No one ever feels like training at three in the morning, but you just do it, it sucks for a little bit, and you’re fine. And then you drink a lot of coffee afterwards.”

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#3. She Prioritized Sleep

Just the thought of waking up before the sunrise to train, working all day, and getting in another workout in the afternoon—on top of raising a large family—is enough to make anyone’s head spin. Despite it all, Simmerman is intentional about getting at least seven hours of sleep per night.

“I try to protect my sleep as much as possible,” she said. “I put my two little ones to sleep at 8, and I’m in bed at 8:10. There are a lot of things I can’t do at night because I need to sleep.”

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#4. She Lets Things Go

Simmerman knows that her endless Ironman training days won’t last forever. (“I’m actually much more interested in excelling at 70.3 racing, since the training is so much less time consuming,” she said.) So in the meantime, she’s OK with imperfection in other areas of her life, especially when it comes to the often-daunting tasks of cleaning a house full of kids. “I’ll let things go around the house,” she said. “My husband and I agree that laundry and dishes are the most important chores. Everything else can wait. We just can’t do it all.”

#5. She Relies on Support

Simmerman is quick to admit that her demanding schedule wouldn’t work without the support of her husband. “I’m married to a total rockstar,” she said of Sam, an ultrarunner who’s eyeing a Western States berth. “He’s sacrificed his own training so I can have my moment in the sun, but I’m sure he’s ready to be not as supportive.” Simmerman explained that the two try to take turns when it comes to chasing big goals, and she’ll be ready to swap roles once Kona is complete. “It’s definitely a give and take. I am so thankful for all he does, and I’ll be ready to repay it all soon. It’s not easy, but we somehow make it work.”

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