Someone asked me a few weeks ago what fuels my fire for coaching, and this is it. We all have these moments in our own way in all of our own races. We are not always the first person to cross the line but that doesn’t mean we can’t FEEL the same.
Ironman Lake Placid was a dream come true on many fronts. As an athlete Jennie did her first Ironman here a year ago and placed second with a 9:56. Sunday she won the race with a 9:35 improving her splits accross the board. Recently she placed 2nd at Ironman Texas and we were of course understanding that this was going to be our fourth Ironman in 365 days, not to mention several 70.3 races.
We live in the same city, Rochester NY. We both work, and we work in healthcare. I am a nurse, and she is a physical therapist. We are not big names in a big city who work in triathlon full time. I say that because to be honest….. many people think that the only people who can win these things are full time professional triathletes. (Which of course isn’t true, I can list a long line of working moms who win Ironman). But that’s the way we sometimes think.
I say that to demonstrate that we are real people with real lives and jobs.
Since Jennie’s win I have gotten a lot of questions about her training. She will relay the race report, I can give you some insight on how she trains.
I am really lucky to work for QT2 Systems and my go to guy of course is Jesse Kropelnicki. In 2012 he served as my mentor for coaching Jennie, and I leaned on him a lot. This season I have been able to ease up on that and he’s trusted my coaching abilities. To have the confidence of Jesse in what I can do as a coach has been really important. While I have been coaching since 2004…. it can be a dog eat dog world out here. The guidance of Jesse has really helped me tie it all together and continue to learn. I love to learn, I don’t know everything. And Jesse is a great teacher. It’s hard to gain respect from coaching colleagues and each time that issue comes up I remember that one of the greatest coaches trusts and has faith in me. It means a lot to have his respect.
Throughout each part of Jennie’s season I get some guidance from Jesse, I plot out the histogram and send it to him. He calls me with some feedback, tweaks and insight, and I take it from there. Then…. I collaborate with Jennie. I am not a dictator type of a coach. I am a collaborator. (I get Jesse on one side and Jennie on the other…. that is a lucky place). I don’t tell Jennie what to do.
Jennie has her doctorate in physical therapy, and she was the head of her class. She knows her body best. When it comes down to plotting the weeks and blocks we work together on it.
As an example of the creativity….. many of our athletes will have an am/pm bike ride on Thursdays. Jennie can’t. Her hours as a physical therapist require her to be on her feet well into the evening. Therefore we are careful in how we structure her week. In 2002 and 2003 I balanced my 18 month old son, ironman training and work as a pediatric trauma nurse who worked rotating shifts. What I understand is how to blend training and a job that requires one to be on their feet for hours.
Jennie doesn’t train all day, juice kale and then sit in her Norma-Tech boots all night, and I get that better than anyone. Working on patients after 6 hour training days when your body is screaming, trying to scarf down a salad or anything during a break that doesn’t really exist… is the reality we all face. Jennie faces it, I face it…. and so do you. I really want to illustrate the point that we are girls who work outside of triathlon.
Because if you want something bad enough….. you can balance all of it. Don’t think you have to have the life of what we thought “pro” meant. You can do it. You just have to want it.
There is no real secret to Jennie’s training. She’s consistent. She’s smart. She executes the plan. We collaborate on what happens during her sessions. She recovers like a champ because she HAS TO. We don’t get too detail oriented all of the time. The technical stuff is really important but we don’t get obsessed with it. I am hands down the least technical coach on our coaching team…. I am really strong in the art side of it all. I utilize the technical side of course but don’t make that everything. There is a true art to coaching. Tapping emotions. Engaging spirit, attaching meaning. It all has its place. Jennie understands the technical side of all of it better than anyone I know…. so that helps as well.
I work with Jennie once a week most weeks on deck at the pool. In 2012 she swam a 1:09 at Lake Placid, and Sunday she swam a 1:03. I was told by several esteemed coaches “Don’t expect her to ever swim under a 1:05″…. which if you know me…. was exactly what I needed to hear. If Jennie and I are good at anything we are good at being the underdog. Bring it.
Jennie swims 5 days a week totaling about 20,000 yards. Would it be better if she swam 6 days? Maybe. But she has a job. The pool is open at certain times and that’s what we have. I focus really heavily on correcting some of her stroke mechanics and I watch her like a hawk when she swims. We don’t stay on the clock too much, we work a lot on rest intervals. I work a lot on FEELING the difference between easy, medium and hard efforts.
I can say that Jennie does not do flip turns either. As a swimmer…. even I am ok with that.
Again…. there is no secret. It’s just the continuation of work that we planned. We are smart about the plan, we have good guidance on the plan and we change the plan when we need to.
Our pacing and fueling plans are also pretty simple. To swim bike and run well you have to keep it simple. Honestly…. that’s truly all.
Coming into Lake Placid I didn’t look at the start list. I never do. I don’t care who is on the start list. I care who shows up. Because many of the pros change their race schedules frequently throughout the season their name might be on the list and they might not show up. Besides….. a name on the start list doesn’t change our plan at all. We will still swim, bike and run.
As her coach I felt calm and confident all weekend. I knew we were in a good place. I mainatined that calm feeling throughout the race and when she took over the lead, I knew she’d keep it. I call her run the bulldozer. I could hold onto her ankles myself and she’d still run through it. Nothing seems to stop those legs of hers.
One of my triathlon heroes…. Dede Griesbauer was out on the course. She had come off the bike in the lead. I know that if Jennie took the lead over that Dede would say something amazing to her. Dede is a legend and a hero of ours and when Jennie came by….. Dede delivered. I don’t know if she will ever know how much that meant to Jennie and to me. I got to meet Dede a year ago at this finish line after following her illustrious career for years. To have her support has been an incredible blessing.
We made our way to the finish line to wait. I felt emotional and yet so proud. TO be part of this journey has been the opportunity of a lifetime for me. I am just a coach from a small city in Western New York. Jennie is an athlete from the same small town. Our city is famous for Genesee Beer, we aren’t big time. We are lemonade stand girls in the big city just trying to see what happens when a chance is taken.
Before Jennie came around the oval Jesse tapped me on the shoulder. “Before things get too crazy, great job coach.” He gave me a hug. I felt accepted. I felt respected. And I felt again…. so eternally grateful for the opportunity. I got to work with him as an athlete for 3 years and then he invited me on board as a coach. I have missed that coach / athlete relationship we all get to enjoy, but I traded it for something even better.
I will let Jennie tell you about her finish. It was beautiful. It was emotional. If you were there you saw it. You felt it. I felt so proud of her. I knew it would happen one day, you just never know when that day will be. This photo probably says it all (Thank you Kelly G!)
I am so incredibly proud of her. She works so hard. And she has a job. And a life. And a husband. Again I illustrate that to show you… it’s a different life than many think.
Thank you Jennie for allowing me to be part of your journey. To share this with you is a true honor. I am one really lucky coach….. and Jennie and I make a good team. She will have her race report up as soon as she can, she has a job remember! And she will fill you in on what we have up next. Things just got exciting.
Thank you all so very much for coming along on this ride with us. We certainly feel like Cinderella at the ball! It means a lot!