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Talks with T: Q & A with Team SFQ'er Jessie Kenny

 

This week Taryn one of TeamSFQ's many Canadians-- one who currently calls the Colorado Rockies home--the resilient and ready-for-any-challenge Jessie Kenny. Jessie crafted an adventurous racing schedule last year, and learning how she did it lends a greater reason to celebrate all that she has done, and to cheer her on for all that she will do. 

How and when did you discover Triathlon? 

When we moved from Montreal to Colorado 6 years ago, I unfortunately had to give up my job in management at Lululemon. As it turned out, moving to another country was a full-time job and extremely difficult, especially with two small boys. My husband moved to Denver first while I stayed home to deal with all the logistics: paperwork, selling our house, etc.--all while working full-time. I eventually had to give up my managerial position at Lululemon to deal with all the life changes. When we arrived in the US we encountered many visa issues, and as a result, I was unable to work (it took 4 years to get the proper visa). Initially, I had a really tough time adjusting to suddenly becoming a “stay-at-home mom.” The boys were in pre-school a few hours a day, and I found myself alone, lonely and bored out of my mind. A couple months went by and a good friend suggested I join a club to meet new people and explore my new surroundings. That’s when I discovered the world of “triathlon.” I joined a Tri club without owning a bike or a swimsuit. It’s all history from there. I’ve always loved running, swimming came naturally for me since I spent most summers as a kid by the lake back home ,and biking was a great way for me to explore Colorado. I was in love instantly. My first Ironman was just a year later-- in Boulder, 2015. 

 


During the 2019 season you raced the inaugural Ironman Ireland, which was a nutty race that had the swim canceled due to treacherous seas, and it rained the rest of day during the bike and run. However, you still persevered and finished with a solid result, becoming one of only 202 women to complete this race. Yet a few days later you expressed on the TeamSFQ Facebook team page that you wanted to race again that summer--that your Ironman itch wasn't scratched in Cork. Why did you feel unsatisfied after conquering a very challenging race that many athletes did not complete?

 

Ironman Ireland will be a race I’ll never forget. Here’s a little background; my husband is from Gallway (West Coast of Ireland) and he has a ton of family in Cork. When I saw the race announcement, it was a no brainer for me. I was so excited for this race and I had 19 family members coming out for the big day to cheer me on. Every day leading up to the race was gorgeous weather-wise, which is unusual for Ireland, and my kids spent multiple hours in the Atlantic playing. All the racers were totally freaked out about water temps, so this eased my fear slightly. I was ready and even excited for the swim…until race morning. The sea looked terrifying on race morning, dark and so angry. Ironman absolutely made the right call by canceling the swim. A few hours later, after the swim was called, we were already drenched and frozen solid as we all headed out on our very long duathlon. 

 

The bike was hard, technical and the roads were pretty bad. I had two flats and couldn’t change them myself since my hands were frozen… like icicles. By the time I got to T2 I couldn’t fathom running a marathon, I was cold, tired, and just “over it”. It took me 18 minutes to convince myself to leave the warm tent and head out on the run. I remember peeking out of the tent looking out to the pier; the rain was pelting sideways and it looked soooo cold. I wanted to cry; in fact I think I did cry at one point. My plan was to run to my family and make a call as to whether to continue or not. This was the first time in any race that I have ever contemplated quitting. I had warmed up slightly from running …and once I saw my family all the misery disappeared and I was back to myself again, at least for a few miles. Then the lack of proper nutrition and fueling from the day caught up to me, as I knew it would. Every mile felt like 10, but the crowd and all those people who stood out there all day to cheer us on kept all of us going. 

After waking up the next day and learning about all the racers that did not finish I was devastated for them. To travel all that way and not make it to the finish line is simply heart breaking. This is when the accomplishment of the day settled in for me, I was very proud to have powered through, but I couldn’t help but feel defeated. To put it in perspective, my time was the longest Ironman time I had clocked to date, while missing 1/3 of the race. It was a hard day that truly got the best of me.

 

I guess a few days after the race, I felt a little bit sad and unsatisfied: race day didn’t turn out as I had expected or hoped. This was my first race back from injury and I was so looking forward to a fun day of racing, but it wasn’t that kind of day. Instead it was a day of fight and survival. I love racing Ironman; I look forward to race day. It’s the reward for all the sacrifice and hard training sessions. Ireland left me wanting MORE and I didn’t want to have to wait until November to race again. I felt recovered only a few days after Ireland and motivated to start back up again. It’s not often that you feel that way after an Ironman, so why not roll with it right? And I’m am so glad I did! I had the best time in Tremblant and it was definitely the smashfest I needed. Not only is Tremblant my home turf, but I grew up downhill ski racing there, so I knew it would be a special one and would not disappoint. Plus, I got to hang out with my mom for a few days.

 I will always be thankful for the experience in Ireland: there is nothing like a bit of hypothermia, a 112 mile bike ride and a marathon to teach you a few things about yourself. It wasn’t that I wasn’t satisfied with the accomplishment; I was, and still am.  

 

How did you decide, and then prepare to race Ironman Mont Tremblant, which took place only a couple months after Ireland in late August? Did you bring on a new coach? And/or, have to adjust your "life" schedule raising two boys in the Colorado summertime to include the volume of training Ironman requires? 

 

I think Tremblant was just 3 ½ weeks away when I finally signed up. I had been working with a local coach here in CO, and it just wasn’t working for me anymore. It wasn’t anything personal; it was just time for a change. I knew I was capable of better results, and I wanted to be pushed harder. Next, I reached out to Hillary (Biscay), and inquired about TeamHPB. Hillary was incredibly supportive and encouraging about my goals; she hooked me up with Alyssa (Godesky) and it’s history from there: PR’s from that point forward!  As I was going back and forth about Tremblant, I remember Alyssa saying “3 ½ weeks in still a long time to train for an IM” and she was absolutely right. I registered that day. I’m so grateful for her support, I’ve loved every minute being coached by Alyssa, and being part of TeamHPB, it has made a huge difference for me both personally, and as a triathlete. 

 

The prep was hard for Tremblant, but totally worth it. Alyssa’s schedule for me was intense, but I loved it; every day was a new challenge. It was refreshing and fun. I am also of the belief that one endurance event can help you train successfully for the next. At least for me, I tend to do better if I just keep going.  

 

As for the kids, they are always a big part of any Ironman decision I make. I did have to juggle some things in order to make it happen for Tremblant, but it wasn’t too hard. A few extra camp days here and there for the boys and lots of very early mornings for me. I always panic about how I will manage training when the boys are home for the summer, but somehow you just make it work. 

 

 

How do you feel about your husband and sons seeing you in constant states of exhaustion, strength, and growing confidence from living the triathlete lifestyle?

The boys love coming with me to training, they think of it as an adventure. I do believe a small part of them enjoys watching me suffer.:) They swim while I swim, they bike while I run, they cheer for me from the balcony as I run by. It’s a lifestyle for all of us now. I do believe 100% that I am a better mom, wife and friend because of this sport. I also couldn’t do any of this without the support of my husband. He is continually supporting and encouraging me to reach my goals. I think he secretly just wants to me to get to Kona.:)

As a mom, I think it’s incredibly important to set aside time for yourself, and how you choose to spend that time is up to you; for me it looks a bit different than most, but I still get that break, balance and rejuvenation. The consensus in this house is that we all prefer when I am in the thick of it and training for an event. Because if I’m not, that typically means I’m sick or injured, which is no fun for anyone. My races are vacations for them, and I try my best to travel to fun destinations or make family reunions out of all the events I do. 

Honestly, I just don’t have time to be tired. I know it sounds crazy, but it’s true. The boys are always on the go with their own sports and social life, and I don’t have time to dwell on the days training session(s). I break up the day in my head, and tackle one thing at a time. I find its more manageable this way. I often say ‘my day starts at 3pm when the boys get home from school’. At 3pm I put down the phone, hang up the running shoes, and focus on them.

 

 

You kept the flow of a busy race season by running the Chicago marathon with your sister in October, and ran very well! What did it mean to you to share such a special day with your sister? 

 My sister is awesome! She works 40-50 hours a week, has three kids and still manages to be a kick-ass athlete. She’s a Child Psychologist in Toronto. We weren’t planning on actually running together (side-by-side) in Chicago--the plan was to start together and just see what happens. In reality, we both should have known we would also finish together. We are both tenacious, (or stubborn as our husbands would say!) and forever determined to do our best at whatever we do. When I would hit a wall she would pull me through, and vice versa. It was great to run with someone who is exactly like yourself. It was an awesome day. We both qualified for Boston in 2021 and plan to do Boston to Big Sur. It meant the world to me to run with her, and it was even better to share our fastest-ever marathon times together. This year we will meet at Oceanside and New York for the marathons.   

In late November you raced again at Ironman Arizona (amazing)! Did you decide to race fueled by redemption because you were injured the year prior, and were unable to race, or did you race it fueled with pure joy because you were healthy to toe the line again?

 I was hoping for a better day in Arizona, but YES I was absolutely thrilled to be there and be able to start….. and to finish the race. In 2018, I was devastated to be physically unable to race. To make matters worse, we had planned a family vacation to Orange County after the race. We still went on the trip, but I couldn’t walk, and was only getting worse. We had to skip Disneyland and head home early. The kids were sad, I was a wreck, and my husband felt devastated for us all. Once I was home, I couldn’t get out of bed or drive my kids to school. My husband's job requires a lot of travel, and he had to make serious adjustments to help me. It was awful--the worst injury I have ever had. I reflected and thought about those difficult times a lot on race day this year. It definitely changed my perspective on racing and life in general. You really have nothing if you don’t have your health. We get so caught up in pushing ourselves to do better, be faster, but at the end of the day how lucky are we to have the health to be able to do this amazing sport in the first place? Racing has to be fun, and I had a great time in AZ. 

 

My initial plan was to lay it all out there and smash that course up, but as we all know sometimes things don’t go according to plan. I didn’t experience any major setback, or mechanical issues, I simply felt off from the start. My swim was slower than usual, my bike was slow (the norm for me), but I was super happy with my run. Finishing IM AZ was all the redemption I needed in the end. I was happy to be there and to show my kids no matter the setback how important it is get back up and try again. 

 

Do you have any goals set for 2020? On the race course and off? 

It’s going to be hard to beat 2019; I promised myself I would keep the race calendar light this year but it has “magically” already filled up…it's going to be quite the year! I'm super excited for 2020, as I have lots of fun races to look forward to! I’m excited to continue working with Alyssa and continue to make some improvements on the bike. 

Personally, I am making an effort this year to be environmentally conscious and responsible. I realize that individually it is hard to have an impact but if that is what we all keep telling ourselves the future is grim. I have lots of actions already in place and I’m hoping to educate my kids so that they can be influencers as they grow.  

 

We look forward to rooting Jessie on for another potential, "passport-required" triathlon season, and a fun 26.2-mile romp through the five boroughs at the New York City marathon in November.





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