I had the chance to talk triathlon with John Kenney (Jake) who did his first Ironman in 11:33 at Madison on 9/15. Jake and I have forged a strong friendship over the last couple years as we are members of the same church and trained a lot together. To some extent I have been his triathlon mentor and he refers to me as Tri-Master (TM.)
TM: What was your athletic background before triathlon?
Jake: Played both collegiate level basketball and baseball and later drafted my senior year of college by the Pittsburgh Pirates as their shortstop in the 23rd round of the 1982 Professional Baseball Draft.
TM: How did your progression into triathlon happen?
Jake: Like most athletes in the back nine of their prime athletic years, you soon realize the keg softball league nor the weekend driving range is going to cut it. So, you begin your journey to keep the waistline trim with a few 5/ 10K’s and that morph’s into a half marathon and you think “WOW….I just ran 13 miles” and suddenly a terrible thought enters your mind….. “I bet I can run 26.2”, so you chase that carrot. My first marathon was not too long ago, June 4, 2000, San Diego Rock ‘n Roll and just as I was getting ready to check it off my athletic ‘to do’ list, you meet a few guys your age (i.e. Craig Zelent) who have 4% body fat and think….. “Yea…..I can do that”…..so you sign up with the San Diego Tri Club and Walla!
TM: So you have not been at this triathlon thing very long. What enabled you to make the leap so fast to try the Ironman distance?
Jake: No, not long at all….my first race was a Club race….on a mountain bike, no less, late in the Summer of 2000. I purchased my first tri-bike a few months later and began riding, really having no clue as to what I was doing, but riding just the same through the winter and building strength. In the meantime, I swam and ran when I could and by July 2001 I was ready for my first “real” triathlon, the San Diego International. And, as I continued to train and compete in local events throughout the Summer, I soon discovered I was naturally gifted in both swimming and cycling and that endurance came very quickly for me. I capped the year off with the Challenged Athletes ½ Ironman and knew right then and there that I was going to complete an Ironman distance race in 2002.
TM: And you selected that race to be the Inaugural event in Madison, Wisconsin, so tell me about your race experience?
Jake: Surreal. I mean the walk down the “helix”, which was the four-story, circular parking ramp to the swim start, with hundreds of spectators two deep at every level, positioning themselves for the race start, was an out of body experience. I was truly having a difficult time believing I was there, minutes away from beginning something I had never done before in my life! All I wanted to do was get this thing going….and bobbing in the water with 1,800 mass start competitors was a little overwhelming and when the cannon sounded…. “C-H-A-O-S”. On stroke one I caught an errant kick to the stomach, had my breath knocked out and was flat on my back, floating face up trying to regain it for about three minutes…..picture that! Talk about fear….I thought I was going to drown, swimmers just hammering me from all angles. The bike route was deceptively difficult….think Elfin Forrest route times 2, but the communities from the various towns were out in full force and one town in particular, Verona, had people so tightly lined on the streets that it felt as if it were a leg of The Tour. The run took you through the University of Wisconsin twice and the spectators were lined up throughout. Race officials estimated 50,000 people watched and over 3,000 Volunteers assisted this Ironman event, which kept you smiling the entire day!
TM: What were the most important aspects of your training that prepared you to succeed at Ironman Wisconsin?
Jake: A couple things: First, “plan your work and work your plan”, meaning taking the time to think about and plan out a full year’s training schedule. This would include mapping out your “A” and “B” races and designing your base, peak and tapering weeks around those key races. Second, find people of similar capabilities, especially for the bike, whom you can count on and will push you (especially in the peak weeks leading up to the Ironman event, when the last thing you want to do is ride).…it’s even better if they are training for the same race so you can talk trash! Lastly and here’s where GOD has blessed me indeed…..and that’s having the time and resources to commit to an Ironman distance endeavor. I was able to take a full year off to train full time without the need for a job….just like a pro! And it was the most amazing year of my life. Sure, I atrophied fiscally, but spiritually, emotionally and, no doubt, physically I experienced tremendous growth and well worth the investment.
TM: You did not race very much this season. I know you have already entered Ironman Idaho. As you prepare for Idaho, do you think you may try to race more?
Jake: Honestly? No. The cross-trained fitness lifestyle and the new friendships forged during that training, that’s what I enjoy most about Triathlon. The races, at least for me, often seem to be more of a hassle than they’re worth. I joke with my friends that, “If I’m getting up at 4:30 in the morning, it’s going to be for something longer than just a 2 hour race!” For 2003 I have two “A” races: Utah ½ and CDA IM and that’s what I’ll focus my time and schedule around in the coming months.
TM: You are a pretty observant guy. What do you see in triathlon that you like besides the pretty women?
Jake: The human spirit. That’s really what it’s all about.
TM: I’d have to agree. Hey Jake, thanks for sharing with the Tri Club. Congrats on a great race and good luck next year!