Meet our newest pro triathlete to join Team Zealios, Jen Annett! We chat with her on the B word… Balance.
Jen’s gotta balance a lot as a full-time mom, wife and professional athlete. She shares some smart tips on how to get the most out of your workouts and time when training.
Jen is literally ALWAYS smiling!
Zealios: Thanks for joining us today, we’re excited to catch up and introduce you to the Zealios community!
Jen Annett: Thanks for having me. Excited to join Team Zealios!
Z: First off, how has the cold weather training been going up in beautiful Penticton, British Columbia?
JA: It’s been flippin’ cold!
We’ve actually had the most beautiful winter this year and not too much snow, but this weekend it got really cold and I’m training inside now. It’s -15 degrees celsius (for our non-metric friends...that’s 5 degrees fahrenheit! Brrrrr...)
Z: Have you been able to get away for any sunny and warm training camps this year?
JA: No. I’d love to, but with my husband’s work schedule and having a 6 year old it’s not entirely realistic that I can just get up and leave for a week or 2. I pretty much have to use any extra time for racing and traveling. As my son gets older I may have more flexibility.
I did see Heather (the Heather Jackson, AKA HJ) down in Tucson and I’m so jealous! But I have the tools I need to train here in Penticton.
Z: You’re the perfect pro for us to dig into the ‘training/life’ balance topic. As a professional triathlete, a mom and wife you can relate to all the juggling it requires, but we wanted to start off talking about your path to becoming a professional triathlete.
JA: Back in 2008 I raced my first Ironman and qualified for Kona.
I thought, “Oh this might be something I’m good at” and I was totally hooked.
Between 2008-2010, I was either winning my age group or placing in the top 3. The following year I took off so my husband could race Ironman Canada and then I got pregnant.
Then 2012 rolls around and I felt like I had to go back to Kona super fit and healthy. I didn’t have a fair shot at the race.
Big side note: Jen was hit by a car just 10 days before the 2008 Ironman World Championships in Kona! More to come on that….)
JA: In 2013 I raced Ironman Canada and qualified for Kona again.
After that, I didn’t really know where I was in regard to racing, but I felt I wanted to do Challenge Penticton (Challenge Penticton replaced the prior Ironman Canada race). Some friends suggested I race pro because there weren’t many pros registered. I came in 3rd and the following year took 3rd again!
So, in 2015 I decided I was going to try and race full-time. Went to Wildflower as a first-time pro and placed top 10, which was really good given I was self-coached at the time.
Side note: we’re really bummed about the 2019 Wildflower news… if you didn’t hear get more info here.
JA: Then I raced Coeur d’Alene the year it was so hot and shortly after, realized I needed a coach to help reduce the stress of coaching myself. My now coach Jonny, supported my decision to continue as a pro.
I raced Ironman Canada 3 weeks later armed with a training plan from Jonny and I ran the fastest run split of the day and finished 3rd. I think this was my breakthrough race and a confidence booster to feel like I was doing the right thing.
Z: We have to back up...what did you do pre-2008 to get your body and mind in a place to get you a Kona qualification after racing your very first Ironman? Hockey? Swimming?
JA: Ha! I was always active as a kid, but mostly team sports - soccer, basketball and volleyball. I did cross country and track, but was always in the long distance. I cannot sprint at all. My coach actually calls me ‘Diesel’ because I have one speed. We’re working on it though!
A little later in life I picked up running and got addicted. I would go out just to see how far I could run. I did a few running races here and there.
I ended up going to an Ironman race in 2006 and I was almost in tears seeing all the different participants and the dynamic of the different racing levels. The pro women were finishing and other competitors were just heading out on the run. It was incredible and I wanted to be a part of it.
Z: Looking back at watching your first Ironman always brings back such feel-good feelings.
JA: Totally. And this is how crazy I am…. a week later, I bought a used road bike and road 80 kilometers. I bought cages for my running shoes, had no biking shorts, no water, and no nutrition.
I would bike back and forth to work everyday which was about 20 kilometers. And then I decided to race Ironman Canada n 2008. Thankfully some friends suggested that I do a shorter race before a full Ironman, where I won my age group. I felt like I was putting effort towards something and getting real results back.
So, in short, I guess being addicted to how far I can/could push myself got me to the next level.
Z: 2008 was a year where some bad and good things happened...
That year you were hit by a car while on a training ride leading up to the World Championships. This not only stopped you from racing, but also led to your diagnosis of epilepsy in 2010, something you continue to deal with.
This was and is a big hit on both the training and life fronts, how were you able to get through this period and how has this shaped you?
JA: I’ve had to adjust to the possibility that I could have a seizure at any time because we still don’t know what triggers it, but I haven’t let it take training away from me.
To keep swimming, I let all of the lifeguards at my local pool know about my condition and they’re prepared to help if something happens.
Running, I’m not too worried about. The most that would happen is I fall and get some road rash.
But with biking, I’ve chosen to take that risk. There isn’t anything I can really do if I have a seizure. And honestly, I probably have a better chance of getting hit by a car again than having a seizure.
Also, Ironman has been amazing. They’ve put special effort in to work with me on the swimming portion. It sounds horrible, but if I was having a seizure in the water during a race, I probably wouldn’t come out alive because of chaos and amount of swimmers. So, Ironman gives me a different colored swim cap and most times they provide a dedicated paddler to keep an eye on me, which has taken that stress away from me.
Z: Wow, that’s amazing they provide that support.
JA: I’m really grateful.
My seizures were controlled at the start with medication, but then I got pregnant and I made a big mistake by lowering my medication dosage because I wasn’t having any seizures.
I DO NOT recommend reducing your own medications. I ended up having a grand mal seizure at 25 weeks pregnant. Fortunately, no damage was done to my son as most of the development progress was complete.
Side note: a grand mal seizure is no joke, it causes a loss of consciousness and violent muscle contractions. Read Jen’s full story on the accident and her epilepsy on her website: https://www.jenannett.com/
JA: I did have some side effects from the medications and the entire situation including depression and withdrawal. I decided to dig out of it through switching my medication, realizing the great support I had and letting go of my job that didn’t fit within my life anymore.
Jen was working at a bank and due to her epilepsy condition, she suffered some brain damage from not breathing during a seizure. This affected her work at the bank because she had some memory issues.
JA: It’s hard and I’m sure I’ll have more moments of difficulty in my life. It’s about how you choose to deal with it.
I tried to be positive as much as possible and I used the support system around me. I would not have done it without my family backing me and helping me make those tough decisions.
Z: And you still push forward and are training hard for yet another race season. What words of advice do you have for athletes that find themselves in a situation where an injury or health issue disrupts their training and life, and they feel like the odds are against them?
JA: I always believe someone else has it worse.
And I’ve seen others in the Ironman community that have overcome major things like cancer or heart transplants. We’re all dealt cards, some are bad and some are good.
It’s almost inevitable that something will affect you whether it’s an injury or health thing. But there’s no reason why you can’t pursue your dreams and things you love in life. It’s just figuring out how to do it and not letting that one thing consume your mind and life.
The mental side of endurance racing is another discipline and it’s the same in life. Focus on the things that make you happy and help you achieve your goals. Use those support systems around you, that’s what they’re there for.
Z: We know your husband Jason and son Nixon serve as a great support system, but there is a lot of time that goes into training and racing. These can add a lot of stress to the ‘life’ part of the equation.
How do you find balance between training/racing and life? Do you have any life hacks to get more done with less time?
JA: I have the view that my family is separate to racing. I don’t expect my family to give up everything for me.
When I was working and training, I was trying to get workouts in anywhere I could and unfortunately sleep was probably compromised.
Jen with husband, Jason and son, Nixon
JA: I’ve got a few life/training hacks:
If we’re going on a family camping trip...
- Leave early on your bike and meet the family at the destination to get some miles and training in
- Bring your bike trainer to ride in the cabin or at the campsite
You’ve got a time constraint….
- Start just 30 minutes earlier to get it in
- Cut a session short
- Get creative, it doesn’t always have to be by the books
- Get pool workouts in while the kids are at school
- Put off laundry and cleaning :)
Running & Biking…
- Reduce your warmup and cool down times to ensure you get the “key” workout section in
- Take a quick 30-45 minute lunch run
- Get your longer training days in to help build endurance
- Massive volume isn’t always needed
Z: Which discipline of the 3 (swim, bike, run) do you enjoy the most?
JA: I’ve always loved running. It’s so simple, you throw on your shoes and go.
Z: What’s your favorite post-race food? Any guilty pleasures when you are in full training mode? Wine, ice cream…?
JA: Wine is my weakness! I like beer, but leave that for the off-season.
I always have a glass of wine before a race to help calm the nerves.
Post race, it’s burgers and beer, not gonna lie.
Z: No complaints here, those should be post race staples. We're heading into the start of the season, what does your race schedule look like for this year?
JA: Maybe something to replace the cancelled Wildflower….
Ironman Arizona, depending on how Kona goes...
Jen took 3rd at the 2018 Ironman Arizona
Z: We'll see you out at some of those. We are excited to have you on Team Zealios and wanna know what your favorite Zealios product is.
JA: Betwixt, the chamois cream. Hands down that’s my favorite. I’ve used a lot of different products and this is the best. Especially for trainer riding, it’s essential!
The Sun Barrier sunscreen is right up there, too.
Z: Thanks Jen! Good luck this season, we’ll be cheering ya on!