Penticton triathlete gearing up for Kona Ironman World Championship

Penticton endurance athlete Jen Annett heading to pro Ironman World Championship

It’s just after 4 a.m. on a Wednesday. Jen Annett quietly slips from beneath the covers, careful not to wake her husband and their six-year-old son who is sleeping in the next room.

Putting on her running gear, she heads to the kitchen for some coffee and then out the front door, closing it gently behind her.

The street in front of her Penticton home is dark. The only visible signs of life are the occasional passing car and a few curious deer.

Jen Annett on the cycling training regime.

Mark Brett/Western News

On this particular day, after her stretches, she starts out on a 20-kilometre run as part of her concentrated training regiment that will culminate on Oct. 13, when she goes up against the top pro athletes on the planet at triathlon’s most iconic event, the 40th annual Ironman World Championship in Kailua-Kona, Hawaii.

“This week is what I call the start of the end,” said Annett, 33, about the training schedule which will see her put down over 500 kilometres weekly, running, cycling and swimming on the days leading up to the big race.

“Training’s the hard part. I definitely go through good days and bad days. A lot of people have this notion that every workout we do is fantastic, that’s definitely not true.

“So it’s a week-by-week thing, you have to be creative. I’ll be swimming five days a week and running at least six days and on some of those days it will be a double run, a super intense workout.”

That translates into 22 to 25 hours of physical exertion over a seven-day period under the guidance of her Penticton coach Jonathan Caron.

This is Annett’s second trip to the Ironman World Championship — the first time was in 2008 as an age group qualifier – but this will be her inaugural event as a pro.

Professionals qualify for Hawaii based on point,s taking their best four finishes the previous year. For the Penticton athlete, her ticket to the islands was stamped at the July 22 Ironman in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Her time of nine hours, 33 minutes, 48 seconds put her in second place on the women’s side and fourth overall out of a field of 2,774 competitors.

She was fortunate to have even been able to compete in New York after crashing her bike during a training run three weeks earlier, “luckily” suffering only cuts and bruises.

The accident reminded her of a crash Jeff Symonds had at the 2013 Penticton Challenge who — bruised and bloodied — still managed to cross the finish line first.

“I was thinking that if Jeff can crash like that and win a race, I mean, ‘suck it up you can do it,'” she told herself at the time. “I decided to continue riding for a little bit until my bike decided it wasn’t going to go any further.”

Related: Annett finishes season on the podium at Ironman Arizona

The 4,820 points from Lake Placid, along with the ones she earned from a third place at the Arizona Ironman (Nov. 2017) second in Victoria (June 2018) and seventh in Texas (April 2018) put her in 28th place in the world, well inside the cut line of the 35 women qualifiers going to the championship in Hawaii.

“I’m excited and scared at the same time, it’s pretty much been my goal for the last three years as a pro,” said Annett, who won her first triathlon in the 2016, the Penticton Challenge event. “I guess I’m excited to have finally made it and I’m scared at the same time because I’m putting myself up against the best in the world. It will be a field like I’ve never raced against before, but I consider myself one lucky person to have made it, it’s really hard to get into the Kona loop.”

Jen Annett doing her swim training in Skaha Lake.

Mark Brett/Western News

Her expectations at the world championships?

“I would love to say that I’m going to win but realitistically, no. There are a few girls that are in a whole other league and I definitely don’t consider myself in that league — yet, but I’m hoping for a top 10 and anything better than that I’ll be even more happy about.”

Prior to moving to Penticton in 2005, Annett had never even heard of Ironman and only saw her first race the following year on the advice of her fiancé Jason, who suggested she “check it out.”

“I was so emotionally moved by the athletes, spectators and race itself, I wanted to be a part of it,” recalled Annette. “We got married the following August (2007) and I signed up for IMC (Ironman Canada) in 2008. The rest is pretty much history.”

After taking some time off and having her son, Nixon, she found the desire to return to the endurance sport she loved, even stronger than ever.

“It was something that I was good at and for me it gave me a lot of self confidence,” she said. “When you finally find something that you’re good at and you enjoy it’s hard to let that go.”

She admits juggling the responsibilities of being a parent and a wife and doing the work necessary to be a world-class athlete can be a challenge.

Related: Panic attack doesn’t stop Annett

That means this time of year sometimes Nixon can be found on the paddle board with coach Caron while mom is doing her laps in Skaha Lake.

“But I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t have their support for sure, I mean for me family is number one and everything else is second behind that,” said Annett.

“I’d be in a different boat if I didn’t have my family’s support for sure.

She added with a laugh: “And of course they’re going, I couldn’t go to Hawaii without my family, it wouldn’t be fair.”

So for the next five weeks the Penticton athlete will be directing her attention on preparing for the biggest day of her life as a professional athlete.

And that’s going to mean quite a few more early mornings.

Penticton coach been there, done that

Penticton’s Jonathan Caron learned the hard way what it takes to be a successful endurance athlete and these days he’s using his experience to help others make their own mark in the sport.

So when he decided to take on the task of coaching some of the best athletes in the world he hit the ground running.

Coach Jonathan Caron watches the progress of his athlete.

Mark Brett/Western News

“It’s easier as a coach to have a clear mind, because when you’re an athlete it’s hard because you’re engaged, you’re tired and you don’t always see as clearly,” said Caron, himself an Elite National Champion, IronmanCanada runner up with five, sub nine-hour Ironman races under his belt.

“You have a lot more objective vision of things. I really like it. It’s fun (I) work with athletes who are a lot like me, the same kind of personality.”

Caron has coached five Ironman champions including former Penticton athlete Jeff Symonds and two Challenge Champions.

One of those Challenge winners was Jen Annett, who is one of his six athletes who will be going to Hawaii in October for the Ironman World Championship.

Related: Athletes pushed to limit

“As an athlete, Jen is definitely a hard worker, she’s not scared of hard work,” said Caron who runs JonnyO Coaching. “For someone like her, she is really committed to the process putting the time in and doing the work that we need to do to prepare for the world championships, that’s very important.”

Annett credits much of her success with working with Caron over the years.

“He calls the shots on the training and how the race is to be executed,” she said.

“I would say we have a pretty good relationship and understanding of each other. It’s a coach’s job to know his athletes inside and out, and I’m pretty good at doing what I’m told.”

For his part, Caron has one goal in mind for his charges: “You just want the best for them, you just want them to have a chance to have a shot at their own journey and maybe avoid a few of the mistakes you made yourself.

“It’s always exciting and October is a fun time of the year with the world championships but that’s a very stressful time for a coach too.”

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