Athlete Profile – Jenn Hale

Jenn Hale

About the Athlete
Location: Birmingham AL
Occupation: Physician
Age Group: 40-44
Years in Triathlon: 5

What is the one thing (other than a bike or power meter) you purchased that you use and benefit from all the time?

Name specific brand and where you got it so others can share in your love.

I bought a Kinetic Fluid trainer from my local bike shop—not a lot of bells and whistles, but it was budget friendly, easy to use, pack up and take on trips, and very reliable.  I have young kids, so it gives me the ability to get my training in around my family’s schedule (early morning before school, in the afternoons during homework, or weekends) so I am not gone all the time.  Obviously nothing beats getting outside to ride but when that’s not an option, I don’t have to sacrifice consistency, hard work and improvement.  

What is a specific “failure” or “apparent failure” in a race or training that set you up for future success?

Or what was a turning point in your triathlon career that changed how you approached the sport/lifestyle?

Before signing on with Robbie, my prior training for Ironman 70.3 and Ironman used to include lengthy weekend sessions that included up to 1hr brick runs.  I was always stressed about these workouts—they took me away from my family for a long time on the weekends, and I was frequently exhausted, overtrained, and dealing with chronic injuries.  I see this now as an apparent failure in listening to my body and (perhaps most importantly), prioritizing my family.  Since then, I have learned to fuel more effectively for workouts, embrace recovery, rest when rest is needed, slow down, and avoid lengthy weekend brick sessions that compromised my body and to some extent, my family.  By training smarter, I had one of my fastest runs off the bike at Augusta 70.3 in 2019, remained injury-free the whole season, and freed up more time for my kids.  Oh, and I had more fun too! ☺

A turning point in my triathlon career came this past December, 2019 when I was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer.  At 43 years old, I was facing major surgery and an uncertain future as a single mom of 2 elementary-aged daughters.  Yes…like the rest of us, I love triathlon.  I love racing.  Heck, I even love training.  I love waking up before the sun, staying consistent and getting the job done.  I can be relentless. Sometimes to a fault.  Up until 2 months ago, the goal was at least three 70.3 races a year, try to qualify for 70.3 World Championships and Kona in 2021.  But minutes before going into the OR for a double mastectomy, being a relentless triathlete was the furthest thing from my mind.  I wanted to live.  I wanted to be cancer free.  I wanted to be a relentless mom. And when I woke up in the recovery room, I didn’t think about Kona aspirations or my next workout (it hurt too much to move anyway).  I thought about what it would look like to hold this season with open hands, to recover well, to spend time with my girls.  I thought about having fun, perhaps doing shorter distance races, and grasping my goals as an athlete a little less tightly. I admit this is not easy.  There are some days I still struggle.   But this is a hobby.  It is an amazing one!  But it’s still a hobby.  I am now cancer-free.  It was caught early enough there are no further treatments other than reconstruction.  And I have been given the opportunity to re-focus and work on a better training-life balance than I had before.  

If you could make an Instagram post you knew would be seen and shared by millions, what would it say?

It doesn’t have to be your quote, just something you love and think would make a difference. 

“A mighty wind blew night and day.  It stole the oak tree’s leaves away, then snapped its boughs and pulled its bark, until the oak was tired and stark.  But still the oak tree held its ground, while other trees fell all around.  The weary wind gave up and spoke, “How can you still be standing, Oak?”  The oak tree said, “I know that you can break each branch of mine in two, carry every leaf away, shake my limbs and make me sway.  But have roots stretched in the earth, growing stronger since my birth.  You’ll never touch them, for you see, they are the deepest part of me.  Until today I wasn’t sure, of just how much I could endure.  But now I’ve found, with thanks to you, I’m stronger than I ever knew.”  

Grow your roots deep.  And don’t be afraid to face the wind.

Jenn Hale

What is the best or most worthwhile investment you’ve made in triathlon.

This could be financially, time, or energy investments.

Well, mine is my training partner.  I admit I have a few “gadgets” (a bike trainer, Garmin 935XT, a power meter).  But the best investment has been in a person.  It comes with ups and downs…just like the rest of life.  Sometimes I’m having a good training day and he isn’t.  Other days it’s reversed.   Though I still do a significant portion of my training alone, I have found it a huge encouragement to train with someone else.  I laugh more, am injured less (there is someone holding me back when I’m pushing too hard), and I pay closer attention to post-training nutrition.  For me, the journey of triathlon has certainly been about personal achievement, but it has also been about relationships.  And those investments always have the richest return. 

What is an unusual or absurd habit or superstition you have that relates to training or racing?

I like finishing my runs on the mile or half mile.  Going 5.33 miles just bugs me.  I know, I know…I can already hear coach Robbie…I guess we all have ways we can still grow. 😉

In the last 5 years, what is the behavior, habit or new belief that has most changed how you train?

I think for me it has been the decision to break up with the numbers.  As a former collegiate track athlete with over 30 years of competitive running experience, pace has always mattered a great deal.  Like a pass/fail indictment on whether my training on any given day was good enough.  Sometimes it is still a battle—will I let my watch dictate who I am that morning, or will I let my body?  I wish I could say my body always wins. It doesn’t.  But I continue to remind myself that Z2 miles serve a purpose—an important one.  A house built on a weak foundation cannot withstand a strong storm.  The same is true of our bodies—and it took me years of dealing with running injuries to figure that out.  Not only does logging Z2 miles fortify that foundation, it strengthens the aerobic energy system as well (we need this at all levels of training, but especially for long course racing).  And as a side bonus, letting go of the stress of the numbers has freed me up to enjoy training without an undercover agenda.  Thanks to Robbie, Mike and the podcasts, I am back to where I was as an 8 year-old girl—running just because I love it, and because I can ☺ 

What advice would you give a friend your age who is just getting into triathlon? What advice should they ignore?

Spend a little time thinking through WHY you are getting into this awesome and crazy and challenging sport.  Is it to build relationships?  Get into better shape?  Develop healthier lifestyle as an example to your family and children?  To challenge yourself and your limits?  Then hold on to why you started…because along the way you will be tempted to let that train derail and morph into something you don’t even recognize.  The ultimate goal is to better your life, have fun, and enjoy the process.  Don’t give in to the urges both within and outside yourself to purchase the next greatest gadget, sign up for the next newest race, and feed the constant frenzy of more.  More is not better.  More is the enemy of better.  So jump in to whatever distance race (and training) best fits your lifestyle, family, and career.  And have a blast along the way. 

Jenn Hale

What are bad recommendations for training that you hear a lot?

The overemphasis on brick workouts is one of them.  Before signing on with Coach Robbie, I used to do 1-2 of them each week, and sometimes the run portion was 60-70min of tempo running off a 50-60mi bike.  I was constantly dealing with injuries and exhaustion.  The amount of pre-workout anxiety I had was significant.  Sometimes I would get so nervous about those bigger weekend sessions that I didn’t sleep well the night before. I started dreading weekends.  So you can imagine how thankful I was when I became a C26 athlete and learned that those lengthy sessions were not only unnecessary, they were actually counter-productive.  I was freed up to enjoy my weekends again—not only with my family, but with shorter sessions that challenged me appropriately without leaving me overly drained.

In the last 5 years how have you changed your approach to nutrition? What are some specific benefits you’ve found?

After multiple failures in this area—both during training and racing—just this last year I have finally committed to paying closer attention to fueling before and after training sessions.  As a mother of 2 elementary aged daughters, I would often get one workout in before carpool, take the kids to school, and start my second workout having forgotten to eat breakfast.  And though I wish coffee calories equaled a meal…well, they don’t.  I was losing ground on important workouts often because I wasn’t making the time to fuel with the next session in mind.  So I got some accountability (this is where training partners help), and began to do a little meal prep beforehand.  When I am successful at this, I have more energy to finish the next set of workouts.  I haven’t arrived yet, but I am working on it and am committed to growing in this area.

Of swim, bike, run, what is your toughest sport and what kind of things have you found helpful to improve?

The bike is my toughest for sure.  I had to wrap my head around the fact that the bike is the longest portion of any race, and that it was going to take time to improve.  This has involved more intense and focused cycling blocks, and at times cutting back on running (which I admit is difficult for me) to allow the legs more “room” to do what needs to be done on the bike.  I also invested in a power meter (helpful for measuring where I am, and growth going forward), and learned to take Z2 runs (sometimes done the morning before a hard ride) easy so my legs were more fresh for the upcoming higher intensity cycling intervals.  Let’s face it, sometimes it is more difficult to work on a weakness than it is to work on what is already a strength.  I am no exception, but in the long run, I believe it will pay off.

What is your “why” when it comes to triathlon and how do you keep it present in your mind?

I believe our “why” can morph as our lives and situations change.  For me, I came into triathlon just loving the competition, the training, and seeing goals set and achieved.  It was so simple early on.  But somehow I went from having fun with a great group of people and the satisfaction of frequent trips to the podium at smaller regional events, to passionately chasing the podium and a slot for Ironman 70.3 World Championships and Kona.  What had started as a fun hobby had somehow become a measure of my worth—not only as an athlete, but as a person.  I finished 10th in my age group at Ironman Florida, and 9th at Augusta 70.3, yet all I heard were echoes from my past—“You’re good, but you’re not good enough.” I found myself on a train cruising along at 90 miles an hour, headed somewhere I wasn’t sure I wanted to be.   

Fast forward listening to countless podcasts, with a new coach and team at C26, and an unspecified number of conversations with my best friend and training partner—I was able to get back to my original “why”.  And just in time, too.  Less than three months after that finish at Augusta, I was diagnosed with early stage “pre” breast cancer and underwent a double mastectomy.  Due to some surgical complications, the breast reconstruction process was delayed.  I was all ready to get the season underway…but this train is taking a short detour.  It’s not what I wanted, but we can’t predict or control what happens to us.  It is an ongoing struggle, but I am realizing that all of life is a gift.  Triathlon is a gift.  Training is a gift.  I don’t intend to give up my goals, or working hard to achieve them.  I am just more interested in embracing the process—and who I am becoming—than on reaching a particular destination.

Jenn Hale

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