Jennie Zinchuk had a great first-time Ironman at Ironman Canada last month in Penticton, British Columbia. I haven’t seen many, if any, first-time Ironman performances, as Jennie had. It was a lot of fun to watch in person!
and it made me realize how much I’ve missed going to live Ironman events and seeing athletes put it all on the line.
I have been coaching Jennie for almost 3 years and she worked incredibly hard for this result. She did an amazing job balancing her demanding job, her super energetic young boys, her husband Dan’s ultra-running and her own training. Every week had a plan wrapped around work, kids’ activities and working around her husband’s races and or long training days. I’m not sure how she does it, but she really gets every second out of each day and shows up the next day ready to get back to work. Jennie is a great example of determination to achieve a goal and the daily discipline it takes to bring it all together. I hope you enjoy this interview!
Q: Hi Jennie, can you tell us a little bit about how your day went overall?
Jennie: Overall, the day was a pretty amazing experience. The venue was incredible. Penticton, BC is a beautiful place and I wouldn’t have even considered it unless Mike suggested it as my deferral option from the 2021 IRONMAN California debacle. The swim was in a gorgeous, calm lake and I felt pretty smooth throughout the swim. I still need to figure out how to find feet to draft off of, but ended up close to the split I was aiming for. The bike went by faster than I thought it would. I was able to drive the course a few days before, which is one big loop and the scenery is just insane. I underestimated some of the false flats and hills, and there were a few times that it was more of a grind than I thought it would be. I was at a point towards the end when I was doing the math in my head to determine if I was on track to hit my bike split goal and as soon as I figured out I wasn’t, it became a mental game. Ended up about 15 min over my goal split, but it seemed as if most people were a little slower than anticipated. The run is usually where I make up the most time and as soon as I started I was shocked at how good my legs felt. That set me up for a positive mindset that it would be a good run day. The first mile was up the most ridiculous half-mile hill that had most people walking. Fortunately, the sufferfest was followed by an out-and-back trail through beautiful vineyards, so I guess you could say it was worth it. The rest of the run was through town with tons of spectators cheering us on.
One part of the loop that went all the way down Main Street was a mental struggle because it was a slight decline down and straight headwind back up…twice! I would say the last 5k was when it got really hard. I found a second and third wind a few times, but once I got on that last loop of the run, I was ready to be done. Ended up right at my goal run split and still made it just under 11 hours. Having my mom, my mother-in-law, and Mike there to support me really helped make the day successful. Crossing that finish line was the BEST finish line feeling I’ve had yet. Nutrition-wise, everything worked out perfectly. I worked with Megan Dopp to create a plan that ensured I had enough sodium and calories for the bike and run. I have a very sensitive stomach, so I did a lot of testing during training and Maurten works well for me. I consumed only Maurten drink mix, gels, and solids the entire day. I ended up consuming a few extra gels on both the ride and run which definitely helped keep my energy levels up.
Q: Ironman is definitely the longest distance you’ve done. You’ve swum more than 3 miles before and you’ve biked over 100 miles plenty of times. You did run the LA Marathon last year after IM California was canceled. But you’ve never had that long of a training day. So, what did you think was possible?
Jennie: I knew I was capable of sub-11, but only if it was a good day. I also knew that there was really nothing else I could do to be more prepared physically to have that good day. I try to keep calm before big races and try not to put too much pressure on myself, despite any expectations I have. I give myself grace and mentally prepare for the uncontrollable. If shit happens, it happens, and that’s ok. So far that mental strategy has worked out pretty well for me.
Q: Obviously, there are points during the race where you may think, “Wow. This is really hard and it hurts a lot” but in the opposite vein, at what point did you think, “I’m actually having a great day and this is fun”?
Jennie: When I was running through the vineyards about 2 miles into the run. I was running at a pace that felt easy and it was faster than I thought I would be moving. I thought, ok, this marathon can actually be enjoyable if you can keep this pace up!
Q: On the opposite side of the coin, when did you think, “This is really hard and I want this to be over now”?
Jennie: Stopping never once crossed my mind, which is actually pretty shocking. But, there was a point late on the bike where I was going up a hill that didn’t look like a hill and there was a pretty good headwind at the same time. I looked down at my watch and I think I was going maybe 6-7mph and I literally yelled out loud, “oh, come on!!” in frustration. I was giving so much effort and barely moving.
Q: That’s pretty funny. Talking out loud to yourself. I can totally see that. Tell us about some of the key workouts you did ramp up for the race – which ones stand out?
Jennie: I had several 5-6 hour bike rides that mentally prepared me to be out there for so long. I also had a weekend of back-to-back 2-hour ride/2-hour run days and a few double 90-min run days that really helped my run endurance. My key swim workouts were longer race pace sets that added up to 4-5k.
Q: Great – double runs are definitely challenging and that 8 hours weekend of 2-hour bike/run on back-to-back days is hard as well. Tell us about some of your bread and butter workouts that you just ‘punch the clock’ on and get it done.
Jennie: I really enjoy the bike trainer workouts. For the most part, I execute those well. And tempo run workouts.
Q: If you had to guess, in the past 6 months, going all the way back to April 1st, how many days in your Training Peaks were NOT green (completion)?
Jennie: Not many. If it’s in TP, it will get done. I’m type-A so my TP MUST be all green, but there are probably a few orange ones in there because I’m also an overachiever
Q: True on both accounts. I think I counted 2 workouts that weren’t done and it was probably because you weren’t feeling 100% or something like that. Lastly – let’s talk a bit about your run fitness and dive into some details: Your coach (me) claims that when you started working together you were reluctant to run too slow – I had you running at a Heart Rate below 150 which was around 9:10 pace starting out. True or False? How do you remember that period – new coach – new workouts etc.
Jennie: I do remember this and it was an adjustment. When you go for a run, usually you don’t actively force yourself to go slower to…improve! I hadn’t paid too much attention to HR before and typically went by pace. So moving to a HR-based plan was new, but it’s definitely made me more aware of my effort levels and has significantly improved my endurance.
Q: Running in Zone 2 a lot – like 70-80% of the time builds a huge foundation of strength and aerobic power. What is your normal run pace and HR, if you don’t mind sharing? What was your run pace and average Heart Rate at IMC?
Jennie: My Zone 2 is somewhere in the low 8:00 min/mile range, sometimes faster, at 137-148bpm. My run pace at IMCA was 8:35 min/mile at 146bpm.
Q: Great – it’s amazing how even after a big swim and bike, your HR was dialed in and you were very close to your normal long-day run pace. We all know a great bike ride sets up a great run, and did you ride to the correct power/watts during your IM? Did you ever think “I need to hold back a bit”?
Jennie: My watts were slightly lower than we planned. I tried not to overdo it on the hills, but that was really the only time I held back a bit.
Q: Ok, good, well that leaves some low-hanging fruit for the next one.
What is the one thing that you think you could do to help you improve?
Jennie: Finding more gears in the pool and running. I’ve been told (not by Mike) that I don’t have many gears in the pool. My sprint pace is not much faster than my tempo pace. It’s true. And for running, I can go long and steady all day long, but sprinting is a struggle for me. This is not me asking to sprint more, Mike,
Q: Well, it’s always good to know there are more aspects to work on! Anything else to add about your IM build-up and/or workouts you didn’t like or never want to do again?
Jennie: I don’t hate anything about the process. Doing an IRONMAN and doing it well is a commitment. There were a lot of workouts leading up to the race that I didn’t execute well. Do I like riding for 6 hours on the bike every weekend for several months? Not really, but I know what happens if I don’t. Do I feel guilty about missing my kids’ sports games (occasionally) because I need to get a long training day in? Absolutely, but I like to believe that I’m showing them what hard work and dedication looks like.
That’s a great final quote to end it on – thank you for your time!