Swim, bike, run — Jacobson braves the Ironman Triathlon

By Rachel Robles, Lifestyles editor | Aug 28, 2014
Photo by: Donated INCREDIBLE SUPPORT — Jennifer Jacobson's family drove to Kentucky to support her during the Ironman Triathlon. From left are step-mom, Kathryn Greeley; father, Wells Greeley; Jennifer Jacobson; husband, Ryan Jacobson; mother, Robin Tindall; and sister-in-law, Maris Jacobson.

Jennifer Jacobson, 33, of Waynesville, accomplished a rather daunting personal goal Sunday, Aug. 24, when she entered and successfully completed the Ironman Triathlon in Louisville, Kentucky.

An Ironman Triathlon is one of a series of long-distance triathlon races organized by the World Triathlon Corporation that starts with a brisk 2.4-mile swim, transitions to a grueling 112-mile bike ride and then finishes with a 26.2-mile run, raced in that order and without a break. It is widely considered one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world.

Jacobson started the morning by swimming in the Ohio River, then biked through a two-loop track of rolling hills and countryside through Oldham County, Kentucky, and then finished the day with a two-loop flat track through downtown Louisville.

Despite clear skies, the weather was anything but ideal. With temperatures in the 90s and a heat index of 100 degrees, Jacobson had to reevaluate her pace.

“I had to dial back my speed,” she said. “I had to go slower than I planned to combat the heat and humidity.”

One of her main focuses was staying hydrated. Aide stations were set up every 10 to 12 miles on the bike course and every mile on the running track.

“My mental strategy was to just make it from aide station to aide station on the bike and on the run,” said Jacobson. “So I knew if I could just make it to the next aide station, I knew I could take a break. Mentally that was a good thing for me.”


Jacobson started training for the Ironman a year ago. She worked with a personal online coach, Sonni Dyer with Studio 7 Multisport in Valdese, who sent her workouts three to four weeks at a time.

“He kept me on track,” said Jacobson. “He was a huge help. Without a coach, I think I probably would have gotten injured. I probably could have followed an online plan, but he kept me focused and knew when I needed a recovery week and knew when I needed to up my mileage. And it was just a systematic plan that made me get to the start line uninjured and prepared.”

She ran and biked at Lake Junaluska, swam at the Waynesville Recreation Center and Haywood Regional Fitness Center, took long bike rides in Bethel and trained at the Lake Logan triathlon course. Her main focus was time instead of mileage.

“I did not train by miles; I trained by time,” said Jacobson. “It helped me not think of it like, ‘Oh my gosh, I have to go out and bike 100 miles.’ Instead I was like, ‘Okay, I’m going to go out and bike for four to six hours. And within that time frame, my mileage crept up.”

She also mentally prepared herself for something to go wrong during the race. So when she threw a chain around mile 20 during the bike ride, broke her sunglasses and experienced stomach issues for about 7 miles during the run, she was unfazed.

“Just knowing going in that something’s going to go wrong, you’re prepared,” said Jacobson. “I don’t think there’s any real way to prepare for it other than just knowing that you’re going to feel good at points and are going to feel bad at points, and it’s going to change. And your ultimate goal is to just finish, no matter how you feel.”

Finishing the race

“More of it was seeing if I could do it, to push myself to be able to challenge myself to complete it,” said Jacobson. “My only goal was to finish within the allotted time.”

And finish she did. All triathlon participants are given 17 hours to complete the event; Jacobson finished after 15 hours and 43 minutes, crossing the finish line to thunderous applause and cheers around 10:45 p.m. Jacobson came in 71st out of the 101 women in the Female 30-34 bracket and placed 1577 out of a total of 2095 Ironman Triathlon participants. She was also only one of 337 women to even attempt the race.

“I want to glorify God because he gave me the ability to complete something like this,” said Jacobson. “That was my biggest thing. Second of all, my family, especially my husband, Ryan.”

Jacobson and her husband have a 2-year old son, Wells Patrick Jacobson.

“I could not have done it without him because there were many days when I would be out on five or six hour bike rides that would take half the day,” said Jacobson. “That was hard, being away from family, training.

She is also incredibly grateful for her large support network.

“I have so many friends who supported me, who trained with me on runs and bike rides and swims, gave me encouragement along the way,” she said. “They were awesome. I couldn’t have done it without them.”

In addition to her husband and son, her father and step-mother, Wells and Kathryn Greeley; mother, Robin Tindall; and sister-in-law, Maris Jacobson, drove with her to Kentucky and cheered her on.

“I’m extremely proud of her,” said Jacobson’s husband, Ryan. “With everything she has going on in life, the dedication she displayed day in and day out was amazing. Anytime someone attempts a physical feat like that you bend over backwards to make sure they accomplish that.”