Train Like a Triathlete Member Spotlight

Monday June 16, 2014

Two of our amazing members, conquered a challenge very few people are able to do.  On June 1, 2014, UNC Wellness members and good friends Jennifer Kenney and Matt Farber participated in their very first 1/2 Ironman competition at the Raleigh Ironman 70.3.  As we have kicked off our “Train like a Triathlete” program, thought it would be fun to talk to two people who have just accomplished such a great athletic feat to get some tips and ideas.  Whether you are an absolute beginner or want some technique advice, thought you could get inspired by reading about these awesome members.  If you are interested in joining us for the free Train Like a Triathlete program click here and if you would like to register for the UNC Wellness Super Sprint Triathlon click here.

Personal trainer Susan Kroll, interviewed Matt and Jen about their experience.

1. What made you decide to do a ½ Ironman?

Jen:  Honestly, last summer Eddie was talking to a parent at a swim meet and was all proud of our marathon race last year.  He said “You should do the ironman next year Jen!” ….SO I can’t back away from a challenge and signed up!  But really, I have done a few marathons and was ready to try something different.  I was a swimmer my whole life since age 5 through college and even Masters Team as an adult.  I figured since I can swim and run, why not.

Matt:  I’ve been an avid runner for a long time, 2 marathons (Marine Corps both), numerous Half M’s, other runs.  I had always been interested in IM, but never had a reason to pull the trigger.  Ed and Jen brought up the Raleigh 70.3 one night.  After discussing the idea with Liz, I decided it would be fun to try something new.  Knowing I would have a training partner gave me more confidence too, plus, committing to a goal publicly is a heck of an incentive to follow through!

2. Did you follow a set training plan?

Jen:  Yes.  Without missing a single minute of it…only probably because we have such Type A personalities.  We set a goal time of under 6hrs and used a website for a beginner triathlete.   We printed the schedule and followed it each week for roughly 21 wks.  If we couldn’t fit the total number of minutes on a given day (for ex: 60 bike, 45 run) we would make it up on a different day that week so our totals were always according to the plan for Swim, Bike, Run.

Nutrition nutrition…what is the saying, 80% kitchen, 20% gym….key to our training.  Britt helped us with this a lot and we used My Fitness Pal app- she would cheer me on when I logged my activities and nutrition daily….like I mean daily, each meal- I am learning what it is like to eat and not use my phone to scan the code for nutritional facts! We watched carb, protein and fat ratios doing our best to stay within the guidelines.

Matt:  I downloaded a beginner Half IM plan from  It provided a week by week plan that seemed well organized.  Jen and I looked it over, I got some feedback from Robert Bisantz about it (he’s an experienced tri guy) and we were off and running (and swimming and biking).  What didn’t fully sink in until later was just how much of a time commitment Tri training was going to be!  When we started ramping up to weeks with a lot of swim, bike, run it started to sink in…a 6-hour event was going to be a big challenge.

I can’t stress enough how important it was for Liz to support what I was doing.  Training is a HUGE commitment if you do it right and that isn’t possible for a 70.3 without your spouse being 100% behind you!  THANKS LIZ!

3. How did training with a partner enhance your training?

Jen:  I could absolutely not, without a single doubt, have done this without my training buddy!!!! I cannot stress that enough.  He was the reason I got my butt out of bed or followed through with each workout.  We supported each other in all 3 sports- with technique, endurance and mental toughness.  We used each workout to discuss how we were feeling and what was happening on the next training day.  In addition, we followed nutrition plans, which is always easier when doing with someone.  We are pretty much in sync as far as levels go- my swim may be quicker and his bike may be quicker, but overall training we are pretty close in ability (by 4mins on race day!).  I think since we have trained for other marathons together, that only enhanced the experience.  Matt pushed me but yet balanced me when I’d get off balance…and vice versa.  Balance! Key to success….especially when you have a family and a full-time job.

Matt:  As sure as I am sitting here writing this, I know I would not have completed training without a training partner. THANKS JEN!

When you have someone else counting on you to follow through, it changes the game.  So many days I did not want to get out of bed for early training sessions…but when you know you’ve committed to get somebody else up to go for a long run, you absolutely have to make it happen.

In addition, I started lap swimming last June when I signed up for the Tri.  I had never swum a lap before that.  The coaching and encouragement from Jen (as well as Robert Bisantz and Ross Wroblewski, two other experienced swimmers we’re friends with) made all the difference.  It took 4 solid months of pool time before I started to believe I was going to be able to do the swim portion of the race.

4.  How did you use UNC Wellness to assist your training?

Jen:  Again, couldn’t have done it without UNC.  1- Facility- use of the pool in winter cold months when swimming outside is just not an option 2- Spin/cycle class- again, winter not an option to ride outside 3- Weight training/strength!- HUGE piece of our success- you can cardio forever for hours and hours but without strength training, you will not build muscle mass.  This was something I did not do in past races and I do feel like it made a huge difference. 4- Staff!- Used Britt for Nutrition plan and metabolic levels. This was a big help to increasing my knowledge of my body and ability.  Also for giving my body the right fuel to perform and recover. Classes/Instructors- nice balance to try and challenge agility and cardio. 5- Yoga yoga yoga! Yoga is key to improving speed on a bike….and flexibility as an overall athlete is essential.  6- Flexible facility hours- open at the crack of dawn for those crazy triathlon people! 7- Family friendly! takes a lot of spouse support so it was nice to be able to drop kids off at supervised play so I could work out and not have to involve my husband…gives him a little break (:

Matt:  What a difference (and I’m just not saying that) UNC Wellness has made.  UNC has so much to offer.  The pool and spin class were great during the winter months.  The Nutritionist, Britt, was a key resource.  Nutrition is a very important aspect of preparing for a successful Tri.  I also did yoga, TRX, boot camp and the weight room regularly during training.  The fitness assessment was also helpful to set a baseline of fitness from which to measure progress.

5. Did you have any favorite classes or activities you participated in at UNC Wellness?

Jen:   Pool is my favorite place to be at UNC!  In the winter months, I did do a lot of spin/cycle classes.  Boot camp also for a body challenge/mix up. Weights- both free weights, machines and cord training also are favorites.

Matt: The pool and yoga have to be my personal favorites.  yoga adds so much to overall fitness.  I didn’t fully appreciate the benefits of yoga before.

6.  How was race day?  

Jen:  Life changing, EPIC! A day I will never forget.  I was prepared, smart, well-trained, and mentally ready.  Amazing.

Matt:  For so many reasons, it ranks up there as one of the best days of my life!  Of course, seeing all that training payoff and mastering the swim felt really great.  But what made it really special was that I got to share the day with my family and friends.  Many of them were there to cheer me on and share the experience.  Spending time before the race, at dawn, as I got ready to go…hearing encouragement at the transitions…and seeing everyone at the finish were very special to me.  Other friends were following me online.  It been so great to talk to everyone, to hear how they enjoyed following my progress.  Several friends have said how it has inspired them to take on new challenges…that, in particular, feels so good.

7. What was your overall time?  What was your time in each event?

Jen:  5:46.32! Swim: 28:30 (Division rank: 3) Bike:  3:17:19 Run: 1:56:46 I was thrilled with my rankings!! Especially my swim- it was 1 minute faster than my Jordan Lake Swim Race a few weeks ago, so I was quite pleased.

Matt:  I finished in 5:42:33.  swim 38:06, bike 3:03:19, run 1:57:14

8.  How did that compare with your pre-race goals?

Jen:  Perfectly! Swim was faster than I wanted, Bike was a little slower than I had hoped for but there was a head wind the whole ride and the last 26 miles of the course is very hilly.  When reviewing each participant’s legs of the ride, almost each one dropped 1mph the second half of the race due to the course and wind.  Run was right around where I thought, maybe a little slower but I was still happy to be under 9min miles.  The run loop was quite challenging 1st and 3rd legs were almost all uphill which was tough. Overall goal to break 6hrs, so happy to crush that!

Matt: I was hoping to break 6 hours, so I was very happy with my overall time.  The training, nutrition planning and race strategy all came together perfectly on race day!

9.  How were the transitions?

Jen:  I was very pleased with my T1 & T2.  Overall under 4 min total which is considered very good.  Considering the location of my transition spots, I had a good distance to run after the swim and a far distance after the dismount line on the bike- which means you are running to your T2 (run shoes) in cycling shoes, which are not easy to run in!  We did a lot of transition practice and mental replaying of each T.  We had a plan for each- head to toe or vice versa.  Setup is key also for a quick transition, socks in shoes opened up for easy slip on, etc.

Matt:  I really enjoy the transitions.  Its a very small part of the race from a time perspective, but its a big part of the overall experience.  I transitioned in 2:31 (T1) and 1:23 (T2).  I think I can improve these times a bit, but overall I feel really good about my transitions.  Another plus of the transitions is that i could hear my wife and friends cheering me on through transition…what an emotional boost!

10.  What was your favorite part?  Hardest part?

Jen:  Getting up at 3am (; Riding a bus at 4am (;  But really, the whole day. The anticipation of race day.  The training was definitely a fave.  It is different than marathon training- not all pounding and hardship on the body.  It encompasses multiple sports so on days after a long run or ride, we had a swim to stretch out in the water and work different muscles.

When the swim waves were announced about a month before the race, we found out that Matt was starting the race an hour ahead of me.  It was frightening at first to think, WAIT!! My training buddy is not going to be with me?? After a lot of thought, we came to terms that we are prepared and knew the plan as we had been practicing for over 6 months.  Stick to the Plan was the motto.  Watch your heart rate, and stick to the mph or mile pace we trained for.  We had done all the hard work, race day was our day to shine.

With that being said, probably the best part of race day was when I finished T2 and started the 13.1 run. At this point, I was 3hrs 50mins into the race…on my own, sticking to the plan wondering how my buddy was doing!  I turned the corner and Matt was just starting his 2nd loop…”catch the rabbit”! was a game we’d play on the trail running to run faster when we saw someone ahead…we’d have to catch them and run faster…I caught up to him and we ran my 1st loop/his 2nd loop together. It was fate! I was feeling fresh after getting off the bike (Finally!!) and he was tired.  Just like old times, we pushed each other and I watched him race to the finish feeling strong.  Tears just thinking about it!

Hardest- running that last loop exhausted, alone, and getting hot in the mid-day.  But to cross that finish line with my family, children, parents and over a dozen friends watching and cheering- BEST DAY EVER!!

Matt:  Favorite part…the finish, especially celebrating with everyone!  Hardest part…the last half of the run.

What was really nice and such a surprise was that Jen and I happened to meet up on the run.  I was starting my second loop when she started her first loop on the run.  My wave went off about 1 hour ahead of hers and our times on the swim and ride just so happened to result in us being in about the same place on the course.  It was an emotional boost to have someone to run with for a while…that was great.

11.  Is there anything you would do differently to prepare if you were to do it again?

Jen:  Turn my training partner into a woman??? LOL.  This is one I’d have to think about.  It is all still so amazing in my mind.

Matt:  For the most part, no, I would not change much.  The training and preparation set me up for a great day of racing.

12.  Would you do it again?

Jen:  Absolutely, with the support of my family.  I could not have done this without Eddie and his support. He was forever flexible, understanding, and so proud each day.  We had many heart-to-hearts throughout the intensive 6 months of training about how the time commitment affected our lives.  But he was cool with that and was just as excited for my goals as I was. That is not always the case nor easy for a spouse.  We have 3 young children and both work full-time.  But every time I left the house to train he’d say “Train like a champion today!”  I Love him so much.

Matt:  You bet…in fact, I’m planning to sign up for the Raleigh 70.3 again next year!

13. What’s next?

Jen:  LOL, the dreaded question….Matt and I already started asking this question 3 months ago! What will we do when this is over? What will we do without a 3hr workout?

I am doing another open water swim race at Jordan Lake in July- hope to improve my time and maybe repeat a 1st female again. I would like to do a few more Olympic distance Triathlons, roughly under 3 hrs and about half the distance so it does not require as much time in training.  Beach to Battleship is a bucket list. And of course, some day in my lifetime (with spousal support of course) my personality and drive can’t help but want to test out a Full Ironman. Yes, some may say that’s crazy, but it all seems right in my mind (: I mean, how can you go half-way and not go all the way….

Matt:  I’m focusing on recovery now:  getting plenty of sleep, stretching, yoga, light workouts.  I met with Britt to get input on how to adjust my nutrition plan for post-race recovery and less activity.  Over the summer i will do less tri training to focus on other activities like stand-up paddle boarding and wakeboarding.  As for future Tri’s I will probably do some shorter distance events (sprint, olympic) in the fall.  I’m going to let this experience sink in before deciding what races to do the rest of the year, but one thing is certain…I’M HOOKED ON TRI!

Thanks Jen and Matt for your inspiration!  Now grab a partner and come train at UNC or find one at our train like a triathlete clinics or our multisport club.