Today, we were lucky to get the chance to chat with Jeannie Gilbert. Jeannie is an an Ironman triathlete, ultra trail runner, and (as if that’s not enough already) a wife and mother of three young kids.
Read more about Jeannie’s running and triathlon life below.
Tell us a little about yourself. How did you get into triathlons? I have always been active and exercised regularly. I wasn’t an athlete though. I dabbled in sports growing up but never stuck to one particularly sport or excelled in anything. I started playing co-red soccer in my 20s and have continued that. I graduated from the University of Washington Doctor of Physical Therapy School and worked as an in-patient physical therapist before having kids. Despite being active, I grew up as an overweight child and teen due to very poor eating habits. It wasn’t until after my first son was born that I realized I needed to change and be a better role model for my kids. I gradually starting incorporating healthier nutrition into our family diet and continued to make exercise a priority, leading to a 75 pound weight loss in less than a year. I didn’t really start running regularly and finished my first 10K race until 2006. I suffered from exercise induced asthma and found I really lacked stamina sprinting and running on the soccer field. I thought if I started running more for exercise, it would help me feel stronger while playing soccer.
Little did I know I would become hooked and love the feeling of running long. In 2007, after a loss in our family and going through a rough period which running helped me get through, I decided to take on a new challenge. I loved running long but found my hips, feet, etc. couldn’t tolerate the pounding every single day. So I thought, why not try a triathlon?
I have like to mix things up and try different sports. I headed to the pool a couple nights a week when my husband could be home with the kids and biked during the day pulling my three-year-old in the bike trailer while my six-year-old was at kindergarten. I completed two sprints and one Olympic distance in the summer of 2007 on my hybrid bike. After that, I became pregnant with my third child. I continued to run, bike, and swim through pregnancy as I was able and finished one sprint distance triathlon in 2008 just two months after our daughter was born. I competed in more running races from 10K to marathon distance as well as a few Olympic-distance triathlons through 2009. I find my love for trail running and races as well.
In 2010, I had a goal of finishing my first 70.3 but then I ruptured my ACL during a soccer game. I had surgery in March 2010 and was unable to run again until August. Even though I was able to get right back into running, progress was slow and I didn’t start racing again until late 2011. The torn meniscus in my knee would cause pain and discomfort when I tried to push my training. My knee finally starting feeling normal again in the summer of 2011. 2012 was my come back year for running and triathlon. My goal was to finish that 70.3 I was going to do in 2010. Not only did I do that, but I finished two 70.3s, PRed my half marathon by six minutes, and finished my first 50K trail ultra marathon.
What races have you run in the past? Well, I think I answered a lot of that in the previous question, but to name them off: trail races ranging from 4.5 miles to 50K distance, numerous half marathons (which is my favorite racing distance), a couple marathons, numerous sprint and Olympic-distance triathlons, and two half Ironmans. I also completed the “winter triple” over New Year’s weekend two years ago — I ran three half marathons, three days in a row, and ended up running the third half marathon three minutes faster than the first one two days before.
Do you have any future race goals? If so, what are they? My big goal this year is finishing my first full Ironman. I am signed up for the Vineman Triathlon on July 27th. We are making a family road trip to California for this race. I am doing one duathlon and one 70.3 as build up races as well as running a couple half marathons. I am also on a Hood to Coast team for the first time this year in August. After that, I will have to see how the Ironman goes. I forsee that I will want to continue pushing the limits and doing more long distance events like Ironman, ultra marathons, and definitely more long trail races in general. One ultimate goal I have in the back of my mind, is helping a child who is physically unable to complete a triathlon themselves experience what it is like to finish a race, possible a full Ironman someday. My heart lies with promoting fitness for youth and those who are physically challenged.
What was your favorite/most memorable race and why? I would have to say IRONMAN Lake Stevens 70.3 in July 2012. It was my very first Half Ironman. I went into it with no expectations and ended having an almost perfect race. It was a completely amazing experiences. I felt strong on the the very hilly bike course and was very fortunate not to have any mishaps given the wet conditions and technicality of the the course. I felt surprisingly strong on the run and even pulled off negative splits. My goal in the back of my mind was to run a sub two-hour half marathon run. I knew I was extremely close to that when I came to the finishing chute. I kicked it into high gear and sprinted through the finish barely grasping my goal. The run was 1:59:52 and my overall time for the 70.3 was six hours and three minutes, almost getting a sub six-hour finish.
Funnest race experience? The funnest race I have done was the Warrior Dash Washington in June 2011. I had a ton of fun running through obstacles and getting completely muddy. It was the first race I did after recovering from knee surgery.
Any advice for someone (perhaps starting out with a couch-to-5K program) who thinks they could never run a marathon? Just do it! Most people fear the swim. Find a community of support. There are tri clubs, triathlon clinics, and open water swim clinics out there. Attending these can help you get the support and guidance to conquer the swim. You don’t need a fancy bike. I completed my first three triathlons, including an extremely hilly sprint course and an Olympic distance, on a hybrid bike. The triathlon community is amazing in its support, friendship, and inspiration. Everyone cheers everyone else on. There is so much encouragement and camaraderie at races.
What’s your favorite running gadget and/or gear? Well, now it’s my tri bike. Last year when I made the goal of competing in IRONMAN Lake Stevens 70.3, my very wonderful husband gave me permission to purchase a new bike. I had been using a used aluminum road bike with clip on aerobars prior to that. I ended up getting a Cannondale Slice, the same bike as Chrissie Wellington, and absolutely love it!
And, on your feet? It used to be the Brooks Pure Connect and Brooks Pure Grit. Recently, I got pairs of both the Altra 3-Sum and Newton Gravity for roads and loving them. I also have Altra Superiors for trail running! :)
What motivates you when you don’t feel like training? My biggest motivator is my kids. Being a positive role model for them, knowing that they are watching and learning from me. The other is visualizing my goals. I set a big challenge, like Ironman, and then visualize myself crossing the finish line feeling strong. My mantra is “Think Strong, Be Strong, Finish Strong!” I also think about all those who are physically challenged but still get out there and compete, pushing their physical limits as well. If there is a will, there is a way. Set your mind to it and you will find a way to accomplish it!
What’s on your running playlist? Actually nothing right now. I have gotten used to training without music and, for triathlons, you cannot use music anyway. I like being aware of my surroundings now and it really helps develop mental toughness for racing by training without music. However, I used to listen to a lot of Aha, Erasure, Depeche Mode, INXS, etc…
If you could run any race, anywhere in the world, what would it be? That’s an easy one! Kona!
Anything else you would like to add? I just want to give thanks to my coach, Daryl Smith of Advantage Multisport, who provided the training plans to help me achieve my goals this past year. I knew getting back into multisport and racing longer distances after injury, it would be best to hire a coach to guide my training to reduce risk of injury and prevent overtraining.
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