Jessie Donavan is in Kona to race the Ironman World Championships for the first time. The 2013 Ironman South Africa champion though appears to be calm and collected and has her family with her as a great support system.
Slowtwitch: It is good to chat with you Jessie.
Jessie Donavan: Thanks for the opportunity.
ST: You have been in Hawaii for a few days now and you likely can still enjoy a reasonable calm Kona.
Jessie: Right now I am sitting here in my Normatecs focusing on recovery after a few long training days on the island. This is my first time here so it already seems a bit crazy to me but I realize I haven’t seen anything yet. The atmosphere is great and I’ve gotten in some quality training on the course. I must say I had been warned about the heat and humidity but I was still surprised when just 4 days in my first canister of Powerbar Perform had already disappeared, it’s hot out on the Queen K.
ST: The temps must be a big change from at home in Vermont we suspect.
Jessie: Right now at home it’s that perfect fall weather, high of 70, dry crisp air with all of the leaves changing color. Thankfully I left one beautiful place for another. I started some heat acclimatization at home before I left. I’m pretty good at simulating hot weather conditions in my indoor training environment, definitely not nearly as fun as getting here a month advance but it gets the job done.
ST: When did your family arrive and how big is your total entourage?
Jessie: My family arrived on Sunday night, which includes my husband Peter, and 3 kids Griffin (age 11), Eliot (9) and Ava (6). They will all be here for 3 weeks so we are trying out homeschooling on the Big Island. So far so good although it’s definitely taking some major organization keeping everything full speed ahead in our little condo. Before the kids came I had seen the Queen K, Kona Aquatic Center, swimming at the pier, Alii Drive and the couch. I am thankful to have them here to provide a little balance and to get me off the race course. Now my days include all of the above along with exploring the beaches and multiple trips to the farmer’s market and Safeway to keep enough food in the house for all of us, they’re like locusts!
ST: Can they eat more than you?
Jessie: That’s a toss-up, we all eat a lot. They don’t eat many of the typical kid foods, our favorite dinner is “salad bar” night, where we set out all of the various veggies and toppings and each make our own toppling salads. They are healthy adventurous eaters but you can imagine that creates quite the grocery bill.
ST: Are any of the kids inspired by mom’s athletic activities?
Jessie: My eldest son Griffin came up with the idea to raise money through World Bicycle Relief two years ago and rode 3 miles to school every day even throughout the winter, he’s hard core, we have a long winter. He has raised almost $4,000 at this point and my husband and the kids ride to school most days. Griffin wants to swim Alcatraz as soon as possible and do an Ironman when he’s 18, Eliot’s going to be a professional soccer player and Ava says she’s going to be a triathlete but not yet. The one thing I have made sure of is that they are all growing up swimming. We spend a lot of time at the pool as a family and they are all strong swimmers. Just in case any of them do want to be triathletes I figure I can give them that one little gift, something I missed out on.
ST: We assume most of the work for Kona is in the bank and now it is just about handling those last days leading up to the race and staying healthy.
Jessie: All of the long days are done but I still have some key sessions ahead that will allow me to execute small pieces of race day in the heat and humidity of Kona. I tend to take a little less of a full on taper than some. I’m a very aerobic athlete and found that works better for me come race day. No big changes for Kona, just my usual Ironman prep.
ST: Looking back at this season we know that the Ironman South Africa title found you well, but that was a last minute adjustment after a DNF in Los Cabos. It appears that you bounce back well.
Jessie: So far so good on the bouncing back front. Last season I did Ironman Lake Placid and then Ironman Tremblant 4 weeks apart, which went well and then followed that up with Ironman Cozumel in November. Looking back on Cabos it was harder to bounce back mentally than physically from that one.
ST: I believe a shredded tire was the cause for the Los Cabos situation.
Jessie: I was riding clinchers and had a large tear in the tire itself. I had spare tubes but no spare tire. Unfortunately mechanical support didn’t appear for 45 minutes. It was a great story, a guy arrived on a moped with a small backpack took one look at my tire and walked away. He found an old coke can, cut a piece out, pulled out some duct tape and patched my tire and I was on my way. At that point I’d been at a stand-still for 55mins but I jumped right back on my bike and into my race plan and told myself “don’t think, just execute”. My husband was on the course and had communicated with my coach who told me to just run 8 miles off the bike and stop, race day was now a training day. It was a tough call but definitely the right one.
ST: Was that still on your mind when you raced in South Africa?
Jessie: If you’re asking if I had a spare tire with me while racing in S. Africa the answer is yes, along with a patch kit a multi-tool and I’m sure some other stuff I didn’t need. I was well prepared. Although Cabos didn’t turn out as planned I did have a break through swim for me, a strong bike when you took out the time on the side of the road and felt great overall so I knew the fitness was there and I was excited to use it.
ST: An almost perfect race?
Jessie: Is there ever a perfect race in an Ironman? At the end of the day I won which is really all that matters but as always there were a few bumps in the road. I lost my water bottle cage early on in the bike which meant the only drinking I could do was at aid stations and I had a few chain malfunctions that I had to stop and fix but those were all manageable and part of what keeps Ironman interesting, it’s a long day out there. The crowd support and energy in South Africa was amazing, really like no other race I’ve been part of. There were even cheerleaders and confetti at the finish line. The people were so warm and welcoming and I did my best to really soak up the fact that I was in South Africa for the nine days that I was there.
ST: You raced Ironman Brazil to get the Kona qualification out of the way early and it worked out indeed.
Jessie: After finishing South Africa I looked at the schedule and Brazil made the most sense. I had the opportunity to travel with Ken Glah’s group, Endurance Sports Travel, which made the whole trip really easy. It was my first time traveling with them and they were so great at taking care of all of the details.
ST: I think your coach initially suggested to rest and wait until Mont Tremblant. What made you two then decide to jump into Brazil?
Jessie: I know I was secretly hoping that I could convince him to race Brazil and Mont Tremblant and then Kona so that was my reasoning but I think my coach, Jesse Kropelnicki, thought a mid-season break would be good for me. I raced Cozumel in November and didn’t take my usual break before ramping back up for Cozumel so getting my Kona qualification over early allowed for some real down time in May/June.
Jesse and I have a very effective coach/athlete relationship. I am not shy in voicing my opinions and letting him know how I’m feeling but ultimately I leave it up to him to make the final calls. I completely trust him to know what’s best for me in the long term and I do my job of executing exactly what he puts in front of me each day. I feel very lucky that I convinced him to take me on two years ago, I know I wouldn’t be anywhere close to where I am today without him and the whole QT2 Team.
ST: You had some issues in Brazil, but still finished on the podium.
Jessie: Brazil was my first time experiencing a mass start IM swim which was so much fun! People had warned me that it’s crazy, you get swam over, knocked into but I loved every minute of it. So much more fun than what typically ends up as a solo 2.4 mile swim for me. I came out of the water much closer to the lead than I expected and felt confident about biking and running my way onto the podium and hopefully into the lead. Unfortunately a few steps into the run I knew immediately that something wasn’t right with my stomach. It was my first experience with GI distress in an Ironman so I guess it’s kind of a right-of-passage, been there done that. Let’s just say I spent a lot of quality time in Porta-Potties that day.
ST: Back to Kona now. What goals have you set for this race?
Jessie: My primary goal is to race to my potential and not let the Island get the best of me. This is my first time here so there is definitely the mystique of what racing Kona is all about. I’m feeling fit and ready and excited to toe the line with the best of the best on the day we are all peaking for.
ST: Nervous or excited or both?
Jessie: Definitely excited, I am always excited to race.
ST: All well on the support front?
Jessie: I feel so lucky to have a great group of sponsors behind me and the opportunity to use the best of the best for fueling, training, racing and recovery. I am riding a Quintana Roo Illicito, which is fully tricked out with Shimano Di2 Components and race wheels and topped off with a Rudy Project helmet and glasses. I head to the pool each day decked out in my TYR suits, goggles and I have had some breakthrough swims this year in my new Freak of Nature, definitely the most comfortable wetsuit I have ever worn.
ST: Is there anything else we should know?
Jessie: I still have a full time job as an analyst at the University of Vermont. I live in a small town in Vermont and train through the winter on my Computrainer. We have a busy life between the kid’s sports, their school activities, two full time jobs and my training and racing but it seems like everyone’s busy these days so I guess we’re just the typical American family. My husband Peter is definitely the glue that holds it all together and on top of everything he also competes in triathlons and has managed a top 10 in his age group at Nationals and at 70.3 World Championships.
To all of you amateurs out there, especially the moms, keep dreaming. Four years ago my husband and I came up with the crazy idea to enter a 70.3. We had no idea what we were doing, followed a plan off of the internet and made all kinds of mistakes. I finished the race excited to try again the following year but I definitely had no delusions of grandeur at the time, I wasn’t one of those who won their first race or really even showed any indication that I could be good at this sport. I don’t have a background in swimming, biking or running and didn’t even find the sport until after having my children. Of course the past three years have been filled with hard work and a lot of sacrifice but also so much fun and adventure. I am definitely enjoying the ride.