Jana Richtrova outrides most of the men and is the reigning Ironman World Champion in the Female 35-39 Age Group. In this wide ranging interview, Jana tells us about her early sporting background, coming to the US on a basketball scholarship, working at Reebok and the consistent climb in achieving her goal of being an Ironman World Champion.
ST: Were you active growing up?
Jana: I remember always kicking a soccer ball around with my dad, and ice skating in the winter whether it be in a hockey rink or on the pond. Sadly, neither soccer or hockey were women's sports back then. My first organized sport was tennis when I was about six years old. I remember riding my mountain bike to and from practice a few times a week with a racquet on my back. When I was eight I heard about basketball at school and asked my parents to sign me up. I played both sports for about a year before practice started to overlap and I chose basketball. I still rode my mountain bike to and from practice.
ST: What brought you to the US?
Jana: Growing up basketball was my life. From the ages of 14 through 18, I went to a sports high school which meant we practiced twice a day, five days a week, and then played games on weekends. My class consisted of basketball players and swimmers. Little did I know then that I should have started swimming during those early years.
I got a scholarship offer to come play basketball in the United States from a small community college in upstate New York. I had learned English in school for eight years but nothing could have prepared me for the different accents, how fast everyone spoke, or the slang used in the US. Let’s just say I became one with the dictionary.
After two years in upstate New York, I got recruited to play Division 1 basketball at University at Buffalo. Unfortunately during those two years I got completely burnt out on basketball. After graduation I ended up staying at Buffalo for two more years and getting my MBA. It was then and there I got into running because a friend of mine told me that basketball players don’t have any endurance. I also picked up spinning classes as I enjoyed staying active. After a couple years of working in Buffalo, I got a job with Reebok just outside of Boston. I may have not been playing basketball, but I wanted to continue to at least work for a company involved with sports.
ST: What led you to endurance sports?
Jana: It was while working as a product manager at Reebok that I caught the triathlon bug. Reebok was a great place to work, and many of us would take advantage of the three story gym we had with spin classes or even a basketball league offered at lunch. I would work out every day, and always rotated between either a spin class, running on the treadmill or weights. I didn’t like running though because I used to always see that as punishment for missed layups on the basketball court so three miles was my limit, and that felt like a marathon. Then one day, one of my co-workers asked me to join her triathlon club. Being new to the Boston area, I saw that as a way to meet more friends so I agreed.
ST: Did you find success in racing out of the gates?
Jana: In the winter of 2009, I went to check out my co-workers team Dreamfar. They gave me an amazing introduction to the sport and I ended up meeting a whole new community of like minded people. Not too long after that I ended up purchasing my first road bike and joined a pool. It wasn’t pretty in the pool but in May 2009 I signed up for my first sprint triathlon. The rest as they say is history. I found my competitive spirit again and ended up doing a couple more sprints and also Olympic distance races that season. I felt like if I was to get up at the crack of dawn on a weekend, I wanted to race for more than an hour or two though.
Fast forward to June 2010 and my first 70.3 in New Hampshire. It was barely 50 degrees, the water temperature was also below 60, and it was pouring rain from the beginning to the end yet somehow I absolutely loved every minute of it. I ended up with a roll down slot to 70.3 Worlds in Clearwater. I was scared of coming last at a World Championship event, and I knew that in order to improve I needed and wanted one on one coaching. That is how I found my current coach, Jorge Martinez of E3 Training Solutions, who has played an integral part in my development as an athlete, and took me from a newbie triathlete to a world champion. It took nine years of very consistent work, but I have enjoyed the journey. I put all my trust into him, and vice versa, and I believe that’s what allowed me to improve as an athlete year over year and keep chasing that elusive world championship title for seven years.
ST: Given your prowess on the bike, did you have any trouble progressing with the swim or run?
Jana: Back in 2009, I could barely swim 25 yards in the pool without hanging on to the wall, and I viewed running as punishment. It’s kind of crazy that I have now run 15 marathons all as part of an Ironman.
I am not sure cycling has always been my strength, but it’s certainly the one sport, where the improvements came more naturally. To put things into perspective, I did my very first 5 and 20 minute test on the bike in 2010, and my CP was 210 watts with my weight always between 125-130 pounds. Now I can hold my then CP for 5-plus hours. My then 20 minute power is just under what I ride for an entire 70.3, and I can hold my then 5 minute power for over an hour.
ST: Why did you decide to move to Texas?
I came to Texas for the first time in May of 2016 to race my very first Ironman Texas. I chose this race because I wanted to get more experience in hot and humid Kona-like conditions, and it sure didn’t disappoint. But more importantly, I also met some amazing people, and Texas quickly became like my second home. I have raced Ironman Texas every single year since and met more fun, like minded people. I very much felt part of the strong triathlon community that The Woodlands has, and a couple visits during the winter of 2018 sealed the deal for me.
ST: How does your approach to training and racing differ living in Texas versus when you lived in Boston?
Jana: My training or racing approach hasn’t really changed but you don’t know what sweating is, until you train through a Texas summer.
The biggest thing that changed for me would be swimming. I used to swim mostly by myself or with another swim buddy, but now I mix it up which I really enjoy. I swim 3x’s a week with the Push Glide Kick swim squad and then 3-4x per week solo. All sessions are outdoors regardless of weather which is another big change to my 100% indoor swimming in Boston.
ST: What is your proudest moment so far?
Jana: Definitely becoming the 2019 Ironman AG World Champion, as that’s something I have been chasing ever since 2012 when I did my very first Ironman in Kona. I finished Kona in 15th in my age group in 2012, and it was then and there I decided I wanted to one day win it. I have earned six top 10 finishes but never reached the top step until 2019. (6th, 2nd, 4th, 6th, 9th, 9th )
The rest of 2019 was pretty special as I started out the year by winning a 1 mile puppy dash with miss Trifle, followed by the North American championship ironman title at Ironman Texas. I won my first overall amateur title at the 70.3 distance and got to raise the tape at Lubbock 70.3. I competed in my first ever 40K time trial and won the Texas State time trial champion in the P/1/2 category. 2019 was quite the year!
ST: How did the race unfold in Kona?
I was scared yet still confident that if I did what I knew I was capable of, I had a fighting chance despite coming down with that knee injury. I knew I was super fit, and heat adapted after spending a full year training in the sauna that is Texas. The competition in Kona is always fierce, so I didn’t even bother checking the start list, but I knew who Maggie Walsh was and how exceptional of an athlete and especially swimmer and runner she is. Ironman is a long day though, and especially in the age group field, I believe it’s important to race your own race.
To be honest, I had no idea just how big of a lead Maggie had getting out on the bike (Ed note: Walsh swam 56:12 to Richtrova’s 1:16:02). I have been in this position before and I don’t give my swim time much of a thought on race day. I felt like I executed a strong swim for me given the conditions, and I came out of the water feeling fresh and ready to ride. I executed a perfect ride and I had never felt better for a full 112 miles. It was hot, humid and windy just like I wanted it. I passed a lot of athletes - both men and women - and after the halfway point began to look for Maggie’s orange Zwift Academy kit. I never caught her on the bike, but I knew that I executed my best ever Ironman ride (ed note: Richtrova rode 4:58:41 to Walsh’s 5:16:29).
Hopping off the bike in T2, my legs felt amazing, and I had zero knee pain. We started the run maybe a minute apart, but I knew better than to chase from mile one. I had no idea what to expect given the very limited running from the previous month so I just stuck to my own plan. I knew I was running in second, but I had no idea what kind of a lead Maggie was building back up on the run, or what was going on behind me. I just focused on a steady pace, cooling at each aid station, and of course fueling.
It was around mile 16 on the way to the turn around in the Energy Lab that I saw her again. The Energy Lab was a struggle for me and a place I have yet to figure out. I luckily ended up running with a fellow female competitor from a different age group and that helped me to pick my pace back up a bit. I was in a pretty dark place, and just hoping nobody would catch me. And then out of nowhere, I spotted that orange jersey I had chased for so long, but already had given up on. I literally did a double take and realized that indeed it was Maggie. I couldn’t believe my eyes. Then it was like someone flipped a switch in my head, and my physical and mental energy came back. As I got closer and closer I realized I was moving quite a bit faster than she was, so decided to just go for it. We were on a slight downhill. I remember opening up my stride and just going for it. I didn’t once turn around, I was just hoping she didn’t latch onto me, because I really wasn’t interested in a shoulder to shoulder battle for the last five miles. I was just giving my absolute best effort.
I ran the last five or so miles at an average pace of 7:50 per mile. To put that into perspective, my previous five miles I averaged 8:50s. I literally went from feeling sorry for myself and just surviving, to feeling almost untouchable and strong again. I couldn’t believe I was running in the lead, but I also knew just how long the last five miles would be. I tried to stay in the moment as best as I could, and not slow down. I knew that if I could make it to the top of Palani in the lead, I could make it. With about half mile to go, I knew I had a big lead, knew my legs were going to carry me to that finish line. The final stretch on Ali’I drive was absolutely amazing. Even now, it’s still hard to describe. It was the best finish line of my life.
ST: What did you have planned for 2020?
Jana: I had planned a pretty heavy Ironman racing season. Ironman Texas and Challenge Roth were going to be the two Ironmans leading into Kona. With both now cancelled, and the rest of the season up in the air, I am really taking this time to heal any little niggles, and overall being flexible with myself. Instead of putting in the miles for Ironman Texas like I would be doing, I am focusing on building more strength and durability, top end speed, and having fun on Zwift (Ed note: Richtrova is Level 49 with more lifetime miles logged than Jan Frodeno).
ST: What has your early season training been like?
Jana: My training for Ironman Texas had been going really well. I put a big focus this winter on my swimming. I swam an average of 100,000 yards per month between December and February in the hopes of closing the gap to the front pack a bit, while again focusing on the top end bike and run power before putting in the long miles.
ST: How much of your typical training do you do indoors vs outdoors?
Jana: Swim and run mostly outdoors although I do own a treadmill so I like to mix it up. When it comes to cycling, I actually spend more time indoors than outdoors. I had to look this up, but in 2019, I rode a total of 8,074 miles, and only 45% of those miles were outdoors. The rest – you guessed it – on Zwift.
ST: How has your training changed due to COVID-19?
Jana: To be honest, I am still operating as normal for the most part except for the group swims since all public pools are closed, but the rest is the same for me. I am very lucky to have access to a backyard pool. I am now sticking 100% to indoor riding and I keep my running to my neighborhood. I also have a very good gym set up at home, so beside the uncertainty of if or when we get to race again, my training routine hasn’t changed much.
ST: What do you do outside of your racing and training?
Jana: I turned my passion into my job back in 2015, when I left the corporate world and became a full time triathlon coach with E3 Training Solutions. As a coach, I strongly believe in an individualized approach based on evidence-based concepts, practical experience and technology, and I simply enjoy helping others to dream and to go after those dreams. I love my job. I love guiding athletes through their individual journey based on their own needs, goals and limitations and watching them succeed.
Jana is also known as Czech Chick and you can follow her pursuits on Instagram at @CzechChick15.