Ken Glah has won six Ironman events, finished ten times in the top 10 at the Ironman World Championships, and has raced well over 50 Ironman races and countless other triathlons in his career so far. Meet the legendary athlete with the flowing hair.
ST: Ken you had 10 Top 10 finishes in Kona spanning from 1986 through 2000, truly amazing. Can you talk about that?
Ken: I had a very good stretch through those years where my main focus was racing and family. I not only did all the training for both long and short course races as most of the top athletes did back then but I also made sure I had a couple of months off and had a lot of massage work. I was enjoying the training and racing and the results showed that. In addition to the Ironman results I had some top finishes at high level short course races and Half Ironman events. I think doing all the distances, the scheduled down time and body work all helped to keep me healthy and fresh.
ST: Of all these Hawaii results, which one do you cherish the most and why?
Ken: Of the Hawaii races, I would pick three. One being 1988 in which I was 3rd because that was my best placing. Another was 1995 because that was my most steady and consistent race. I had my fastest time and a nice marathon at the end. The last of the 3 would be 1997. I was struggling on the run and nearly at the point of giving up. I remembered what my daughter had said that morning – something I still remember whenever I am struggling in a race – “Daddy, never give up”. So I continued on and with about 6 miles to go things really turned around and despite not running fast I was able to hold it together and finish pretty well.
ST: Do you remember your first Ironman and what inspired you to race it?
Ken: Yes, I actually started thinking about Ironman Hawaii around 1980 while I was still in high school. I loved training and being a runner I was limited with the amount of training I could do in a week. Even with strength work and a big week of 80 or 90 miles I still wanted to do more and realized triathlons and Ironman were the way to go to be able to put in many hours of training per week without injury. I think 1983 or 1984 were about the first years that you needed to qualify and you could do so at half Ironman races as well as some Olympic (known then as International Distance) races and I think I got a slot in Chicago that year.
ST: How did you prepare for that event and can you maybe describe the race day itself?
Ken: It was my first year of truly focused training for long events and I did Nice in September which was the World Championships back then and I came in 4th. Mentally it was a huge result for me. I was doing some long rides of 100 miles and running off the bike but was still close to my running days and had a lot of focus on 70 to 80 mile weeks with my run training. On the day I came out of the water in about 70th place somewhere around 57 or 58 minutes which I was pleased with since I was still not a very good swimmer. I worked the bike and moved up to 7th before Hawi and was passed only by John Howard on the bike. I got off the bike in 8th and was feeling good. Early in the run 1 guy passed me and I stayed in 9th until about mile 12 when things started going very bad. Not only did I work too hard on the bike but I also did not eat or drink enough and I was getting badly sun burnt which was making things worse. I got to the 17 mile mark which was the old turn around on the run course out past the airport in about 30th place. As bad as things were from 12 to 17 they were nothing compared to 17 to 24 or so. I could barely walk and remember sitting down in the shade of an aid station tent to stretch, drink and relax when my head dropped down as I dosed off and I immediately got up and kept walking. Finally after a couple hours of very slow walking, eating and drinking I was able to jog the last 1.5 miles and I came across the line in 275th with a marathon time that was over 5:50 or about 30 minutes slower than my bike time. It was a hard day but I was hooked. I left Penn State University soon after that in the middle of my junior year figuring I could always go back to school but this was my chance to get in before the likes of Dave Scott, Mark Allen, Scott Tinley and Scott Molina got too much of a jump on me
ST: Describe how a typical mid season training week looks like now versus 10/15 years ago?
Ken: Well with my travel business the busiest time of year for me is from mid January until mid July so I am in pretty bad shape when I get back from Europe. After a month of trying to get some training in I can maybe be doing 300 miles on the bike by mid August, 55 miles running and 12,000 to 15,000 swimming but the quality is not very good until mid September so maybe I get 2 weeks where I feel like things are going well before heading to Hawaii. I am hoping to stay in a bit better shape this year in the spring and early summer so that I can get things going a bit quicker when I get home from the tours to the European Ironman races.
In years past when I was focused just on racing I was doing 500 miles or so on the bike, 70 plus miles running, 18,000 to 21,000 meters swimming and strength work 2 or 3 times a week for about 5 weeks before I would start my taper for Hawaii. During those big weeks there were some very good quality workouts with rides of 160 miles at 22 miles an hour followed by either a track workout of 4 x 1 mile in 5:20 and a total run of 10 or 12 miles or just a straight hard run off the bike of 12 to 17 miles.
ST: Can you tell us what do/did you do to recover from an Ironman event?
Ken: After most Ironman races including Hawaii up until the early 90’s I would still have races coming up within a couple of weeks so I did concentrate on a quick recovery. That included getting in the water every day for easy swims, after a few days getting in some easy rides of 30 minutes to an hour but no running the first week. I would get 3 or 4 massages and do a lot of stretching. I eventually used contrast baths going from hot to cold tubs to help flush out my muscles as well. And then there was also a lot of eating and drinking to help replenish what was lost on race day.
ST: What sports did you take part when you grew up?
Ken: I came from a running background. I started when I was about 7 with just 1 or 2 Junior Olympic races each year and then in 4th grade started doing maybe 3 or 4 cross country races in the fall and 2 or 3 track meets in the spring. By 6th grade I was running maybe 4 months in the spring and 4 months in the summer/fall. Other than that it was just fun stuff with the family (I was number 12 of 13 kids) and neighborhood kids like touch football, tennis, basketball, baseball and messing around in the pool. In high school I started doing some bike riding to complement my running and did a few long bicycle camping trips with full packs on a bike that weighed as much as a small car when loaded up.
ST: What is or was your favorite triathlon and why?
Ken: Hawaii was always my favorite because of the level of competition. Everyone was as fit as they could be and tapered for the race. People were not looking through Hawaii to the next event. Now, the events I like the most are Ironman Brazil, Ironman New Zealand and Ironman 70.3 in Pucon, Chile because everyone has such a great time and the numbers are still very reasonable with 1200 to maybe 1400 on the line in Brazil and New Zealand and 600 in Chile. All three of these places also offer so many great things to do after the race as well. It’s as much about the people and the experiences as it is about the race.
ST: Tell us about what you are up to these days?
Ken: My main focus now is my travel business, Endurance Sports Travel and taking my daughter Reanin to all the activities and events that she is involved with. The travel business started as a way to make people feel more comfortable going to Ironman Brazil which I became involved with in 2001. I offered everything you needed from airfare and accommodation to bike mechanics, translators, buffet meals, all the ground transportation, massage therapists, CO2 cartridges, day trips in the local area and then after race trips to other areas of Brazil. It went really well and I expanded it out from there to other races since people liked what I did but didn’t necessarily want to keep going back to the same race even if they really loved it. Once someone sees how much fun it is to travel to Ironman events outside their country or region with other like minded people they want to keep doing it and the families love it as well. What people don’t realize is that if they fly to a race across the country somewhere and stay for a week they could do an overseas event for almost the same amount of money but with a vastly different experience and these events are incredibly well produced and many of them don’t require signing up a year in advance. Ironman China is April 20th and Brazil is May 25th and both are still open for entry.
ST: How is the family?
Ken: We are all well. Jan is still training as much as possible. She did Ironman Austria after 2 years recovering from a knee injury that has compromised her running but she still won her age group. She might do a few races this year but her main focus is her massage business, teaching Active Release Technique and following Reanin around to all her events. Reanin is now almost 15 years old and is doing great in high school. She still loves to travel but school gets in the way sometimes. She loves competing in gymnastics but being 5’10’’ or better does not make it easy. She also really enjoys playing volleyball which she does in high school and on the club level. She plans on going to school from July till October this year in Australia and then coming to watch Ironman Hawaii before heading back home to continue 10th grade here in West Chester.
ST: What is your favorite and least favorite food?
Ken: I would say a nice seafood pasta is my favorite food and maybe brussel sprouts is my least favorite food.
ST: Do you have a favorite band or artist?
Ken: Not one band or artist specifically but my favorite music is classic rock and some of the folk signers of the 60’s and early 70’s and I pretty much enjoy most music.
ST: Is there anything else we should know about you?
Ken: Well, I guess it is obvious from the fact that I am still training and racing but I think it is important for triathletes to realize the best part of this sport is being healthy and having a good balance in their lives. Triathlons are a lifestyle and people should find a way of incorporating their love of the sport into their life without it disrupting the other important things in their lives. This way it can be something they enjoy for many years and not just something to check off on their to do list.
ST: Finally, what would it take for you to cut the famous hair? ☺
Ken: I’m not ready to part with it just yet. Maybe someday I will let someone cut it off for a large donation to a charity!
All pics above © Ben Corona
The pic below is from Tony Svensson and was shot during Ironman New Zealand 1996.