Up close with Jen Annett

Canadian Jen Annett finished 7th at the IRONMAN North American Championships in Texas, but her 4:25:10 bike split ranks now as the top record IRONMAN female bike split. She had previously set a personal best and course record time of 4:38:18 at IRONMAN Arizona last November, on a day where she finished 3rd. Here now is a chat with the fast Canadian that was conducted via email over the span of many days.

Slowtwitch: Thank you for your time.

Jen Annett: Thank you.

ST: Was the trip back to Canada uneventful?

Jen: Well I flew back Monday and was pretty tired so slept the majority of the way. When traveling by myself I try to take advantage of quiet time. [laughs]

ST: You had a very fast 4:25:10 bike split in Texas and that is a time never before seen in an IRONMAN event by a female athlete.

Jen: Yes, a very fast day with perfect conditions on a course 3km short made for some very fast times. I think 4:29:xx would be a better representation of what a full 180 kilometers would have been on Saturday.

ST: It actually appears now that 9 of the 10 fastest female times ever were recorded in The Woodlands on that day.

Jen: I am curious if this would still be the case if we factor in the 3 kilometers missing to the course? But all this points to very fast conditions on the day.

ST: What was your previous best and where did that take place?

Jen: Last November at IRONMAN Arizona I rode a 4:38. That was an amazing day on my way to my first every sub 9 hour finish. 3rd place pro female and 22nd overall! It was also a new bike course record and really special to me knowing the amazing athletes that have raced on that course over the years: Chrissie Wellington, Angela Naeth, Meredith Kessler, Leanda Cave, Helle Frederikson.

ST: What is the word on the accuracy of that course distance as far as you know?

Jen: I have raced there twice and both my Garmin files are within a couple hundred meters of 180 kilometers.

ST: The previous best time over that distance was posted by Daniela Ryf at the 2016 DATEV Challenge Roth and she won that day with a 4:31:29 split. How often have you raced her and how do you typically compare on the bike? Other than both of you riding a Felt.

Jen: I have never raced Daniela in a full IRONMAN. I’m looking forward to my first opportunity to do so, and very much look up to her as a model in this sport. Perhaps I will have the chance to compete against her in Hawaii this year! In terms of the IRONMAN bike course record, my coach and I had discussed Caroline Steffen’s 4:35 at IM Melbourne 2012, what we thought was the current IRONMAN bike world record.

ST: Does only the brand record matter or should it really be about the distance?

Jen: I believe distance should be noted if records are set on a slightly shorter course. Or perhaps if IRONMAN chooses to recognize these records on these courses, the athlete’s speed should be considered. If IRONMAN has chosen to honor my effort as a record, then my speed and distance should be noted. I by no means want to take away from anyone who owns a record on a course with the proper distance.

ST: You raced Daniela last summer in Chattanooga at the 70.3 World Championships and she rode 2:20:20 that day on the way to the win and you rode 2:30:13 and ended up finishing outside the top 20. What do you think about that venue and your effort there?

Jen: It was a challenging course and I was not in prime condition to be racing there. I raced the ITU long course worlds two weeks before and my body did not bounce back as well as I had hoped it would.

ST: Are you riding with a power meter?

Jen: Yes, Pioneer.

ST: Can you forward your power file?

Jen: Unfortunately my coach does not allow these files to be shared.

ST: You should talk to him or her about releasing it this particular time.

Jen: He says you can talk to him. I can’t share from my end. *

ST: Course discrepancies have been reported anywhere from 2-3 miles short. What did your Garmin say?

Jen: 177 kilometers.

ST: You swam 1:02:23, and is that about what you expected?

Jen: No, I was hoping to be closer to the main group under 1 hour. But coming from Canada and not having the chance to swim open water yet this year, it didn’t set me up for my best swim on the day.

ST: How much swimming do you do each week when you get ready for a big event?

Jen: Approximately 18-22 kilometers a week

ST: Describe one of your hardest swim sets you do.

Jen: They are all challenging in their own way!

ST: Any chance to describe a tough workout? Readers love such details.

Jen: Sorry to be so vague. Because swimming is such a weakness to me, each workout presents it’s own challenges. I guess if I were to pick one out of a hat:
1000-1200 warm up
20x100 on 1:35
1500 pull with paddles solid steady effort. [all meters in a 25 meter pool]

ST: The age groupers started about 10 minutes behind you. When did you see the first ones?

Jen: Around the 70km mark, was when I got passed by the first age group athlete. That said, there might have been a few age groupers ahead of me out of the water. Those were out of sight as I got on the bike. Over the duration of the bike portion, I might have been passed by 5 to 10 age group athletes.

ST: There were incredible videos of massive draft packs on social media. But what did you see?

Jen: In all honesty, I was more focused on keeping my head down and aero while not crashing as the course became congested. I was much more focused on my race, numbers and racing as clean as possible. I did have frustrations with a pack of age groups, ending up playing cat and mouse, power surging well above my IRONMAN numbers, and then having to fade back when passed again. The thought of quitting crossed my mind a few times as this became more and more a frustration, and not fun anymore. The bike portion of an IRONMAN is where I enjoy myself the most, however this was not the case on Saturday.

ST: Did you see any officials at any time?

Jen: Only one within the first 45 minutes.

ST: Were you surprised when your reached T2 and saw your bike split?

Jen: Yes and no. Going into the race, my coach and I decided on a more aggressive pacing strategy on the bike. I have a very calculated approach to racing and can usually predict within a few minutes what the splits will be for given conditions. The plan was to attack the course at higher power versus IMAZ 2017 and I knew this could get me near the 4:30 mark and most likely, under the 4:35 record of Carolina Steffen. While breaking the course record wasn’t the goal, it’s always nice to put your name on a record! At the halfway point, I was on target for a 4:29 but arrived at transition 4.5 minutes earlier than expected. It does make sense now knowing the missing 3km on the course.

ST: In the end you finished 7th with a 3:16:52 run. Were you pleased?

Jen: The goal was to hopefully podium and to ultimately win so let’s call that run - unfinished business.

ST: What run time should have been possible for you that day if all went well?

Jen: A sub 3:10 for sure.

ST: When did you first hear that the record time was not going to count?

Jen: A few hours after the race in a tweet I was tagged in.

ST: And how did you learn about the reversal of that decision?

Jen: The people I was staying with sent me the article on Tuesday evening. So two days after the race.

ST: Do you understand why other folks might be unhappy with that call?

Jen: Absolutely. I would say that I’m perhaps the first person unhappy with the situation. I poured my heart out and rode a very hard race. The shortened distance was something out of my control and only announced to us after the race. We had no warning of this before the event. While I understand my time would be a little slower over the full 180km distance, i would still have been well under the mark set by Caroline or Daniela.

ST: No one really believes that Texas is the only short course, but where does it end? Is next time maybe a race that is 5 kilometers short acceptable?

Jen: I believe IRONMAN does their best to make each course as close to the proper distances, given resources and taking athlete safety into consideration. I also believe everyone should have a fair chance and be judged equally. So perhaps a speed / normalized formula would make sense if there continues to be an issue with course length.

ST: Many folks are very suspicious of these very fast times. What do you say to them?

Jen: My main focus is on qualifying for Kona so I have to be careful in fighting the important battles. There as been some negativity after the race and it’s a little frustrating after such a hard effort to end up in this situation. After all of this, all I ask and wish for is for a nice accurate course next year, a bigger gap ahead of the age group and some officials so we can have another awesome race in the Woodlands and have another go at a fast bike ride, and a faster run after it!

ST: Is there anything else to know?

Jen: Felt makes fast bikes.

You can follow Jen Annett on Instagram via @annett_jen

* Via Facebook Messenger her coach Jonathan Caron called it a “private matter” and made it clear that he would not share Jen Annett’s power file, though when he was told Jen Annett was okay with it.

“I have never shared my power files as an athlete, my coaches Paulo, Joel and Brett have also educated me like this, and I believe that we are very good at executing races. I don’t share what we do and how we do this with athletes [who are not mine.] I understand Jen might be okay with it, but that is my call. The other reason is Slowtwitch can be a very mean place. I am not interested in a trial by internet. There are a lot of anonymous people that love to comment and attack, and part of my job as a coach is to protect my athlete from this. So it is on me, I don’t share data,” said Caron via Messenger.