Iron-willed athleteJefferson High school grad Jen Lenarz will compete in the World Ironman Championships in Hawaii
By: By Eric Morken, Sports Reporter, Alexandria Echo Press
Alexandria native and current Apple Valley resident Jen Lenarz epitomizes what perseverance is all about.
Lenarz, a 1992 graduate of Jefferson High School, had a goal in mind when she started competing in ironman triathlons almost five years ago –reach the world championship and compete against the best triathletes in the world.
This past August, Lenarz accomplished that goal when she took third in her age group to qualify for the Ford Ironman World Championship in Kona, Hawaii on October 9. She finished the 2.4-mile swim, 112-mile bike ride and 26.2-mile run in 11:02.28.
It was a moment that seemed a bit surreal considering how hard she worked to get there. Lenarz competed and came up short of qualifying for the world championship six times in the last five years. Her drive to qualify intensified in the last year, as the world championship in Hawaii will be her fourth ironman in a 14-month period.
“When I found out I was in third place in about mile nine of the run, I almost started to cry,” she said. “I was more excited for everybody else back home, all my friends and family who were tracking me on the Internet. Once I realized that I qualified, I couldn’t believe it was really real. It was my seventh ironman, so I’ve been trying for this for a long time. I don’t think it will actually kick in until I get to Hawaii.”
Lenarz has always maintained an active lifestyle. She competed in gymnastics and track and field during high school before going on to St. Cloud State University where she ran hurdles. Years later, she went from succeeding in sprint competitions to challenging herself with the ultimate endurance test.
“I just saw it on TV one time,” she said of her interest in ironman competitions. “I saw the people doing it, and I thought to myself, if they can do it, I can do it, too. The ironman is just the ultimate of triathlons, and the world championship is like the best of the best in the whole world.”
Getting to that point required a lot of dedication. Lenarz is up at 5 a.m. to be at work by 6. She puts in five straight 10-hour days as a deputy sheriff in Dakota County before getting four consecutive days off. Lenarz immediately hits the pool when she gets home on workdays and does a two-mile swim. After that, it’s an hour run or an hour and a half bike ride. She devotes an average of 15 hours a week to training.
“Sometimes it’s really hard because I’m tired from work,” she said. “But I always know if I do my workouts, I’ll feel better. It’s another sense of accomplishment.”
Making sure she eats the right things is also an important part of her life. Lenarz is a vegetarian so getting the proper protein to help her body refuel requires her to be creative. Egg whites, beans, almond butter and protein bars have become staples in her diet. Even eating can become a chore sometimes.
It’s all part of a lifestyle she has grown to love, though. Many athletes would be satisfied with completing one ironman competition. Lenarz wanted more than that.
Her desire to qualify for the world championship in Hawaii drove her to push herself even harder leading up to the Louisville competition. She hired Jen Harrison, a trainer out of the Chicago area, this past February after the two were introduced through mutual friends. That change helped Lenarz persevere after failing to qualify through her first six triathlons.
“I guess what kept me going was the idea that I wanted to qualify and get to the world championship,” she said. “And I believed I was capable of doing it. I found a great coach, and we worked well together. She pushed me above and beyond what I thought I could do. That’s how I kept going.”
Her preparation had her confident going into the Louisville Ironman. Lenarz said she didn’t feel any nerves the morning of the event. It was more a feeling of confidence as she stepped to the poolside for the first leg of the tri.
“That may seem kind of weird,” she said. “But the week, the day, the morning of, it was kind of like a ‘I’m ready for this’ kind of feeling.”
Turns out she was. Lenarz finally accomplished her goal and will get her chance to compete in a field of 1,800 of the best triathletes in the world. Her goals in Hawaii are to finish and enjoy the experience.
Where does she go from there? That’s the question she said she’s been asking herself. One thing’s for certain, she won’t quit competing.
“I’m thinking, what’s next?” she said. “Maybe an ironman in Australia.”Story here.